does austin have the most overvalued housing market in the US?

Technically, no, but only because we share that distinction, according to Forbes, with San Antonio.

But do we really? Methinks not.

Based its analysis, Forbes found that two cities in Connecticut had the most undervalued housing market due to lack of jobs and concluded that Austin and San Antonio are 19 percent overvalued because of an abundance of jobs.

As they state in their opening line about statistics: "Huh?"

This clickbait is a classic case of an analysis gone awry and why liberal arts majors need to back away from the computing machines. Austin is overvalued because we have job growth?!?! Someone needs a lesson in the dismal science of economics.

Admittedly Forbes' analysis involves more than jobs (it includes unemployment, income, population, and mortgage rates). However, a couple of essential items they left out were population growth and the current cost of housing.  

We lived here 25 years and suffered from the dot com bomb and the great recession. What happened to property prices? They paused until the bad times ebbed and then roared with higher growth afterwards. Why is that?

In part it's because, relative to other growing cities, particularly in California, Austin (and San Antonio) remain a bargain. Yes, you can find California'd prices close to downtown, but that's true of any town. 

The other thing to consider is population growth in Austin and Texas in general. Although pop growth is slowly down somewhat, the Austin area is expected to double in population over the next fifty years. That, my friends, will continue to drive up property costs (and is a big reason we dove into our house project during the Great Recession). Sure, there will be speed bumps--more accurately slowdowns--here and there, but the fundamentals look solid for the long term. 

Could I be wrong? Sure. But it'll take something special--something we're going to feel worldwide--to knock Austin off its perch.


lingering landscapes: installation pt. 4--the plants are in!

Well, that was fast! Came home from work and first saw that the crew had dug holes for the towers in the front yard:

And then, peeking through the gate, saw that they had planted the planters and plantings! 

A lot done in a short amount of time. We'll have to see how far they're going to take the pond (should it be lined? [or something?]). 

As a side "benefit", they also mowed the lawns, which is a bit of a tragedy because we like the driveway tall (stays green; more water efficient) and we like the Zoysia out back uncut (more water efficient, looks cool, greater sensation). Hard to get mad at guys trying to do you a favor. When you live life differently, other people try to make you conform!


energy hook plots

The graph above shows monthly averaged temperature on the horizontal access and the BTUs per square foot on the vertical access for our house. I'm calling this a "hook plot" because, well, it looks like a hook! The BTUs include energy from gas and electricity. The graph is hooked because we have, interestingly enough, more energy consumption during the cooler, winter months than the warmer, summer months. The low at about 60 to 70 degrees are the shoulder seasons--spring and fall when we don't heat or cool the house.

The above plot includes only the months since we installed and activated the photovoltaics. Without the PV, the warmer side of the graph rises about 500 BTUs per square foot.

Now here's the hook plot for our old house, the 1880s shotgun in central Austin:

Yikes! The maximum BTUs per square foot of our new house are in the bottom range of the old house. That tells you what single pane glass and uninsulated walls get you. To be fair, the new house is about twice as large as the old house, but even there, the new house is kicking the old house's butt.

Anyway, I made these plots wondering if there was a solid relationship between temperature and energy consumption, which, of course, there is.


lingering landscapes: installation pt. 3--the boards are off!

Yay! The boards are off!

The crew came by this past week (Wednesday?) and pried the boards off of the pond, planters, perch, and platform. And wowsy do they look good! They are still drying out but are slowly whitening up with each day. The board lines look awesome, evoking all the horizontality in the back yard.

And if you look real close, you can see wood grain. Love it. Thank you, Le Corbusier.

The crew used particle board to support the inside, and even that looks kinda cool.

Here's the perch for the statue outside the master bedroom:

And here's the platform to mount the stage.

A side benefit of this project is having to "dispose" of the displaced gravel. Yep: it's all going into new wicking gardens

Still a ways to go to complete the entire project, but it's getting there.


man v. blue jay

When we first bought the lot, we were excited that one of the trees produced figs. How many figs have we enjoyed from said tree? Maybe half a dozen because the blue jays devour them before we can get our grubby mitts on 'em. So this year we've covered the tree with netting to keep the birds out.

We'll see how it works.

The garden has been amazing this year. The tomatoes are over six feet tall and producing bounty week after week. We planted cucumbers this year, and they have been amazing. We also planted cantaloupe and zuchinni. With all the rain (and using the wicking gardens), we've only had to top the wicking tanks a couple times. It was a hot and dry one this week, so summer seems to be upon us. We'll see how long the bounty keeps up.


lingering landscapes: installation pt. 2.5

The Zika incubator

Despite my highest hopes, the boards forming our concrete did not come off this weekend. I assume this is because the concrete still needs to cure. Best to be safe, right?

The concrete does look gorgeous. How do they get that deliciously creamy white concrete? Inquiring minds want to know.

Maybe the board come off this week...

"Is your house for sale?"

The other weekend a gentleman rang the doorbell and asked "Is your house for sale?" After quickly replying "No!" I quipped "Unless you have a five million dollar check in your back pocket..." which then established that the house was, in fact, for sale. In the immortal word of our former governor: "Oops."

As the old adage goes, everything's for sale. You just have to find the right price.

We have no intent of selling at this point, but, indeed, there would be a price that would pull the house from our cat-loving claws.

Being an appreciator of Modern homes, I gave him a quick tour, and we chatted about what our house would go for on the market. I speculated, and he was willing to pay that on the spot. However, marketprice would be a money loser for us. Yes, we would make a profit based on what we put into the place (not counting the blood, sweat, and tears) but not nearly enough to reproduce our current living situation.

We timed the market perfectly with respect to buying a lot and building this house. We scored the lot after the banking crisis from a hobbyist spec builder. A similar lot in this neighborhood would cost at least twice what we paid for ours, eating up our profit in one fell swoop if we sought to recreate our current living situation. Building costs are substantially higher now than when we built. In fact, if we had started building when our build was finishing, we wouldn't have been able to financially pull the house off. I don't know exactly how much more costs are now than then, but, no joke, I'm sure they are at least 50 percent higher.

And then there's the blood, sweat, and tears aspect. Although we loved designing and building the house, it was a substantial (although somewhat self-inflicted) time sink with ever-present risks and some depressing low points. Given that we're in a place designed for us and that it's beautifully comfortable, the financial incentive to get our butts out of our Corbusier sofa and into a different house would have to be high. We'd need to see ourselves in a much better situation than the one we're in now. I'm not exactly sure what that price is, but it's probably in the the two to three times market value range. Someone would have to really want our house to pay that.

Nevertheless, it's good to know that there are folks interested in Modern and there's a potential market for our house when we do decide to sell (if ever). And it's good meeting someone who may, eventually, be in the 'hood.


cool house tour 2016

The 2016 Cool House Tour, sponsored by the City of Austin to showcase builds and remodels that adhere to Austin Energy's Green Building Program, is this weekend, June 12th, 10am to 6pm. And there are a few cool modern houses to gawk at if you are so moved. Advance tickets are $20, $25 at the door. 


modern grills, where art thou?

Gag me with a spoon.

As work continues on our back yard, I yearn for a modern grill. Standard grills are frightening to a Modernist: just a giant ole pile of stainless steel yuck. Where are the Modern grills? What we'te looking for is something that can be outside, runs on gas, and looks good.

As it turns out, there are a few out there:

the ulaelu

I've posted about this one before. More griddle than grill (which might be healthier), this baby is gorgeous but high dollar, clocking in at $3,000 depending on your options.

the fuego

The Fuego has a small footprint but a good price: about $300 (with free shipping!). They used to have a white one, but no longer. :-(

rockwell grill by caliber

More post-Modern than Modern, this baby clocks in at almost 10K.

the mueller emform

Available from none other than AllModern this doozy clocks in at $226 (wheelbarrow not included). Great for job sites. Charcoal.

the hasty-bake legacy

Kinda minimal and available at $1,130, but charcoal only.

the lazy man model A2

Now here's minimalism from the self-proclaimed creator of outdoor grills, Lazy Man. Costs somewhere between $1,200 and $2,200 for the bit you see. Not sure how one adjusts the fire on this puppy. You get what you get, and you cook with it. Can be fitted with a top, but it then looks like a standard grill.

the weber

Available from Amazon for about $450 and recommended by The Wirecutter (we loves The Wirecutter, yes we do), this would be a good grill, and it is so close: if only the top was more cubist. Plus, when the arms are down, it looks like a little robot:

Hot damn, that's cute!

eva solo

This is a cool grill, but charcoal (and around $800).

the cuebe

It has a promising name, but rather than a grill, it's a griddle with two burners. And a $3,800 price tag.


oh my, maybe this is it! Freakin' gorgeous! But also freakin' expensive: $5,500 for the three topper:

Darth Vader himself roasted Wookie-steaks on it (or so I'm told).

For us poor folks, there's a set-on-topper for $2,640:

or a one-topper similar to the one above for $2,760:

For an extra $420 you can even get a removable lid (or a fixed one for $960):

They ship to the US, so we can assume they work with US canisters?

These guys have it figured out.

go custom?

We could go custom, but that costs big bucks, and can be dangerous if the designer/fabricator doesn't know what they are doing.

screw it

These folks have the right idea:

Hide the whole mess behind a wall and be done with it. hmmmm.....