scrape stroll (april 2021)


Allandale is a surprisingly neglected part of Austin as far as redevelopment has gone in this town. South Austin and East Austin have been radically changed (especially East Austin) with redevelopment. This is probably because those parts of town are hipper with South Congress and the urban and arty vibes of East Austin. But with property costs off the hook in those areas and Elon Musk (and other Californians) moving to town, the scraping and building is, for better or worse, coming to Allandale. For a bit, besides the occasional Modern like ours, we were mostly getting suburban yawners that would not look out of place in Pflugerville. As property prices increased, we started to see custom transitionals appear, such as the farmhouse moderns and the it-only-takes-us-four-months-to-build contemporaries by Paradisa. I predicted that the cost of property would reach the point where we'd see the semi-custom fly-by-nighters get priced out by high-end custom builds. We may be there. 

At present, scrapes (houses that will clearly be bulldozed for new construction) are going for about $600,000. That means, ideally, someone "should" build a $1.2 million house on that lot (the rule of thumb for financing is to spend 2X the lot price on construction). That is a $1.8 million home (and that ain't cheap). If that seems crazy, note that the transitionals in our 'hood are now going for north of $1.4 million. Our house is probably in that territory as well, meaning that we've doubled our money over the past seven years. Cray-cray.

What that means for new construction is that it's getting fancier, customized, and far more architecturally interesting, which is making our strolls through the neighborhood far more fun. Unfortunately, it's also raising our property taxes, but that's another post. 

Some interesting places that are popping up include this place on Geraghty. I know there's going to be some crank who says "You're invading people's privacy by posting this stuff!" (1) This is all public information, so go procreate yourself. (2) As a concession, I'll only post streets instead of full addresses no names (but I'll name architects). (3) I'll probably only post stuff I like so as not to insult future neighbors with, imho, poor or uninspired designs. Furthermore, gems are not gems if everyone is a gem. Variety is the spice of  architecture, so I actually welcome the variety of designs. 

On with the show!

Designed by Winchester Architects out of Bryan, Texas, this is a cool MCM-inspired place. There is a LOT of steel in this house.

We're speculating that there a lot of steel because of the insane price of wood, but I think this is design-driven rather than economics-driven. At 3,151 square feet, this 4/4.5 is pretty sweet. The build for the house proper is listed at a value of $275,000 which is, pardon my French, bullshit ($87 a square-foot)! As we will see, reported low build cost is not unique to this property, so I'm not sure what the game is here... The number is provided for construction in the floodplain, so it seems an accurate number would be appropriate?  

#oops #spellcheck #CoA

This is a decent (and I assume affordable?) Modern over on Cary Drive designed by Don Harris. This house has 3,090 square-feet for its 4/4 with construction for the primary structure valued at $300,000 ($97 per square foot). That pool is going to be nice this summer! I'm aesthetically partial to flat roofs; a big benefit is the reduction of height, resulting in houses with a better scale for the neighborhood even at two stories.

There's been quite a bit of construction on Cary, including this 3,502 square-feet cubist-delight (no primary structure flood cost info provided) with six bedrooms and 6.5 baths (including the detached guest suite).


This place is also on Cary and is owned (and reworked) by the builder who built the black farmhouse mod down the street from us, the best farmhouse in the 'hood imho. Really like what they did with this remodel, and the landscaping is fantastic. The big wooden panels on the left open up to a partially open-air garage, a nice way to integrate a front-facing garage into a design without having the expected form dominate the facade.

Another place on Geraghty is looking quite impressive nestled around a protected oak tree. This house, designed by Cornerstone Architects, has 3,817 square-feet, 5 bedrooms and 5.5 baths (including the casita), with no cost info provided. Interestingly, part of the second floor is clad in Corten Steel, which is going to rust (by design) but also run down the first-story roof, over the eaves, and onto the patio. Not sure what the thinking is there. The original design shows board-and-batt, so maybe this was a spur-of-the moment decision? Corten is awesome, but you have to think about the bleed...


Finally, I'll leave you with a Steve Zagorsky over on Bullard that may be a portent of things to come in Allandale. I really like Zagorsky's stuff since he's clearly influenced by early Modernism. In fact, I'm proud that when I saw this house under construction, I was able to correctly identify him as the architect. 

There are several interesting things about this project. Interesting Thing No. 1 is that the lot probably cost the owners around a million (at least that's what the property was valued on the tax rolls before the dozer rolled). And they scraped it. That's a new high, as far as I know, for a purchase-n-scrape in Allandale. The lot backs up to Shoal Creek, which makes it extra-special (although you have to worry about flooding and restrictions on building due to that flooding). At that price point for a lot and using our rule of thumb, they "need" to build a $2 million house there to money out. 

That leads us to Interesting Thing No. 2, which is the size and scale of this house: it is freakin' HUGE and horribly out of scale with the rest of the street. It has 5,282 square feet, 6 bedrooms, and 5.5 baths. The job is valued at $550,000 ($104 per square foot), which is, again, bullshit. With custom construction these days starting at $400 a square-foot, we are, again, looking at a $2 million build. The Bride is judging it harshly for its scale, but me not so much. Sure, it is (as I said) HORRIBLY out of scale, but--like it or not--this is the future of the street, if not Allandale as a whole. I also think that the scale is, in part, due to the floodplain and requirements not to increase flood potential. Then again, this is a massive house square-footage wise on any lot in the neighborhood.

Interesting Thing No. 3 is that the property is, in large part, in the floodplain. Since its in the plain of floods, it received floodplain information, including elevations that show the 25-year floodplain at 654.11 feet above mean sea level, the 100-year at 655.06 feet, and the 500-year at 656.56. Floodplain maps are currently being updated and, due to increased rainfall intensity, most likely due to climate change, the current 500-year floodplain will become the 100-year floodplain. So I hope they built to at least the 500-year level (turns out they're building to 659 feet: good move). 

And finally, Interesting Thing No. 4 is that the original design, aesthetically (by my eyes) was OK but not inspired. Something prompted a reworking of the exterior that is far better than the contemporary facade below.

There's more (oh so much more!) to show about lots under construction in the hood, but we'll leave it at that for now.


how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could afford to chuck wood?


Price of wood per 1,000 feet futures (from NASDAQ)

 What in Sam's Hill has happened to the price of lumber?

Supply and demand, apparently. Suppliers hedged that the economy wasn't going to recover as quickly, so they backed off supply, so when demand came back stronger than expected, the supply wasn't there. That has doubled the price of lumber since last June and has quadrupled since early 2020 (see chart above). This is driving up new home costs by $24,000 to $35,000. A friend of a friend says that their lumber bill went up $70,000 from soft bid to build bid. Yikes! Our cabin builder, who is currently repenciling our project, says that it's also taking three to four months to get the lumber after he orders it. Yippety-yikes!

Prognosticators say it won't be until the fall at the earliest that we see relief.



snowpocalpse 2021

With a pandemic and attempted government overthrow, why not throw a massive ice and snow storm on top! All in all we made out alright, mostly due to luck of the local grid. We experienced 20 hours without power when the first sleet hit the Friday morning before the real party started. Nevertheless, we were losing a degree Fahrenheit every 2.7 hours when the power went out giving us about three days before the indoors hit freezing. Fortunately, the power came back on, and we didn't lose it during what was a challenging week for many Texans, including folks in the neighborhood.

Some things we learned during the event:

  • Yes, we have a gas water heater, but, being tankless, it also relies on electricity. In truth, we knew this before, but stating it here for anyone thinking about tankless. I'm also not saying we'd do things differently--we wouldn't, but the risk is there.
  • I wish we had a gas oven instead of an electric one. To be honest, I'm not sure why we don't have one; there wasn't a discussion about it. My best guess is that we picked out our oven-microwave combo, and it happened to be electric, so electric it was! If we had a gas stove, we could have used it as a heater, although many say that this is a bad idea. I get not using a gas burner for heat (you'd have to turn on the vent to not carbon monoxide yourself, which defeats the purpose since you'd be sucking heat out of your house and cold make-up air in), but I don't get not using the oven since it is vented. The article linked above makes the point about losing gas supply and then gassing yourself. Point taken, but, if watched (and not left on while sleeping), it seems like it would help in an emergency. Another good point is that an oven was not designed for heat, but it seems if run at a lower temp, it wouldn't hurt it.
  •  I'm glad we had a gas stove. I was able to "shower" Friday morning oldskool-style by heating up water and going about my bidness. We were also able to cook meals and hot tea, which was nice. Need a hand-operated coffee bean grinder, though...
  • I am really glad we put in a central, indoor shut-off valve for all the outdoor hose bibs. Not only does it prevent the neighbor from using our water to wash his car, but it provided piece of mind that our outdoor faucets and pipes weren't froze and broke. 
  • I wish we had a gas fireplace. I get occasional pangs here and there about this, but the storm really drove its usefulness home. We could still get one, but the destruction required to make it happen is formidable (one of the drags of not having an attic). If you get one, be sure to get one that you can start without power (generally a battery back-up). Most, if not all, use power to ignite the gas.
  • The bride has been after me for a few years to get a generator since the power here is hetchy as compared to our old neighborhood where we were never without power, in large part because we were near a hospital district. I think I'm there now on getting a generator. Some of the charms of this neighborhood are the many trees and that the power lines are not on the street. However, those two charms together create a mess of broken limbs during storm events that challenge back-yard infrastructure (and the ability to fix it quickly). Tesla Powerwalls are a possibility, but an affordable system requires operating solar panels, which are iffy during inclement weather (and don't work too well with four inches of snow on them). So we're going to take a serious look at a natural gas-powered Generac. We checked into a hotel the night of our power outage, so we had to leave the cats behind. That would have been disturbing if indoor temps had gotten down to freezing and below inside the house (outdoor temps bottomed out at 9 degrees). Another argument for a generator. 
  • We must have angels. A sizable chunk of the neighbor's tree came down in our back yard and somehow missed (1) the house, (2) the green house, (3) the garage, (4) the rainwater tank, (5) the hot tub, (6) the picnic table, and (7) the power lines.  

Although we had power, we were team players in minimizing electric use to help keep the grid up and perhaps help expand power delivery in the city. Thankfully, none of our pipes froze. We were worried about the tankless heater since it is outside, but a slight drip of the hot water faucet seemed to have kept it operational.

I'd say we learned some things for the cabin, including confirming a decision to get a back-up generator. The cabin needs a poop pump, which would disallow the use of the toilets during a power outage. That. Cannot. Happen.

Until the next storm...