Category Archives: Amur House

Interesting Post on our Almost Neighborhood

Steve at the Austin Real Estate Blog has an interesting post about the Independence Neighborhood we almost bought a house in. Apparently even Realtors are confused about whether it’s a house or a condo.

UPDATE: Ah, this comment pretty much cements it for me (although it appears to be about the north version of the neighborhood):

Take it me from me – Parking is a Nightmare on these streets!

There’s no parking on the side with hydrants- opposite the sidewalk side, but that does not stop them from parking up and down both sides. And when that happens, you are unable to get in or out of your driveway! (grumble! grumble! grumble!)

And when the towing company tows cars that are illegally parked: the owners sue the HOA. Once the residents found out Williamson County Judges are not partial to personal property being hauled away in the middle of the night, no one follows the parking policy. My wife was president of the board when the judge decided against them in 2x cases. Oy! $1000’s in legal bills…

And don’t get me started on those with big trucks who stick out in the road…

One house is complaining that the FIVE cars/trucks that the THREE people in the family own can not possibly abide by the parking policy [they do not park in their garages either]. Why are they being disciminated against for owning FIVE vehicles?

so why did you choose another house?

So people might be wondering why we choose another house. It all started when we got our close date. We were completely disheartened. It was a month and a half away and we would close the weekend before Christmas. Talk about making a happy event suck. Julie really, really wanted to decorate and have the house nice for Christmas and they completely squashed that goal. And since we could could close on a built house quicker than we could our new house we decided to check the MLS again.

Oh, who are we fooling. We always look in the MLS. It’s our hobby.

On Saturday we were just tooling around looking at some houses in various neighborhoods. Stella had fallen asleep in the car after the play we took her to so it seemed like a good way to let her get a nap in. We ended up over by Agave and decided to tool around. Coming up one of the hills we noticed an open house. After circling 3 times like the creepy, creepy people we are we went in and checked it out. The materials were beautiful. The windows were beautiful. The floorplan often left you shaking your head. But we liked that first house, so we decided to go to the office and see what else they had. We checked out a few more houses. Some we really liked. But none of them had garages (which doesn’t really matter when you’re a one car family, but does matter when you’re a one theater company family). The one we really liked had amazing views of downtown along the entire second story. But you also had to walk past all those windows in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Because the master bedroom was down the hall from the closest bathroom. The designs were bizarre.

And all of the houses would be impossible to store theater stuff. And the schools sucked. And there were no trees (which seemed like it might be a problem with all those windows). But the views. The views were amazing. And the houses were modern. And that’s what we really, really want.

On the way home we decided to check on the house we were building and we asked to go in the models that were just being built. We went in and were just stunned. We really didn’t like it. Being in the modern houses I think we realized it just wasn’t our aesthetic at all. It was so big. Ridiculously big. There was wasted space everywhere. And it was so bland. The outside was cute, but the inside was completely generic. Boring. Nothing modern about it. So we went home and I was a bit upset because I wanted to make the Agave houses work even though I knew it was hopelessly impractical, and we both didn’t really like the house we were building anymore.

Then I guess it was Tuesday that Julie was searching the MLS and found 4 houses in the 78741 zip code that looked promising. An awesome split-level house with a basement (!), two fixer-uper ranches that were cheap, and a house with a ton of windows. 78741 was actually where we originally wanted to live back in 2001. Our budget back then was in the low-100s and the only houses you could get in our price range were those really dicey sub-1000 square foot houses on Montopolis. We wanted to live in that cute pocket neighborhood right next to AMD, but it was ridiculously expensive (or so we thought at the time, now we kick ourselves and wonder why we didn’t sell our kidneys).

We tried to get the realtor who sold our house on the horn, but quickly remembered why we didn’t really like working with him. He apparently was in Vegas and we couldn’t get a hold of him. We managed to get a friend of Julie’s who worked on murder mysteries with her to show us the houses. Which was a great decision. He’s been a great realtor.

So the first house we checked out was awesome. But it was overpriced by about 80-100k. It was a split level built in the sixties. It had a balcony that ran the entire length of the back of the house and that probably had a view of the lake if you cut down the bamboo that had taken over the backyard. Before we went in Jamie (our realtor) mentioned that it was a bit weird. The people were at home and we had just woken them up. We went in and there were two half-dressed 20 year old guys cooking breakfast. One was in the shower. The house had about 4 steps up from the main level that went to all the bedrooms. It appeared that they had covered up the hardwoods with industrial carpet. Industrial carpet with a really nice carpet pad. Really bad remodeling choice. The bathrooms were both perfectly preserved sixties pink bathrooms. Really lovely and with tons of cabinets and counter space. The kitchen and dining room were small, but they opened onto a huge living room with a wall of windows.

We descended into the basement. Julie not coming from somewhere with basements I think was a little freaked out. I don’t think she realizes that the reason I was scared of basements as a kid is that they’re scary. Like caves. The basement had a set of glass doors that opened into the backyard, but mostly was just a big open basement. Then you went up to stairs and there was a laundry room (with chute!) and some storage.

There were tons of cracks, and the place resembled a drug den so I think Julie had a hard time with it. They also wanted 275,000 for it. Which considering we were going to look at 3 more places, none of which were over 225,000, it seemed like a lot of money for a house that needed a lot of work and possibly foundation repair.

But it was a sixties split level.

The second house was a home improvement nuts house. It was baffling. They had walled in their front porch (about a 2’x4′ area), so they could put a reclaimed stain glass door on the outside. So you walked in the stained glass door. Then you walked in the front door, one step later. Really bizarre. The colors inside the house were heinous (ketchup and mustard), but the kitchen was huge. It had two sinks, and two cooktops. There was an apartment with a door to the outside and tacked on bathroom. The living room had beautiful original hardwoods, but they had interjected some ugly tile right next to the doors (like you would with carpet). We went outside and there were still posts for where a back awning had been. The window seat in the kitchen that had beautiful reclaimed stained glass was being held up by 3 4×4 posts that were not attached to the ground or to the seat. But there were also tons of built up brick flowerbeds. And a huge brick grill. We went back in and the master had a fireplace, and a HUGE bathroom with (fugly green and yellow) jacuzzi tub and separate shower. It had french doors that opened into the back yard. Oh, and one of the bedrooms was lineoleum. It was cheap, but it was a lot of work. And it looked like there might be a lot of structural problems. So really it wasn’t that great of a price.

The third house looked great. It had that wonderful sixties slate on the front. It had a metal roof (which we love). The inside was uninspired, however. The kitchen had been remodeled at some point, and you couldn’t have your fridge in the kitchen. You had to keep it in the laundry room. Plus there were monster burglar bars. But that backyard had a wood burning fireplace and tons of storage and the lot next to it (which we could buy for 20k) had a creek running through it. So it was charming as long as you didn’t have to go in the house.

The fourth house I didn’t like the front of.

Still don’t. But we walked inside and it was perfect. Absolutely perfect. The floors are a beautiful walnut. They’re in all the bedrooms, halls, and living room.

The dining room and kitchen are tile.

There’s a breakfast nook for Julie’s wonderful 50s yellow table. The house was owned by an artist so there are contact paper designs on the kitchen cabinets and a mural in one of the bedrooms.

The bathrooms are a great mixture of 60s original tile, and modern upgrades. There is a walk in closet that runs the entire width of the master bedroom. I’ve never seen a sixties house with anything like it. It’s HUGE. Julie almost cried when she walked in. The entire back of the house is windows. Including the back wall of the master bedroom.

There is a dog door in the kitchen that leads out onto the grounds. It’s the backyard, but you’d definitely call it “the garden” or “the grounds’. It’s that beautiful. There is a big porch that runs the length of the house.

Then there are built up flowerbeds bordering that. Then the grass is behind that. There’s a beautiful modern fence that had to have cost 10 grand to put in. There are double-wide gates on both sides of the house. The one of the East side is on wheels so you just slide it open. And there’s a stage!

There’s a storage shed with windows (can anyone say playhouse?) that is hidden behind rows of box hedges. The box hedges are awesome. Basically this is the best place to play tag. I want to be a kid again.

We’d always built houses because we thought there was no way we could get a house like this. It’s so amazing. After a tense night Wednesday with the seller’s realtor out of town we got a call Thursday morning that we were in a multiple offer situation. We went for broke. Put in a ton over asking. I think our realtor was looking for us to pony up a thousand or two over asking so he had to talk me down a little bit. But we really wanted the house. I was sick all day. Afraid that the little bit I’d come off the max we could spend would mean the difference between us getting the house. We got the call last night right before we had to go to Julie’s show that we’d got the house. And our realtor is trying to get our money back from Newmark. Which would rock.

In any case. We’re really excited. And we should be in a house by Christmas. And it’s everything we wanted a house to be. Except the kitchen. I have to figure out something to do with that tiny, tiny kitchen.

just put 2 and 2 together

So my parents neighborhood is looking at loosing a lot(or a little depending on how alarmist you are) of their greenbelt and trail because they’re planning to push through Davis Lane all the way to MoPac, and make it a road with, you know sidewalks. And possibly left hand turn lanes. And even more possibly – bike lanes. As shocking as it may seem it has been marked as a major artery for a couple decades (which makes sense if you look at a map and note it connects 5 or 6 other arteries with MoPac). The neighborhood is up in arms because they thought their greenbelt was protected (obviously not understanding what “protected” means when the city is involved). Of course they got mislead by the builder. But the plan has been there for over 20 years. Anyone looking at Davis can tell that if they do anything to the road someone’s going to loose big time.

Anyway, so that got me looking into back records about our new neighborhood on the city website. Checking for any little nasty surprises that may come up. I haven’t turned up that much of interest. I found out that Suburbia was apparently filmed at South 1st and Stassney, and I found some info on our neighborhood’s name.

I’d always though naming a neighborhood “Independence” in Austin was a bit like one of those neighborhoods in Houston that advertising having “The Patriot Collection”. Funny in a Steven Colbert kind of way, and possibly something Houstonians would really go for, but really puzzling when you think about actually trying to sell the houses to Austin residents.

So I was looking at what the plans had been for the land, and in 2001 there were going to be 3 story condos. Ah the height of the tech boom.

But in the 90s the plans were to make it a retirement community. “Independence Park”. It completely makes sense now.


I may just be cynical (ok, I’m cynical), but I’m starting to think that developers always use the “retirement community” as the opening gambit in their rezoning fights. Because apparently young people think that old people don’t drive cars and the traffic requirements will be less. Plus they like the sound of ambulances.

I now know of 4 properties that were going to be retirement communities while they were being rezoned. Then the project languished for a while, and suddenly they’re building some sort of dense single/multi family homes. Is this fairly standard or am I cynically looking at a couple of anecdotes?

They should have changed the name. Does anyone know, is changing the name of a tract nearly impossible? Why don’t developers do this to make their properties more attractive to buyers?

Dry-wall! Dry-wall!

We have our pre-drywall inspection scheduled for Monday. According to the salespeople it’s 4-6 weeks from that meeting to our close. Wow that could potentially be the first week in November. Craziness. We find out our close date on Monday supposedly too.

Rock and Roll!

Man They’re Quick

So three days later we went back out. We brought our inspector with us:

They have put in electrics, the house numbers, finished up the siding, finished up the windows, added railings to the stairs, and finished all additional framing. It was amazing.

Most exciting for me was the garage door pre-wiring. We paid something like $75 for garage door pre-wiring. I was expecting this to be like our last house with their ceiling fan “pre-wires”. You paid the protection fee, and they made sure they actually bothered to put electricity in your ceiling. Then they put an ugly little plate on top of the electrical box. The box was probably not flush with the drywall, and they probably didn’t use enough staples to install the spanner bar, but you got the electricity.

The garage door prewire in this house is awesome. There are electrical boxes for the two motion sensors at the front of the garage. There is a box for the electrical and for the control switch connection in the ceiling, and there’s a box by the back door for the actual control. Amazing. Now it will only take me 4 hours to install rather than 8. And it will look fantastic. I’ll be able to have tours of my wire-free garage! Sign up now!

If I’d known that we’d have this long and that we’d have our 20% down payment saved I would have insisted that we pay to have them install the garage door opener. That has got to be the worst job on earth. Seriously.

Test that Theory

So I’ve been an advocate of making the suburbs more dense as well as the urban core. Looks like I’ll get a chance to test that theory out.

We went by the house yesterday and were shocked to see that one curb was painted bright red and labeled as a fire lane. The other side of the street had parallel parking spaces painted out. Our side of the street has the parking. We were a bit distraught when we saw it. Because, you know, you kind of get to expect that your neighborhood is going to look a certain way, and then they paint an entire curb bright red. Like you’re at the grocery store. I’ve calmed down now. But new home builders are really bad about actually knowing what they’re building, and notifying the new home owners. Or maybe they’re just really smart.

We went in and confronted the on-duty sales lady. She said the sales office had no clue that there wasn’t going to be parking on both sides of the street until they painted in the fire lane. And she said that if people didn’t like it, they could always back out on their house. Then the company could resell. Which they would like because the cost of the houses have gone up about 15-20% since they started selling them. We were both a little taken aback by a little too much honesty there.

Oh, and she said that we shouldn’t have expected that this was a “party” neighborhood. Like we’re planning on having a kegger. ‘Cause having 2 cars worth of people over to dinner is a really big “party”. She was really rather unpleasant. I think we might have gotten the idea that one could have parties in our house, by the fact that one room is labeled the “great room”. I realize some people need a “great room” to house their godzillatron, but I’m assuming many of us expect to simply have multiple people over to visit in our “great rooms”. Plus even the people with the godzillatron might want to invite people over to watch it with them.

So today I got on the city’s website, and looked up all the site plans. Of course, the parking spaces, and fire lanes were in the original site plans. Very clearly labeled. Ah well.

We’re doing better than most. Most of the people on our street can get at most exactly one car into their driveway. By car, I’m referring to a car. Not a sedan, SUV, or boat. We can get two large vehicles in comfortably. Plus we have a parking space in front of our house. Plus we only have one car that we’re going to store in the garage. Of course our neighbor across the street can only place one car in their driveway. Anyone want to take bets on whether or not they’ll always be parking in that space?

I’m really look forward to the parking wars that the new HOA is going to have to deal with. I’m thinking of running for the board.

In looking at the site plans I found out some other interesting things:

1) That pond in the front appears to be just a retention pond (which explains why they appear to be building a fence around it). The actual pond is in the back of the neighborhood.If you look as you get near Stassney on Westgate there’s a creek that goes under the road. That creek appears to drain into the real pond.

2) We have a 13″ diameter Elm in our front yard, and a 9″ diameter hackberry in our backyard. We’ll be getting another tree shading our driveway in front. We’ll also be getting another one in the back to block the view of our back neighbors which is nice. They appear to be putting a lot of the “2 developer provided trees” in the backyard which is good, since many of the front yards are postage stamps that already contain large trees.

3) There will be a nature trail with crushed granite running from the mailboxes into the second phase of the neighborhood.

4) There will be crushed granite trails exiting the neighborhood onto Buffalo Pass in both directions. This is nice, as you can take Buffalo pass up to jones road and hop on the Sunset Valley hike and bike trail. You can also take buffalo pass up to Pack saddle pass and get to Central Market, which will be good for avoiding Westgate while riding my bike.

5) Wow, just looking at the Sunset Valley trails list. That town is lousy with green space.

5) Our neighborhood is zoned SF-6 and are either townhomes or condominiums as far as the city is concerned, no matter what the homebuilder feels like calling them.

So it’s going to be interesting having parties in the new house. I’m thinking about getting one of those electric shuttles like they have at Six Flags and having everyone park at Thrift Town. Then I’ll take my shuttle over there and pick them up. Or people will just have to ride the bus to our new house.

This is going to be interesting.

Update: This Salon story points out some interesting things about the true cost of parking and why you can always find free parking in downtown Austin if you just drive 4 blocks away from your destination.

Our house with siding.

In case anyone is wondering, I’m doing this documentation so I can look back at it later. I know it’s not the most fascinating thing ever.


On a side note I really need to harass the city about the state of the sidewalks between Westgate and Manchaca on Stassney. There are 5 buses in the area but heaven help you if you want to walk home. Where there is sidewalk it’s split and crumbling, and there are large stretches with no sidewalk at all. How do they get away with this? You start building a sidewalk and then decide you don’t feel like building one 4’x4′ square? It’s really that bad. It’s not just like some builders didn’t feel like connecting their sidewalk to another piece of sidewalk. It’s like the same builder didn’t feel like connecting their own sidewalk to itself. There’s also a really interesting piece right by a bus stop with no sidewalk where you have to go up a 45 degree incline (vertical and horizontal) while dodging a tree. I imagine it’s fun when there’s mud. I know there are a lot of mobility impaired people living in the area, I’m puzzled how they deal with this.

Ok, on to the pictures. They finished the plumbing at the same time. It’s really startling to have a home builder who can have 2 teams working on the house at once.

More House Pictures

We went to see the house on Tuesday and they’ve really kept working. The second floor is done, the gables are up, and everything’s coming along. This week they’ve added siding and the decking for the roof. It’s going fast. Here are some new pictures:

The roofline

The view from the playroom.

House Pictures

Here are all the house pictures, a bit late. I guess my parent’s must have taken pictures of the house with just the first story. I’m hoping to have pictures of the house with a roof tonight.

Just a foundation with roads:

The view out of Stella’s window. The window seat goes in that rather large hole in the frame:

The happy family in front of what is rapidly becoming their new house: