Austin is one of those cities that has it all. One of the greatest challenges about living here is finding that perfect spot that speaks to you — and as we discovered, sometimes that search proves to be a full-circle journey.
When we moved back to Texas after years living and working abroad, we knew we wanted to live in Austin. And after a decade of renting, we were ready to buy. I had a brand-new master’s degree, my husband had a brand-new job, and we had a brand-new baby — but we also had very little money, time or sanity as a result. We were adamantly opposed to settling for suburban life so we ended up buying an affordable house in an older South Austin neighborhood without putting forth much thought or research into our decision.
Within a few months, the newness and excitement of our first home wore off, and I realized just how much I didn’t like a few key aspects about it. We backed up to a five-lane street, we were in an area with not-so-good schools, and we were discovering other parts of Austin we would rather live in with each passing day. We spent a couple of years toiling over where we wanted to live, but our idealistic visions never seemed to meet up with our financial reality.
At first, we set our sights and hearts on the centrally located Barton Hills and Zilker neighborhoods. It took the better part of a year to realize we didn’t have half a million dollars to spend on a house, which either says a lot about our naivety or speaks highly of our idealism. Then, under the wise and patient guidance of our Realtor, Moreland Properties’ Tiffany Peters, we were shown properties within our budget. We toured everything from a Zilker home with a floor so slanted you could have slid to its back door standing still in socks to a Travis Heights foreclosure that featured a 30-foot tree growing right through the center of its kitchen. It was an eye-opening experience that helped us reach this consensus: Though we might have been able to afford a tear-down, we’d probably need to borrow a tent while we waited the better part of a decade to renovate it to a level of livability.
Three years and two little boys later, we finally accepted what countless other families wanting good schools and safe streets for their kids realized right away: It was time to shop the suburbs. Once again, we called on Peters to show us around all the usual South Austin neighborhoods, but nothing really seemed like us. And then we found it: the ideal spot for this stage of our lives.
It was actually the neighborhood that lured us in rather than the house we bought. We waited with fingers crossed for our dream home to become available in this small enclave of Circle C for months, stalking its streets for any evidence of a For Sale sign and monitoring MLS listings with a blend of diligence and obsession. But as soon as a home popped up, there were multiple competing offers on it by noon.
One lonely short sale listing that was less-than-alluring kept lurking on the list. It was a house we disliked more and more every time we stepped inside — all nine times we visited before signing those papers. It seems like after months of searching and years of dreaming, we would have found that perfect property. But with an architect husband who gravitates toward the modern aesthetic and a family budget that doesn’t fit within those streamlined parameters, we were never able to find that quintessential place.
The house was in desperate need of attention — from the little things like stained carpets and unappealing aesthetics to the bigger items such as an unimaginative floor plan and a burnt-out furnace. But after I casually suggested a potential remodel opportunity, my husband’s design wheels began turning and never stopped. We decided to save the money we would spend on another house we didn’t really love and use it to renovate this one in a way that made sense to us. Luckily, we had a competent Realtor to help us navigate through the difficult short-sale process and connect us with a reputable contractor, Dream Makers Construction, to make it a reality.
One year later, and I must admit we somehow found our perfect home. And though we might have succumbed to suburbia, it wasn’t without transforming a cookie-cutter house into our own unique abode. For us, it was a true marital compromise: creating a modern home nestled within the perks of suburban life. From our sweet corner lot sitting across from a quaint play scape and sprawling green space, we can watch our boys play and grow. With exemplary schools, tons of nearby parks, and jogging and biking paths right around the corner, it’s a much more appropriate and quiet alternative to the traffic hub that served as our previous backyard. Our Southwest Austin location is ideal for my frequent drives to and from family in New Braunfels and my husband’s 11-mile commute downtown.
It’s strange how it all seems to work out. After fretting for months — even years — trying to find that ideal house, it turns out it was the one we hated most sitting in an area we would have never initially looked. Though my husband’s remodel renderings were hard to believe, seeing his design play out into reality was a leap in faith I am so glad he persuaded me to take. I’m not saying it was easy bunking up with my parents during the two-month remodeling stint — and there were definitely midconstruction doubts watching the walls of our newly purchased home being demoed. But last week, we celebrated our one-year anniversary of closing on the ugly house sitting on the lot we loved, and I can honestly say I grow fonder of it with each passing day.
Sometimes, you have search long and hard to find your perfect home in Austin, but when you finally do, you realize it is worth every little roundabout step it took to get there.
6 tips from 3 Austin Realtors for finding your perfect home
Advice from Tiffany Peters of Moreland Properties, an Austin Realtor for eight years:
■ Like the location and layout. “You can’t change the location of your house, and changing the actual layout is rather expensive,” Peters said. “However, you can more inexpensively move a few walls, change flooring, fixtures and paint colors.”
■ Look at the big picture. “You need to be realistic in your expectations in this market and look at the big picture,” Peters said. “Sometimes it’s OK to spend an extra $10,000 over list price on a property you love in this market.” It really boils down to figuring out what is most important to you. Do you want a certain location or lifestyle? Lots of amenities? A large house? “Most times, you can’t have it all, so decide what’s most important to you,” she said.
Advice from Meridith Brewer of The NEST Group of Realty Austin, an Austin Realtor for seven years:
■ Pick a great Realtor. “When you are trying to find your dream home in a market where supply is low and demand is high, choosing your Realtor wisely is extremely important,” Brewer said. “A well-connected, experienced agent that specializes in the area where your dream home is, can be key. In this competitive market, homes are often selling before they reach the MLS so having your Realtor keep their eyes on the prize for you can often mean the difference in getting your dream home and ending up in a multiple-offer bidding war.” An experienced agent can help you construct an offer that is strategically positioned to win your dream home.
■ Think outside the box. “Your agent should educate you on types of homes that might be of interest to you based on your wish list,” Brewer said. “If you are finding that your expectations and budget are not aligning, they can also help guide you on alternative options that you may not be aware of like up-and-coming areas and future developments that are not currently being marketed to the public.”
Advice from Anthony Gibson, Austin Properties Group of Keller Williams, Austin Realtor for three years:
■ Get educated. “In every location in Austin right now, you need to be educated in the market,” Gibson said. “Even if you are a first-time homebuyer, you need to know it is not about getting money off of a home. In Austin right now, it’s about getting you into the property you want while the market is increasing.” While you don’t want to overpay for a home, you also don’t want to miss out when there is low inventory and too many buyers. “If you find your dream home, do what it takes to get there,” he said.
■ Get your ducks in a row. Being pre-qualified is no longer good enough; you need to be pre-approved for a mortgage before you begin looking for homes. “This is important with all the multiple-offer situations we are seeing right now,” Gibson said. “If you find your dream home, it is likely going to be someone else’s dream home as well.” For the strongest-looking offer, you need to be ahead of the game and have all of your ducks in a row, which includes everything from having your finances approved to being educated about the market. “If you do the first thing right, everything will fall into place,” Gibson said. “Once you find that house, you need to be ready to move quickly.”