Thanks to our readers, clients, and supporters for a great year. Happy Holidays!
Archives for December 2009
When you’re looking for assistance, especially a professional service, it’s helpful to have testimony. My business is driven by referrals. If I do a good job for a client, that client shares their experience with their friends and colleagues, and eventually I get a phone call that goes something like this: “Hey! Got your info from So-And-So and she said you’re the guy to speak with about buying a condo in downtown Austin.”
Nice! This is how it should work.
Below I wanted to acknowledge a few people/organizations that have assisted me, and many of my clients, over the past couple of years. These are not sponsors, nor did they ask to be written about. If they stopped working with me, it wouldn’t change my positive experience when it was needed. I look for integrity in everyone I work with and the people below will tell you if they can’t help you, and whenever possible they will direct you to someone that can. I like that, and my clients do to. So here goes.
1) Mortgage lending: Brandon Sparks. Brandon has a nickname in my office: “The Fixer”. When Big Banc Corp isn’t playing nice, Brandon can find a way to get the deal done. One of my most challenging deals occurred this year. It lasted from April to November. Brandon stuck with my client when many brokers would have long ago stopped responding to emails and phone calls. This wasn’t an isolated case either. Many of my colleagues keep Brandon on speed dial when a client needs financing. In fact, Brandon handled our purchase at The Shore Condos – a transaction that had so many moving parts that I’m still amazed we got it done.
Barton Creek Lending Group
brandon [@] bartoncreeklending.com
2) Credit Re-Scoring: Eddie Johansson. OK, this is embarrassing for me, but I’m so confident this info can help others I’m willing to divulge some personal details. Two years ago, when purchasing our first home, my FICO score was under 600. Why? Foolish decisions right out of college, a handful of start-up endeavors, AND incorrect information on my credit report. If you’re a regular DAB reader you know that I’m a skeptic, so it’s important to note that before this experience, I considered the entire credit repair industry as nothing more than snake oil . I only called Eddie because he was recommended by a colleague (hey, that’s what this post is about!) that I have a lot of respect for. To get started, I would need to pay $100 for an hour of Eddie’s time when he would pull my credit report and review it with me by phone. That immediately set off my internal “this is a scam” alert. But, I had no other option other than to trust in the referral. I paid the $100, and Eddie’s assistant pulled my credit report and placed me on Eddie’s calendar for a one-hour phone call.
That $100 one-hour phone call turned out to be an education. Eddie came out guns blazing scrutinizing every account on my report. He explained the nuances of the FICO score. He explained how large dings in the distant past are often less important than small dings in the recent past. He explained his company’s process and he set my expectations. Credit repair requires incredible organization and diligence. Debt collectors can be severely penalized for inaccurate information – something that would reappear on my credit file in recent months. I needed a 680 to obtain the mortgage – a required improvement of almost 90 points. Eddie got me there, and today because of Eddie’s assistance, my FICO score is over 750 and we’re still monitoring and managing it for improvements.
I can’t say that Eddie’s services are inexpensive, but his service was worth every penny. Increasingly I view this as one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
Credit Security Group
eddie [@] creditsecuritygroup.com
3) Attorneys: Stanfield, Berry, and Hiserodt, PLLC. On a couple of occasions this year, I needed legal advice. At this stage in my life I’m not ready to keep an attorney on permanent retainer. I also am reluctant to engage a large firm to handle contractual/transactional issues.
On one occasion, I needed to wind down a partnership. They helped me think through some exit-strategy issues. They were responsive and worked quickly. We had all the docs needed within a few days.
These guys focus on small to medium sized businesses, and they assist entrepreneurs as they grow their business. They can handle a variety of legal issues – from basic business organization advice to licensing and intellectual property issues. They are located in downtown Austin, offer reasonable rates, and won’t nickle-and-dime you. My experience with them was personalized and client-friendly.
Stanfield Berry & Hiserodt, PLLC
300 West Avenue
Austin, Texas 78701
4) Personal Fitness Trainer: William Wagner. We have mentioned Will before in one of her previous posts, but I think he’s worth mentioning again, particularly with the new year and all the corresponding fitness related resolutions it brings. He’s unique because he’s not affiliated with a gym. If you are a downtown condo dweller with an on-site gym, he’s perfect, because he’ll meet you at your home for a reasonable rate (as low as $35.00 for a one-on-one session – and if you work out with a partner, as low as $22.50/per person per session – WOW!) and give you the personal attention needed to make your work-out effective. All right in your building – in the comfort of your own home. If you don’t have a gym in your building, he also has a workout facility at his home, and can meet you almost anywhere (although places like 24-hour fitness and others that have personal trainers on staff won’t allow your own personal trainer to work with you in their facility).
I know for usI, accountability is one of our main obstacles to getting to the gym. Boredom while working out is another. Will takes care of both of these obstacles – 1) We’re much more likely to show up for a session when we’re paying per session, and 2) Will’s a great conversationalist if you are one of those people that like to talk during a work-out.
I know that several DAB readers use Will, too – Will, appropriately enough, gets most of his clients through word-of-mouth (referrals!).
Will Wagner Personal Training
[Disclaimer: Every situation is different and you should do your own research. These are based on my positive personal experiences and the reputation of each person/group.]
9/25/2012: Breaking news….G’raj Mahal announces through their Facebook page that they are expanding! 2nd Location will be at 73 Rainey Street, and it looks like they will have live music. Check out our story on the details of G’raj Mahal’s expansion here.
7/3/2012: Updated menu below! Large groups should note that G’raj Mahal now only takes a maximum of 3 credit cards per order – no matter how many people are in the group. I was told by a server that this policy has been around for years, but I’ve been with several large groups there and June 2012 was the first time this happened, so I think it’s actually relatively new. This policy seems particularly odd to me personally because the minimum credit card order there is $10 (last time I checked, unless they’ve changed that, too), so logic would tell me so long as the total bill for each card is larger than $10, there shouldn’t really be an issue from a fees perspective. I guess maybe it has to do with the servers not wanting to take the time to run multiple cards? I’ve asked Sidney Roberts, the owner – but she has yet to give me a response or reason on the issue….will keep you updated!
Incidentally, it’s also worth noting that the gratuity for parties of 5 or more is now 20% (it used to 18%, per their older menu).
7/2/2010: G’Raj Mahal is currently open from 5pm-12am on Weekdays, 5pm-3am Fri-Sat. CLOSED Mondays. Also looks like all delivery will now be going through Longhorn Delivery (contact info on menu). G’Raj Mahal is BYOB!!!
Sidney, the owner also wanted me to let everyone know that the lamb is halal, blessed, and grassfed – for those following strict diets.
If somebody asked me what I thought about eating Indian food made in a truck, my *go-to* response would be – “less good choice.” At least, that was until I tried G’Raj Mahal Cafe (no website yet, but you can find them on Facebook), located at 91 Red River Street in Downtown Austin. Ummmmm…super yummy!
This gem opened a couple of weeks ago, and when I had the opportunity to try it out the other day, I was very pleasantly surprised. I had the Vegetable Goan Coconut Currie with the Classic Vegetable Samosa, which was all washed down with a Mexican Coke:
Looking at the menu, I initially thought the pricing seemed way super high. After all, this is food made from a trailer. However, the food was made to order, tasted fresh and high-quality, and the portions were generous. While I still think it’s a bit on the pricey side, I also believe that it’s worth it.
**UPDATE 12/14/2009: The owner (Sidney aka Ms. GM) just contacted me to tell me: “FYI…We reduced our prices this week slightly for the entrees as much as we could. However, we use such high grade ingredients, we are somewhat restricted to obey our food costs. We will soon have a late night menu with $5-8 items like naan wraps, lamb burgers, Indian “taco” salad, and spicy goan sausages.” Once I’ve received the updated menu, I will post it.
G’Raj Mahal Cafe does table service and take-out. The table service I experienced was friendly (even deferential) and the overall vibe was good. I would note that there is no indoor seating, but the outdoor seating is covered, and what I would describe as breezy, surrounded by peacefully flowing pieces of gauzy white fabric. Here’s a shot of the typical table:
Overall, I think it’s a good, unique addition to the downtown Austin restaurant landscape, gives the east side of Congress a quality casual dining option, and is a small business that I will support. It’s just a few steps from our residence at The Shore Condos. My only real complaint so far is that it’s only open for dinner (from 5pm-3am everyday). I think a Saturday/Sunday lunch (business permitting) would be awesome.
Open houses in downtown Austin for Sunday, December 13th
The great thing about downtown Austin open houses is that you can generally walk from building to building. If you’re into adaptive reuses of older buildings, checkout DAB’s list of downtown Austin lofts. Looking for downtown Austin FHA approved condos? We’ve got the info.
This weekend you can browse at your own pace at the Austin City Lofts, Milago (btw, have you visited Rainey Street recently?), Spring, and the Austonian sales center. While you’re here, checkout DAB’s gift suggestions found on 2nd Street.
1) 54 Rainey St Penthouse #2, 2bd, 2.5ba, $995,000, 1-3pm [Urbanspace] map
2) 800 W 5th St, #201, 2bd, 2ba, $649,900, 1-3pm [Urbanspace] map
3) 300 Bowie St, Spring sales center, model units, 1-5pm map website
4) 200 Congress Ave, Austonian sales center located at 300 W 6th, 12-5pm map website
Don’t see the properties you’re interested in? Ask a Realtor who lives and works in downtown Austin.
Schlosser Development is proposing a new mixed-use complex in the parking lot to the east of the downtown Austin Whole Foods. The following renderings and description were recently submitted to the City of Austin Design Commission and will be presented on Monday, December 14th. The status is currently conceptual.
The Shoal Creek Walk, a proposed development project from Schlosser Development, will be a true mixed-use building complex located at the corner of West Sixth and Bowie Streets in downtown Austin, Texas. The project will closely conform to the constraints of the site which include a capital view corridor over approximately one half of the property and the Shoal Creek floodplain elevation.
These site limitations create a specific and very limited area where building improvements can be made on the site, by restricting both the building height and the overall footprint of any buildings on the site. Within those limitations, two buildings will be situated along Bowie Street, as the eastern portion of the site is within the floodplain. The high-rise building, at 350′ tall, will be located on the north portion of the property with a total of approximately 490,000 sq. ft. of office, retail and residential uses. The low-rise building will be situated at the corner of West Fifth and Bowie Streets, with primarily offices above the first level retail component for a total of about 100,000 sq. ft.
The two buildings together will provide more than 450,000 sq. ft. of office space, which is of a size able to attract a major employer and will likely be built in phases, to allow accommodation of a variety of tenant sizes. This flexibility will greatly enhance the feasibility of the project moving forward. The larger building will also have a residential component of about 90 units located above the office in what will be a narrower, residential footprint. The residential component adds to the feasibility of the larger building and is consistent with the downtown plan preference for vertically integrated structures.
The parking will be entirely within structured parking garages, both above and below grade, possibly with several surface ADA and drop-off parking adjacent to the building. Materials for the building will be of durable quality and wi ll be consistent with the architecture represented in the Market District.
The debate surrounding downtown Austin density is postured as affordable housing vs. height. Height being a proxy for density, and if you want more of it you’ll have to pay for it. If you believe in pro-density new-urbanist principles (like I do), then you might see the underlying debate as affordable housing vs. the environment.
If you are shifting your society away from sprawl, then you increasingly need to house people vertically. As long there is available virgin hill country to pave over, that land will be cheaper than downtown Austin land, and there will be economics favoring construction of affordable housing on that land outside of downtown. Until the region can coordinate an urban growth boundary, integration of socio-economic classes will not happen naturally without regulation. The density bonus seems to be that regulation.
Many intelligent people believe that the the bonus is really a tax. “Why should we tax density?” or “This makes development downtown more expensive” are reasonable concerns to anyone that wants to see more vertical development. Sprawl occurs when it is convincingly more affordable to live outside urban core. But, for every person that lives in the urban core, less pavement is needed outside of it. Every person counts. It’s far from a comprehensive solution, but I’m considering a new perspective that the density bonus is a positive for curbing sprawl.
Is it worth allocating affordable housing funds to 1 person in downtown, for the same cost to house 3 people in east Austin, or 7 people south of Ben White? The answer might be yes.
I live on the east edges of Downtown Austin, and one of my very favorite things about my location is that I can walk to East Austin on a whim. It’s like I get the best of both worlds. There’s soooo much happening on the east side of I-35, and many of my favorite retail/restaurant stops are located in East Austin.
One of the best (in my opinion) coffee shops over that way is Cafe Mundi, an earthy, hidden coffee shop with one of the tastiest, but simplest, breakfast sandwiches in Austin. I was dreaming of said breakfast sandwich this past Saturday, so I took a nice and bundled-up walk over. As I was removing the million layers of clothing I had donned for my walk, I noticed a postcard advertisement on the table for a farmer’s market called HOPE (which stands for Helping Other People Everywhere) Farmer’s Market – which is held near 5th and Waller. Cafe Mundi (along with Daily Juice, Moonshine, Big Red Sun, and the Austin Art + Music Partnership, and others) is a sponsor of the HOPE Farmer’s Market, described on their website as “a weekly community gathering space where local farmers, artisans, community groups, families, and urban consumers can find fresh foods, community programs, artistic creations, agricultural education and wellness workshops.”
Now, this has been going on since October 25th, but I’ll be honest, I am generally either working on a project or nursing a hangover on Sunday mornings from 11 am – 3 pm, and have not had the opportunity to attend. I’m planning on changing that this weekend and going out and taking some pics and doing a little recon for all the DAB readers. Stay tuned for updates!
At last night’s WCCAC meeting:
Downtown Austin’s Waller Creek District and tunnel project continues to get more interesting. At last night’s meeting of the Waller Creek Citizens Advisory Committee we covered a lot of ground.
1) 21c developer, Poe Companies, updated us on the status of the project. They’re actively pursuing stakeholder input, so I’m comfortable saying that this the only new residential project in downtown Austin that still has legs. The site plan calls for three structures: 1) apartments 2) hotel 3) future site tbd. The condos are out, for now, but could be built on the future site. The current focus is a 31 story, 350 unit apartment tower at the southwest corner of Red River and Cesar Chavez. The tower would provide 400,000 inhabitable square feet with target lease rates from $1.50-2.50 per foot. Steve Poe anticipated a unit mix of 70% 1bd/1ba. They are volunteering 10% of the units to meet affordable housing standards (80% MFI), although they are not required to provide any. There will also be ~10 artist studios facing the creek. It’s unknown how these units will be priced. When asked about quality of construction, we were guided to look at AMLI on 2nd as a comparison. This proposed downtown Austin apartment tower is fully entitled (needs no variances), and the only hurdle is locking in the funding, which they are seeking a substantial portion of through the HUD 211(s)(4) loan program for multi-family development.
The hotel concept would be located closer to the corner of Davis St and Red River. It would have have 200-250 keys spread across 12 stories and 225,000 inhabitable feet. In the near term, the hotel is less certain to be built than the apartment tower, as it is more challenging to find financing for a hotel – I find this ironic given that Austin has a shortage of hotels and [some would argue] a surplus of apartments. Such is the state of the financial markets.
After several years of tunnel planning work, this is the first project to come before the WCCAC. The development team seems to be very progressive and in tune with the Waller Creek District Master Plan. They understand the importance of public space and improving public connections from Red River into Waller Creek trails. The earliest the project could begin is mid-2010, and I’m optimistic they will obtain their funding.
One of the most important questions you’ll see asked of every project that comes before the WCCAC is the estimated contribution to the TIF. The $120MM bond that pays for the tunnel improvements is paid back through the incremental increase in ad-valorem taxes along the creek. 21c estimated that it would generate $1MM per year ($20MM over twenty years), to repayment of the bond.
2) A summary of the Waller Creek District Draft Development Standards were presented by city staff. This is a set of guidelines to reinforce the vision for Waller Creek as identified in the master plan. Sub-districts are defined which spell out appropriate design for each sub-district. These rules could be codified into law within the next 6-9 months. It’s good that we’re establishing these guidelines now. City council could potentially allow development to begin along the creek on a case-by-case basis by providing variances from building in the floodplain prior to completion of the tunnel. Depending on the timing of adopting these development standards, the 21c project may/may not be subject to them.
3) The WCCAC has been trying to find a way to assure world-class design standards along the creek while working within the legal constraints of the city’s procurement processes. Currently, the city will hire a firm capable of delivering a product. THEN they seek input to design the product. The city hires the firm before knowing what the final design looks like. This process precludes “design competitions”, but the WCCAC has a much better understanding of how and to deliver aesthetic design input. With enough lead time, a private sector “design competition” could occur such that the winner’s concept is delivered to the firm hired by the City, via the WCCAC.
From the website (under Events):
Come downtown for holiday shopping in the true spirit of the season.
- Trunk shows
- Special Holiday discounts
- Bites and bevs
Plan your night, and shop all six blocks:
- Begin your evening as early as 4pm. That’s when Soco Designs begins serving up the fun, including 20 percent off all non-sale rugs purchased off the floor.
- Then moved on to gallery d and Finch for 15 percent off storewide, trunk shows by Studio 3 and Stephanie Nance Studio PLUS live music from Austin’s own OHN.
- Enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres at Minx during the Jodi Arnold trunk show and get 25 percent off all purchases.
- Sip & save at Wee with 20 percent off all in-store merchandise, plus wine and snacks.
- Don’t miss the Branch jewelry trunk show & cocktail party at Eliza Page.
- Celebrate some of our favorite Austin designers at Beyond Tradition. Meet the designers in-store and let them help you select the perfect gift for anyone on you list while you enjoy hors d’oeuvres from III Forks and cocktails by Paula’s Texas Spirits.
- From 9 to 11 pm celebrate the opening of “Directions in Light,” a series of contemporary shadow boxes with sculptural interiors lit from within, created by artist Brooke Gassiot at milk + honey Spa.
And if you’re near Blu Cafe, Bar and Lounge catch the Peyton’s Place fashion show at 7 pm. See fabulous new holiday arrivals and give-away gift bags and certificates.
I love to see effective guerrilla marketing in action.
Earlier this month it seemed as if every Austinite on twitter was sharing rumors that hip-hop fashionista Kanye West purchased the top floor of the Austonian. Skeptical, as is my nature, I was doubtful – I had just toured the top floors. The Austonian is the furthest you’ll get from a proper “Austin loft“. The rumor propagated with Kanye’s lyric “New crib-LOFT IN- where its at-AUSTIN-where is that-Texas!!!”
I was scratching my head, and thinking “really?”. Pushing down my gullible pride, I bashfully confirmed with the Austonian. The rumor, of course, is 100% false, but it resulted in discussion and intrigue. This was cunning guerrilla marketing. 🙂
Think about it. Eventually, perhaps this year, a buyer will emerge for the Austonian penthouse. There are a handful of buyers that have their eye on this space, but are biding their time, waiting to see if the fierce competition among the luxury towers will further soften prices across the board. These towers are already negotiating, very discretely, behind closed doors. But, for the buyer that has their eye on a product with no substitutes, one day soon, they could wake up to real news that what they desire is no longer available.
Below, I’m reposting a comment I shared in another thread
Jude Galligan wrote:
The current market for these buildings [Spring, W, Four Seasons, Austonian] works like this: There are buyers right now paying for a specific view, or floorplan, or the flexibility of combining units. We’re negotiating hard, and seeing deals with 10-15% discounts from asking. More or less depending on the specific space and the buyer’s desire for customizations. At this level, buyers often just want a shell space and the ability to bring their architect into the discussion. There are other buyers waiting patiently for better negotiating posture in a softer market – they are less concerned about having a specific space.
Until each building receives a certificate of occupancy, and we can observe the velocity of closings on the existing contracts, it’s challenging to gauge a market for a product that Austin is unfamiliar with (i.e. luxury urban condos).
I don’t expect they will sell out before they open, unless they soften their prices in a blanket fashion come springtime. However, I don’t expect you will see auctions (with the possible exception of the attainably priced Sabine) as the financing for the Austonian, W, and Spring give them a couple of years from construction completion before they need to repay the debt.
Reltated posts about penthouse living: