This new series is transcripts of real interviews with our clients. We sit down with them to talk about their experiences buying and selling real estate, and share tips on how you can be successful in this process.
Caitlin was referred to me by my friends, rockstar repeat clients, and amazingly prolific referral-senders Dan and Lauren. I've lost count at this point of how many fun clients they've played a part in introducing me to. But Caitlin was one of them. She was ready to settle into a home in Austin after living abroad for several years. We looked around Central Austin and ultimately settled on a renovated 1904 detached condo not far from our condo. So now she can come to hang out with her new best dog friend Rosie (my dog) and swim in our pool whenever she wants.
Below is the interview we recorded when she closed.
Q: What made you want to buy a home in Austin?
Caitlin: I just moved back to the states from being abroad and wanted to be back near my family, but specifically, I was faced with buying versus renting. I wanted to have something that was mine. I lived a nomadic life for three years, so I want to have something that's mine and that I own. Before I moved away from Austin, I was starting to get ready to buy a house, so I was already one foot in that door when I left. Coming back to the country, I was like "Okay, let's do it. Let's buy a house." I was tired of just paying rent money and having it go down the drain and wanted to find a way to diversify the investments that I had. And so, buying a home in Austin seemed like a good way to marry all of those different things.
Isabel: It always excites me to see people in our generation buying homes because so many millennials. don't. They want to buy, but they get scared of the responsibility, so they rent. I encourage people to take some time to sit down and do a calculation of what they're actually paying to not take responsibility.
Caitlin: I think that’s the thing that scares people off in the end. When you sign a piece a paper that says a 30-year loan, I think for a lot of people, we look at that and say to ourselves “Oh no, that ties me down for 30 years, I can't possibly sign something like that. I don't know what I'm going to be doing in 30 years.” You will get into that mentality without realizing that this is just an investment. There's no expectation that you actually own the house for 30 years. The reality at our age and what we're buying is that we probably won’t be owning something for that entire term, but thinking of it more of monthly investment to something that's like an additional asset for your portfolio and having a great place to live.
Isabel: These conversations are always really good for me. Doing this every day, I think I know what people are thinking and what their challenges are. And then you say something like that and I think to myself "Oh, I need to explain to people that you don't have to live in it for 30 years." You can have a 30-year loan, which means that your monthly payment is low. You can sell the house after five years and still make a bunch of money. The 30 years is completely arbitrary.
Caitlin: The 30 years is completely scary though. And I think especially for our generation, compared to others, like my parents, when they buy a house, their expectation is more along the lines of “We're still developing our careers here. We're going to stay here.” I think a lot more people are very nomadic nowadays, whether that's within a city, within a country, within the world. The feeling of being tied down and the responsibility of being tied down scares people. Whether it's a relationship, house or whatever it is. When you look at it from a standpoint of, Yes, you're signing a 30-year loan but just think of it as an investment.
Q: What was the hardest part of the buying process?
Caitlin: The hardest part was setting a budget. I had an idea in my mind of what I wanted to spend per month. And I was more focused on that than what I wanted to spend as my total price. So we came together on a budget for me. I didn't want to pay too much money, but I wanted to live centrally. When you try to bring those two things together, it gets really hard. I think setting the budget and then finding something within that budget that I like was challenging. I wanted to find a home I really liked versus “oh, I guess I can live with this”. Lastly, I think it was also hard learning to have the patience to wait for something.
Isabel: When I was in high school, I was an angsty teenager. And I remember saying to my dad, "I just don't feel like there are any good guys out there. I don't know how I'm ever going to find one." And my dad said, "well, it only takes one good one." It's true with houses too. Sometimes my clients say to me “I'm never going to find a house. I don't like any of these houses” and I tell them "It only takes one good one." And it's true. When you find it, you just know.
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Q: What are you most excited about moving in?
Caitlin: I’m really excited about the location. I like that it has some things that are only within a 10 to 15-minute walk. That’s something living abroad that I really liked. Living in the cities, I got very used to the lifestyle of not having a car. I liked being able to retain a bit of that element to my lifestyle. I'm also excited about having a place that I can to host people come from out of town they can stay with me. Previously, I lived in an apartment in Austin, so if friends would come in they would stay with my parents in an extra room. So I'm excited to have somewhere where I can actually host people and they can come stay. I’m excited but also nervous about how much I'm spending. But I'm getting to build a place that has the things that are really my style. Living nomadically for the last couple of years, I've only owned stuff that was very utilitarian. I knew that I would be selling and getting rid of those things. It's a very different mentality shopping for higher-end furniture and knowing that this is something I'm going to hang onto.
Q: Did you learn anything about real estate or about investing during the process?
Caitlin: Yes, I did. I learned about terms. The term "impervious cover" (learn what impervious cover means at the end of this post). I've learned a lot about impervious cover. That was my first big lesson. I think that was really valuable to know.
I also learned that as my agent, you do a lot more on the backend. Everything leading up to when I found the house, was pretty much what I expected. But your team did a ton of work after that. For example, showing me what things I could be doing to make my offer more attractive and negotiating on the appraisal. These are things that can make your offer more attractive than just offering more money. There are things I never would have realized during the process. I also learned the value of working with someone who knows what they're doing. I didn't have to deal with a bunch of problems because I was working with someone who handles it all. I got to email your team and say “Hey, this is what I want. These are the questions that I had. Can you go figure them out?”
Isabel: It's funny you say that because so many people don't realize what you just pointed out. From the public's standpoint, they think my job as an agent is to find houses for buyers and to get offers for sellers. In reality, that's only about 10 to 20% of what we do in a transaction. Sometimes people say things to me like, “You know, the last agent that I worked with didn't even find the house for us, we found the house." But really that's not the biggest part of the agent's job. I think people complain about that because they feel like their agent didn't do anything and they are trying to express their frustration. But what is interesting, is that very often, I don't find houses for my clients either. But nobody ever complains because I think they can understand how much goes in. 80% to 90% of what I do for a buyer that is really valuable is from contract to closing.
Caitlin: All the other stuff before, looking at houses, is just logistics. When it comes time to do contract to closing, that's when you, as a buyer, realize that this is when the real work actually happens. As a buyer, homes shopping feels like a lot of work happening because it's time-intensive. I would say aside from that, option period week is the most time-intensive part of the process. Once we got past option, I know you guys were doing work, but I didn't have to do much. When you look at it that way, as a buyer you don't realize that stuff is happening in the background. Especially with how quick we did this close, normally this stuff takes longer than what it took. I know you guys pushed to get things through faster and the lender did as well. I really think that our initial meeting where you sat down with me and said to me “These are all the pieces that are going to come from you." You wrote out on a piece of paper “These are all the things that are going to happen until you close” was super helpful. Not only did that set expectations, but I knew once I put that offer in, these are all the things that are happening. Otherwise, that would feel hectic. Instead of thinking, “Why does everybody need all this stuff?” I had an idea of the steps that are happening in the background and what you needed from me.
Q: Any last comments?
Caitlin: It was fun. It's a great house. I'm excited to change a couple of things, add certain things to it, and make it mine. I think it was a great experience and honestly a lot smoother than I expected. Based on meeting with you initially, you told me to expect the Austin market to be crazy and it was. We made some offers that didn't go through. But I'm glad they didn't because I ended up with the house that I wanted. My advice to buyers is to not to be scared off by Austin's hot market and to listen to your agent's advice.
You gave me some great negotiation advice. You came in and advised me "If you're willing to lose this house, then let's negotiate hard." Versus, "Here's what needs to happen if you want this house and aren't willing to lose it." These were different negotiation strategies that you offered for my mentalities for each house. That was one of the most helpful things.
Thank you to Caitlin for working with us and for your great insights. Here are a few key takeaways:
1. Hire a good agent.
Don't be afraid to interview your agent. You need someone who knows the market and who will be your biggest advocate in a negotiation.
2. Don't be discouraged if you lose a few offers.
If an offer falls through, don't feel discouraged. Your house is out there, just have patience in the process.
3. Don't let the hot market scare you off.
The Austin real estate market moves fast. It can be a scary place for buyers and sellers. But with the right agent and the right mentality, we can use it in our favor.
4. What is impervious cover?
If it doesn't absorb water, it's considered impervious cover. That includes driveways, roofs, and patios. Austin has strict rules for builders about how many square feet of the property can be impervious, to manage flooding concerns. If the ground doesn't absorb water, it's going somewhere, right? And in space-constrained central Austin, impervious cover restrictions show up in interesting ways. Ever noticed those driveways that are two strips of concrete instead of a full driveway? Those strips use up less impervious cover than a full driveway. This is relevant for buyers looking in Central Austin, particularly at new homes and even more particularly at A/B detached condos. If you're wondering "Can I extend this deck a few feet?" The answer is likely no. The builder probably maxed out the impervious cover for that lot.
Technically speaking: As the city grows, impervious cover has intensified the polluting effects of rainwater runoff and exacerbated flooding issues. Impervious cover is any type of human-made surface that doesn't absorb water so rainfall can no longer be absorbed directly into the ground. To manage these issues, the city of Austin allows a certain percentage of impervious cover on a property. Common examples of impervious cover include rooftops, patios, driveways, sidewalks, roadways, parking lots and decks.
If you are considering buying or selling a home in Austin, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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