The Austin real estate market continued to gain steam in March 2013
The volume of home sales in Austin outpaced last year’s significantly last month and the price for Austin-area homes continued to rise.
The Austin real estate market continued to gain steam in March, according to the Multiple Listing Service report released recently by the Austin Board of REALTORS. It is the 22nd straight month of sales increases, and the most home sales recorded in March since 2007.
“Strong demand for Austin homes continues, but the number of listings on the market remains consistent. This has led to steady increases in price while keeping housing inventory at record lows.” Cathy Coneway, chairman of the Austin Board of REALTORS, said.
The region’s job and population growth, along with continued low interest rates, are driving sales up, and that demand coupled with low inventory is pushing prices higher, experts say. Unemployment in the Austin metro area dropped to 5.4 percent in March, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.
Homes sales in Central Texas increased 16 percent in March compared to the same month last year, and Austin-area home sales up 26 percent. According to the report, 1,626 single-family homes were sold in the Austin area in March 2013, which is 26 percent more than March 2012, and the total dollar volume of single-family properties sold was $430,324,152, or 32 percent higher than the same month last year. 2,166 homes were sold last month compared to 1,866 in March 2012.
The market also featured 1 percent more new listings. On average, homes spent 71 days on the market, which is a decrease of 15 days from one-year prior.
“Adding jobs, annually, for nearly three straight years emboldens consumer confidence in the local economy, and this is driving the robust demand for housing in the Austin market,” said Madison Inselmann, regional director of Metrostudy’s Austin market.
The Austin area added 32,200 jobs in the 12 months that ended in March, a 4 percent annual growth rate. Since reaching its employment bottom in 2010, the Austin area has added more than 90,000 jobs, Metrostudy said in a news release Friday.
Dazhi Sun, 34, graduated in 2010 from Texas A&M University, is working at Dell Inc. He did what many of his peers did after college: stayed two years, got an apartment and has been renting ever since. “Rent has increased three consecutive years,” he said. “You’ll never get that back. Just looking at those numbers, I could own for less than rent.”
Sun got married in October 2012. Since then, he and his wife Xiuyuan Wang decided to start hunting for a perfect house in Austin to buy. They qualified for a 3.25 percent, 30-year fixed mortgage with 20 percent down and bought a new 1,900-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath ranch-style house in Round Rock, Texas, a suburb of Austin. Their mortgage: less than $1,500 a month, compared to $1,600-a-month rent for a 1,000-square-foot apartment.
“I get double the space,” Sun said.
“One more advantage for me, since I am a first-time buyer, so I don’t have to sell one house before buying another. Why waste money to rent?” Sun said.
“Austin’s housing inventory continues to be one of the lowest in Texas,” Coneway said, “Buyers should prepare to act fast on a home they want and to possibly offer over list price as 97.4 percent of homes are selling at list price.”
The board said there were 5,218 homes on the market, 28 percent less than a year ago March. In a sign April could be another robust sales month, 2,754 sales were pending last month, 18 percent more than in the prior March. On average, homes took 64 days to sell, compared with an average of 86 days in March 2012.
“Austin-area homes are spending almost a third less time on the market compared to March 2012, while the volume of home sales outpaced last year significantly,” Coneway said. “It’s no longer uncommon for sellers to receive multiple offers on a home within days of listing.”
Storify: Running Reporters Live Blog the 2013 Statesman Capitol 10K
Feature Story: Voice of China in Austin
“Welcome back, your listening to iPanda, KVRX Austin, 91.7FM. We are the only Chinese-speaking show in Austin. I am DJ Vivian…” a soft and nice voice started with English but followed with Chinese. It’s Wednesday night again.
Every Wednesday, the show begins on 91.7FM. The team successfully launched its first show in June 2011 on 91.7FM KVRX with the fervor and enthusiasm of five University of Texas students (Shanshan Jin, Suchada Sutasirisap, Harry Huang, Vivian Huang, and Yezhou Wang), who were passionate about sharing Chinese music and culture.
“When we first started this show, we had a very bad time, every Wednesday morning 4 a.m., it’s really hard to keep doing this show and school works. But we persisted, and it was worth to do so,” said Vivian, 22, whose Chinese name is Zilan Huang, which means the colors of purple, blue and yellow. “To me, this is not a work, it could be a pressure release point and the happiest moment of my week, and even I have to get up at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
“We are like a family here at iPanda. We were growing, and now we are under the Asian Radio Station, so we have Chinese music, Japanese music, Korean music and even Thailand music. Out target audience is still young Chinese (Asian) group, so the pop music what we played most on the show.” said Vivian.
Vivian is a senior student in UT, majoring in RTF and accounting. She is also a staff photographer for the Division of Recreational Sports. A typical hard working Asian girl, she’s always busy during the day, and stays in the library till late night every school day.
Vivian now lives in Dallas with her mom and she has been in the United States for six years. She finished high school in Garland and then came to UT.
“Do I miss China? Of course, like most international students, we talked English at school and work, but Chinese is our native language, we still talked to friends in Chinese, watch Chinese movies and listen to Chinese songs,” Vivian said.
It has been almost two years since the first iPanda show launched. iPanda expanded its team, but it also bid farewell to its big sister, the co-founder of iPanda, Shanshan Jin. After she graduated from UT, Jin started her full time job, so she has to give up the job at iPanda.
“The Chinese population in Austin is not small, but we found out there’s no Chinese-speaking radio show in Austin, that’s a shock but an opportunity. So I decided to talk to KVRX, see if they would like to let us have a show,” Jin said.
After they proved my iPanda proposal, Jin called Vivian, they’ve been known each other for two years, and Vivian is the hardest working girl Jin had ever met. Luckily she said “Yes, I would love to join in.”
“Something I remembered from the first beginning, and I will never forget, is that one midnight, we are doing the show, we got a call. An actual call in, which we never get one before.” Jin raised her voice and said excitedly, “a guy talked in English, and he said: ‘I don’t understand anything you guys are saying, but sounds like you are having fun. Please keep doing that.’”
“In American there’s not many Asian radio shows or Chinese-speaking radio shows. It’s not easy to do a Chinese radio show in Austin, at the first beginning, people around, even Chinese, don’t understand why we are insisted to keep doing this show.” Vivian said, “but I am proud of myself that I can do great both in school and iPanda, and her contribution to the Chinese community in Austin.”
“I love everything I am doing right now, and I know I will never give up!” Said Vivian.
You can check the accompanying photos below:
It’s a photo that Vivian is actually on air, so it makes my theme clearly, Vivian and the show.
iPands DJs are on air.
Vivian doing the show, and “having fun.”
Austin Officially Saying Bye Bye to Plastic Bags
As the years went by and plastic won, people began to find myriad other makeshift uses for the little bags with the briefcase-like handles. You could line small trashcans with them, use one to scoop up dog doo or carry wet towels home from the beach. You could even use them to take pictures in the rain and not destroy your camera.
If there’s a beacon of light in this uphill battle, it’s that the places that have banned the use of plastic bags or limiting their use with a fee, the outcomes have generally been very favorable. In Ireland, 15-cent bag fees have cut down the plastic bag use by astonishing 90 percent. Washington D.C. has seen decrease use from 22 million bags to 3 million with a mere 5-cent fee. Even China has started reducing its plastic bag consumption by 60 percent within a year.
The movement to become plastic-free has increased over time. In 2001, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags, and many cities are following suit. Concerned communities are enacting upon the public health and environmental hazards of plastics.
The Austin City Council unanimously passed a bag ban ordinance March 1, 2012 on both paper and plastic bags, which took effort this month. The ban is one of the broadest in the country, and Austin is the largest city in Texas to ban single-use bags.
Members added an education campaign on the ban that is estimated to cost between $1.5 and $2 million, according to Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert.
There are a few exceptions to the ban, such as plastic bags used at dry cleaners as well as exemptions for disposable bags used by local food banks.
“It has taken us five years to get this passed, starting with our proposal in 2007 to limit and discourage plastic bag use,” said Andrew Dobbs, Austin Texas Campaign for the Environment program director. “We have been talking to City Council that whole time, and all our work has paid off tonight.”
“This is a huge step to clean up our communities across the planet,” Dobbs said.
“We have socially aware, environmentally conscious customers who are already in this mindset to begin with, so it’s not too huge of a leap,” said Leslie Sweet, who represented H-E-B. She testified that the retailer supports the ban. “I think it’s going to be a big deal for other retailers, but not so much for us.”
“It’s more about a sustainability measure for us,” she said. “We try to make sure that we’re really accessible. For us, it’s an overall measure to take care of the planet.”
While some Austin citizens hold the different idea. The biggest thing now is remembering to bring those reusable cloth bags to the grocery store that citizens have collected since the plastic ban began.
"I’m still not used to it (reusable cloth bag), I always forget,” Zarah Lindholm acknowledged, a housewife and a frequent H-E-B shopper.
“And I rarely throw out my plastic grocery bags. They are very useful, and on top of that, I rarely go to the grocery store knowing how many bags I am going to need.” Lindholm added.
The bags have also been known to be handy for carrying baby bottles and for stashing dirty diapers until you find a trashcan. But Lindholm says she’s found freezer bags serve the same purpose and don’t seem to blow away in the wind, get tangled in trees or power lines or stuck in storm drains like grocery bags do.
After all, changes can only come when the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. The prime recent example of this being tobacco. The backlash and the public perception of tobacco’s negativity has changed drastically within the last 10 years.
Although we as a society are miles away from being completely plastic-free, there are ways to reduce our dependence and consumption.
Here’s a handy infographic for more facts about plastic bags.
Elevating Literacy: Mentors Spark Austin School’s Reading Success
Housed inside on school days, eager children work to increase their reading levels, comprehension and vocabulary skills with support from University of Texas students under the HOSTS ‘Help One Student To Succeed’ Learning Program.
“That was my first time heard about HOSTS, I was taking Ms. Lukenbill’s Children’s Literature class last semester,” said Lauren Coffman, a junior student at the University of Texas at Austin with a major in chemical engineering. “She talked about HOSTS program in class, one hour a week, reading books to the kids and help them, plus the extra credits of this course.”
“My students (two of them, one is fifthgrade and one is pre-kindergarten) are all adorable, I enjoyed the time when I was tutoring them in reading, talking to them, teaching them to play games, encouraging them to work hard to succeed,” Coffman said. "I’m still satisfied in my mind, and I felt great and proud."
Help One Students To Succeed, or HOSTS, was started in 1971 by Bill Gibbons, a native teacher from Washington State who had students that were struggling in reading. Teachers paired elementary students with high school students who became their mentors. Before long, the elementary students were improving with the help of their mentors.
Most UT students work at Metz Elementary School and other East Austin schools, which began using HOSTS Mentoring & Intervention in 2002 for both Spanish and English reading. Educators credit the program with helping students who began reading from one to three years behind their grade level get up to speed. Metz even claimed exemplary status from the Texas Education Agency in 2010, largely due to the HOSTS program, HOSTS teacher Melanie Perez said.
Through support from Austin Energy and the City of Austin, the school has continually increased students’ reading success. Much of this is due to their partnership with volunteer HOSTS mentors. The program goals are to increase a student’s reading skills, self esteem, attendance and independent reading level.
“Before they (UT mentors) say anything, the students know they are from UT. They already began to admire them and like them, because they know that the UT mentors are important people. They’re doing important things. They’re in college,” Perez said. “We tell our students, ‘That’s where you need to go. You’re going to go to UT. That’s what we expect.’”
Students who need help in reading are paired with a community member who wants to make a difference in a child’s life. The volunteer mentor and the student meet once a week for a half an hour on the same day and at the same time. Mentors may stay for as many 30 minutes sessions as they wish.
The Hispanic population is often twice as many students with needs than bilingual mentors, Perez also points out.
“I was there as a Spanish HOSTS mentors for two semester. My student couldn’t speak much English last year when I first met him, but now he is totally a native English speaker,” said Luis Juarez, a UT junior in the College of Education, majoring in Applied Learning. “I came from Mexico with my family to Texas eight years ago, when I was doing this as a bilingual mentor, I wish I could have a college student to be my mentor and teach me English individually at school.”
The number of students enrolled in HOSTS has grown from 60 to 140 students per day, and the program receives $100,000 in funding from the City of Austin. The money covers funding for one teacher and one teacher’s assistant and the supplies needed for the program, including games and books.
“It has grown to be a vital piece in the interventions that our students receive for reading,” Perez added about the program, which she said: “provides an additional reading intervention that no other school provides.”
“Most of the students in our school are from the low-income families. The students you mentored are at risk of graduating and going to the middle high school, and they are struggling at reading.” Perez told the UT volunteers at orientation. “But they are all good kids. You will know that when you get to know them. They just need help.”
“Home is not a sanctuary, but school can be,” Perez said.
HOSTS also tries to give students a sense of security that otherwise might be lacking.
HOSTS is free for all Metz students, 92 percent of whom are Latino. In addition, 95 percent of the students live below the poverty level, a factor that can lead to poor reading skills.
The need for volunteers for HOSTS is great. In 2011, more than 54 percent of the 86,000 Austin school district students qualify as economically disadvantaged. More than 23 percent are English language learners, students whose primary language is not English and who might have difficulty performing ordinary English class work. These students are at an increased risk of underperforming or dropping out of school, according to an article on the Austin-American Statesman written by Lee Leffingwell and Kathie Tovo, Austin City Council.
“I mentor because I know that this is a program that makes a difference in a child’s life,” Juarez said. “If they get this passion for reading earlier on in their education, they are more likely to succeed later on in their academic career.”
“Share the experience with your friends, we still have great need for volunteers, so if you cannot make it next semester, ask a friend,” side Perez.
A Free T-shirt Should Not Cost 5,000 dollars, Beware of Identity Theft and Fraud
University of Texas Police Department assistant Chief Terry McMahan talked about how identity theft and fraud on Internet could be abused by unveiling real cases on campus during the UTPD press conference.
“You cannot imagine how easy it is to stole your credit card information just through your Facebook page,” McMahan warned UT students. “Nearly every theft from a dorm room is through an unlocked door, so always lock the door when the room is unoccupied or when you are sleeping.”
The Consular Affairs Bureau receives daily calls about Internet scams involving Internet dating, inheritance, work permits, overpayment and money laundering. Victims range in age from 18 to 81 and come from all socio-economic backgrounds, according to information from the bureau.
While such confidence schemes have long existed, the advent of the Internet has greatly increased their prevalence. Americans have lost considerable money on these scams, ranging from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Theft records occupied 85% of the Part I crimes burglary and theft target section in the UTPD monthly crime statistics reports. The crime statistics only represents only those activities reported to UTPD during the stated month. The crime-cleared rate is extremely low in this section, the annual average is considered as 12.4% of 2012. “Online theft and fraud, however, is even harder to spot and clear,” according to McMahan.
Mobile social networks extend into the real world by allowing mobile users to discover and interact with friends who happen to be in their physical vicinity. Despite their promise to enable many exciting applications, serious security and privacy concerns have hindered wide adoption of these networks.
“The Internet is a wonderful thing. It opens a lot of possibilities, but it shouldn’t be a substitute for people’s caution,” said Joshua Harper, an information security analyst in the Information Technology Services Department of UT.
“The trouble is if no one realizes the personal information leaked, then nothing raises a red flag,” Harper said. “We’re as vulnerable to this as the next business.”
“There are some basic measures that anyone can take to prevent their identity from being stolen. A lot of it is keeping your computer and mobile devices safe, keeping them secure, like not leaving them on the table if they’re at the coffee shop and want to do drink a mocha making sure that they password-protect them and run antivirus on them,” Harper said. “Setting and running Firewall for your computer, that’s basic for anything to do with computing and identity theft.”
“Never put any personal information out there about yourself, whether it be on a social networking site, anything — not even your birthday,” Harper said. “People say, ‘I only put the month and year,’ but based on conversations with somebody, as easily as where you went to high school or when you graduated, they can figure out your year. But people aren’t going to ask, ‘What’s your Social Security number? What’s your date of birth?’ and that type of thing.”
If an identity is stolen, there are resources for the victim.
“A victim of identity fraud should get in touch with their financial institutions, credit card companies and banks before contacting the police,” according to UTPD.
“Do not give out your very personal information for a free T-shirt, it may turn out cost you $5,000, just for a T-shirt.” McMahan said.
For journalists: higher degrees beyond undergrad unfortunately don’t necessarily pay off.
Moving up to a higher level in the journalism industry, a higher degree won’t be as helpful as journalistic working experience, an audience of University of Texas at Austin teachers and students were told by four recent UT graduated journalism students on Jan.17.
The group of journalism panelists, speaking in the Belo Center of New Media on the UT campus, shared a bevy of tips aimed at helping journalism students stand out including: the importance of internship, the job-seeking masses, why experience is more important than higher degrees for journalism students, why and how to build up personal networks through internships, and how to land a gig worth bragging about.
The highlight of this panel discussion surrounded the panelists’ answers to questions like, “Do you think we need a higher degree to keep going up in journalism industry?” and “I want to go to work in New York, do you think I need a master degree after graduate?” which were asked by the students in the class. Jackie Vega said, one of the panelists, who is a digital reporter and content producer of KXAN.com, “To be honest, higher degrees beyond undergrad unfortunately don’t necessarily pay off.” Although they mentioned that going to law school is one of the options that a lot of journalism students would consider. But to get into this industry, a higher degree is not necessary, especially if you’ve already gained a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
“When you are working in journalism industry, the most important thing is how to communicate with people, and build relationship with the people out there can help you work,” Vega said.
Later on, a reporter at the Austin American-Statesman, Jazmine Ulloa, one of the panelists, added, “You must make connection with some upper-level people, this is better than class, because you have put hands on the market. Also use your internship to build your personal network and your student organizations and jobs to build your personal network.”
An online article on OJR.com, which was written by Robert Niles, “Advice for the year’s incoming journalism students”, pointed out that, “This is what will earn you the personal respect that you will need to encourage others in your network to invite into opportunities in the future. Fail to network responsibly, and all the smarts in the world won’t help you succeed.”
David Muto, also is one of the panelists, who writes and copy-edits for the Texas Tribune, shared his own experience to demonstrate how important internships and professional experience are for a journalism student. “Networking during job is extremely important, help you know people, who may happen to reference you to a job in the future.” His internship became a regular job. He also worked for The Daily Texan when he was at UT.
He continued, “Started small, something that you can finish, and gain experience from them, will be the first step for you to get into this industry.”
Not only do young journalists think this way, but some “old-fashion” journalists agreed, too. Linda Lattanzio, a former Austin American-Statesman reporter, now is working as a middle school sports reporter and general reporter of The Leader. “I should say having a degree shouldn’t be necessary for a beginner reporter. In the old days, everyone started on city desk answering phones and taking obituaries. That way you learned the business from the ground up,” she said.
“I asked my boss at the Statesman a couple times if I should get a journalism degree and he said not necessary, they would teach me everything I needed to know. And they did,” said.