Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Austin Reality Check

Austin Reality Check:

Conversations with a Real Live Austinite

On 03/31/2006 11:53 am PST, Luna wrote:

Welcome to Austin. You'll love it, if you haven't already been here. I knock around in my home, and have a spare couple of rooms, if you need a place to stay until you get settled. Also if you want to read my profile, we could chat if I seem of interest to you. I work as Luthier, repairing instruments in the violin family, and love my job here, and love Austin. smiles and luck to you, Luna

On 04/01/2006 11:59 am PST, Monte wrote:

Luna,

Thanks for the warm welcome. Likewise, if you visit Seattle, I have extra rooms.

Are you a transplant to Austin, or a native? I'm curious about people's relocation experiences.

I like your construction photo -- I admire a hammer-toting woman. :) I'm on my second house remodel, and have been active in Habitat. Sometimes it competes with my job.

--Monte

On 04/01/2006 12:30 pm PST, Luna wrote:

Seattle, wow. I visited there in 1981, as I had a college friend who was from Puget Sound. Nice place. I moved to Austin from Denver 6 years ago, and wish that I had done it sooner. I have never lived in a temperate climate. I love that you can swim year round. Plus the people and culture are very friendly and down to earth. Even though it may be Bible Belt-ish, Austin is very laid back, and beautiful. Lots of trees, and swimming holes...Well you've probably already been here so you know all this already. I hope you're having a great weekend, Luna

On 04/01/2006 12:33 pm PST, Luna wrote:

I volunteer for habitat too, and have been to Mexico helping to build schools a couple of times. I love to build things, and even though I a girly girl, Home Depot and tools are a passion for mine. I work as luthier, repairing and finishing violins, violas, and cellos. It is what I love, and the fact that I can earn a living doing it is a bonus. Luna

On 04/01/2006 01:47 pm PST, Monte wrote:

Luna,

I volunteer for habitat too,

It's exciting and somehow free-er to build something from nothing, isn't it? I do love restoration and remodeling, but there's something especially satisfying about starting with a muddy hole in the ground, setting the beams, finishing it right the first time.

and have been to Mexico helping to build schools a couple of times.

Sounds like fun. Whereabouts in Mexico?

I love to build things, and even though I a girly girl, Home Depot and tools are a passion for mine. I work as luthier, repairing and finishing violins, violas, and cellos.

I enjoy tinkering with things. I get a bang out of fixing a boom box, computer, or fence. Can't say that I am a crafter of instruments; that's a special skill you have.

I moved to Austin from Denver 6 years ago, and wish that I had done it sooner.

I'm getting that feeling about Austin, though I have yet to visit. I thought it would make more sense to get to know a few people before visiting.

I have never lived in a temperate climate.

Seattle is temperate, but not sunny. I miss the warm, dry weather and sunshine.

I love that you can swim year round.

Yes. There's nothing quite like phoning friends on Christmas from the poolside.

Plus the people and culture are very friendly and down to earth. Even though it may be Bible Belt-ish,

I get that impression. So, would you say that Austin is religious, but toned down a notch from Dallas? Seattle is one of the least religious metro areas, which I like. People are noticeably standoffish, though. It is regarded as unusual to strike up a conversation in a grocery store. I did not realize what I was missing until I experienced LA, Mexico, San Francisco, and Seattle's Latin community. Would you say that Austinites are outgoing, and friendly with new people?

Well, I had better get started on some repairs, if I'm going to sell this place. I finished some baseboard woodwork and painting in recent weekends, and have some to go. It's finish work after having the wood floors redone.

--Monte

On 04/01/2006 03:10 pm PST, Luna wrote:

In Mexico we went to a border town Called Buenos Aires. It's outside of Tijuana. ...we spent the summer there welding, and doing stone work. ...it was such a good experience, living in the neighborhoods where people use pallets that we discard for the floors and fences of their homes. They were still happy, and played just like we do. They and I learned that to live well, we don't have to have tv's, fancy cars, or big houses. They are such grounded people...

It's fun to create something, or fix something and make it better. I think it is great that you like to do that to. It helps pass the time and feeds a need to create. Do you find that as well?

I moved to Austin from Denver 6 years ago, and wish that I had done it sooner.

I'm getting that feeling about Austin, though I have yet to visit. I thought it would make more sense to get to know a few people before visiting.

You're smart to get to know people first, although I moved down here with just a job in place, I found that people are so friendly that I found friend immediately, and they helped me get connected to the much community pretty fast. Austin is growing and I think the general view is openness to new things. It is a very creative place, and non-judgmental. There is a celebration of creativity rather than a shut down of it.

Good luck with the finishing stuff. I know about that when I moved into my house last summer I put in tile, and repainted everything. There are still little things to be done, but mostly it is done, so I can relax....ah, but always on to the next project. I love to do different things.

Thanks for the conversations in e-mail form. Austin is a very hippy town, so there are place where you can do nude bathing, and there is always some life music venue, of crazy play going on, and no one seems to freak out, or get moral about it. there is a laid back air here.

Anyway....Have a great weekend,

Luna

On 04/01/2006 03:17 pm PST, Luna wrote:

I ride an electric scooter to work, and it takes a while to get home.

Let me introduce you to some web sites. Check out artoutside.org. [There is a cool] record store called Backspinrecords.net. Look up Hippy Hollow, and The Vortex too. They are unique and interesting to Austin.

Luna again.

On 04/02/2006 11:55 am PDT, Monte wrote:

Luna,
Look up Hippy Hollow, and The Vortex too.

How cool that your clothing-optional park is publicly funded! I've been to Blacks Beach in San Diego, which is clothing optional, and has great sand cliffs and sunsets. Seattle has a strong hippie culture, too. There is Capitol Hill Arts Council, for the fire-eating, pajama-party, body-painting, techno-dancing, burning man-going crowd.

The Freemont Arts Council sponsors the Solstice Day Parade, featuring belly dancing, carnivale-style giant puppets, the infamous nude bicyclists, and various pagan floats.

The Folk Life Festival and Bumbershoot events bookend our summers. There are occasional large-scale protests, and a strong MoveOn.org community. (I've hosted a couple of house parties and a fundraiser for MoveOn.)

I echo your feeling on voluntary simplicity. Haven't quite dived into that movement, but it's one of the reasons I'm looking to relocate. Here's The Dream.

I spread insulation in the attic this morning. On to more trim work, now that I have cleaned up.

I need to look toward the weeks ahead, and plan for a trip to Austin. I'd love to meet you...

--Monte

On 04/04/2006 10:12 am PDT, Luna wrote:

Hey Monte, I looked up the move web site. Nice, and the way that you are planning this is interesting. I have more insights into Austin as well, after having lived here for 6 years.

My utilities have doubled since moving here, something about, the war, increased gas and electrical prices. The property taxes here are nearly double that of Colorado, but they don't have state income tax, which in the past for me has been mere pennies. The traffic here is very bad. You don't want to have to commute downtown regularly. Both freeways that lead into downtown are parking lots during rush hour, which lasts from 7:30-9:30, and then from 4:30-7:00. Also property values toward the downtown are extremely high, so most people live out and commute. Example if you want to be near UT campus, a 1000 sqft house would sale for $300,000, and it would be a fixer upper. I live about 20 minutes from downtown, and in my neighborhood the homes sell for around $200,000, and apartments, for a two bedroom are around 1,200.00/mo. The city is quite spread out, and there are many large corporations that are in the Northeast and west side of town, so there are many businesses outside of the bad traffic areas, my violin shop is Northwest, and I'm lucky enough to live close, so I can ride my scooter to work, but with all the road construction traffic even to my shop can be bad at times. Austin is growing, and they are trying to keep up with the growth, but the roads under construction are something to avoid.

The weather here is very nice, especially winters, but if you don't like hot humid days, like over 100 degrees with sometimes 100% humidity, which is the case here from July to Mid September, then this would not be a pleasant place to be. I love to swim, and there are hundreds of swimming holes, so I spend much time swimming during the hot months, and spend a month of the summer in New England which helps.

The people here are the best. Friendly, down to earth, relaxed. Even in bad traffic, they seem to be pretty laid back. What you described about Seattle is similar to Austin. We have a burning man crowd here too, called Flipside (my daughter goes to it every year). There is also live music of all kinds, and great creative outlets all the time. This I love.

So as you look to moving here, I would definitely find a job first, and then decide where to live. That's what I did, and even though the shop has moved since I came down here, and is now 6 miles from home, instead of 3. I still avoid most of the negatives about living here. Which I would definitely say is traffic congestion. They did vote for a rail to go in, I have seen some work going into it, as the right away goes near my house, that should help a bit. The rail goes right through many neighborhoods, and will connect Leander all the way down 183 into downtown. It was an old local railway, that is not used anymore, but still had it's right-of-way. Which I think is perfect for a commuter rail. And I will take it to work when it is up and running.

This probably tells you a bit about me, and also more about Austin.

My schedule over the next few months...my son comes to visit from college on the 12th-17th of April, and then I will be in Corpus Cristi over Memorial day, and the end of June to the end of July I will be in New Hampshire, Other than that I am home, and other than work have a pretty open schedule, and work can be flexible as well.

Anyway I hope you are having a great week. Luna

On 04/06/2006 01:36 am PDT, Monte wrote:

Luna, Thanks for checking out my site. It's a way to focus the process while I also check out professional and social Austin groups online. Hmmm... I need to take the job search to the next level, too.

I have more insights into Austin as well, after having lived here for 6 years.

I figured you would. Thanks for the dose of reality.

Ah, the commute. I bussed to work today to avoid the Mariners effect. I work near Safeco field, and could probably get around the traffic, just not the "event parking", a euphemism for gouging. My space next to my building, usually $11/day, becomes $30 when there is a day game.

I've successfully avoided the worst Puget Sound commute -- across Lake WA and back. The state and feds have both built floating bridges across the lake, which take a pounding during storms. Sounds like you have outsmarted the Austin tangle with your scooter; good job.

Aside from the lake, traffic is not too bad, and was great when I worked away from the stadiums. I've voted for light rail something like six times since I moved here. After years of "further study", the monorail initiative passed. They spent a bundle, bought up land, made plans, and then got voted back down due to perceived mismanagement. All before breaking ground.

I was surprised to find that cities rarely vary more than ten minutes in the average commute time.

With property values, I need to make sure that I am comparing apples to apples. I'm sure the median home price for "greater Seattle" is much lower than incorporated Seattle. I may have been comparing greater Austin to Seattle proper.

Houses in my area, Ravenna, just north of the University District, run from $350-$699+. At the low end are the houses on thoroughfares, which have been rented out to students and thrashed over the decades. The high end includes craftsman and Tudor homes near the park or on side streets, some of which have been restored or "remuddled". Many blocks predate motorcars, and have narrow back alleys and no front driveways.

I have very little sense for where the good or bad neighborhoods are in Austin. I could see myself leaning toward resort-style condos with a 20-minute commute, after tending a 1908 house for five years here.

I may have to experience Austin's summers firsthand. Humid heat is a tough sell, especially if you pour on allergens and smog. Austin has a near-perfect air quality score, though.

relaxed. Even in bad traffic, they seem to be pretty laid back. Seattle was the first place I'd driven where people seemed to meander distractedly. Maybe that's because I came here as the cell phone was rising in popularity. I just remember Chicagoans being more predictable, if pushy.

Flipside (my daughter goes to it every year). There is also live music of all kinds, and great creative outlets all the time. This I love. Sounds awesome.

So as you look to moving here, I would definitely find a job first Do Austin companies typically help with relocation expenses? I know that it's customary in some cities, bit not others (notably San Francisco).

and then decide where to live. That's what I did, and even though the shop has moved since I came down here, and is now 6 miles from home, instead of 3.

We are alike in that. I checked out Seattle's job markets, gave up the east side of Lake WA, (including Microsoft), and chose neighborhoods to reduce commutes times. My first house was down south. Didn't realize how important local amenities were until I lived there.

They did vote for a rail to go in,

Bravo. I hope the town is long-sighted enough to see it through.

It was an old local railway, that is not used anymore

Our old railway path has become the Burke-Gilman trail for bikes, blades, and feet. It's quite a network, but not made of straight lines between popular destinations.

Oof -- it's 1:30am. I'd better get on. I hope your week is going well. --Monte

On 04/06/2006 10:16 am PDT, Luna wrote:

Oh yes Monte, I forgot to mention, mold and cedar....If you have allergies...This was something I had never even thought of, but they have allergens in the air all the time, whether it is mold, or cedar, or grass, or oak...blah, blah, blah. I had never been exposed to cedar, and apparently the molecule is very large and affects a great number of people, so for two months in the winter, I have a cedar allergy. I don't have allergies to any of the other allergens, but the cedar fever really gets me. I'm told after a few years it will calm down as the body gets more use to it, but that hasn't happened yet.

I'm I being too negative? I don't mean to be, because I love it here...but there are some things that can make it miserable, and I have known two families that have moved just because their kids had just bad allergies.

About comparing Greater Austin, that is probably the case, as I don't know of anywhere in the metropolitan area where housing is as cheap as what you had found, but if you don't mind a 40 minute commute, you may be able to find a pretty nice place for around 160,000. I do think though that you could find some condos, that would be around 120,000 with a twenty min tue commute, if you don't mind traffic adding some ten or fifteen minutes extra. I would stay on the West side of town, and either go south, or North. The east side of town is a bit rough, until you get out of the city about 12 miles, then it becomes more generally middle class, like Round Rock, or Plfuggerville for instance. I don't know if companies relocate people or not. I know of a friend who worked for a company that relocated his family to Penn., and then when he was done, they moved them back...but that is all I know. I hope that is helpful.

If you do have time, I would come in the summer, late July to early August is the hottest, and that would tell you if it is comfortable or not, some people hate the heat, I like it. Denver always seemed cold to me, and I don't have that here at all. When I came here I had never felt heat like this before, as Denver rarely hits 100, and it is never humid, so it was very different.

I am enjoying giving you some info about Austin. I hope others have been helpful as well. I think you are smart to do so much research. Luna

On 04/09/2006 12:54 pm PDT, Monte wrote:

Hi Luna,

I am taking a break from working on the house, to eat lunch and write you.

There seems to be a lot of information available about the cedar pollen online. Local TV stations even track it down to parts per million, in pollen reports. I'm not too worried about cedar. I'm not allergic to it yet, and if I decided to move to Austin, I would undergo desensitization shots.

By contrast, molds are worrisome. Most of the coverage is about sick building syndrome in central Texas school districts. The rest of the information comes from scam Web sites that employ scare tactics to sell anti-mold gear and services. Information about the species of mold is scant. It's important to me because mold alleges do not respond well to shots, and my allergy to alternaria mold is off the charts. Mold is the primary reason why a desert town such as Tucson is on my list to consider.

It's a bummer that cedar fever is in the winter months, by the way. At least with midwest ragweed, it attacks when people are likely to be indoors, breathing conditioned air.

I'm I being too negative? I don't mean to be

Not at all. My tendency is to fill in the unknown with the ideal, and you are helping to balance that with injections of reality.

don't know of anywhere in the metropolitan area where housing is as cheap as what you had found
I went back and double-checked the numbers on bestplaces.net. The next step is to try and corroborate with other sources. Part of the difference may be in the age of the figures (2004). That age is OK, if you consider that my Seattle numbers are from that year, too. Here's how it boils down: If I sold my house today, it would bring around $600K. Of that, I would keep about $200K. I could then buy a decent condo outright, or buy a home and have a small mortgage, in Austin.

if you don't mind a 40 minute

I am more tolerant of price increases than commute minutes. After all, I could always make more money, but cannot make more time. The exception might be if I lived on a good mass transit line. In the past, I've been very happy with a 45 minute commute, as long as I could read and write during that time. It was a blessing arriving at work every day, relaxed and informed.

I would stay on the West side of town, and either go south, or North. The east side of town is a bit rough, until you get out Good to know, thank you! I probably would not go 12 miles outside the city, because I'd rather have entertainment, culture, and shopping close by.

I would come in the summer, late July to early August I have a good idea what hot and humid feels like, having lived in Palm Springs (I saw a maximum of 117 degrees there, I think), and in central Illinois, where you get hot, humid, and pollen all at once.

Regarding timeline, my medium-term goal is not to spend another winter in Seattle. Short-term, I need to make visits to cities soon, to make the move real. It's great to narrow the field through research, but then firsthand experience is key. I expect that one visit to a city would probably result in a gut reaction of "Yes! This is the place," or "No, it did not feel right." Once the city is decided, the other tasks become finite, and feel more doable. That will keep me fired up, which is important because this journey will require much energy.

I am enjoying giving you some info about Austin. I hope others have been helpful as well.

You are being very helpful, thanks! I really appreciate the thought. I have chatted with others some, too. I hope to build a network of people with different perspectives.

On 04/11/2006 09:38 am PDT, Luna wrote:

Hey Monte, Yes to all of your questions about using the information for the web site stuff. I've been off work and use the computer at work for e-mail and such, so I am sorry this has taken so long to get back to you. This is a busy week, as I am Playing cello for a couple of different programs this week and have rehearsals and performances. I love to see all the different places and see what the different fellowships are doing. (I play cello, if I didn't tell you that already.)

I like that you're proactive about the allergy stuff. When I moved down here, I visited in the spring, for an interview, got the job, and then came down in July to buy a house, closed in August, moved August 2nd, started my job in September. It could have been a big mistake; it has turned out fine, but I can see if I had done some research I would have been better at planning things. I intended on going back to Denver at first, but when I found out how expensive the housing market was I nixed that plan. And there was a music store in Austin looking for a Luthier, so it was meant to be I think....

Keep doing things, without working...(It's a Yoga thing.) Luna

3 Comments:

At Wednesday, April 12, 2006 9:44:00 AM, Anonymous Miriam said...

Nice to meet you Monte. This is Miriam, aka Miriamam on Yahoo Singles. So, are you in Austin yet, or are you still in Seattle? If you're still in Seattle please say hi to Pinkie, one of my brother's dogs.....he hasn't been feeling very well lately! I didn't read very much of your dialogue with Luna, although I was fascinated with the stats. that were posted about Seattle, Austin, San Diego, Miami, etc. I was saddened to read the % of single car passengers/drivers....yah....public transportation in Austin's not too good! I was on the Sprawl Committee wirh with the local Sierra Club a bit ago and Austin's growth.....well, it's still speading.....

BUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I still love Austin, bunches! Been here for 19yrs, grad from Texas A&M University, but I'm NOT from Texas!....but Lyle Lovett says Texas will keep me anyway!

TAke care kiddo, Miriam

 
At Wednesday, April 12, 2006 7:46:00 PM, Blogger Suz71 said...

Hi Monte,
I have been reading your blog and wanted to comment on a few things. The allergies are there but tolerable. I have lived in IL also and never had allergies there. Four mons after moving here (from Saint Louis) I started having allergies ( the month of April). The worst time is in the winter when we have the windows open and the wind is blowing.
The humidity is NOTHING!! I consider it very dry since I grew up in the midwest. I have a humidifier running quite frequently - even in the summer when the AC is on.
Do you like to play golf? The golf courses here are not very asthetically pleasing and it is incredibly windy here. However it is a great town and very easy to make friends. Lots to do outdoors!!! I do however, miss the perks of a large city (going to the cardinal baseball games, the large outdoor music venues with big name bands, the public transportation). The people here have made the difference though.
There are lots of hippies and beggars along the roadways here. I think it is the pot-smoking capital of the US along with the live music capital LOL. I love Austin and intend to stay. It has a lot of the same characteristics as Seattle on a much smaller scale. Though, you cannot get excellent seafood and fruit here. Those are the only negative things I can think of. Many people complain about the traffic, but coming from a much larger city I do not think it is that bad.
Suzie

 
At Friday, May 05, 2006 9:00:00 PM, Blogger Monte Hayward said...

Update: Live from Austin

Sometimes in life, you have the opportunity to help someone. Luna has taken that opportunity with me. What an amazing, peaceful spirit she is. I am blessed that someone is showing me the city of Austin, gave me a place to stay for a few days, and did so without any expectations, weirdness or passive-aggressive behaviour. It makes me feel generous toward her, and toward people in general.

 

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