Texas Almanac: A Book You Need

Have You Handled a Texas Almanac Lately?

The giant metal star in fromt of the Texas State History Museum I picked one up for the first time at the Texas History Museum yesterday afternoon and have barely put it down since. I had it (wrongly) in my mind that Almanacs are things for farmers, things of the past, something antiquated. No one handed me a copy when I drove in from out of state, and it's not like it was in my basket from the neighborhood welcoming committee (all they wanted, actually, was the voluntary $40 owners' association dues) when I bought my house.

Why You Need a Texas Almanac

We went to the Texas History Museum on Congress and MLK in downtown Austin specifically to look at books about Texas history. I expected to find a few, but found a ton, most of which were either tomes about war heroes, famous battles or politicians. I have Lone Star: a History of Texas and the Texans on order from Amazon, 792 pages worth, to be delivered on Monday, so was looking for a little pre-meal snack, a little book maybe about the history of Austin, or of a historic neighborhood, something maybe with a lot of pictures. Instead, we went home with 2 fold-out laminated wildflower and tree reference guides, the Austin Insiders' Guide and the 2010 to 2011 Texas Almanac. Here is what makes it WAY COOL:
  • 689 pages, jam-packed with Texas facts.
  • 1/2 to 1 pages on each county, including a small full-color map with major roads, cities, towns, lakes and other stuff marked, AND a little color map of Texas that shows where the county is located. The county pages have little blurbs about the local economy, population, recreation, minerals, education and agriculture.
  • 2-page fold-out map of Texas Lakes, with the flip side mapping Texas State Parks, Sites and Piers.
  • Another 2-page fold out with mileage distances between cities, and a flip-side larger map of the state with all sorts of goodies marked: roads, county lines, bodies of water, parks, etc.
  • The beginning of the Texas Almanac has a brief sketch of the History of Texas, followed by all sort of full-color maps that show different ways Texas is divided or classified: cultural regions, Texas Parks & Wildlife's Travel Regions, State Comptroller's Economic Regions, etc.
  • Another section summarizes the Geology of Texas, Earthquakes, Soils and Texas Weather.
  • As you near the end, hundreds of pages of interesting bit of data, even more Texas facts, photos, statistics and so on, you even get Texas maps of wet/dry (alcohol) counties, and profiles of correctional institutions as a reminder of why crime does NOT pay, even less so in Texas.
  • Do You Need a Texas Almanac?

    If you're a Texas, yes, you need a Texas Almanac. It's worth $19.95 to find out what you didn't learn in school, or never knew you might want to know. If you're a Texas Real Estate Professional, you need one even more so: having a deep and complex knowledge and appreciation of what this state has to offer will serve you well, and help solidify your professional knowledge base. If you're not a Texan and don't live in Texas, your own state probably has something just as powerful that is worth getting your hands on. Entrance to the Texas State History Museum

    Visit the Texas History Museum

    Visit the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and get a eyeful of what makes Texas a great state. The IMAX theater has daily showings of two films about Texas as well as regular new releases of popular films. The Museum Store has hundreds of books on Texas, including detailed memoirs and image-packed coffee table books of everything Texas, broken down into very granular categories so that each book showcases an extraordinary part of Texas life and culture. I had a hard time putting down the one on Vaqueros, full of images of gritty cowboys and their horses, a lifestyle steeped in history, tradition and dust. Take an afternoon and visit, and on your way out, grab a copy of the Texas Almanac, you'll be glad you did.

    January 2011 Review of The Texas Economy – an Excerpt from Texas A&M

    Do You Keep on Top of Texas Job Growth Numbers?

    Even if you don't, the folks at the Texas A&M Real Estate Center do, and they publish a monthly report called the "Monthly Review of the Texas Economy" that summarizes the changes in the employment numbers over time. A quick summary of some Texas job growth numbers that caught our eye, for December 2009 to December 2010: "The Texas economy gained 231,700 jobs from December 2009 to December 2010, an annual growth rate of 2.3 percent"
  • Of the 12 industries tracked, the employment growth rate increased the most for Mining and Logging (14.9%, or 30,000 jobs).
  • The second biggest employment growth was in the Construction industry with an increase of 5.8%, which translates into 32,300 jobs.
  • In third place, for growth rate, but first place for hard numbers, was Professional and Business Services with 5.3% and 64,900 jobs gained.
  • Top Employment Shares in Texas (for Industry and Government), according to the same report is Government Sector (17.7%), Trade (15.8%) and Education and Health Services (13.4). Unemployment in the Austin - Round Rock - San Marcos corridor was 6.8% in December 2010. We hope this translates into an uptick in the local real estate market in the coming months! A Metal State of Texas piece of art in Taylor Texas

    Gruene Texas: Talk of the Town

    Gruene, Texas - Historic Buildings, Tons of People and Gorgeous Motorcycles

    A Yellow Chevy V8 motorcycle from the streets of Gruene Texas We tried to shoot Gruene, Texas last weekend. I say "tried" because what we actually did was crank out a bunch of over-or-underexposed photographs, awkward photos of crowds, tilty shots of buildings obscured by pick-up trucks and, well, not a whole lot of good anything. (But, hey, we're going to share them anyhow!) We knew Gruene was popular but we were totally unprepared for the absolute mob scene of a Saturday afternoon, drawn to the area by wineries, excellent local bands, great food and sunshine. We couldn't get a clear shot of anything, and finally walked over the bridge and hung out with some bikers. Well, not the actual bikers, but their bikes, making sure not to get too close. Since Austin hosts several jam-packed biker rallies every year, we knew there were a lot of Harley Enthusiasts in Central Texas. We were still spectacularly pleased to find so many gorgeous bikes hanging out at Bubba's Big Deck and almost completely forgot we were supposed to be looking for historic buildings and Texas historic markers. (Note: we don't cover Gruene with our appraisal business, so you won't find the usual real estate data for the area in this article.)

    Harley Davidson, Born to be Wild

    Ornage Harley Davidson Motorcycle in Gruene Texas Okay, so not all of the bikes we found were Harley's but the majority sure were. Red ones, orange ones, even pink ones! We started tussling over what we call "the bokeh lens", the little 50mm 1.4 lens that gives a nice shallow depth of field to photographs, with a nicely blurred background (the bokeh). Our oldest son, 9, won the toss, and got a bunch of up-close, but not too close to touch, shots. When we got home, we all wanted to see bike shots, not building shots, which probably explains why the building shots we did manage to remember to take, or sneak through the mobbed streets, are all less then stellar. If you're from the area, what day is Gruene NOT packed? We'll come back and visit! I fanatically prefer detail photos when it comes to motorcycles, so here's the line-up of keepers:

    The Guadalupe River, Gruene Texas

    Since the crowds were uphill from Bubba's Big Deck, we spent some time gazing at the waters of the Guadalupe River, which runs around the Western side of the town. The Guadalupe River runs from Kerr County, Texas to San Antonio Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. The stretch of it that runs by Gruene is a popular place for toobers, or folks that want to float in tubes down the river. We haven't been yet, but can't wait to go when out littlest gets bigger.

    Downtown Gruene, TX

    The old ice cream sign in front of the Gruene General StoreAfter some time spent gazing at the water of the Guadalupe, we walked back up the hill into town, wedged ourselves into the crowd and enjoyed some of the Gruene weekend flavor. The Gruene General Store is jam-packed with stuff that tourists love, including Blue Bell ice cream and old rusty metal signs high up on the walls - authentic signs, not the replicas employed by some chain restaurants for "atmosphere". The building housing the store was built in 1878, and has all of the earned character of its' age. Breaking free of the crowds, we wandered to the outskirts of the two-block downtown, near Buck Pottery Fine Crafts Gallery and had a shoot-the-berries contest, where we all tried to get the best berries-and-bokeh shot, where little red berries are in crisp detail but all of the surrounding foliage is blurred. We all failed, so the only salvageable shot became digital art, which is what I do with some images that just aren't good enough to really show you what they look like. (If you're learning photography with a DSLR, try taking photos of berries - use your widest lens, i.e. the one with the biggest maximum aperture (1.4, 1.8, 2.8) for shallowest depth of field (DOF) - you'll learn a LOT about DOF and how aperture affects it, and might get some nice shots with intentionally-blurry backgrounds (bokeh) in the process!) As the day wound down, most of the crowds melted into the various places for food around Gruene, to listen to the live bands and drink some local Texas beer and wine. We took advantage of the merely-crowded-not-packed streets to take a few photos of the main drag to share with you.

    A Little Gruene History

    According to the historic market at the bridge, Gruene was founded in 1872 and served as a commercial center for the local cotton farmers of Eastern Comal County for over 60 years, until the 1930s. The website for the Gruene Historic District says that German farmers began settling the area in the mid 1840s. One settler was Ernst Gruene whose second son, Henry D. Gruene built the Gruene Mansion Inn to use as his family home. In the 1920s, the town of Gruene faltered, and the Great Depression and the boll weevil took their toll on the area and the town fell into disrepair. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the boll weevil migrated across the Rio Grande in the early 1900s and by 1903 the critters covered all of eastern texas. The boll weevil infestation destroyed cotton crops and caused a significant decline in cotton yields for over 30 years, which was devastating for the Texas cotton farmers, including those around Gruene. (Flickr has some incredible macro (close-up) photographs of these insects, which you might find as fascinating as my sons did.) Pat Molak is credited with the town's revival in the 1970s when he fled the big city, bought Gruene Hall, fixed it up and then worked to resurrect the rest of the town with his friend Mary Jane Nalley. I have to tell you, I'm tearing up as I write this because it is so important for all of us to recognize what we're losing when we let towns disintegrate into the dust of Texas - we lose history, we lose opportunity, and if we're not careful, we could lose a lot more!

    Google Map of Gruene, Texas


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    RMMA: Mueller Austin Real Estate 2009 2010 and Photographs

    Mueller Austin - Urban Infill at it's Best

    Colorsful houses in a row in the Mueller subdivision in Austin Texas What do you do when you have a giant swath of urban land, much of it paved over or living as giant, weedy lots? If you're a smart developer in Austin, TX, you build ecologically conscious (aka "green") homes and mixed use buildings at an old city airport (aka RMMA), and enable more people to live and work in closer proximity to the heart of the city of Austin. Mueller in Austin Texas at night - architectural photograph The old Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (RMMA) on the East side of Austin has green homes, a high concentration of pediatric medical specialists ('Specially for Children), Dell Children's Hospital, plus lots and lots of big box shopping. All of this is surrounded by some remaining weedy lots, the old airport control tower, and lots and lots of carefully-maintained community spaces - walking paths, ponds, playgrounds and lush landscaping - well, as lush as it gets in central Texas.

    How is the Market in the Mueller Development Area?

    The old RMMA control tower in Austin Texas
  • As of February 21st, 2011, only 4 homes are for sale in the Mueller subdivision.
  • The lowest price of $160,990 will fetch you a home that is part of the Mueller Affordable program, geared towards potential home buyers that have incomes that fall at or below 80% of the Austin median family income.
  • This home has 1076 square feet and two bedrooms and like most homes in Mueller sits on a very small lot of 1,590 square feet.
  • The next lowest price for an active listing in Mueller is, sit down for this, $749,000. (Hence the need for an affordability program.)
  • What did a Mueller Home cost in 2009?

  • In 2009, 50 homes sold in Mueller, ranging from $225,837 for a 1,287 square foot home up to $995,000 for a 3,563 square foot home.
  • The median selling price in 2009 for a home in Mueller was $349,304.
  • Median price per square foot was $164.52.
  • The median size was 2,122 square feet and the median days on the market (DOM) was 82.
  • None of these were listed as foreclosures.
  • Bright red berries in the Mueller Austin Texas subdivision

    The Mueller Austin TX Market: 2010

    A tall apartment building in the Mueller Austin TX redevelopment area Was 2010 a better year for home sales in Mueller? You be the judge.
  • Of the 44 homes that sold, 1 was listed as a foreclosure.
  • The median price for the homes that sold in Mueller Austin TX was $382,397.
  • Sales ranged from $272,500 for a 1,439 square foot home to $945,000 for a 3,600 square foot home built in 2009.
  • Median price per square foot for the 44 homes that sold in 2010 was $186.94, compared to $164.52 in 2009.
  • Median days on the market was 66, down over 2 weeks from 2009.
  • The houses that sold ranged from 1,437 square feet to 3,664 square feet with a median size of 2,044 square feet.
  • A Huge Number of Photos from RMMA - Mueller Austin Texas

    Google Map of RMMA: The Mueller Redevelopment Area


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    Meridian Austin (78739): Real Estate Data 2009 to 2010

    Meridian in South Austin, 78739: Brick and Stone Houses on Rolling Hills

    A Gloriously Colored Sunset over South Austin The Subdivision of Meridian in South Austin (Travis County) has almost 800 lots with homes built of brick and limestone built between 2005 and 2010. These homes are situated on lots that range from under 6,000 square foot to just under an acre, with a median lot size of about 9,000 square feet (.21 acre). Homes in the Meridian Austin subdivision range from 1,820 square feet to over 5,300 square feet, with a median size of 3,168 square feet. This area is near Circle C, is served by Austin ISD and has easy access to ample shopping and Golf!

    Meridian Homes for Sale, February 2011

    Front detail of a limestone home in Meridian Austin TX subdivision 15 homes are currently for sale in the Meridian subdivision in South Austin.
  • The lowest-priced home is listed at $279,900 for a home built in 2008 that has 1930 square feet.
  • The highest priced home is listed at $724,000 for a home that was built in 2010 and has 4,302 square feet.
  • None of these 15 homes are listed as foreclosures.
  • The median price of the homes listed for sale in Meridian as of February 20th, 2011 is $484,204 for a home with 3,464 square feet, 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms.
  • Meridian Homes Sales, 2009

  • 41 homes sold in Meridian in 2009.
  • None of these were listed as foreclosures.
  • The lowest sales price was $258,000 for a 1,901 square foot home built in 2007.
  • The highest sales price was $702,514 for a 5,290 square foot home built in 2008.
  • The median selling price was $345,400.
  • Median days on the market (DOM) was 73.
  • Meridian Homes Sales, 2010

  • 50 homes sold in Meridian in 2010, an increase of 22% over 2009.
  • None of these were listed as foreclosures - very interesting since we haven't seen that to be the case in most subdivisions we've written about in the last few months.
  • The lowest selling price was $268,750 for a 2,020 square foot home built in 2009.
  • The highest selling price was $727,000 for a 4,979 square foot home built in 2008.
  • The median selling price was $321,272.
  • Median days on the market for homes in the Meridian subdivision in South Austin, Texas was only 41, a drop of a full month over 2009.
  • A row of homes in the Meridian Ausitn Texas subdivision You can see from the photos around the subdivision that unlike many other developments, the builders have taken care to leave many original tress from this part of the Hill Country. Many homes also have little trees planted in the front yard which should grow into nicer sized trees in the next few years. The entrance to the Meridian Austin TX subdivision

    Photos of the Meridian, Austin TX 78739 subdivision

    Google Map of Meridian, Austin Texas


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