One $0 Reason Rooms Look So Amazing in Magazines

We all want our homes to look as fabulous as those we see in design magazines.  Often they have stunning architecture and views that cost a fortune.  However there is one prominent feature many of them have that costs virtually nothing.  Look through the following examples and see if you can figure out what it is.

Did you notice the flora?  They are statements in each of these rooms and if you imagine removing them, most of the spaces don’t look half as good.

Did you also notice that none of them are flowers?  Fresh flowers can cost lots of money.  But these look like tree, hedge or wild grass clippings.  That’s right people, it’s time to get out the gardening shears.  You are just one pruned bush away from transforming your home!

As someone who has done this in my own house, let me share a few things I learned along the way:

  • First, some tree and hedge branches last for weeks, others wilt within a day.  There is definitely some trial and error involved with choosing what to use.
  • Second, really pay attention to the structure and shape of the branches before you cut, and compare that with the space you are decorating.  There were a couple times we were ducking to enter our living room because the beautiful cutting I brought in was too wide and short.  (This may cause your husband to then roll his eyes and have heavy doses of skepticism the next time you have a “decorating breakthrough”.)
  • Third, don’t bring in anything anyone in your family might be allergic too.   And definitely don’t place that allergen 3 feet from where allergic son sleeps.  Big time #momfail on that one!

Happy clipping!

Make College Condos Pay for Themselves

image source: Shoko Design

Okay, so maybe not pay for themselves entirely, but significantly.  And we aren’t talking about doing anything unconventional in the structuring of these mortgages.  Just a few small steps that can save lots of money.

So your kid is going to college or graduate school, and you are thinking about investing in a condominium for that duration.  Here’s what you do . . .

Step 1:  Student opens a credit card.

This is for the purposes of establishing a credit rating which is necessary for your son or daughter to be included on the mortgage.  Charge items to this card and pay the bill on time.

Step 2:  Co-purchase condo w/ student as owner occupant.

Your son or daughter then gets an owner-occupant mortgage on the condo with you as a co-borrower.  This is where much of the savings comes from since an owner-occupant mortgage has many advantages over an investment/second home mortgage including a lower downpayment and better rates.

Step 3: File for homestead exemption on property taxes.

Since your kid has purchased the condo as an owner-occupant and is living there, he/she may file for homestead exemption and save significantly in property taxes.

Step 4: Reduce mortgage payments by renting additional rooms to friends.

If the condo is a 2 or 3-bedroom, rent on the additional rooms can help greatly offset the mortgage (which, you’ll remember, you got at owner-occupant interest rates).

Step 5:  Sell condo at a profit.

Hopefully you used a competent real estate agent (hint, hint), and you bought at a fair price and location.  Four years later and barring any market crashes, you should be able to sell at a profit to the next set of parents looking to do the same.  There is always a demand for college condos since there is always an influx of inhabitants.

Afterwards, your son or daughter will have a stellar credit rating, and you will have spent a fraction of the cost of four years of rent.  If you are considering investing in a college condo for your kid, I can’t imagine why you would do it any other way.

P.S. Did you notice the kitchen in the featured photo uses the “warmth + contrast” idea discussed Thinking Outside the Kitchen Reno Box post?

78704, Walk to Alamo Drafthouse

Rare opportunity to own one of these – there are only 6 in the community, and just a couple that have 3 bedrooms. Lives like a stand-alone home with a fenced yard & 2-car garage, yet affords the convenience of a lock-and-leave lifestyle. HOA covers all yard maintenance. Conveniently situated to downtown with a highly walkable yet peaceful setting insulated from the urban bustle – the best of both worlds – come get it before it’s gone!! Bosch Refrigerator and Miele Washer & Dryer convey! Google Fiber!

Take the >>Virtual Tour<<

Austin Floods: the Numbers

Here in Austin, Texas, when it rains, it pours.

For real.

In the last 30 days, Lake Travis has risen 41.45 feet.  In fact, on October 20th we reached our 5th highest water level ever at 704.39 feet.  That is just 8 feet below Mansfield Dam’s spillway.  And which is especially interesting given we were in our 3rd worst drought ever just 5 years ago when the lake reached at 618.64 feet.


graph source:

More discussion and graphs available on the LCRA website as well as


Thinking Outside the Kitchen Reno Box

Here are 5 budget ideas you may not have considered for transforming your kitchen:

Reinstall Cabinets Higher & Add Open Shelving

I love to study Joanna Gaines’ flips, and this is one of her most ingenious ideas.  By re-installing cabinets higher, she maintains closed storage while also making the kitchen feel taller. The open shelf beneath adds character to the kitchen and is a useful spot for that stack of everyday white plates.

images source:

Warmth + High Contrast

Another Joanna idea here!  Her color recipe for kitchens seems to be a warm element (usually wood), mixed with a high contrast element (something black or dark gray), in a sea of calming neutrals.  It is such a winning combo!

images source:

The majority of the kitchen being an airy neutral feels soothing and clean.  Touches of a dark color sprinkled about makes your eye bounce around as you take the space in.  But the real key is finishing it with the warmth of wood, which adds richness and depth.

If you are looking to add a warm element to your kitchen, there are many creative ways to do so, including accessories such as cutting boards, wooden bowls, and textural baskets.  For a bit more money, you can add wood trim and shelves or install cork-type wallpaper.  Or go all the way with butcher block countertops and a wood backsplash or ceiling.

images source:

Furniture Instead of Cabinets

Want to tear out your cabinets but don’t have the money to replace them?  Perhaps some store bought shelves can help.  Architecturally interesting shelves can be secured in place for a fraction of the cost of installing new cabinets.

images source:

Architectural Pantry Doors

They add lots of character and with inset mirrors will appear to lead to another wing of your home (not a closet for your cereal boxes).

images source:

Two-Tone Your Cabinets

Though this is not a new idea, it is vastly under-utilized.

image sources:,,,,

Any of these ideas inspire you?  Know of other ways to elevate the look of your kitchen on a budget?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Adding Character to Your Home

Many real estate agents advise their clients to make safe and neutral finish choices when updating your home.  Though you are less likely to make a mistake this way, you can also end up with a house that looks like everyone else’s.  Not the best decision when it comes to getting buyer’s attention and commanding the most for your home on the open market.

Instead, we advise carefully wading through the more interesting options and choosing those that enhance the character of your home.  This is best done as part of a cohesive vision for your house which brings together your flooring, finishes, and paint colors.  Here are a few things you may consider . . .

Non-Typical Tiles & Patterns

There are so many options beyond the classic square and rectangular tiles we commonly see at home improvements store.  Why not choose something with more character?

Colored Moldings and Cabinets

Think outside the white molding and neutral cabinet box.  Select a few strategic areas to add a splash of carefully-chosen color!

Moldings at Various Heights

Also consider installing moldings at non-traditional heights as well as wrapping the top wall color up and onto the ceiling.

Horizontal Fencing

A simple turning of the boards on a vertical fence can a world of difference and usually cost little more.

All photos thanks to Pinterest.

We can’t emphasize enough how these elements need to be part of a cohesive overall vision.  However, we are confident if you take the time to bring it all together, details such as these can bring tons of character to your home and make sure that future buyers won’t be able to pass it up.

Lastly, here is a video of how we are incorporating these ideas into our own home:

Experiences Protesting Taxes

People often wonder what the process of protesting your taxes is really like.  Below are a couple of experiences shared by our friends and past clients.  If you protested your taxes whether successfully or unsuccessfully, we’d love to include your story.  Just email me at

“Filing a protest on our property tax was really easy once I got started. The e-file system with Travis county sent me a nice settlement before I even uploaded evidence. Within 24 hours I received a reduced appraisal of $224,742 down from $240,000. Thank you so much for your assistance! You guys are the best!!!”(homestead located in Travis County)

“We filed a successful protest on our Property Tax Assessment this year. They had our square footage off by about 600 sq. ft. We didn’t pay too much attention last year because the homestead exemption, but we got hit with the bulk of the increase this year. My husband said it was a super easy process, he just went to the office with a copy of our mortgage appraisal with the drawing and measurements. The appraiser then did a new comp and brought us down to ~$326K from $358K. We had always heard that it was such a nightmare to protest, and one of our neighbors with the same plan tried to last year. He didn’t bring supporting docs with him and basically just dropped it when they pushed back. After seeing our success, 3 more neighbors, including the one from last year, successfully protested their Assessments. That was a pretty cool feeling, felt like we won the lottery!” (homestead located in Williamson County)

“Filing property tax assessment protest is quite easy when working with a realtor that can help you research comparable sales in the prior tax year. I was hoping to protest online and have them offer me on the spot a reduction as I have seen it done with other neighbors homes. In my case, they required an informal hearing as there wasn’t enough historical data online for their automated system to use. Unfortunately, there were no comparable sales in my condo’s neighborhood within the past month, but I was armed with similar sized condo sales from the past six months and normalized their price per square feet to show what my condo unit’s valuation would be. My unit was appraised at $197k for 2014, a 20.8% increase from 2013. The adjuster had shown me which properties they had used to make their valuation, as they were all from the first half of 2014. three were larger units from my neighborhood who’s price per square foot was much lower than my current valuation and three were similar size and sold for much higher than my appraised valuation.  They like to use data from the same neighborhood, so he didn’t use the comparable properties that I had brought, but he did use data from one of the larger home sales from my neighborhood that had a lower price per square footage. It brought my appraisal down to $191k which was within $2k of my goal.  I was happy with the outcome.” (investment property located in Williamson County)

Over 1/4 Acre Corner Lot

Complete Virtual Tour


Immaculate move-in ready home on over a quarter acre corner lot, with a park-like backyard shaded by legacy oaks. Attends highly sought after schools Jo Ann Ford and Douglas Benold. Open floor plan with living, kitchen, dining and office downstairs. Bedrooms and huge game room upstairs. Recent vinyl plank floors, carpets, interior/exterior paint, water softener, and reverse osmosis system. Conveniently located to shopping, restaurants, amenities, and easy access to major thoroughfares.


301 Wind Hollow, Georgetown, TX  78633


Jared Crecelius, 512-771-9129



Austin Ranked #1 Place to Live

Austin is ranked the #1 place to live in yet another study.  This one was conducted by WalletHub and considered 31 different factors ranging from economic growth to health and education to livability.  The top ten results were as follows:

1. Austin

2. Raleigh, N.C.

3. Colorado Springs, Colorado

4. San Jose, California

5. Seattle

6. San Diego

7. Denver

8/9. San Francisco & Lexington, Kentucky (tie)

10. Virginia Beach, Virginia

… as was reported in the Austin Business Journal:  complete article here