Category Archives: Uncategorized

AGRITOURISM- What You Need To know To Protect Yourself By Jeff Stewart, CCIM

Fall is upon us in Central Texas, and that means more outdoor activates. Part of the joy of owning a ranch place is sharing it with friends and family who like to hunt, fish, and camp . . . but such activities do not come without some risks of liability to the landowner.

The Texas Legislature addressed this very real concern in 2015 by passing the Texas Agritourism Act. The Act provides two mechanisms for landowners to protect themselves in the event that an agritourism participant is injured or suffers damages while engaged in an activity on agricultural land.  It makes no difference what compensation the landowner receives from the person engaged in the “agritourism” activity.

The Act calls for either specifically worded posted signs at the property or written use agreements with legally mandated wording.  The sign above, which I have posted at our property, has the precise wording as required by the Act. It is important to note that the sign is not sufficient notice in the case of minors . . . that would require a correctly written and signed use agreement.

While the Act provides a much better degree of protection to landowners compared to what we once had, it still has some other exceptions.  For instance, it does not exempt the owner if an employee is injured or if the owner is deemed negligent. Of course, nothing can keep an injured party from filing suit.  The Act just provides a legal defense.

If you need more information regarding this subject, please email me and I will send you a link.

Jeff Stewart, CCIM

Broker Associate

Slab Repairs & Leak Testing By Jeff Stewart, CCIM

Remember when owning a home with a “cracked slab” was seen as financially devastating? In the 1970s and 1980s, numerous lawsuits were filed over homes with settling problems. That is almost unheard of today.  Clearly the public has come to terms with the idea that      Foundation repairs are now so common that most people have some basic understanding of the concept of installing corrective piers.

What is less understood is the plumbing aspect of the equation.  In some cases, the foundation movement may have been caused by undiscovered plumbing leaks.  More commonly, plumbing leaks are caused by the slab repair.  This is especially true in the case of cast iron drain pipes or when the slab is lifted several inches.

Most slab warranties state that they are void in the event of water or sewer leaks.  Some slab repair companies provide leak testing upon completion and some make it the homeowner’s responsibility. Let’s take a look at the terms.

A hydrostatic test is a pressure test that is performed on the supply lines.  You have probably seen a pressure gauge on a hose bib at a new house awaiting the inspector.  Some inspectors allow thirty minutes for the test, others longer.

A static test is a test of the sewer lines. A test bladder is placed at the clean out and a toilet is removed.  The sewer lines are completely fill with water and the level is observed for some adequate period of time.  Both tests are critical on any home where the foundation has been leveled.  In fact, most homes built prior to the 1970s have cast iron sewer pipes which are reaching the end of their functional life.

Buyers need to be well informed before purchasing a home that has had foundation repairs or cast iron pipes.  Unfortunately these tests are not exactly passive and can result in very expensive damages.  The Texas Real Estate Commission has taken note and furnished us with an addendum to cover this issue. The Addendum for Authorizing Hydrostatic Testing requires the owner’s written permission to do the test and clearly states who is legally liable for any damages as a result of the test.

Jeff Stewart, CCIM

Broker Associate

Stanberry & Associates

PLEASE READ: Texas law requires all real estate licensees provide the Information About Brokerage Services (IABS) to prospective buyers, tenants, sellers and landlords. Please see the link above.




If you are like a lot of my friends who have long saved for a vacation place at the coast or on the lake, soaring property taxes may have just about put that dream place out of reach. While I do not have a solution for high property taxes, I might have a suggestion that would fit the lifestyles of a lot of my outdoorsy friends and clients. Let me introduce you to cows and bees! In Texas we are fortunate that the State of Texas loves cows, bees, song birds and deer and taxes land accordingly.  All of which can play into a legitimate strategy for Texans to enjoy and invest in their own piece of the great outdoors without being taxed to the breaking point.

Whenever I mention the benefits of agriculture (AG) valuation to clients, most are quick to inform me that they are not raising cows, hay, or bees.  Fair enough, but leasing the grazing rights for a property qualifies and requires very little effort on the owner’s end.  I have yet to do it, but I understand that having bee hives also qualifies as AG on tracts up to twenty acres or so.

Of course, the other option is to secure a wildlife exemption.  This is much more technical, but my friends who have done it found it to be educational and interesting. Hunting and livestock are both allowed.  It is my understanding that the land must have had an AG valuation for the preceding two years to be accepted into the wildlife program.

So, why consider any of this? First as an example, besides farm and ranch land, what other $650,000 real estate investment (with no residence) is only taxed $175 in property taxes?   As a comparison, I looked up a lake house that recently sold on Lake Travis.  The tax appraiser put the value at $653,000 and the taxes were a whopping $10,116 per year.  In another year or two, the taxes may be $1,000 per month . . . for a weekend lake place!

Another thought is the ability to utilize a 1031 IRS tax deferred exchange.  Have a large capital gain in a problem rental property? A 1031 exchange would allow you to sell the rental and roll the proceeds tax-free into a recreational / investment property that is suitable for hunting, fishing, or camping trips.

If you would like more details on AG or wildlife exemptions do not hesitate to call me.

nformation About Brokerage Services (IABS) 

Jeff Stewart, CCIM, SRES  Broker Associate

Stanberry Realtors

Funding Retirement & College Expense By JEFF STEWART,CCIM

It is widely reported that a large percentage of Americans are woefully prepared to afford retirement.  Likewise, we read almost daily about the rising cost of college and the growing burden of student loans.  What can we do to insure we and or our children are not tripped up by these looming problems?  Clearly the short answer is to save more in anticipation of these challenges, but all too often real life expenses get in the way.  While certainly not a fit for many people, I still think rent property is a solid solution for many families with the right skill sets.

The advantage of owning rent property is three fold. First, it is a forced savings plan.  The amortized mortgage payment, paid for by the tenants, automatically reduces the loan balance. In a sense, it is a monthly savings plan. Second, despite economic ups and downs, a well maintained property in a good area should appreciate with time. Third, rent property is an excellent way to teach your children a number of very important life skills: evaluating prospective tenants, developing financial management, and learning about common residential repairs.

So how does one begin? Ideally it would be great to take a course, but I am not aware of one right off.  I would be willing to organize a short class if several of my readers were interested.  Otherwise I would suggest that anyone wishing to explore rental management to talk to me or another long-time landlord to see if it is a fit for you.

Obviously finding the right property is the next step. I suggest that investors find rent houses that are relatively close to home.  It is important to do a drive-by on a regular basis and it is helpful to be fairly close for showings. Like any real estate investment, location is the key. I always stress to clients that they need to also give as much thought to the eventual sale of the property as they do to the initial purchase.  Sometimes a “real deal” may cash flow, but be a real loser when it is time to sell out defeating the long-term goal.

Interested? So what to look for? As mentioned, location is key for the ultimate success. I avoid streets crowded with renters’ cars and with poorly maintained yards. (Don’t be one of these landlords!) Trees are a real plus. If the property does not have them . . . plant them and arrange for the tenants to water them. They will grow quicker than one might suspect.

I prefer hip roofs instead of gable roofs, and avoid Masonite siding – exposed gable roofs and Masonite siding require frequent painting. For flooring, I prefer porcelain tile instead of the popular vinyl plank . . . it holds up much better (keep spare tiles). For carpet on smaller units like duplexes, I have been very successful with short nap commercial glue-down type carpet installed over a thin pad. It cleans great and looks good for years.

For more landlord tips, you can find more articles I have written on the subject at or call me at the office.  I am always available to answer questions.

PLEASE READ: Texas law requires all real estate licensees provide the Information About Brokerage Services (IABS) to prospective buyers, tenants, sellers and landlords.


Broker Associate  /  Stanberry & Associates



Zebra Mussels in Lake Travis By JEFF STEWART, CCIM

Just less than a year ago, Texas Parks and Wildlife announced that the dreaded zebra mussels had been found in Lake Travis. From personal experience, I can report that they are already making an impact.  So far I have not seen examples that are totally encrusted like the items I have seen in Google images, but it will not be long.  The photo above is of a 7″ rock I picked up on the shoreline at our lake place near Pace Bend Park.  As the LCRA releases water for spring irrigation, random clusters of zebra mussels can be seen on the newly revealed waterfront rocks.

Unfortunately, the small shells are razor sharp. I reached into the water to pick up an abandoned boat anchor and I now have five small cuts on my left hand.  A careful inspection also found that they are now appearing on our dock ladder (and I assume underwater bracing).  Contemplate that . . . and think of the potential cut feet and hands.

So, what does that mean to real estate values?  It is too soon to say for sure,  but I think it will definitely be an influence – especially if other nearby lakes are not similarly afflicted. In light of the skyrocketing property taxes, dealing with an infestation of crusty zebra mussels on cables and dock frames just makes for one more expense for waterfront homeowners.

Information About Brokerage Services (IABS) 

Jeff Stewart, CCIM, SRES  Broker Associate

Stanberry Realtors


Strategies For Moving Up By JEFF STEWART, CCIM, SRES

The single biggest challenge to homeowners moving up, and to a lesser degree . . . down-sizing, is how to do it without moving twice.  Few homeowners can afford to buy a replacement home without first netting the proceeds of their old home.  Moving from Point A to Point B in one move requires a thought-out strategy.  Let’s consider the options.

First, the obvious choice is to contract for the replacement property subject to the sale of the old home. So-called “contingency contracts” are seldom accepted by sellers in a red hot market like Austin.  Why should they, when they probably have ready and willing buyers lined up.

The second safe but labor intensive and expensive option is to sell, rent short-term, and then move again.  Besides the hassle, the risk here is locating a suitable replacement home.

A third option, one recent clients used with success, requires refinancing the existing home with a cash out loan.  My clients were fortunate enough to have mostly paid off their existing home. This allowed them to secure a cash-out loan against the old home, so that they could use it for a down-payment on the new home.  Clearly, they had to be able to qualify for both loans.  In this case, my lender coordinated both loans and facilitated a Frost Bank loan for the swing loan.  This arrangement allowed my friends to make a more relaxed transition and more time to prepare the first home for a good presentation.

Finally, one very successful option is to buy a builder product.  I have sold numerous new homes the past few years and it made my clients’ move much easier.  First, most builders will accept contingency contracts if the new home is in the early stage of construction.  This allows the homebuyer more time to prepare for the sale of the existing home.  In the situations where the existing home was highly sought after, we were able to pick and choose our buyer.  In several cases, we were able to negotiate a transaction in which we closed, but the new owners allowed the sellers to lease back a few weeks until the new home was completed.  Sometimes the stars have to be aligned, but this strategy worked well for my clients.

PLEASE READ: Texas law requires all real estate licensees provide the Information About Brokerage Services (IABS)  to prospective buyers, tenants, sellers and landlords. Please see the link above.


Broker Associate  Stanberry, REALTORS


Of all the questions I routinely get, fence questions are at the head of the list. Generally, clients want to know, “Who owns the fence?” Since fences seldom last more than a few decades, or a lot less if wood, it is an issue that is going to surface on a regular basis.

My answer is not a legal one . . . it is a practical one . . . “It depends.” A number of questions come to mind when asked about the need for a new or repaired fence: Who paid for the last one? (Which side of a cedar fence has the “pretty side”? That is your first clue.)

Did the builder or developer put it up? (Probably shared.) Is it on the property line, or entirely inside the property line of one of the two tracts? Does it need repairs because a neighbor’s bull broke through or because of a flood? Regardless of the answer to any of these, I ordinarily suggest the same approach. Unless the neighbors have already had major conflicts, I urge clients to think of the fence as a joint project and offer to meet the other property owner “half way.”

With elderly neighbors, I have asked them to pay for materials and I have provided the labor (mine).  With more affluent neighbors, I usually ask them to simply split the cost of a new fence and we hire a fence company.  Just this week, I asked a ranch neighbor with construction employees if he wanted to provide the labor to repair our shared fence while I furnished the materials.  I have yet to hear back from him and he has his land for sale, so I may have to deal with the next owner or go it alone.  Sometimes fence replacement can take time . . . especially on farms and ranches where bulldozers are needed and the cost is tremendous.

In most newer residential subdivisions the fences are mostly on the property lines, but that does not always keep a neighbor from adding their own fence on their side of the line.  I usually see this as a result of a newly added swimming pool and a desire for the privacy of an eight foot fence.  In Austin, I understand that such a fence is a permit issue and that the neighbors have to agree to it; but I have yet to see that happen.

In short, I suggest to clients that they consider the fence as a shared item and to work with the neighbors towards a satisfactory result.  Unfortunately, that often does not seem to work. If diplomacy fails and one party truly needs a better fence to contain kids or pets, then the only answer is probably to go it alone.  This step can be tricky as well.  One has to ascertain if the other party is going to object to the removal of the old fence.  If so, the new fence will have to be inside the property line adjacent to the old fence.  Or one has to decide if it is worth the coming squabble if the old fence is to be replaced over the strong objections of the neighbors.  In that event, one needs legal rather than the practical advice I am offering here. Recently I  was involved in an episode where an attorney had to step in to prevent some misguided fence games. It prevented lots of problems. Know when to consult an attorney.

Jeff Stewart, CCIM


PLEASE READ: Texas law requires all real estate licensees provide the Information About Brokerage Services (IABS) 

to prospective buyers, tenants, sellers and landlords. Please see the link above.

Jeff Stewart, Broker Associate  /  Stanberry REALTORS.






Housing has been one of the two biggest problems in Austin in recent years. (Traffic, being the other . . . but you knew that.) Let’s talk about affordable housing.

I have been a residential and commercial REALTOR in Austin for over 40 years.  I am also a retired home builder and former general contractor.  During the 80’s Bust, I was the person who finished much or most of what Texas Commerce Bank repossessed in the Austin area. At different times, I was the Home builder Association’s liaison with the City Building Code Department and served on the Homeowners Warranty (HOW) inspector review committee where a small group of us tested, certified and oversaw the HOW building inspectors.  I guess I am saying that I am not a novice.

Admittedly, I have not remodeled a house in the past few years.  We are doing so now.  What a shock!!! I cannot believe the level of red tape and expense that the City has added in the last several years – all the while decrying the runaway cost of housing. At the risk of you zoning out, I would like to point out a few notable issues I have encountered:

  • The electrical.  We wanted to replace the old tan-colored plugs and switches and install GFIs.  The electricians swear to me that they cannot upgrade the switches and plugs without re-wiring for arc fault if they pull a permit.  With a permit, the City required a new meter box (they said it was NOW undersized), a new breaker box (they said the old breakers were unsafe), a new masthead (they said the old one was too low), and all new wiring (the old wiring was not on ARC Fault breakers).  It is a $10,000+ electrical contract AFTER we removed everything down to the studs so we could re-wire.
  • I wanted to replace the old atrium door. The city now requires a building permit to replace an exterior door, and the new energy code requirement means that instead of a good $400 door (which is in stock) we have to order a special door that takes 30 days and costs around $600-1300. Home Depot nor Lowes stocks anything like what the City code now requires.
  • Windows: this may fall under national code, but most of the bedroom windows were 2-0 x6-0s and are grandfathered unless replaced. If replaced, they have to be much larger.  It is a 100% brick house. This is a huge problem.  I have the same problem at my house. It is keeping me from installing better, more efficient windows. It seems like there should be a case made for grandfathering windows that once met code. (I have no problem with replacing the glass with safety plate, as required due to the close distance to the floor – that is not the hardship that tearing up brick walls and re-framing walls would be.
  • Termite treatment.  We had just treated for termites prior to finding out that we had to gut this house (two months ago). Now the city requires that we spray some kind of termite treatment on the bare studs before we sheetrock. Doing a pre-treatment is not a bad idea.  I used to do it for some buyers, but it is one more unnecessary cost that should be a free market buyer decision – like a cast iron tub vs. a cheap steel one. I use this as one example.
  • Trees- Reasonable tree regulation make sense.  We have gone past the point of reason. This house has an oak tree that the previous owner planted in the 70s. It covers the entire front yard and is protected as a heritage tree.  The plumber told me that if we replace the sewer line, we would have to take a tree permit and wait until the tree guy comes to look and tells us where we can trench.  OK.  I can live with that.  Then I find out that the trench could not be dug, but must be blown out with water or compressed air so that we do not harm the roots.  No word on how we were to fish the sewer pipe through the maze of roots. The sewer proved to be OK so I did not experience this, but others have.  I do not like the governor interfering in Austin codes, but on this I understand his point of view.  A little more moderation in enforcement seems due.

A while back we had a city code specialist speak at Stanberry & Associates.  I told him that I am of the opinion that excessive regulation is somewhat counterproductive. It is slowly driving more people to bootleg. People are flipping houses all over Austin.  Most are replacing the tan plugs and switches and exterior doors.  I guarantee you very few have done so with the require permits.  Those of us doing so legally are getting clobbered.

I have told this story to many people and they say that I should write a letter to the editor.  I think that would do little.  I know Austinites hear things like this every day, but the next time it comes up I hope you will re-tell some of this story.

I never dreamed that I would have to take a house down to the studs over the electric code  when the wiring was in no way hazardous fine and had been previously installed to code, or that it would cost over $1000 to replace an ordinary  sliding glass door.  And the city leaders bemoan the lack of affordable housing!

Jeff Stewart, CCIM        STANBERRY & ASSOCIATES           


Sales seem to have slowed as we hit the summer heat.  The statistics below indicate a slight softening in some aspects of the market, but it is important to not that these are lagging indicators.  These sales totals are for closings during the month of June, which means that they had actually gone under contract roughly 30 days or more before that.


Following are June 2017 single-family housing market statistics in the Austin-Round Rock MSA:

3,415 – Single-family homes sold, 4.0 percent more than June 2016.
$314,000 – Median price for single-family homes, 7.0 percent more than June 2016.
45 – Average days homes spent on the market, two days more than June 2016.
4,335 – New home listings on the market, 6.0 percent more than June 2016.
7,672 – Active home listings on the market, 19.0 percent more than June 2016.
3,148 – Pending sales for single-family homes, 9.0 percent more than June 2016.
3.1 – Months of inventory, 0.5 months more than June 2016.
$1,347,423,877 – Total sales dollar volume, 12.0 percent more than June 2016.

Jeff Stewart, CCIM, SRES   Stanberry & Associates      512-327-9310



 Low-ball offers are rather uncommon in a hot market like we have had in the Austin area the past few years, but they are not unheard of.  So let’s take a look at how one might choose to respond in hopes of eventually getting to a price where we might make a deal.

First, it is critical to confirm that the buyer is actually qualified for more than the low offer.  If the buyer is qualified for enough to make a better offer, I suggest to sellers that they consider taking an approach that is a little different.  Many sellers choose to refuse to respond to low offers, and others often respond with slightly less than full price counteroffers.  Neither approach is likely to move toward a contract. I suggest a third option, which is to send back a response on a form that is referred to as “Seller’s Invitation to Buyer to Submit New Offer.” I have found that this form is a more “gentle” way to refuse an offer, but possibly keep the buyer interested.  The form is not a counteroffer, and clearly says so.  It allows the seller to send the buyer a message that the offer has been refused, but has a space to outline what terms would be more acceptable. It still allows the seller to accept other offers. It is a refusal, but a refusal with the possibility of a dialogue.

Some personalities (and cultures) absolutely believe the first offer has to be an extremely low one.  Their motto is, “Hey! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  Sometimes it takes a seller standing firm, but without attitude . . . which I admit is difficult when it seem so personal because it is the home you have loved for years.

PLEASE READ: Texas law requires all real estate licensees provide the Information About Brokerage Services (IABS) to prospective buyers, tenants, sellers and landlords. Please see the link above.

Jeff Stewart, CCIM, SRES

Stanberry & Associates, REALTORS