Monthly Archives: December 2015

Speaking of Foundations By Jeff Stewart


There was a time in the late 70s and early 80s that most Austinites thought of a cracked slab as a catastrophic situation.  Just the term “cracked” implied something that could not be repaired.  Fortunately, the public now better understands that slabs are not fine china and the effects of settling can usually be reversed.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that our recent cycle of extreme drought to extreme flooding can be quite problematic for foundations, especially in areas with expansive soil.

When fluctuating moisture content in soil causes the ground to shrink or expand, that expansion is defined by what we refer to as the plasticity index (PI). Bedrock would have a PI of close to zero.  Extremely expansive clay might have a rating closer to 30.  In theory we would hope that all foundations are engineered according to the PI of the specific site, but realistically that has not always happened.

Even when slabs have been well-designed, the addition of extreme moisture can create settling problems.  Here are just a few of the moisture problems I see regularly:

  • Runoff – rainfall does not quickly drain away from the slab. Water is allowed to effectively penetrate under the slab.
  • Broken water or sewer pipes in or under the foundation.
  • AC condensation lines creating pools of water next to the slab.

I compare the problem of too much moisture to mud pies. Add enough water and dirt becomes a liquid.  The same thing can happen to the soil supporting a foundation . . . especially in the case of a pressurized water leak.  In the case of a major water leak, the slab may heave as the soil swells . . . or it may do exactly the opposite, and sink as the soil turns to a liquid state and can no longer provide support. Luckily, most moisture related problems are curable, with perhaps the exception of underground springs or floodwater.

Once the water problems are corrected, most slabs can be repaired with engineered piers.  Foundation companies now utilize a number of different methods to install piers for slab stabilization:

  • Drilled piers – Pier holes are actually drilled and piers are created by installing rebar and pouring concrete. If no bedrock is found, then the piers can be made with bell-bottoms.
  • Concrete pressed piles – Concrete cylinders are stacked and pressed into the soil until they reach the point of refusal.
  • Steel pressed piers – Short pieces of 2.5″-3″ steel pipe are fitted together and are pressed into the ground until they hit a point of refusal.  Steel piers can be pressed deeper into the soil than the concrete pilings.

Concrete pilings are the most common in the Austin market, but there are shortcomings.  First, I have seen the 6″x12″ concrete cylinders shatter during installation . . . it sounds like a small grenade.  Second, due to the larger diameter and increased friction, the concrete piers may not penetrate as deep as other types of piers.

Recently I listed a home that had extensive interior settling . . . despite the earlier installation of thirty-six piers.  The perimeter of the house had no cracks, but the interior of the home was very broken up.  The homeowner informed me that the foundation repair company did not install the interior piers as the engineer required.  Another foundation company was hired to complete the work per the engineered plan and the successful result was remarkable.  I mention this because occasionally homeowners choose to only do part of the work recommended by the structural engineers. If they are occupying the home, they may not want the chaos caused by the installation of interior piers. That usually results in more problems, not less. It pays to have the engineer closely monitor the work while it is in progress.

Jeff Stewart, CCIM, SRES

Stanberry Commercial, REALTORS


Blue Pin, 3/5/02, 5:49 PM, 8C, 1122x1416 (1806+134), 100%, bent 5 stops, 1/100 s, R72.2, G66.2, B79.7As strange as it seems to me, on the 2nd of January I will celebrate forty years as an Austin REALTOR.  I joined the Austin Board of REALTORS on January 2, 1976.  Now before you jump to conclusions, I am not seventy-five years old.  I was actually one of the youngest agents, if not the youngest, in the city at the age of twenty three.

As one does when nearing such a milestone, I have been reflecting on the incredible changes I have seen in our industry.  Some of the developments in technology would have seemed like pure fantasy in 1976.  A great example is property tax information.  Young agents would never believe that we had to first locate the property on a map . . . a gigantic scroll, actually . . . in the tax office downtown.  We literally scrolled down on the ten foot wide and ten foot high scroll on the tax office wall.  Once you located the property, it took a while to ascertain the parcel number.  With the correct parcel number, you could then go to the card directory and pull the field card.  It was pretty exciting stuff – and very time consuming.  Now anyone with Internet access can pull up TCAD information in just seconds.

The MLS book has changed as well.  First, there is no longer a book – period.  Bill Stanberry did away with the actual printed book years ago and launched the web-based MLS system when he was president of the Austin Board of REALTORS. When I joined the MLS, they had just recently upgraded to a printed book that was published every two weeks.  Shortly before I became a member, the MLS data was simply three-ring binders with loose leaf listings.  The agents were responsible for organizing their own binder.  The MLS book listings were limited to a single, really bad, black and white photo of the front of the property.  Bill Stanberry decided we needed to embrace the digital age and the MLS became available only through the Internet.  Many older agents just knew this was the end of the world and that our industry would totally collapse.  Of course, the opposite occurred.  Bill recently reminded me that one older agent told him that the MLS would “only be on the Internet over her dead body!”  Bill smiled and wondered out loud as to whatever happened to her.

Some of the biggest changes over forty years are a mixed bag.  When I began as an agent, our sales contracts, the listing forms, and most residential leases were on one page.  Not one page front and back, just one page.  We more or less adlibbed the rest, which is what led to the hundreds of law suits which led to the constantly growing length of the contracts we now have. (I had a residential deal recently with 19 pages.) Also, we did not have third party inspections.  Instead, the standard wording we inserted in the contracts was, “All heating and air, plumbing, and electrical systems to be in good operating condition.”  That was it . . . the honor system.  With time, we realized Pres. Reagan had the better idea – “Trust, but verify.”  Thank goodness for inspections!

Of course, one reason that we did not have inspections was a result of something that would shock consumers today . . . ALL agents worked on behalf of the seller. That was how the MLS system worked. Unfortunately, almost no buyers were ever aware that their agents were not technically working in their best interest.   The fatal flaw of this system was that agents were A) not disclosing their true fiduciary relationship, or B) they were working in the best interest of the buyer (family?) in direct conflict with their MLS contracts.  Fortunately, this system collapsed when the federal government required that we give prospects written notice of whom we represent.  Only then did we finally get true representation for both buyers and sellers.

Despite all the changes in technology, legislation, marketing, and values, one tenant remains true.  The National Association of REALTORS has a motto that sums it up – “Under all is the land.”  And another corollary should be attached to that motto – “And they are not making any more of it!”



Austin-area home sales remain high, could signal record year for Central Texas real estate

October 2015 market stats

Austin Board of REALTORS® releases real estate statistics for October 2015.

AUSTIN, Texas – Nov. 19, 2015 – Austin-area single-family home sales increased year-over-year for the fifth consecutive month in October 2015, according to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) report released today by the Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR). Austin-area single-family home sales increased by two percent year-over-year to 2,378 home sales and median price increased five percent by the same measure to $252,790 in October 2015.

Barb Cooper, 2015 President of the Austin Board of REALTORS­®, explained, “We’re on pace for another record year and while home sales typically slow each fall, housing demand has remained strong far past the typical peak selling season. This demand stems from strong employment and our area’s high growth rate—factors that help create a stable housing market.”

In a recent Freddie Mac report, Austin was ranked the second-most stable housing market in the U.S. The report ranked Austin’s housing market as “improving,” with positive gains in employment and mortgages in good standing.

“A stable housing market bodes well for Central Texas,” added Cooper. “But we need to find ways to give more Austin-area homeowners access to that stability by increasing our density, preserving our existing housing stock through stronger code enforcement and creating more affordable housing options.”

New listings remained unchanged year-over-year at 2,847 listings and active listings increased by three percent compared to October 2014 to 6,342 listings. In addition, pending sales increased four percent to 2,339 single-family home sales. Homes remained on the market for an average of 50 days in October 2015, one day fewer compared to October 2014.

Monthly housing inventory decreased by 0.1 months year-over-year to 2.6 months. Housing inventory remains at less than half of what the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University considers a balanced housing inventory level of approximately 6.5 months.

October 2015 Statistics

  • 2,378 – Single-family homes sold, two percent more than October 2014.
  • $252,790 – Median price for single-family homes, five percent more than October 2014.
  • $333,452 – Average price for single-family homes, seven percent more than October 2014.
  • 50 – Average number of days single-family homes spent on the market, one day fewer than October 2014.
  • 2,847 – New single-family home listings on the market, statistically unchanged compared to October 2014.
  • 6,342 – Active single-family home listings on the market, three percent more than October 2014.
  • 2,339 – Pending sales for single-family homes, four percent more than October 2014.
  • 2.6 – Months of inventory* of single-family homes, 0.1 months less than October 2014.
  • $792,948,856 – Total dollar volume of single-family properties sold, 10 percent more than October 2014.

The following sections describe trends in other sectors of the Austin-area real estate market.

Townhouses & Condominiums

The number of townhouses and condominiums (condos) sold in the Austin area in October 2015 was 230, a 15 percent decrease from October 2014. The median price for condos was $234,680, which is four percent more than the same month of the prior year. These properties spent an average of 48 days on market, unchanged from October 2014.


Market Reports

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In October 2015, a total of 1,384 properties were leased in Austin, which is one percent more than October 2014. Properties spent an average of 41 days on the market, or two fewer days than in October 2014. Active property listings increased by five percent compared to October 2014, reaching 1,891 listings.

The Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR) builds connections through the use of technology, education and advocacy to strengthen the careers of its 11,000 members and improve the lives of Central Texas families. We empower Austin REALTORS® to connect their clients to the region’s most complete, accurate and up-to-date listings data. For more, contact the ABoR Department of Public Affairs at or 512-454-7636. For the latest local housing market listings, visit

* The inventory of homes for a market can be measured in months, which is defined as the number of active listings divided by the average sales per month of the prior 12 months. The Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University cites that 6.5 months of inventory represents a market in which supply and demand for homes is balanced.

Jeff Stewart, CCIM, SRES

Stanberry & Associates, REALTORS