Filing Your Homestead Exemption: Austin, Tx and surrounding areas

Did you buy a home last year?

Do you want a tax break?

Good, here is what you need to do to get that tax break…

First-write down on your “to do” list: File Homestead Exemption

Secondly, actually take about 10 minutes to do it.

Isn’t it funny how the most mundane tasks get put off and shoved to the side? When you put that stamp and send it in (or fill it out online) you think, “oh that really wasn’t so bad, afterall, why did I wait so long to do it?” {still on my to do list by the way}

So, my Austin area peeps:

Below are the links to information on how to download the necessary forms to claim your exemption-based on what county you purchased your home in:

  • Travis County 
    Mailing Address: P.O. BOX 149012, Austin, TX 78714-9012
  • Williamson County or File Online
    Mailing Address: 625 FM 1460, Georgetown, TX 78626-8050
  • Hays County
    Mailing Address: 21001 IH 35 North, Kyle, Texas 78640
  • Bastrop County or Call 512-303-1930 ext. 22
    Mailing Address: P.O. Box 578, Bastrop, TX 78602
  • Burnet County
    Mailing Address: P.O. Box 908, Burnet, TX 78611-0908
  • Llano County
    Mailing Address: 103 E. Sandstone St., Llano, Texas 78643

As Austin and surrounding areas home pricing increases, so will taxes. Typically (yet not always) your tax value is a bit behind your actual appraised value of your home.

**Remember your tax value and assessed home value by your lender are two different things. And as some say– You want the taxing authority to think you live in a shack and your loan provider to think you live in a mansion (wink, wink)**

So at the start of the year, by April 1, you need to have your homestead exemption filed if you are currently living in the home you purchased the year prior.

EVALUATION PHASE:

Jan-late March is the evaluation phase. Around April you will get a letter in the mail with your tax appraised value if:

  • the appraised value of the property is greater than it was in the preceding year $1,000 or more;
  • the appraised value of the property is greater than the value rendered by the property owner; or
  • the property was not on the appraisal roll in the preceding year

EQUALIZATION PHASE: 

April through July for the most part–

After you get the letter in the mail, you may protest your taxes.

If you paid less for your home than what the taxing authorities are saying it is worth, it is fairly easy to get your taxes reduced by showing them your final closing statement.

**However!! Fun Fact: Texas is a Non-disclosure state! So let’s say after you close on your home you get a piece of paper in the mail, it looks official and it asks, “What did you pay for your home?” send this back in to us…You, as a Texas Resident do NOT have to report what you paid for the home.**

There are two hearings to arguing your taxes-an informal and a formal. Basically if you don’t get your way in the informal (which you can send in the piece of paper- ON TIME), you can request a formal. You present your comparable sold properties and explain your case as to why you should not be taxed as much as you were. (This is where I come in! As your/a realtor, I can try to help you find homes similar to yours and what they sold for to help your case).

DISCOVERY PHASE

And finally August through the end of the year is the discovery phase for the following year.

After the inquiry/protest season concludes, the appraisal process transitions to the data collection and analysis phase. During this time, appraisers may be seen throughout the County in neighborhoods and commercial areas as they are measuring new residential or commercial construction, reviewing and updating characteristics of existing construction and/or land parcels, and reviewing, updating, or adding inventory of present or new businesses. Yearly updated aerial imagery, digital field devices for data collection, and GIS analysis tools are utilized to assist in staff efficiency, and ensure proper valuations and equitable results during the assigned/limited time for this phase. This process requires collection and analysis of three types of data:

General data, which affect values on national, state/regional, or neighborhood levels.
Specific data, about the site and improvements of a property.
Comparative data, which regards recent sales, cost, and income information for similar properties.

If this is still all over your head, this chart may help explain and is where I got most the information above from (along with past experience): Here is a great Tax Calendar visual to explain.

When your tax bill comes due, depending how your loan is set up will depend on how you pay it. If your money is with an escrow account–meaning you make a payment to your lender that covers: PITI–> principal, interest, taxes,  (home owner’s) insurance. If the value of your home goes up, so will your payment, as your lender will try to “pad” your escrow account so you don’t end up owing more when your bill comes due. Some home loans allow you to make your payment online–and choose if you want to pay extra and if it goes toward your escrow account or principle, which is nice. Or if you don’t have an escrow account (not required for those who put down more than 20%) you can manage your taxes yourself and pay the bill as it comes due.

Hope some of that information helps and if any additional questions, feel free to drop me a line.

AshleyBrinkman@realtyaustin.com

As always, thanks for reading!

Austin’s Economic forecast for 2016

Last week there were two economic forecasting events, one from Ted Jones and one from HBA (Home Builder Assoc. of Greater Austin)

Here’s a few key points for 2016’s projected forecast–And in sum: Austin is looking just as strong as 2015, with the threat of interest rates going up, even with the decline in oil prices. Oil doesn’t affect Austin as much as the rest of Texas and Houston, but more so gives consumers the thought of having more to spend with gas prices down.

“Overall the state of the Austin economy is growing and should continue to succeed as compared to the nation. With a careful eye on education, training, economic diversification and leadership, Austin can keep its momentum. Texas is a good place to do business. It’s a good place to call home. I still thank God that I get to call Texas home,” said Comptroller Hegar (who also spoke at the Economic Forecast.

2016 Prediction Notes from Economic Forecast:

*Loan Apps down 27% since TRID (TRID is the new lending guidelines that went into place Oct. 3 that now gives buyers a bit more protection)

*Job Growth huge in Austin and will continue (aka Austin 2nd Silicone Valley, companies keep moving here because it is so cheap)

*Consumers feel great about future (despite this being an election year)

*Last 12 months Texas job growth 1.53%

*Leisure and hospitality jobs up 4.5% (as predicted with hotel growth in Austin etc)

*35k more jobs in Austin last year

*Forecast for 2016 – home sales will be up 4.86% even with interest up. Savings on fuel cost and job growth are biggest indicators.

*2.4 months inventory currently which is less than 1/2

*Median household income in Austin rose 6.41% – which means good jobs
are being creating

*Consumers have less debt

*More commercial real estate than anytime…

*Expect interest rates around: 5.2-5.6% by the end of the year

*Low oil prices don’t hurt Austin because more people come for leisure

*Condo DT market – young town and income greater than US income average

*Corporate relocation in Austin – we are the 2nd Silicon Valley, but much cheaper than San Jose so more will be coming.

*Oil will not affect Austin

Here is Ted’s blog if you care to read more of what he has to say.

“Austin has hit an all-time record for home sales under the strictest lending conditions. Investors are borrowing money today at the cheapest rate of our time. This makes commercial investment a good deal.” In closing Dr. Jones encouraged attendees to watch unemployment.

“Austin does well when oil prices go down, but unemployment rises a little bit – and rises for unskilled labor,” said Jones.

Adventures of Air BnBing

As some of you know, if you follow me on Insta and the like…I bought a home this year.

I had no intentions of getting a roommate really (I have lived alone for so long, there sure are a lot of perks to living solo!) But then a friend of mine was relocating down here, so I said she could stay with me until she found a new job.

Welllll, her home hasn’t sold yet (Sorry Amber!) so in the meantime I thought–hmm. I should put my house/room on Air BnB and see what happens.

airbnb logo

Well, a lot has happened, actually. And here’s my experience…In a nut shell.

nutshell

A: Aren’t you afraid of getting murdered or someone stealing your stuff??

Q: No, not really.

If you know me, I am pretty trusting aka naive-whatever adjective you prefer. I approve who stays by seeing their profile photo, their reviews from other hosts, how long they have been a member and how many verifications they have. They pay a $500 deposit (this can be altered based on the reservation) if something were to happen and I make a claim within 48hrs, however most people are visiting and just need a place to crash. To be honest-I think the kitchen has been used maybe four times since I started renting it out back in October.

Q: Don’t you have to have a permit or something in Austin?

A: Yes, yes you do.

You can find the STR permits here on the City of Austin website. FYI they are still issuing permits for people who are the primary resident, but if you own an investment property and don’t have one yet-I hear there’s a wait list until 2017, but that may be hearsay. Because I live by the Domain, when I checked the map, mine was in the area AND there were 46 permits left-so I was golden.

Q: How much do you make off Air Bnb?

A: It varies, really.

December I only made around $350, but I also didn’t feel like renting out my space, I was swamped with work, holiday crafts and hosting my own friends. However, in November because I was gone for 10 days I rented out my home three different times, paid a friend to check on it in between guests and change sheets (what a peach!) and rented out the bedroom here and there-that month I made $775!

Q: So, wait-you rent out a bedroom WHILE you live there.

A: Yep.

Again, I like people, I don’t mind it. I like giving people tips on where to go and what to do. If I get the creepy vibe–(which I haven’t yet)–I have my own office, my own huge master with attached bath, so it’s not like we are on top of one another. And again, I have found most my weekday guests are contracted to do work, they’re gone all day as I work from home most the day. Then when they come back to the house in the evenings, I am usually showing properties, at the gym, grocery shopping our eating with friends, so I don’t see much of my guests when they are here.

DSC_1461

Q: Aren’t you worried about your dog?

A: Only her getting stolen.

Everyone loves #GoodGollyMissMollyMaltipoo. I have a disclaimer before I rent it to ANYONE–“I have a dog, she does not shed, she is super sweet, but if you leave the door open she will come in and steal a sock or lick you to death-she is a puppy still. You can feel free to play fetch with her and pet her or just ignore her.” I think after people check out they like her more than me, but Molly has never had a bad review, thankfully. Once, a guest got to my house before I did, I texted him asking if everything was ok. He texted me back a picture of him on my couch on his laptop and Molly snuggling next to him. Another guy from Louisiana came to stay a few nights. I never say him the first day, but the second evening when I got home he helped me string lights for my Halloween party in the back yard, we talked about everything and he took about 4 photos of Molly and sent it to his wife saying “we need to get a dog like this.” haha. I love it and honestly I think it is good for her! She is so social and loving. Ever since installing the doggy door-that is a nice big help too!

IMG_0137

(I know, I am ridiculous, but how can you not like that lil fur ball?)

Q: You are a single female and you rent your spare room to men? Are you nuts?

A: I do. And maybe?

I didn’t want to at first, but truth is, more of them are traveling for work. I usually get a “they aren’t a murderer” vibe and check reviews, then rent to them. I once got an inquiry from a guy to stay a few days and he didn’t have a photo nor reviews. I wrote him back and said, “I am sorry at this time I do not feel comfortable renting to you but best of luck.” It’s as simple as that. And honestly, I didn’t have to even write him. I could have just hit “decline.” But maybe my note will make him realize he needs to get a profile picture and more on his profile! He did write me back saying he had two daughters and he understood.

Q: Do you have to keep your home all clean?

A: It helps with reviews.

The good news is renting out the room and house to various people helps keep me in check. I do keep cleaner, but I like it! I will say renting out your home before you leave on vacation can be a bit extra stressful. Laundry, packing, making sure biz is covered AND cleaning up house, taking out trash, leaving directions, re-making beds and locking up my items–it’s a lot to do.

packing stress

 (This isn’t me, but let’s pretend it is. Thanks Google images-a girl stressed from cleaning and packing, like me…before a trip)

Q: So, you let strangers sleep in your bed?

A: Yeah, it’s not that weird to me.

Not in my sheets though. I bought some extra sheets, blankets, pillow cases and throws for my guests and so I can keep my own for me. I installed a key lock on my master closet, office and pantry (hey, can’t have the guests getting into my Tito’s), with that I keep valuables, my sheets, work stuff, and for some reason toilet paper and paper towels all locked up (hey I can’t have them stealing more than what they need). I realize some people think that is weird, but ever stay in a hotel? Remember your dorm room mattress? Wonder how many people slept in that thing before you…

Q: Do you have to pay taxes on the money you make?

A: Yep!

If you rent out your home for more than 14 days in a year you do have to pay taxes. I fortunately have a CPA, she told me to save ALL my receipts related to the rental. I am already used to paying a shit ton of taxes, so this is nothing new. I keep track of my Tuesday Morning and Marshall’s purchases (where I buy all my bath towels, sheets, blankets etc). And yes, sometimes I go there just to buy guests items because shopping for home stuff is fun.

Q: Any bad experiences yet?

A: Actually, nope!

I went to a short term rental seminar/class a few years back and a I picked up a few pieces of advice that I use(d).

  1. I keep the house really clean upon arrival, fresh sheets, vacuum, clean dishes, dusting even.
  2. I personalize it some but not fully. {For example: If you were renting my home you’d know what I look like, where I traveled and see a few family pics. You will not find the pics of me partying, with my friends on a boat or at ACL–I take those down. Reason being, people tend to respect someone’s space when they get a feel for who they are/what they are like and that someone lives in the space, which I already make known in my replies to an inquiry
  3. I leave little notes for my guests everywhere! {Notes such as “help yourself to anything in the fridge but eat at own risk!” or “feel free to use any travel toiletries in bottom drawer, extra blankets and sheets are in trunk in living area.” I also instructions on how to use the remote/ TV in living area, reminders to turn off back patio lights, etc. I also write a note to the guests when I leave wishing them a good time, etc. with my cell in case they need anything. I think it helps.

DSC_1438

Q: Do you use professional photos or anything?

A: They aren’t “professional” per say.

I used my camera and flash one night after having the place all cleaned up. I took a bunch of photos and used those, then if I set up an air mattress or something I take a photo and add to the folder. It’s been a slow and steady process. The more you have, the more likely people are to stay with you. I also have photos of things near my home (Domain, metro, etc) and I used the fact it was on HGTV as a selling point!

DSC_1521

domain2

 

kramerstation1

Q: Isn’t it weird having people use your stuff-has anyone taken anything?

A: Not that I am aware of.

I could eat my words in the future here, but it’s just “stuff” at the end of the day..then again my place isn’t super decked out in anything crazy expensive or nice, but things are things and they can be replaced (some of them anyway). Would I be upset if something happened? Absolutely, but I try not to focus on the bad and the “what if’s.”

Q: What about home owner’s insurance?

A: I spoke with my insurance agent, I am good.

I heard crazy stories and started thinking absurd things that could happen to my house while out of town…so I gave her a call and between that, the Air BnB policy and the fee I charge to hold for damages etc, I am good…maybe not totally covered if something crazy happens, but are we ever in life??

Q: How do they get in once in Austin?

A: We keep in touch, but I usually shoot instructions over just once.

After you accept them as a guest on Air Bnb you then have their phone number etc. I usually text or keep messaging through the app, but I have a key pad on my door. The code will get them in the door and then I have a spare key once here in case that doesn’t work. I really want to get the new August locks. You can get in with your phone, it is bluetooth and I can easily change the code when I want, I don’t have the best method right now. But I do have an alarm.  I also have a Nest so I can monitor thermostat from my phone (not that I would change it on my guests, but good to see!)

August locks

Q: How do you know what to charge?

A: Honestly, Air BnB has some suggested pricing, so I typically go by that.

After the first three guests stayed with me they had all made comments about my place being nicer than other places they stayed and how I should charge more. So I bumped up pricing a few bucks here and there and then I definitely increased it for heavy weekends like SXSW, ACL etc. Sometimes if I have an inquiry for a weekend that I wasn’t planning to go out of town (ie graduation weekend in May) you can write them back a “special offer.” It has worked for me twice now. I explain why I want more and that I am still cheaper than a hotel. Boom, Booked. Maybe those are my real estate negotiation skills coming into place

Q: Where do you stay when your home is rented out?

A: Well, I stay with friends or I am out of town/the country.

I will say I stretched myself last year (weird, I never do that–sarcasm) thinking it wouldn’t be a big deal to crash with friends for a few days. I even worked out a deal with my best guy friend, offering him a cut when my place was rented and I could crash on his couch. After the second weekend rental I decided that’s no way to live! What was I… 22? I felt like I was burdening my friends and living out of my car and it’s not like I was making a mortgage payment in two days or anything. In fact, a cold front blew in one weekend and I had to go back to my house to get the right clothing, fortunately my guests didn’t care. So, my new 2016 method: Only rent the house on weekends I plan to go out of town and keep my calendar up to date. Which is difficult. I already have it rented out two weekends where I have no plans to leave town (but all the more reason to book a weekend trip, right?!) I will say it was really nice in November when I was in Central America getting Air BnB texts that money was being transferred into my account and my friend telling me the home was spotless. Yay!

Q: Are you planning on using Air BnB as a traveler?

A: Absolutely!

I find having a bunch of reviews, as a host or traveler is beneficial. I had inquired about a condo in Tahoe, asking a question and the woman approved me off the bat, so that helps. Portland, Seattle and Vancouver I used Air Bnb and I really enjoy staying in the neighborhoods, visiting local spots in the area, it can be better than staying in a hotel downtown (and cheaper) depending where you are going.

IMG_7106

(the darling neighborhood we stayed in Portland, on Air BnB)

Overall Air BnB has been a positive experience for me, but I also enjoy meeting new people. Some people are so nice, text me on their way in “do you need anything, I am grabbing ice cream.” And leaving nice little notes in my little notebook I have on the entry table. I like to talk to people that travel, see where they have been (though most aren’t that far away and looking for a little getaway) and I want people to enjoy Austin (but please don’t move here, haha). I like to tell them where to go, what to do and I recommend Localuer to them as well, as I like to travel. Is it always the most convenient? Now, at times I remember I have a guest and can’t blast the music as I get ready in the morning, or I tip toe in late at night so my shoes aren’t loud on the wood floors, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s been good to me. It’s like the perks of having a roommate sometimes, without having a full time roommate-it’s pretty awesome. They pay you. They aren’t home all the time, they typically leave it pretty clean, never use the kitchen or WD and have loud music playing etc. and you only have them in your home when you want them. I’d say it’s a pretty sweet deal!

localeur

(Localeur logo–which actually was created before Air BnB updated their logo, FYI).

I can’t really think of anything else I haven’t covered, but if you have any additional questions-feel free to ask, PM me or email me (AshleyBrinkman@gmail.com)

How to be a Great Home Owner

I recently purchased a home and one of the things I REALLY appreciated were the seller’s care they took in the home I purchased, but also their responsiveness to questions I had about the home during and post closing.

As an agent now for…I don’t know like 7 yrs-(I cannot keep track any more), there is a noticeable difference of when an owner has lived in (and cared for) a home and when it is a flip or rental or unmaintained. Nothing brings me greater joy as a buyer’s agent than when the sellers are open about information with the home–past bills, year they put in wood flooring, last time they had HVAC serviced etc. These are important things to keep track of! And nothing brings me greater joy as a Selling agent than the big file/paper trail the seller hands over to me when we sign a listing agreement either.

kitchen

If you are not OCD that’s ok! And I am not trying to encourage hoarding either (which seems to become a habit of never throwing anything away once we move into a place that has more space).

hoarder

I thought I would put together a few tips on being a great home owner-and increasing your resale potential in the future, below.

1. Document, document, document.

It isn’t a terrible idea to keep a piece of paper taped inside your HVAC closet of dates you last cleaned it, changed the air filter or had it serviced, make a note each time. Also, to keep track of doing these items, after you purchase a home-maybe add reminders to your calendar (air filter monthly and servicing between seasons).

closing docs

More of an electronic person? Have a folder on your computer (in dropbox or a cloud provider so you don’t lose it if your computer crashes) with all your home owner paperwork: closing documents, survey (that’s a $450 piece of paper), and then as you update your home, take care of things, etc, be sure to keep copies of receipts, invoices, bids etc in this folder for future reference. Painted a room and have leftover paint? Write the room and paint color on can and keep in special place in storage, not just for future owner of your own home-but it may come in handy for you too! Do you have a lawn guy who comes a few times a month or a recommended pool cleaner? It isn’t a bad idea to pass along their info or card to the future owners of your place as well.

2. A special place

Have a designated drawer or file cabinet of some sort for these documents, invoices etc. as well. I was real fortunate when I purchased my home to have a huge stack of manuals of every appliance, light fixture, etc that was updated in my home. As well as a few parts to things that may not have been used, but could be added (extra lock to sliding glass door, under cabinet lighting, etc). The special place shouldn’t be in the attic in a box however, should be an easily accessible place and if you are super into security, perhaps in a locked safe or cabinet of some sort.

file cabinet safe

Are you an owner of an investment property? The management company should keep track of all leases, service orders and maintenance calls, and you will want to make sure you get a copy as well! Save emails between your and your tenants.

3. Take care of it.

If I had to choose between spending $1000 on a trip somewhere or fixing an HVAC leak, it is a no brainer on what I WANT to do, but not necessarily what I NEED to do. If you are generally keeping an eye on things in your home, then hopefully it won’t get to a point of discovering a major issue costing an arm and a leg. Water your foundation with soaker hoses (another item you can add to calendar if it hasn’t been raining), add insulation in the attic when needed, replace or fix items as they break vs putting it off. Yes, much easier said than done.

Plumber working on sink

Have you ever heard the term to “swallow the frog?” Your fixture in the bathroom works fine, but the handle is broken and you have been turning on the shower with a wrench for more than a year. Guess what, as soon as you get someone to fix it (if you can’t yourself) you are going to think: Man, why didn’t I just have this done month’s ago?! It’s the little things that are a pain in the butt, yes, but when everything works as they should in your home-you’re happier.

When  you take care of things now you also save a lot of time when it comes to putting your home on the market because then things are already done (and believe me there comes a hefty list of things to do to make your home sell faster-why add more little tedious projects to the list? “Take care of it” also goes without saying–this means your mortgage, taxes and HOA bills too. Don’t let bills slip away from you!

4. Befriend Thy Neighbor.

friends with neighbors

I know, I know–the crazy cat lady across the street is annoying or the guy that lives below you at your condo is creepy. You don’t have to hang out and cook dinner together, but being aware of what is going on in your neighborhood, with your neighbors, amongst your HOA is never a bad thing. Sure some chat it up way too often and are always spying on what is going on at your place, but when you have great neighbors, there is nothing better! Even if you hate people, make it a goal to introduce yourself to a neighbor or say hi from time to time.

crazy cat lady

Good neighbors: alert you and watch your things when you are on vacation or if there was something suspicious. Good neighbors give great recommendations on who fixed their roof. Good neighbors mow your lawn sometimes since your yard connects. Good neighbors let you borrow a cup of sugar (or these days a wifi password) or lend you a helping hand when doing yard or car work. Are YOU going to be that good neighbor?

 

That’s a Wrap! What it was like filming for HGTV’s House Hunters

So, last week we finished up “Act 4″ of HGTV’s House Hunter’s with Pie Town productions. It was such a fun (and not going to lie, an exhausting) experience, here’s a few tid-bits from behind the scenes.

A while back I had wrote a blog about how I got picked for the show before we started filming, however I got in trouble because I did sign a confidentiality agreement and they asked me to take it down-whoops! So, here I am again posting about HGTV experience, post filming.

house hunterslogo

(Note I do not have House Hunter’s permission to use their logo, but needed a filler and found this on Google image, I am sorry House Hunters-but this is recognizable!)

What I can say in sum, is that it was a pretty cool experience and since I have received plenty of questions, I will now attempt to address them all.

FAQ #1: How did you get picked to be on the show? 

People, it isn’t that hard to apply for a show! Most of the time you go online and then a casting producer calls you if the criteria fits. At the time I had two sets of clients I thought would be a great fit. They reached out to me weeks later. And contrary to popular believe I do not sit around applying for Reality TV shows, promise (I don’t even have cable! However today does mark the exact anniversary of my appearance on Anderson Cooper-still don’t have a dang tape of that either…probably for the best).

ANDERSON COOPER

jess and I

Above: (Sad I got no pics of Anderson and I, but here is the producer Jessica and I!)

Anyway, a casting director emailed me. After a few emails back and forth my client discovered the filming time would not work well with his schedule. At that time I had also just won an offer on a home for myself-so I asked if I would be a good fit, despite being an agent AND the buyer and they said it was fine. (Side note, I have only seen a few episodes of this show since I haven’t had cable in a long time).

THEN you have a phone interview. And they want specifics. How boring would a show be if people were only looking at new construction with an open floorplan and granite countertops and hobbies included movies and going out to eat? (Yes we all want that and do that, but it doesn’t make for exciting television). After she (casting producer) liked what I had to say about my house hunt and hobbies THEN I had to submit a video with a friend who would house hunt with me (and could get off work for filming).

nothingtowearThe hardest part was choosing what to wear (and getting people to sign releases).

So, I thought of Sarah. Plus Sarah and I do craft projects, talk about housing quite a bit, she was a client of mine, we dream of flipping and staging one day and every time I would look at a fixer house I would send her the video for ideas (she is a great visionary). When I asked Sarah if she would want to be on TV with me her response was: “Oh my God, that’s my lifelong dream to be on HGTV!” so it was a no-brainer.

IMG_8876THEN…Sarah and I created a video for the director to watch. I took it off YouTube so you can no longer watch that monstrosity (#sorrynotsorry). It was a Saturday night at midnight and we answered the questions they sent us in a witty/hilarious fashion (side note: we may have had a few glasses of wine prior). The best part of making a video was the fact we had to do a home tour…on a selfie stick. I came around the corner and hit a wall and the phone went flying, I picked it up and kept rolling because I was not about to start over.

Fast forward a week or so and I was in Mallorca, Spain with my friend on vacation. We had literally just got an invitation for free shots at the bar-and as I was about to take it–I got a call with an Los Angeles area code and had a feeling it was Pie Town Productions. Due to bad service and a 7hr time difference, we kept missing one another, but I had a feeling she was calling to give good news. I emailed her in the morning to discover we were in fact chosen for House Hunters. Yipppeeee!!

IMG_1326

FAQ #2: Is the show scripted?

So, fast forward, now about a month from when we got chosen the director (from LA), camera guy and sound guy (who are local and independently contracted, but have worked with the director and show plenty) show up at Sarah’s for day 1 of filming. As we get ready they do exterior shots and set up. Our opening scene is us at Sarah’s on her couch. This is “The Interview” where they discuss our “relationship” and my expectations of home buying etc. Do they tell us line for line what to say? No, the show is not scripted. Did we need help maybe phrasing what we were exactly trying to say and maybe had to repeat certain things-Yes. Sometimes what we wanted to say and what we were actually saying made no sense, I think the camera and lights start to get to you. Because the show looks like it is a “two camera show” we do a lot of takes. So you say everything you would say about a room 5 times because maybe we talked over one another, or maybe the camera was looking at the sink and not a facial expression reacting to what was said, so we do it again. However, please tell Sarah that you heard “she can’t cook but she can make a mean mimosa.” (This was from our crafting session footage and a line Sarah had to say more than 3x as we toasted Andre and OJ)

IMG_0326See this desk above-stay tuned for the After pics on the show!

FAQ #3: I heard some of the houses you tour aren’t even on the market, is this true?

All the houses that are on my show were actually on the market at the time of filming! It was not easy in this fast paced market because I had to have the releases signed about a week before we filmed. Fortunately one popped up on the market a few days prior and owner signed off for filming. The properties were legitimately in the area I was looking and met (for the most part) requirements of what I was looking for. The hardest part, no lie, was getting sellers to sign a release that there home could be on show. It’s a hot market in Austin and for us to take up a whole day filming in a house on a Saturday was rough. I may have even had an altercation with a crabby agent, who showed up before we were done filming. But we took ten and let her show her clients. Fortunately the owners were super nice and grateful regardless.

FAQ #4: Did you just say a whole day to film one house?

Yep, the days are long. And you really can’t go run errands on your lunch break and be taking calls because you literally don’t stop filming. The five-seven minutes spent on the show touring a home is actually 8am-3pm-ish in real time footage, sometimes later. Camera guy arrives early for street shots, exterior shots, then sets up. Then Sarah and I would show up, get mic’d, go over the order of everything and begin shooting room by room. If a car drove by playing a blatant song-CUT! Start over (don’t have rights to play that song). If Sarah or I looked at the camera-CUT! Start over. If I made a weird/awkward/funny face after I said a statement I was unsure about (this happened a lot) CUT! Start over. So you can see how the day just flies by. Lunch with everyone was great and you start to bond with “the crew” which is nice too because as much as it is work, there is a lot of joking around too. The conversation topics are endless as well as our questions for the crew: “How awesome is it to work on food network shows and eat that food?” Or “What’s the grossest thing you saw when you filmed Hoarders?”

IMG_1042Day 2 wrap up above.

IMG_1044

Above: Camera guy Chris during mine and Sarah’s least favorite scene: All of us packed in a car with no air conditioning (too loud on microphones) talking about homes, driving around while he is all up in my grill-BUT I have to pretend like I am talking to Sarah next to me AND not look at camera or make fun/laugh at Chris (again that whole two camera show shots).

After the filming of home tours, Sarah and I had said specific things we enjoyed doing together on camera in our interview–therefore, they wanted footage of us doing those actual “activities.” Makes for much better TV to show it rather than just talk about it, amiright?. So, we really regret saying we jogged/ran half marathons once a year together and wished we would have said we just stay in and watch TV or something. haha.

There we were at 4pm on the Lady Bird Lake board walk jogging…sweating…on camera…with angles from our feet, looking up, I can only hope that footage gets edited down.

IMG_5323

longcenterDTview

The other “thing” to note is that for all the other things we were filming I had to have location releases, artist releases (for logos or artwork shown), and camera releases for those who would be on camera with me. I would then say “be here at this time, but we could be late, be flexible.” It was a bit stressful coordinating because I didn’t want to hit any snags, but so glad so many of my friends pulled through! I am forever grateful.

Let’s see, We filmed at CG Arena since I said I enjoyed working out (again, can’t have music, so we had to whip up a workout with no music on-so weird). We did a kickball game with a bunch of Austin SSCers (thanks again to all of you who patiently waited for us and played along! And Austin SSC for letting us wear the logo and use the fields! We also filmed Charlissa and I having a sno-cone and chillin’ (she is my lil with Big Brothers Big Sister) a special thanks to her mom for letting her be apart of it, she was excited. And then, because I like photography, we shot me taking photos of hearts at Tyson’s Tacos off Airport, (who was super nice to sign the release on short notice and if you heard, Vance Joy played there after ACL for free tacos!) as well as my signature “clients in front of the door with the SOLD sign” photo. (Thanks Ana and Andres!) So, the days were long, but worth it (or so I hope when I see it air).

girls touched upAn old school kickball team pic of the ladies-thanks for filming with us!

herrerafamilyWhen the show airs, you may spot this sweet family as well!

We spent a total of 4 days shooting. Then they gave me time to move in, and they came back for one day of filming Sarah and I hanging up things in my house, my “exit interview” regarding the home buying process and a quick shot of me and friends enjoying my new backyard/house! (Special shout out to those of you who could make it over at 5pm on a Monday with less than 24hr notice, you da best!)

FAQ #5 When does it air?!?

It won’t air for another 4-6months. I know they already started editing footage because when they came back they made sure to hit on certain key points that you mention in the beginning to tie it all together. They told me they can’t give me an exact date. However, one co-worker who has been on the show says she did get enough advanced notice to plan a watch party (#goalz) and you also get a copy of the show AFTER it airs. You can also keep checking the website for the episode # to see the air date as well. (Episode #11202 folks)

I am thinking of a watch party/client appreciation party when it airs and open to venue locations, send suggestions to me! (ashleybrinkman@realtyaustin.com)

lovesurprises

FAQ #6: Do you get paid?

If I were just the Realtor on the show, no, I would have not gotten paid. The buyer gets paid. I will say it isn’t much. The seller’s who let their house on the show also do not get paid. The friend of the buyer/partner etc does not either. I told Sarah I would split it with her, but she was kind and said I could keep it since I have literally been hemorrhaging money since I closed on my home. haha. {Those home improvement projects add up!} But Sarah and I are going to do a nice dinner to celebrate soon (on me).

IMG_0452

financialfreedom1

FAQ #7: Do they pay for the home renovations?

Maybe if this were House Hunters renovation-yes, but I have no idea. This was regular House Hunters. The things I chose to do with my house after moving in were all my choice on my dime. In fact, I had already decided to do many of those things before even agreeing to be on the show. I will admittedly add that the projects probably would not have gotten done that quickly had it not been for the camera crews coming back to film me “settled in.” I know Sarah can attest to a couch purchase, laundry room renovation completion and an outdoor project due to the taping of the show as well. But hey, sometimes we need deadlines in life!

jordan ln finishing 3I spray painted the mailbox (to match my front door) the night before the crew’s arrival!

jordan ln finishing photo4

This house number project was much more complicated than it looks.

jordan ln finishing projectNote this photo was taken at 11pm (because that’s when I finished hanging the patio lights.

jordanlnfrontHad exterior painted a few days prior to arrival as well. The gray is darker than I had wanted, but definitely growing on me and happy overall.

IMG_1122(This is in the midst of the popcorn removal for my home)

FAQ #9: Did you really only look at 3 houses?!

On the show-yes. In real life? Not so much, I probably made offers on about 7 homes for almost a year before I found this one. I know what you are thinking, You are a realtor and you lost out on 7 homes first? And I would argue that I knew what I was willing to pay for the RIGHT house. So when I would get a counter offer at times, (because all the houses I made offers on were multiple offer situations) I wasn’t willing to come up any more because “I just wasn’t feeling it”. So glad I stuck with my gut on that one. I often tell my clients- You will know when you find the right house, it is a feeling you get when you are inside. And then you go for it!

exterior2

“It will be mine, oh yes it will be mine.”-Wayne

FAQ #8: Would you do it again?

I would totally be on the show again (as a Realtor) not the buyer (plus I don’t think you can be a buyer twice). But I think it really depends what it will look like post editing when it airs. There were a lot of things I look back on and think “As a Realtor I would have never done __xyz__” but for TV sometimes you have to skip the garage, and you don’t pull down the attic ladder or check the HVAC age and hot water heater. I also think my sense of humor can be taken out of context (especially if you don’t know me)…so when I joke about a safe in my closet and “That’s where I will store my gun,” you may not know that’s me being facetious (plus the laughter after I made that comment will probably be edited out to make for good TV and poking fun of Texans) haha.

IMG_0984I also have seen enough episodes to know that sometimes the buyers in the show are focused on “Where the husband’s large TV will go?” or “How the home must have a jet tub in the master” And yes, when I work with buyers there are sometimes these specific requests, but for the most part, people want a home that’s a good investment they can see themselves in and if they found the PERFECT house BUT the nook for the TV wasn’t big enough for their current TV, it usually doesn’t stop them from purchasing a home. So I know, based on some of the little things I stressed in these home tours and put in my wish list, it will be edited to make it seem as if they are a bigger ordeal to me than they actually are. However, I will say these items make me appreciate my house so much more! So I think we all need a far-fetched wish list item achieved to make us reassured about our purchase.

htvfunny

My hang ups on the show will be: must have a mature tree in the front yard (ok this may be an actual deal breaker for me), built in shelving, gas cooking, a laundry room inside, no converted garages, a large master bath  and my hatred for popcorn ceilings.

And no blog would be complete without a picture of my dog #GoodGollyMsMollyMaltipoo:

IMG_0972

**You bet your butt you will see her on the show too! They definitely wanted to film me baby-talking Molly and saying “we are going to get you a house!” it was awkward to say the least..because while I do baby talk her (I usually do it in private!) Where are my dog lovers at who can relate?!?!**

Now, who wants to be on House Hunters, I know a great Realtor that’s willing to help get you on the show!? ;)

Thanks for reading as always, sorry for the long detailed posts (as usual, but I am not one to skip out on details!).

Austin by the Numbers

I went to a really interesting and fun meeting today with the Platinum Top 50 Finalists and Winners. It is nice to be in a room filled with successful people I look up to and can learn a lot from.

We floated around the tables and had 15minutes to discuss various Real Estate topics.

One round we were given 10 questions, “How well do you know Austin” …I was shocked, our table did not fair well, actually not many of us in the room did -how embarrassing, we are Realtors! (but I blame it on the numbers being very close to choose from, ha)

Below are some of the things I learned and wanted to share (and a few pop quiz questions for you as well)

Austin by the Numbers: General information on our parks, demographics and more…

  • In the Austin metro, 40% of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 29% nationally, putting Austin in the top 10 among the largest Metros!! (Woohoo, go college!)

utcollegegraduation

  • Austin area households enjoy diverse options in education, including 29 public school districts, 17 charter schools and over 100 private schools

 

  • The Council for Community and Economic Research indicates that living cost in Austin are 6-7% BELOW the national average (in 2013…ha wonder if that has changed these past two years!)

 

  • The National Association of Realtors reports that the median home price in Austin was $222,900 in 2013 while the national median was $197,400

DSC_0174

Here is one for YOU! (don’t cheat!)

  1. According to the census metro Austin’s population grew to nearly ____ in 2013 and is expected to reach ____ by the year 2020.

A. 1.7 million/ 2.0 million

B. 1.8 million/2.2 million

C. 1.9 million/2.3 million

D. 2.0 million/2.6 million

  • In 2013 the median household income in Austin was $61,750 compared to $52,250 nationally
  • The Parks and Recreation Dept. operates 12 off leash areas for you to enjoy with your dog and 2 skate parks

bulldog

Another one for you:

lovesurprises

  1. City of Austin operates 50 public school facilities, which includes _____ neighborhood pools, 3 wading pools, ____ municipal pools, 11 splash plads, 1 rental facility and Barton Springs Pool

A. 20/ 14

B. 23/11

C.24/10

D. 28/6

(answers to quiz Qs at very bottom, don’t cheat)

  • Over 19% of all residents in Austin live in poverty–according to City of Austin’s annual (2014) Economic Development Report (this makes me sad, and is a hot item we talk about here in Austin)
  • 19% of Austinites are foreign born
  • The city of Austin owns 6 golf courses and one short practice course all focused on a great golf experience at an affordable price.

As always thanks for reading! wink, wink!

kristinwiigwink

Answers to the above quiz: 1.) C 2.) D *Did you get them correct?*

Filing your Homestead Exemption for 2015 FAQs

Well, we are in the 2015 year and a few things definitely pop into my mind at the beginning of each new year (and more so before April 15)…TAXES.

If you were one of my clients that means you already received an email reminder and “how to” on filing. You also most likely purchased in Travis or Williamson Counties, as that is the area I work the most–but note that each county varies some. For example, Williamson County now has electronic filing, whereas Travis does not-so be sure to check with your specific county on filing a homestead exemption.

If you purchased a home last year, in which you live in and declare as your primary residence, THEN you need to file a HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION! (unless you are over 65, you file a different exemption for that!)

What does the exemption mean in terms of saving?

Well, if your home is valued at $200k and you are in Travis County, then you if approved you will pay taxes on the home valued at $160k ($40k aka 20% off the value).

Does it cost money to file this exemption?

Nope!

Do I have to apply year after year?

No. Unless you buy another home that then becomes your primary residence, you will file the following year.

If I am married do we both need to sign and apply?

No, only one person’s signature from the deed needs to be on the application.

How long before I can view my exemption on the website?

The website is updated only twice a month. Also, current year exemptions will not be reflected until after the value notices have been released (sometime mid April).

I own more than one home, can I get a homestead on both?

A person may not receive a homestead exemption for more than residence homestead in the same year.  You can receive a homestead exemption only for your main or principal residence.

What if I owned the property before I was married? 

You can still only have one exemption which must be claimed on your principal residence.

I own my own homestead, but also own a home with my child that they live in. Would they qualify for a homestead?

They must have ownership interest in the property to qualify and would only receive a portion of the exemption based on the percent of ownership.

My exemption fell off from last year, why?

Exemptions reflect the January 1 owner.  If you purchased a home after January 1st the exemption in place was for the previous owner.  You must file an exemption application.

I forgot to apply for my exemption, can I receive it retroactively?

You may file a late homestead exemption application if you file it no later than one year after the date the taxes become delinquent.

Is it true that once I become 65 years of age, I will not have to pay any more taxes?

No, that is not necessarily true. If you are 65 or older your residence homestead qualifies for more exemptions which will result in greater tax savings. The amount of the exemptions that are granted by each taxing unit is subtracted from the market value of your residence and the taxes are calculated on that “lower value”. In addition, when you turn 65, you may receive a tax ceiling for your total school taxes; that is, the school taxes on you residence cannot increase as long as you own and live in that home. The ceiling is set at the amount you pay in the year that you qualify for the aged 65 or older exemption. The school taxes on your home subsequently may fall below the ceiling.

If you significantly improve your home (other than ordinary repairs and maintenance), tax ceilings can go up. For example, if you add a room or garage to your home, your tax ceiling can rise.  It will also change if you move to a new home.

When do you apply if you are turning 65?

You may apply at anytime during the year of that birth date.  You would receive the exemption for the full year.

Do I need to file an application when I turn 65 or is it automatically added?

The appraisal district can only automatically process the over 65 exemption if it has the appropriate documentation on hand.  TCAD requires proof of age to grant an over 65 exemption. Acceptable proof of age includes either a copy of the front side of your driver’s license or a copy of your birth certificate or any official document reflecting your date of birth.  It is always best to file an exemption application with the appropriate documents to ensure that the Over 65 exemption is processed.

If I am disabled and over 65 can I claim both exemptions in the same tax year?

You may not claim both an Over 65 and a disabled person’s exemption in the same tax year.

 

If you are in Travis County and would like to see the form to file click here.

If you are in Williamson County and would like the form (as well as Qs to filing in Williamson) click here.

Buying a Home?: Getting Started and Credit Tips for 2015

It is that time of year again….where we set resolutions and goals of what we want to achieve in 2015.

2015cheers

Now, maybe not all of you write down your goals like I do, but I can’t help it. I look at them on my dry erase board above my desk every day. It keeps me motivated.

goalsettingNow, because I am in Real estate I start this year off by checking in with people who may have mentioned wanting to purchase last year, but perhaps did not get around to actually purchasing. And I decided to write this blog to hopefully inform, if not inspire you (if you are a buyer). I am not going into the nitty gritty detail and the process of buying like I have in past blogs, here (in case you want to read further). But would like to get into the first few crucial steps of home-buying (and honestly what every *good* Realtor will ask you when you tell them, “I am thinking of buying a house, can you show me this one?”)

So, you want to buy a house in 2015?

sold

First, things first-have you been pre-qualified?

Q: What is this pre-approval process you speak of and why is it so important, Ashley?

A: Well, let me start with this. You must talk to a lender first! How do you know what you can afford (and what price range to start browsing homes online) if no one has broken down the numbers for you with taxes and insurance and what you need to put down and explained expectations? Things have changed since the financial chrsis. And you should know what you are getting into-and most importantly what buying a home REALLY COSTS.

Q: What’s the difference between being pre-approved and pre-qualified?

A: When you are “pre-qualified” that is the most basic form. It means you may have talked to a lender about-your score, what you make and what you pay every month-and boom you are pre-qualified for a home! BUT a pre-approval goes a little bit further. This means a lender has looked over documentation and your income and assets in more details and this also makes you a stronger candidate when submitting offers (and less risk later down the road for something to happen during the financing process)!

Talking to a lender is crucial for a few reasons:

1. A lender will help tell you what your monthly payments will equate to. You can even work backward. You can start by saying, “I am not comfortable spending over $1800 per month on a mortgage-including taxes and insurance-what will that get me?” and he can tell you where your price range needs to be set and what you can expect, then you can see where exactly you can buy in your range, and if the time is now, or perhaps waiting and saving more.

2. A lender can, most of the time- fix or give great pointers on improving your credit! I had a buyer who wanted to purchase and the lender looked over everything and told her if she paid off this one small balance her credit would increase enough so 1. she would be qualified to buy and 2. get her a tad-bit lower of an interest rate. Done. Mission accomplished in a short amount of time as well!

3. A lender can also tell you what route you may want to go financially. Perhaps a different program may work best for you if you only planned on keeping a house for 3-5 years or if mom and dad were going to help with payment a conventional type of loan that ALL down payment money can be gifted. There are various products for various buyers.

4. A lender will also let you know if it is important for you to file this year’s taxes to be qualified for more or if you past two year’s tax returns will work. Your DTI (debt to income ratio) is an important part of how much you will be able to afford-so be honest, when filling out an application for a mortgage, take a look at current credit balances for an accurate answer and no surprises.

financialfreedom1

What will a lender want from you?:

  • Past two year’s tax returns handy or income verification
  • Fill out an online application-social security number for a credit run
  • Accurate information of bank accounts, assets and in the future-explanation of any large cash sums, bonuses etc.
  • If you have had any recent job changes-a letter from new work place may be in order
  • If parents or trust may help fund the payment-disclose so you can hear options!
  • Honesty is the best policy! Disclose. Disclose. Disclose! (In the past I have had clients hold back information which ended up costing them a home in the end, because it was a condition that couldn’t be cleared)

So what are you waiting for? Talk to a lender and set some financial goals–even if you don’t think you will purchase this year, it is a good idea to get your mind right so you know what you want to achieve to become a home owner!

Falling credit cardsCREDIT TIPS. Here are some credit tips I have learned as an agent, that you may already know, but thought I would reiterate. If home buying is in the cards in the near future for you, I would take a look at these tips below, then follow up with talking to a lender to advise what’s the best route to give you the best score. **Remember the better your score the better your interest rate when you buy!**

  • DO NOT PAY LATE! I don’t mean a few days late (though still not a good idea), but when your payment is so late that it is recorded on your credit report, this can delay home buying for up to a year unless you can somehow fight it to be dismissed. Set alarms in your phone a few days before bills are due. Set up online bill payment. Late payments are the biggest hits on your credit report.
  • DO have several lines of credit. Showing you can manage money with a car payment and a credit card (major line like Visa, etc) is good.
  • DO NOT OPEN A NEW LINE OF CREDIT before you plan on buying a home (unless a lender advised it). Even in doing so, sometimes an account will need to be open 6mo. before you can buy if you do not have enough credit.
  • DO CARRY A BALANCE. It can be good to put on a tank of gas, then pay it off, but if you keep your balance less than $100 per month, the revolving credit can actually increase your credit score. Make sure it makes sense for you and you are getting some type of rewards if you don’t like carrying a balance.
  • DO NOT HAVE A BALANCE OF MORE THAN 30% OF YOUR CREDIT LIMIT. When you start to max out your cards, it will start to impact your credit score negatively. So be sure you are paying attention to the limits on your cards before you book those airline tickets, it may better serve you on a card that has no balance that has been open longer.
  • APPLY FOR ACCOUNTS ONLY WHEN NECESSARY. In college they used to get us to fill out applications for a free t-shirt, sounds good right? No. Running credit checks for you to buy a couch, a fridge, a car, and a credit card within a month or so can shows frivolous spending habits, so you don’t want to many inquiries on your credit. Open accounts that are only necessary. On the contrary, before you buy a home you can talk to several different lenders before purchasing and have them run checks and within a 30 day period it should not count against you (same goes for shopping different car dealers).
  • VIEW YOUR CREDIT REPORT. You can do this for free once a year or pay different websites to monitor your scores for a low monthly fee. You have the right to know! You’d actually be surprised what can pop up on your credit report…. Close out that Citi-bank card you were approved for in your early 20’s, it could be a good idea.
  • DO NOT GET OLD (GOOD) DEBT OFF YOUR CREDIT REPORT. This means, if you paid off a car, do not try to get that removed from your report ASAP, this is good debt. However, items that fall into collection will likely stay on your report for 7yrs, which is bad.
  • DO NOT TAKE OUT CASH ADVANCES. Basically, you do not want to put a huge sum on your card-maxing it out or take out cash advances–these items indicate risk, when you do that, your score can plummet.

Use lines of credit not as a way to finance your life, but as a way to build credit so you can have the life that you want in the future.

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions, want to talk to one of my many great lenders to get started or pick my brain about the market-let me know, happy to chat!

MAINsignature

 

Australia and New Zealand Post Trip Follow up and Travel Tips!

Heeeellllooooo!!!!

If you follow me on fabulous facespace, or “Insta” I am sure you saw my “photojournaling” of my journey overseas. It was awesome. Closest one to guessing how many photos I took total wins a prize.

I wanted to follow up (because of course everyone’s infamous question when I returned was: “How was your trip?! Tell me all about it!” And I get tired of repeating myself, so you are just going to have to read below (or skim what you want, I know I write a lot).

First off, my last blog had my expectations v reality of my trip. Here is the follow up to my expectations and how everything exceeded (for the most part) my expectations.

Expectation #1: Planning everything perfectly plane wise and being comfortable on the plane.

Well, I certainly never was surprise upgraded like I had hoped. I missed my first flight to New Z (almost missed the second one) but over all I will say everything worked out the way it should have. The day I missed my flight I still had a free stay, so I went back, got my stuff together and went to pet kangaroos, dingos and wallabys at the Healesville Sanctuary. I traded one day of sunshine for one day of NZ chill/partly cloudy weather. To me, that is a win.

Funny side story: On my way there I sat in between a married couple. The woman next to me took a sleeping pill within the first hour of being on the plane-and literally passed out mid sentence talking to me. All I could think was, “Can you give me one of those please?!” I didn’t sleep much on the plane but am pleased that I took the 11:30pm from LAX, landing in Sydney (lost a full day) at 8:30am.

TIP: DO NOT TAKE A NAP. Power through!! I was not jet lag but crashed hard once it was bed time.

IMG_3995Above: This is me on the way back (Didn’t sleep a wink on the first 12hr flight, slept with mouth wide open the from the LAX-DFW leg. Awesome.)

Expectation #2: Holding a Koala

DSC_0426

From what I understand, they don’t like it. They are protected in most states in Australia, so it never happened in Sydney or Melbourne, But dammit if they aren’t the cutest things eating their leaves and sleeping all day in trees.

IMG_3306(the closest I got to holding a koala, above)

Expectation #3: Trying kangaroo (to eat)

This too didn’t happen. Shoot, I thought it would be on the Mc Donald’s (macca’s) menu and pretty prevalent, but it was not. Feeding one and petting one will suffice, here is a lazy one pictured below at the Sydney Zoo but I did get to pet and feed one in Melbourne-photos below.

DSC_0430

IMG_3646FYI: I highly recommend the sanctuaries over the zoos. They are more interactive. They also only feed the females, the males get too big and fight. Above is 12yo Harriet, who also learned that parents keep snacks in stroller and has been a theif in the past!

Expectation #4: Helicopter ride over Great Barrier Reef

IMG_3442

This expectation was exceeded! Funny, I did get motion sickness on the boat on the way out (luckily no vomit, fresh air did me good) but the helicopter ride was my highlight of Australia actually. That day was perfect. I snorkeled and saw some amazing fish and turtles. Then got to ride in a “choppa” Best news is that the couple that also rode in the helicopter were getting paid to take some video footage so our trip was extra long and we stopped off on a deserted island for more photos etc. Woohoo!

IMG_3444

Expectation #5: Not over packing.

Fail…just fail. So. many. clothes. The funny part is that I ended up wearing the same thing over and over. I also didn’t pack warm enough. Spring over there is NOTHING like Spring here, much colder!

backpackphoto

 

TIP: I probably could have been fine with a rolling suit case. I do highly recommend this Osprey 45L bag though. It has a little backpack that zips off which made it great for when I went out in the day. Also the above HEB bag was just plane snacks and reads-not having a carry-on was genius on my part because I came back with more stuff and needed one then.

Expectation #6: Taking lots of beautiful photos.

This happened, but my camera compared to a professional’s awesome lenses and equipment doesn’t compare really. I fortunately remembered to charge my battery quite frequently as well.

DSC_0194(Blue Mountains, outside Sydney)

DSC_0228(Bondi Beach, Sydney)

IMG_0999(Queenstown, NZ)

Expectation #7: I am going to meet lots of interesting people.

I certainly did! In fact when I tell stories of my trips, they mainly have to do with the people I meet along the way. The woman next to me on the plane and her sleeping pill, the man on the white water rafting adventure who was a thrill seeking 70yr old, the boys from Melbourne I went bungy jumping with that wore dresses, the swingers that shared a bottle of wine with me in New Zealand (just kidding…I think).

IMG_3322

(I wish I had more photos of all the people I met-this was from my first stop-above the French guys from our hostel and below my French roomies!)

IMG_3315

Expectation #8: Meeting hot Aussie men.

Well, I will say this: Being in the middle of downtown in Sydney and Melbourne during the week and seeing all the men walking around wearing suits–it was nice (said like Borat). I did meet up with a friend’s boy(friend) and he was great! I also had a date in Melbourne with a nice Aussie bloke (no photo, I forgot dangit)

IMG_0869(Heidi, thanks for introducing me to Doubs-he was a good guide and we had lots of cider and Asain food! And thanks to many friends who reached out and connected me on facebook to people you know overseas!)

I also met up with Huw, who was a foreign exchange student in my HS, he lives in Auckland.

IMG_3996

Expectation #9: Hostel Life won’t be that bad.

It honestly wasn’t. How I met so many cool people. Rating the hostels I stayed in would go like this: 1. Queenstown. 2. Sydney 3. Rotorua I prefer the mom and pop hostels over the bigger hostels. I am convinced I stayed in a Hippy Commune in Port Douglas (great barrier reef) and the rest were crappy but short stays so I didn’t care. Lucked out in Melbourne and stayed with a family friend so that tops off the list as the best stay for sure. Ah a nice home and good company.

I have no photos of the crappy places I stayed, haha.

TIP: I prefer “mom and pop” smaller hostels to the larger ones, hostels and used Hostelworld.com for all ratings on cleanlines and read many reviews to see if it was more of a younger, party vibe, or a great place. Getting a bathroom attached to your room was much better than the dorm like community baths, but again you are only in your room to get ready and sleep-so I am not terribly picky. In NZ I booked each place about one day in advanced since I had a car-it was very easy and there was availability. Australia was planned out about a month in advanced, thankfully.

My favorite hostels in order: Adventure Queenstown, Sydney Harbour YHA, and Rotorua Central Backpackers.

The best part of my trip is meeting up with a family member’s friend and having my own room and local host! Sam spent a few Thanksgivings with us in Memphis a while back and she was a fantastic host. My favorite meal of my trip was with her in Melbourne (and she bought me Tim Tams-an Aussie fav)

IMG_3612

IMG_3586

In 2012 I took a trip to Europe and made some contacts from Oz, I met up with them as well. Ah Facebook, you keep the world together!

IMG_3604

Willem and I above. Rachel and I below.

IMG_3674

Expectation #10: This trip will be very active.

Yes. Yes it was. I think I kept trying to achieve the endorphin high that was experienced in Queenstown they day I bungy’d and skydived (see pics and video below) within a few hours of one another. It can’t be done. Hiking was great. White water rafting was great, and honestly just walking around cities and taking photos, trying new things is great! But it cannot match the adrenaline rush you get from doing something adventurous.

NZON_NZQT_2014_10_27_C1101_0796

 

To watch the video of me skydiving, click here!NZON_NZQT_2014_10_27_C1101_0803To watch my GoPro video of my first bungy jump click here! (fast forward to the good part)

AJHB_AJHN_2014_10_27_C2021_6024

AJHB_AJHN_2014_10_27_C2021_6029

 

The professional bungy jump video is here (I did it twice it was so much fun!) Below is the white water rafting and zorbing I did in the N. Island of NZ.

DSC_9917 DSC_9929

White water rafting in Rotorua above and “Zorbing” belowDSC_0667

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. TRIP SUCCESS.

If you feel like reading more…

Overall the first leg of my trip was booked-flights and accommodations ahead of time. I am glad I did it this way. New Zealand was tougher for me to decide what to do, so I decided to “wing it” but it was easy once I was there to decide on a whim. I also found more wifi readily available in NZ than Oz. I really loved NZ the South Island the best. Everything worked out as it should have-and I made the best of any situations that went array (missing my flight for example). Not to say I have any regrets, because I covered a lot of ground, met some awesome people, did some amazing things, but if I could go back or pass along any advice I would say: skip N. Island of NZ (maybe spend 3 days before you fly out) but see the South Island, do the amazing hikes, adventure items etc. but be weary because NZ is such a safe country that every activity is dependent on the weather! Skydiving was canceled three times for me due to wind. But I lucked out (book earlier in day because if you do get canceled they will just push back your time vs making you go the next day). Australia and NZ overall have some of the friendliest people I have ever met!! If I could change anything about my Australia leg of the trip0 I would have changed my stay in Port Douglas, ha (the hippy commune) and an extra week to add in Byron Bay (and paid a visit to a former Austinite friend). Ah so many places to see, so little time.

Here are some words I learned along the way (I made notes in my phone). Everything sounds so much more sophisticated I swear! They call things as they should (for example they aren’t bathrooms or restrooms, they are “toilets”). Aussies  abbreviate EVERYTHING. For example Mc Donald’s they call “Maccas”

IMG_3613

Aussie Sayings:
Rubbish-trash
Power point- outlets on the wall
Dooner-Duvet blanket
Wanker “wanka!”-self explanatory I think.
Heaps- a lot
Hire- to rent (hire a car)
keen- cool, the slang term
arvo- short for afternoon (plans in the arvo?)
natter-(ie I love to sit on the porch and drink wine with friends and have a good natter)
grouse-choice/sweet-slang term
sorted-they all say this (ie after you set your bags down, “Did you get all sorted?”)
munted-destroyed (this can apply to wrecking a car or being totally belligerent)
scull-chugging ones drink?
peckish-hungry (I love this and want to say that here)
curvy grips-bobby pins!
 
Kiwi Sayings:
sweet as- (like saying something is all good. They ALL use it and I love it).
They say the f word. A lot. (I fit right in).
tosser-see wanker.
cut your lunch-(ie when a guy has been talking to a girl all night, then his friend swoops in-he just cut your lunch!)
lollies-candy (this was adorable on Halloween the kids saying lolly all the time)

Expectations vs. Reality: My Upcoming Australia/New Zealand Backpacking Trip

Well, I have another trip around the corner, I am excited to report. I think it is interesting– the “build up” before any trip. I have researched, read blogs, asked other fellow travelers who have been there, backpacked or lived there for their advice. I then come up with a list of amazing things I want to do and expectations I THINK I will have. I was even reminded in a recent lunch with my mentor when discussing my trip, he reminded me “Didn’t you say you weren’t ever going to leave for that long again because it was too stressful?” Yep. I do recall saying that now. And not stressful as in traveling but having the work covered while gone (I had three closings on my last trip while out of the country-Eeeek!)

He did have a point. I think after a while you forget the struggles you had and look forward to the “good” again. It is like after you have a child. People say “I will never do that again.” And a week later you are so overjoyed you want to have three more. So maybe the situation isn’t exactly the same-but you get my drift. (because I know all about giving child birth, right?)

Let’s get to my Australia/New Zealand to do list. The expectation…and the reality that will most likely ensue. I try to envision some of the things I will be doing-but I also try not to get my hopes up (hence the “reality” perspective).

Here we go…

1. EXPECTATION: I will be comfortable on the plane and I have scheduled everything fine so that I won’t be tired at all! The time will just fly by and I will watch my shows and read and sleep on the plane, maybe even have a whole row to myself like when I went to Europe! Maybe I will even be upgraded to first class for no reason!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

REALITY: I am most likely going to be exhausted and uncomfortable. Then my iPad battery will run low in the middle of a Homeland episode, leaving me in full suspense–when I have 12hrs left in the air. Then I will be wide awake and my hamstring/lower back will be killing me since it has given me problems lately and I will be completely miserable, have dry lips and come down with a cold on the way to Sydney. I will also be more jet lag than I have ever been before in my life.

2. EXPECTATION: Holding a cute and cuddly Koala bear will be so awesome. Check that off the bucket list!

koalabear

REALITY: Koala bear ends up biting me, being super heavy, smelling like crap, has brillow pad type fur and I am blinking  in the photo and look awful in the ONE photo I have to show evidence that I actually held a koala bear. ha.

3. EXPECTATION: I am going to try kangaroo! I hear it isn’t too bad.

REALITY: Kangaroo probably taste nasty.

kangaroofire

4. EXPECTATION: This helicopter I booked over the Great Barrier Reef is going to be awesome and beautiful.

REALITY: Rains and excursion is cancelled….with no refund. OR I get horrible motion sickness and vomit all over the helicopter.

5. EXPECTATION: I didn’t even overpack this year, good for me!

REALITY: I have nothing to wear because I packed all wrong and not right for this cold weather and my bag is still annoyingly heavy to carry around.

6. EXPECTATION: I am going to take so many beautiful photos of scenery.

SONY DSC

REALITY: My camera battery never charged properly with my converter. Then standing atop a beautiful glacier at sunset and the most picture perfect moment–I can’t snap it.

7. EXPECTATION: I am going to meet lots of interesting people.

travelershangout

REALITY: I am going to be the oldest person in the damn hostel.

8. EXPECTATION: This isn’t my expectation (but what all my friends say): “You are going to meet some hot Aussie guy and never return! he he”

aussiehotness

REALITY: I will only meet other travelers, probably end up rooming with a smelly 21yo who doesn’t speak English and we have nothing in common. ha.

9. EXPECTATION: Even though I am “older” the hostel life won’t be that bad. It is affordable, has lots of community type activities and a great way to meet other travelers.

dirtyhostel

REALITY: Kill me now, why didn’t I stay in a nice hotel by myself.

10. EXPECTATION: This is going to be such an active trip for me! Lots of hikes, snorkeling, maybe even bungee jumping, skydiving, a run on the beach….

nzhikers

REALITY: My. feet. hurt. I will just sleep in today and maybe get a massage later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Well this is the “before.” I look forward to sharing my “after” and hopefully my perceived realities won’t be as bad as they could be, but I will have tons of stories and moments to share (and treasure). Can’t wait to start checking things off my list! Stay tuned and thanks for reading.