In Childress where I live, there are a group of dedicated people trying to give life once again to the old downtown movie theater. When I learned their story I wanted to become involved and help them in their efforts so I produced this short video for their website.
I think it tells a great story about how important a place is to small town Texas.
In advance of the October 2013 mud run in Childress, Texas, I went out today with a bunch of great people from here in town to shoot a few photos for the website that will publicize the event. It was a perfect day for getting a little red dirt on everyone.
For what it's worth and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a licensed real estate agent in Texas. However, this entry isn't meant as any kind of real estate advice. For that you should contact a licensed real estate agent or an attourney.
Before I was licensed, however, I had already bought and sold three pieces of real estate. In Texas, homeowners are not required to use a real estate agent to buy and sell your own property. All of the essential contracts are promulgated by the Texas Real Estate Commission and can be downloaded for free at their website. While there are some terms you should understand with selling your own home, doing so isn't overly complicated.
Selling my own house doesn't mean that I am anti-real estate agent. In fact, the opposite is true. I think licensed real estate provide a valuable service in not only marketing and selling real estate, but they are also invaluable in helping their clients with understanding contracts and financing issues. Therefore, I recommend them.
For this house, however, I knew I could handle much of the work myself, market it effectively, and use the local real estate community to assist in finding a buyer.
I figured the best way to market my house was to build a website. The purpose of the website was singular:
I wanted to provide a way for people to learn as much as they can about the house before they called to schedule a viewing. In the end, lookers aren't necessarily buyers. Even if I only showed the house one time, I wanted that one person to be the right one.
1. Extensive photographic documentation of the house
2. A mortgage calculator
3. Property tax and insurance information
4. Utility histories
5. Location map
6. A detailed description of the house.
7. The asking price of the house.
Again, the ultimate idea for providing so much information upfront was to help people eliminate themselves as a potential buyer whether their elimination was based on price, home size, home style, of any other reason. Since we were living in the house, we didn't want scores of people coming through just to "take a look." We wanted a single, qualified buyer who could see themselves and their family living in the place.
To market the house we took a broad approach:
We advertised the website on Craigslist boards in Amarillo, Wichita Falls, and Lubbock.
We placed a classified ad in the local paper.
We posted he home often on Facebook.
We told everyone we knew that our house was for sale.
We shared a PDF marketing packet with every realtor in town.
To arrive at an initial listing price, I spoke to several realtors in town and compared our house to what had actually closed recently. Childress (like the rest of the United States) was experiencing a down real estate market and the housing market was a buyer's market. But I looked at the sales data, looked at what was currently on the market, figured the price to construct a new home, and set our initial sales price at $125,000.
We figured that the price was just an asking price and we could always go lower if a serious offer was made.
Once the price was established we launched the site and began the marketing blitz.
At first, we had several showings. We think a number of them just wanted to look but there were serious buyers peppered in the mix.
For month's, however, we had no activity and no interest so we dropped the price a bit. Each time we dropped the price, we'd get a little bit of interest. After a year on the market we had our first offer and subsequent acceptance which led to a effective contract.
For a variety of reasons the contract fell through after only a couple of days and we were back to square one.
It would take three months to get another offer on the place. At that point we had dropped the asking price to $105,000. The offer wasn't our asking price but it was a good offer that we accepted.
In the end, we had a dozen showings, a contract that fell through, and a final contract that was completed.
On June 21, 2012, one and a half years after we put the place on the market, we closed the sale of our house and moved away for good.
What we did right...
Taking the initiative on selling the house was definitely for us. It was a easy process for us to handle and in a geographically isolated market like Childress, spreading the word about our house was pretty easy.
Reaching out to the real estate community was also valuable. In the end, a real estate agent produced the lead that ended up buying our house and for their efforts, the received a commission from the sale.
What we did wrong...
I think we stuck to our initial price way too long. We probably should have dropped the price sooner or just list it initially at our bottom dollar and stay firm on the price. Although hindsight is 20/20, I think that if we would have set our price at what we had to have from the place, we could have sold it much quicker.
Call it my midlife crisis, but this project is one that I enter into with equal amounts of excitement, anxiety, and trepidation. It's not everyday people get a chance to design and build their dream. By all accounts, this is probably the only chance that my wife and I will ever have to design and build our own house.
For now, we taken the land from contract phase to financing a portion of the purchase to closing with our local abstract company. I'll be making real plans as to site selection for the a barn and starting the process of hiring sub-contractors to pour a concrete foundation and erect the steel structure.
In the meantime I'll be handling the sale of my home. In Texas, real estate forms are promulgated and are easily handled by a buyer and seller regardless of real estate experience. In a small town like where I live, I can easily and cheaply market my house through the local paper, the regional sales circular, and through social media like Facebook and Twitter. Word of mouth is a powerful tool in a small town and I think I can leverage it to save 6% on the sale of my home.
After that, it is getting down to the real business of figuring out what sort of house we want to construct, who we'll hire to handle the various phases of the build out, and how we'll handle the landscaping and the final phases of the land development.
My wife and I have lots to do but we're excited and ready for this next phase of our lives. The land development and house build-out is the pinnacle of our do-it-yourself projects. As such, we spend nearly everyday talking and planning some aspect of the project. For now, we've contacted a designer with local connections to start the process of drawing up blueprints on a home that will be functional, energy efficient, and make smart use of the space we'll have.
"We have to sale a house to build a house," I once told my wife. That's no easy task considering the soft real estate market. In Childress, however, the housing market is relatively stable and we thought wed be able to sale our house in under 90 days (ultimately we were wrong but more to come in a later post).
Our first baby step was to get our house ready to show. It didn't take much as I've always strived to maintain our home and keep it in good shape. As such, it had a contemporary paint scene both inside and out and had recently renovated bathrooms and newly installed laminate flooring throughout house. Except for some touching up here and there and planting some flowers in the flowerbed for color, the house was quick to stage and get ready for sale.
Apart from that, my next thought was to plan my outbuilding. That's the first thing that I hope will go up.
With a building in place, I'd have room to store all of my home furnishings should our house sell quickly and we would have to rent another home while the new house is being built.
While the home build-out wasn't originally in the immediate future, I was already in the planning process for the home as I serve as general contractor and supervise each phase of the process. While I haven't rode herd over a home construction process before, I do have some experience in the contracting process.
Three years ago, I started work on a small weekend cabin on land we own near where I grew up in Northeast Texas. The cabin is a quaint 480 square feet and sits on 5 acres just a stone's throw from where I was raised and I was able to oversee construction from 260 miles away.
The cabin is conventionally constructed with concrete board siding but features energy saving upgrades such as triple pane windows, a galvalume roof, a rainfall catchment system, and ample attic and wall insulation. That project is an amalgamation of skilled labor and a big dose of do-it-yourself gumption.
The house was dried in and roofed by skilled labor that I hired locally. In addition, I hired crews to finish the drywall and paint the interior. The rest, including the insulation, hanging drywall, plumbing, and wiring was finished by me with the help of some friends and family who live in the area. When complete, that cabin cost me a tad over $50 per square foot to construct. That figure includes all the costs that went into the project as well as an interior that features upgrades like top-notch plumbing fixtures, all of the furnishings, planked ceilings, high -end ceiling fans, laminated wood flooring, and tongue and groove wainscoting.
Granted, I am not sure I'll be able to tackle as much of the labor on a bigger project like a house, I do believe that by managing each phase of the construction, I'll be able to save a substantial amount of money by parlaying the skills I learned on the cabin into the house.
Even though I've lived in town for the past seventeen years, living in Childress can hardly be called an urban experience. It is still a town where folks look out for one another and a place where kids can roam the neighborhood and do things kids love to do. With its decidedly western culture, Childress has been a great place to work and raise our kids and as such, make it our permanent home.
In the time we've lived here, I've made it a point to stay in touch with the rural lifestyle and raise my two young children (12 and 8) in the ways I was raised by teaching them things like hunting, fishing, raising livestock, and gardening.
However, we've grown tired of living in town and for the past two years, we've diligently searched for a small piece of acreage that's fairly close to town. The problem in Childress County is that land like that isn't readily available. You can find 300 to 3,000 acres for sale but small acreage is scarce as none one breaks up larger tracts. In order for us to buy land, construct a barn, and build a house for around $200,000, finding the right piece of land and leave enough in the budget to make improvements was of paramount importance. With this piece of dirt, I think we've found a good fit.
We came into the real estate deal with about 40% down and financed the rest on a ten year fixed note that we acquired through a bank with whom I deal in my wife's hometown. The loan balance is a paltry sum and I hope to have the loan completely paid off soon. If I can't pay it off that quick, I only have an $80 monthly payment which ensures an easy cash-flow to further develop the property.
The real estate deal was straightforward. I paid for the loan origination and the seller paid for the deed and title commitment. A departure from the norm, I ended up paying for the survey. Typically, a seller pays for the survey in order to prove up what he has for sale. I took care of that aspect of the deal and negotiated with the seller to eliminate any need for earnest money.
In the end, my closing costs, not counting my down payment amount, was less than $500.
Only three miles from town, the property is a nice little square that has a small prairie meadow, an ample mixture of brush and trees for wildlife, and good places to build a house and a shop, grow a garden, and raise show animals.
Sure, I can do all of those things where I live now and am lucky to have access to thousands of acres of property in which I can roam, hunt, and fish. I have my eyes on a new prize, though. By buying a property of our own, my wife and I will be able to teach our kids lessons in self reliance and entrepreneurship. On the land, we plan to develop it as a wildlife photography sanctuary complete with photography friendly blinds, feeding stations, and perhaps a casita. It will be my kids responsibility to maintain the blinds and feeders and as the kids mature, handle marketing the property as a destination for photo enthusiasts. Additionally, we also eyeing developing a very small vineyard for my kids to maintain.
Both of these small ventures will be a gear way for them to learn about aspects of responsibly and running their own business and provide a modest income for them as they grow into their teen years and head off to college one day.
Those things will come in time. Right now, however, there are lots to think about now that the land is ours. If we are to develop it with an 18 month timeframe, we also have lots to do.
Buying the Land
It happened in early October of 2011. After a month of waiting and jumping through the proverbial hoops in which real estate transactions are fraught, my wife and I closed on 10.434 acres of raw, rural property in the Texas Panhandle.
It was time we bought a place in the country. I was raised in the country in Northeast Texas and in a lot of ways, raised by a family that kept the old ways close to heart. For example, I grew up doing things in which most my age were never exposed. My brother and I used to run traplines before school, every summer I'd help my mother and grandmother shell peas and can vegetables. Come winter, we’d kill and butcher a fattened hog and the men in my family scalded the pig in a wood-fired iron tub and then cut the pig into it's primal parts and ran them in to the house where my mother, grandmother, aunts, and sisters would part, wrap, and label individual cuts.
My wife, one the other hand, was raised nearby in the nearby town of Bonham. While Bonham is relatively small (about 7,000 people), she was raised, nonetheless, in more of a suburban lifestyle and was never exposed to many of the rural traditions afforded me and my kin.
We married in 1993 and moved to the Texas Panhandle town of Childress. I was hired to teach agricultural sciences in the school system and Kristy was hired to be a teacher's aide. Out in the panhandle, things are much more remote than the county in which we were raised. Childress is home to about 5,000 people and is the only town in the entire county. Because it's in a semi-arid climate, water availability is tough and as such, just about everyone in the county resides in town - including us.
For seventeen years we've maintained a nice brick home on the southeast edge of town. The house is a good one and has plenty of room for our two kids and our dog but for a number reasons, it is time to go back to the country. Our new journey started with the stroke of a pen and the funding of a real estate closing.
I am often asked the type of equipment I use to take the pictures I take. Thanks to the magic of digital photography, where all pertinent image data is embedded into each image, I can extrapolate the data from all of the images I took over the past twelve months and look at it graphically.
It amazes me to see the equipment that I use and how often I use it. The camera usage stat I could predict. I had no idea how little or how often I use some of my lenses. I would have sworn that I use some of the lenses more often than what I do.
Twenty four hours after I called up the bobcat, I moved about two hundred yards from where I sat that day before and called again. Within five minutes this coyote and a companion coyote who stood further away came charging in.
It amazes me how well predators can see and hear. As the coyote was running in I snapped a single picture and when she heard the camera (which isn't very loud) she froze and stared straight at me. She hung around for a few frames and then scampered off.
Even though I was well camouflaged she still knew something wasn't right.
It's been a while sine I posted but when you work for other people who want to see your pictures first, I often go through stretches where I don't take many pictures for fun. This past weekend, I took some time for myself and headed to a broad wheatfield, crafted a makeshift blind, and called for predators.
Eleven minutes after I started I saw movement to my left. When I looked, it was this big male bobcat.
Wildlife photography is my fist love and it is moments like this that remind me why.
For DFW area photo enthusiasts, I'll be speaking at the DFW Photo Expo next month.
Here's the scoop:
Sunday, December 2nd
Arlington Convention Center
Registration is FREE and you can sign-up on line at http://www.dfwphotoexpo.com/main/event-registration/?ee=92