A decade ago, Barton Hills resident Mark Sprague could not have imagined his community now commands home prices that can soar above $3 million.
But times have changed.
Sprague, who also serves as the state director of information capital at Independence Title Company and has lived in the roughly 2.8-square-mile neighborhood since 1996, credits its success with good schools and a prime location. Barton Hills is a stone's throw from downtown Austin, or about a 10-minute drive southwest from City Hall.
"At one point, south of the (Colorado) River wasn't very exciting, but that's probably 30 years ago," Sprague said. "And, of course, we all know what's happened to South Austin—it's exploded. Particularly Barton Hills has seen phenomenal appreciation."
Sprague said the central location of Barton Hills and its surrounding 78704 ZIP code has probably had some of the highest appreciation in Austin over the past three decades.
"There are no homes available right now," Blairfield Realty broker-owner Donna Blair said of Barton Hills. She said sales prices have climbed continuously over the past decade that she's been selling in the area.
But Susan Barringer, a Realtor with Kuper Sotheby's International Realty attributed the sharp uptick since 2016 to high demand and low inventory.
"We've just had an influx of Californians, New Yorkers," Barringer said. "It's just a great family neighborhood with great proximity to everything Austin—the airport, downtown."
According to Zillow, Barringer's October listing—a 2,533 square-foot home on Barton Hills drive—is priced at $1.2 million, a 36% increase over its 2016 sales price of $880,500.
Austin Board of Realtors president Romeo Manzanilla, whose Realty Austin firm has been involved with Tesla employee relocations, said those executive buyers are looking in the Barton Hills and Zilker neighborhoods but have also broadened their home searches to southwest Austin and the Circle C neighborhood. Tesla is building a gigafactory in Del Valle, 13 miles down Texas 71 from Barton Hills.
"The desire, initially, from a lot of these people, especially if they haven't lived in Austin, is they want to be central, the 78704 ZIP code or 78702 (in East Austin)," he said. "But once they start to realize there is a serious lack of inventory, they're expanding their search outward."
Blair said multiple offers are common for the area's homes.
"We've watched that price per (square) foot jump constantly," she said. "Years ago, suddenly $600,000 (becomes) the 'new' $400,000 (sales price)," she said. "A new threshold keeps being set, and it has been happening very rapidly, and I don't know what to expect (or) when we're ever going to see that slow down."
The average price per square foot of single-family homes selling in the Barton Hills and Zilker neighborhoods grew almost $100 over the past two years, Blairfield Realty's director of marketing Hannah Hamrick said.
According to ABoR, the average price of a home sold in Barton Hills was about $822,000. In 2019, that average price jumped 17% to about $894,000.
Both Blair and Sprague said the starting price for an unremodeled home in the community now ranges from about $800,000 to $850,000.
The area's growth has taken Sprague by surprise. He said the corporations that now call Austin home weren't in place 20 or 30 years ago. Among those are Oracle and Tesla, each considered accessible from Barton Hills.
"Was that something you could have forecast?" Sprague said. "No."
So, who's buying in Barton Hills and why?
More young families are buying into the neighborhood, Sprague said, representing a change in demographics from the original owners who built their homes in the 1960s—structures that are now being torn down to make way for modern projects.
Developer Thomas Joseph has already figured that out. His company, Joseph/Design Build, purchased seven older Barton Hills homes within the last five years, and he is demolishing them to make way for modern residents he will sell. Buyers include Joseph and his partner and brother, Gabe Joseph.
"It's a beautiful neighborhood—the rolling hills, the big trees," Joseph said of Barton Hills. "It's aesthetically very pretty and interesting."
He also touted the community's good schools—Zilker Elementary or Barton Hills Elementary, O. Henry Middle and Austin High—as an incentive for buyers.
Joseph/Design Build has purchased seven older Barton Hills homes within the last five years for redevelopment. (Thomas Joseph)
There are also zoning incentives.
"From a development perspective, those things aside, the reason you're seeing so many people starting to move into Barton Hills is because of the lot size and deed restrictions," Joseph said.
The average lot size in Barton Hills is 10,000 to 14,000 square feet, he said, roughly double the lot size in the Bouldin Creek area. And the majority of the neighborhood has deed restrictions dating back to the mid-1900s, limiting the lots to single-family homes.
"Having the big lots and the deed restrictions, it's creating an environment where the only real houses that make sense to develop in Barton Hills are larger single-family homes," Joseph said of the 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot structures his company is now building. "As the market shifts towards bigger homes, Barton Hills is your only option for a neighborhood that's directly south of downtown."
Although some growing families have upgraded to homes within Barton Hills, Blair said sellers have also sold to "a lot of transplants"—out-of-state or international cash buyers.
As of Nov. 10, Austin boasted 5,500 startups and tech companies and is respected as a favorable alternative to the Bay Area and New York City for companies looking to grow.
"There's been a huge influx of people who are still moving into the Austin area, despite the pandemic," Manzanilla said. "So we're seeing the median prices, whether they be in the luxury market (of homes priced at $1 million-plus) or something just below that, we're seeing those numbers increase."
Barton Hills attracts buyers interested in luxury new construction but who can't come close to paying the price tag on a five-bedroom home in other states, such as California and New Yorker, even with their multi-million dollar pocketbook, Joseph said.
A Zillow search for single-family homes in the Barton Hills neighborhood mostly brings up properties selling for $1 million or more. (Zillow)
He's also found that many empty-nesters who are within five years of retiring are buying homes in the neighborhood, as well as people who can work remotely.
"If you come to Texas during those last five years, which are your highest earning years, you're not paying a state income tax," Joseph said. "To get ready for retirement, it's a way for people to take home more money and save more money for retirement while they're making the most money they've made in their careers."
The advantage of Austin for newcomers is not only the city's fair climate and lack of state income taxes but the liberal viewpoints that match those of New York and California, he said.
Joseph said his buyers are scattered throughout the fields of financial services, technology and energy, with half of his buyers being entrepreneurs.
"You're really not relying on one employer or one sector to fuel the development in Barton Hills, and that's a good thing," he said. The economic impact of a Tesla or Google enterprise moving into the Austin area is spread throughout Central Texas, he said, so "that no one neighborhood really sees a big jump."
And who's selling?
Blair said she's recently seen more residents leave the area "because either they're aging out, the taxes have gotten a little bit too high or they're just wanting to capitalize on that price."
Since Travis County offers a homestead exemption, which caps the amount a homestead value can increase at 10% year-over-year, Barton Hills homeowners are protected from being priced out of the neighborhood as home sales skyrocket, Joseph said.
"You're actually paying what is so far below market taxes, you don't experience any of that (gentrification)," he added. "But what you do experience is that when you do go to sell, that house you paid $50,000 for now is worth $800,000."
Joseph added that the Barton Hills phenomenon is unique.
"There is no neighborhood where a 20-year-old now can buy a $50,000 house and see it go up to $800,000 over the next 20 years," he said. "It just doesn't exist."
Joseph predicts the area's good schools will maintain its path to "a bright future."
"It's kind of an ideal neighborhood," he said.
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No matter how long you’ve been in Austin, Samuel Grey Horse has probably been here longer than you and the spirit of his indigenous ancestors walked the land far before anyone living did. Born and raised in the capital city in 1961, the city has grown and changed all around him.
You’ve probably seen or heard of Grey Horse before—he’s been called the “Sixth Street Cowboy” due to his penchant for riding his horses through the city streets, dressing up as Santa Claus during the holidays and making national news back in 2011 when he received a DUI while riding his mule down Sixth Street.
“I remember when I could see the capital from anywhere,” Grey Horse told Austonia during a visit to his East Austin ranch. “I never thought or imagined that I would see Austin like this.”
Now, living with his three horses, mule and dogs in East Austin on “the road that time forgot,” Grey Horse lives the “Native” lifestyle; he cares for his horses, tends to his garden, holds sacred prayer ceremonies, writes music, sings with legendary musicians and occasionally films with Richard Linklater, director of "Dazed and Confused."
Just as Austin changed over the years, so too did Grey Horse. On June 26, 2010, he was in an accident that he credits for changing his life. While riding a racing horse, Grey Horse’s saddle came loose and dragged him underneath for 150 yards. By the time they had stopped, Grey Horse had 12 broken ribs, collapsed lungs, a broken neck, broken clavicle, cracked skull, broken wrist and went into a coma.
“I had all the things done to me but that's how the universe teaches you,” Grey Horse said. “They said I would never ride a horse again or walk correctly, but no, I don't live in that world, because where I went to with my coma. I was living in another world, in the other world’s illusion.”
His road to recovery was long, arduous, miraculous and aided by his horses: Big Tex, Big Red and mule Mula, who have all been in his care for well over a decade. Grey Horse said they took care of his “energy” when he needed them most. Despite the pain that ensued from horses, his accident drew the cross-species family together.
Big Red and Mula have been living with Grey Horse for 16 and 14 years, respectively. (Sam Grey Horse/Instagram)
“I ride them around town and share them with everybody because everything has a purpose,” Grey Horse said. “You don't throw something away just because it's a little beat up. I was all beat up.”
The winters are still painful for his joints but he powers through so he can bring joy to the people of Downtown Austin in his Santa Claus costume every year.
“I can't hurt because I'm Santa Claus, and I got to be Santa for the kids and everybody. I give them inspiration and energy, I make millions happy downtown,” Grey Horse said. “I sing often with a cordless mic, my horses dance and they're happy. If I can make one person happy that makes a difference.”
Though it was never his intention, a career in music found Grey Horse and it felt right due to his mother telling him as a child he would be a singer one day. Grey Horse recently returned from his tour with The Greyhounds and Sir Woman across Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
His original song, “Crow Dog,” is a tribute to his life and the people who have passed along their loving energy in it.
Show biz can’t get enough of Grey Horse, who also models for Patagonia and Levi’s; he taught Joe Jonas how to ride a horse for a video shoot. He is now working with a British filmmaker on a documentary, and was featured on episode 10 of Linklater’s “That Animal Rescue Show.”
“I sing with Grammy winners, which is very special to me, and I write songs about my life. Very magical stuff,” Grey Horse said. “(The tour) was one of the best runs we've done for now—people are out and want to get out and the energy the guys bring is amazing.”
You’re certain to see Grey Horse around town if you spend some time near The Continental Club on South Congress or the Texas Capitol into the night. Until then, tok sha.
“There are no words for goodbye in my language, it's 'tok sha,'” Grey Horse said. “It means I’ll see you again. I'll see you soon. I'll see you in the next life.”
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For women who feel threatened while they’re out, an app that lets users easily call for help is now available in Austin.
Launching in the capital city on Tuesday, SafeUP, works by training users over the age of 18 who are known as “guardians” on how to respond in times of crisis. Those who are placing a call for help are connected to guardians less than half a mile away who, depending on the situation, can chat on the phone or physically go to the user and escort them.
SafeUP allows women to contact others who can help them when in danger. (SafeUP)
First launched in Israel, the app was co-founded by Neta Schreiber, who became interested in safety tools after her friend went missing at a house party about a decade ago.
"My friend and I searched for her in a panic, and, as we headed upstairs, we heard her voice amidst a group of men's voices," Schreiber has stated. "We went into one of the rooms and there they were—the men and our friend, half-naked, fighting them."
The assailants fled once the friends stepped in. "We managed to get there just in time," Schreiber said. "Luck and women saved my friend that night."
Schreiber told Reuters that during the testing phase of SafeUP, two guardians stepping in was enough to have people leave a woman alone.
Earlier this month, SafeUP became active in other major cities including Boston, San Francisco, Miami and New York City. There are more than 70,000 members in the global network with approximately 200 guardians in Austin so far.
Mira Marcus, a spokesperson for SafeUP, told Austonia most users are millennials and younger, and a lot of college students use the app, which made an Austin launch especially fitting. The company also has a partnership with Lime so that guardians can take free rides to reach a person.
SafeUP's partnership with Lime allows users to take free rides to a person calling for help. (SafeUP)
“You could always call the police, but they won’t necessarily be there within a matter of a minute or two. You could always speed dial your mom or girlfriend, but they won’t always be available to answer,” Marcus said. “The idea behind SafeUP is no matter where you are and what time, you can always turn on the app and see on the map the guardians around you.”
The app also allows users to call the police if the guardian finds the situation requires their backup. With that function, the app uses the phone’s camera and microphone to record evidence.
In a somewhat similar fashion, the Austin Police Department discussed possibly issuing a civilians unit to assist with non-emergency crimes over the summer. The discussion came as the department announced it would not respond to 911 calls where there was not a present danger due to a staffing shortage.
Some have turned to personal safety tech as public safety in Austin continues to be a hot topic with a record-breaking number of homicides in the city.
SafeUP joins other tech like the Citizen app and Ring cameras that track crime and include tools for reporting to the police. Some scholars and activists have criticized this tech for potential racial and gender bias, as well as expansion of surveillance. Biometric data is also taken in before users have full access to the SafeUP app so they can be verified as female, though facial recognition systems have a tendency to vary in accuracy.
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Giving Tuesday: Dell Foundation gives $38 million to combat homelessness as Austin celebrates 'radical generosity'
It's the most (philanthropic) time of the year, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation added to Central Texas' $100 million Giving Tuesday donations by promising a $38 million commitment towards combatting homelessness in Austin.
The Round Rock-based foundation, headed by tech giant Dell CEO Michael Dell, will donate the lump sum to three local nonprofits: Multiplying Goodness, Foundation Communities and LifeWorks.
Almost all of the funds—$36.6 million—are headed to Multiplying Goodness, which is a capital campaign to grow the Community First! Village in Austin, a neighborhood that offers permanent housing for the homeless. The 51-acre housing development has already rented out tiny homes to 220 formerly homeless residents and has plans to add 1,400 more units with the Multiplying Goodness program headed by Mobile Loaves and Fishes.
Dubbed a "hand up, not hand out" program by Mobile Loaves CEO and Founder Alan Graham, the neighborhood also helps residents with services and resources as they leave homelessness behind.
The Dell foundation is asking the public to match their donation as the "most talked about neighborhood in Austin" looks to reach its $150 million goal. Expansion of the Community First! Village is expected to break ground in 2022.
“As Austin grows, it’s more important than ever that we care for those most vulnerable in our communities,” Dell Foundation's co-founder Susan Dell said in a press release. “By coming together as a community, we can provide those experiencing homelessness in Central Texas with the dignity they deserve through stable housing and the opportunity to experience community again. We are honored to partner with Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Foundation Communities and LifeWorks—along with the broader Central Texas community through our community match—to accelerate the difference these organizations are already making on the ground each day.”
Community First! Village, a 51-acre housing development, currently houses over 200 formerly homeless people. (Community First! Village/Facebook)
The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation also announced a $1 million donation to Foundation Communities as they construct 100 units on the Burleson property at Community First! Village. LifeWorks Austin, a nonprofit aiming to end youth homelessness, will also receive $400,000 as it looks to provide permanent housing for local youth experiencing homelessness.
All three donations will funnel to the greater cause of ending homelessness in Austin, a hot topic in local politics in recent years. Around 3,000 Austinites are currently experiencing homelessness, with nearly 50% described as "chronically homeless." That's 25% above the national average.
Giving Tuesday has seen more than just the Dells digging into their pockets: known as a "global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world," the Tuesday after Thanksgiving has ushered in donations from corporations and private individuals around the world, including $100 million coming to Central Texas nonprofit I Live Here I Give Here.
The nonprofit has become the front for Central Texas' Giving Tuesday campaign. In 2020, Austin businesses, individuals and nonprofits contributed over 20 million acts of generosity during the holiday.
This year, Home Depot surprised small Austin nonprofit Green Doors with a $30,000 donation as they work to combat homelessness.
AppSumo, a leading digital marketplace for entrepreneurs, announced that it will match donations to Future Front Texas, PeopleFund and Swan Impact Network—all Central Texas nonprofits looking to benefit the area's small business owners—from Giving Tuesday through Friday at 5 p.m.
Local philanthropy group Impact Austin awarded $226,200 in grants to four Austin nonprofit organizations on Tuesday as part of their fall giving cycle, while Austin influencer Laura Lux agreed to match any donation under $1,000 given to Austin Pets Alive! on Giving Tuesday.
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