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Luxury real estate booms as buyers from both coasts flock to Austin: ‘COVID has set our market on fire’
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When businesses closed their doors in March, Austin realtor Cord Shiflet did not think he would sell another house this year.
To his surprise, this has been the busiest month he has ever seen for well-funded buyers moving to Austin.
"In my 23 years of doing this, the last month has been the craziest, most active market I've ever seen, with big buyers moving into Austin," said Shiflet, who works for Moreland Properties. "COVID has set our market on fire."
Austin realtors say business is booming in luxury real estate, which is a pleasant surprise after expecting sales to plummet due to coronavirus.
The majority of his big buyers have usually come from California, Shiflet said, but now he is seeing a drastic increase in New York executives and business owners who want to move to Austin.
After months of stay-home orders and working remotely, people from both coasts seem to be reevaluating where they live.
"We've just been seeing New Yorkers coming out here in droves," Shiflet said. "They can work from really anywhere in the world, and these people don't want to live in the tight spaces that they're currently in."
Texas has long appealed to people living in more regulated states due to a business-friendly climate and lack of state income tax. Shiflet said realtors are struggling to keep up with the increased demand from new buyers, many of whom are shocked to see how much further their money can go in Texas.
"We're going through our Rolodexes and knocking on doors, trying to find the quality product that these people want," Shiflet said. "They have a hard time believing they can have so much house and so much space and land around them as opposed to the apartments they're coming out of in New York."
Michelle Dolch, a realtor from Austin Luxury Group, said she has experienced the same thing—she even has a few buyers who are looking in the range of $20 million and above.
"We don't really have a lot of real estate in that market," Dolch said. "Our inventory is really stressed."
In addition to those from California and New York, Dolch has seen an increase in buyers coming from Seattle and Chicago, citing complaints about coronavirus and taxes.
"It just seems that a lot of people that have been considering moving here over the years are now coming here all at once," Dolch said. "A lot of people have always considered Austin as a place they'd like to live in. They're not considering it anymore—they're moving forward with it."
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Matthew McConaughey is reportedly weighing a run for Texas governor in 2022.
The Austin resident and Oscar winner has been "quietly making calls to influential people in Texas political circles, including a deep-pocketed moderate Republican and energy CEO" as he decides whether to run, according to Politico.
McConaughey said a gubernatorial run is "a true consideration" while on a March episode of Houston's "The Balanced Voice" podcast.
Although most political strategists doubt McConaughey's commitment and viability as a candidate, some are still intrigued by the possibility.
"I find it improbable, but it's not out of the question," Karl Rove, a top Republican strategist with a long history in Austin, told the political news site. He added that the big question is whether McConaughey would run as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.
Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist, told Politico he's surprised McConaughey isn't being taken more seriously. "Celebrity in this country counts for a lot," he said. "It's not like some C-list actor no one likes. He has an appeal."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott plans to run for a third term and remains popular among Republican voters, 77% of whom approve of his performance as of April, according to the Texas Politics Project.
Some strategists believe an independent McConaughey run would benefit Abbott. But a recent poll from The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler found that McConaughey would beat Abbott, 45% to 33%, with 22% opting for someone else.
Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly, mulled a McConaughey run in a recent opinion essay from the New York Times. "Texas may not be ready for a philosopher king as a candidate, much less governor," she wrote. "May the best man win, man."
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Some JuiceLand production facility workers and storefront employees are organizing to demand wage increases, better working conditions (including air conditioning in the warehouse) and pay transparency, among other asks. They are also calling on staff to strike and customers to boycott the Austin-based company until their demands are met.
JuiceLand responded on Saturday. "We are listening," the company wrote on their Instagram story. "JuiceLand crew now makes guaranteed $15 an hour or more companywide."
JuiceLand, which was founded in 2001 by Matt Shook and now has 35 locations in Austin, Houston and Dallas, acknowledged the rising cost of living across Texas and the added stress of the pandemic in an email to employees on Saturday, part of which @juicelandworkersrights shared on social media. "There's no denying that times are tough and financial security means more now than ever," the company wrote.
Organized JuiceLand workers rejected this proposal, according to a recent post on the @juicelandworkersrights Instagram account, and reiterated their demands.
"Cost of living in Austin is rising exponentially and will only continue to get worse with the tech boom," the post read. "$15 is barely a sustainable living."