Photo by Megan Bucknall on Unsplash

In a slightly contradictory year, the 2022 Central Texas housing market saw both higher barriers to affordability and a shift toward buyers.

According to the Austin Board of Realtors' last monthly report of 2022 and year-end overview, inventory rose, but so did interest rates and construction costs. Prices rose, too, reaching a new annual record for the Austin-Round Rock MSA at $503,000 (up 11.4 percent). Travis County mirrored the pattern, as median prices increased 10.6 percent to $575,000.

Demand in the MSA lagged while supply stayed the same: New listings stayed steady but 33,547 homes were sold, down 18.3 percent from the previous year, and they generally stayed on the market for 31 days, 11 days longer. This was a reversal to trends that had previously been thrown far out of balance, narrowing the gap.

“After two years of unprecedented demand, activity, and price increases, our housing market began to stabilize in 2022,” said 2023 ABoR president Ashley Jackson in a release. “Signs point to that trend continuing in 2023 even as interest rates fluctuate, so buyers need to date the rate and marry the house.”

Just in December, closed listings in the MSA declined 31.5 percent, and new listings 15.1 percent. Houses spent notably longer on the market than they did last year (a “staggering increase”), an average of 71 days as opposed to 47.

“It is important to remember that we still have a desirable and sought-after market," added Jackson. "[I]t is just that now we are seeing our market return to a more normal level of high demand and activity than what we experienced in the years leading up to the COVID pandemic and subsequent boom in our market."

Photo by Brianna Caleri

2 Austin plant sellers spend a decade together in neighborhood business symbiosis

Small Business Spotlight

When I moved to Austin and started collecting plants, I was vaguely privy to discussions about rare plants. People would post in Facebook groups, “I’ve been looking for this plant everywhere. Can’t believe I finally found it.” Or, “Does anyone know where I can look?” East Austin Succulents, a sandy paradise of water-retaining plants and wacky containers, was the source of my naivety.

I couldn’t believe that a casual plant collector would struggle to find anything but the rarest of plants, because East Austin Succulents — my only reference point — had them all. And some of those really rare ones, too.

The succulent nursery shares a long rectangular lot in a mostly residential area along Boggy Creek with another, equally plant-dense vendor, Tillery Street Plant Company. The two have been allies for twelve years, but the businesses are completely separate: One deals in succulents, and the other in basically everything else.

“There is some overlap, but we try to keep it minimal, and try to help each other out,” says longtime manager Melissa Hagen, calling in from the Tillery Street Plant Company “office,” a tiny travel trailer that lives onsite. The businesses will sometimes swap accidental orders to maintain a logical division of wares. It was not a coincidence two complementary businesses found each other.

“Jon [Hutson, the owner of Tillery Street Plant Company,] sold everything,” reflects East Austin Succulents owner Eric Pedley. Hutson was Pedley’s gateway into the space when the pair decided to share the rent in 2010. “And then it was like, well, you if you're gonna let me in, I have to be all succulents. Tillery does cold-hardy landscaping succulents, also, so I don't sell the cold-hardy stuff. And they don't sell things that are not cold-hardy.”

On the left side of the lot, the succulent shop spreads out like a photosynthetic carnival, with white tents casting diffused bright sunlight over hundreds of fleshy and spiny plants. The main tents line up like rooms in a railroad apartment, whose xerophyte residents range from a few dollars to well over $100. An array of pottery outside is one of the most diverse selections a collector could find across the city, and the team will even drill or hammer drainage holes in customer’s items from home, with few limits and a tiny fee.

Next door, without much indication of a change in business operations, a small house or shed stands beside an arched greenhouse. The latter building's sliding barn doors reveal not just a room full of plants, but a tropical forest with a roof. Tables are barely visible under houseplants and between eight-foot trees. With so little real estate, vining and carnivorous plants hang from the ceiling. It's Austin's most immersive art experience, yet still just a plant store. Inside the house, there’s macrame and indoor plant trinkets everywhere.

Plant shops and the people who talk about them risk emphasizing style and volume over plant health. It is most important, although perhaps least interesting, to note: East Austin Succulents and Tillery Street Plant Company sell irreproachably healthy plants.

About a decade ago, when these businesses started growing their roots only a few months apart, the space was “a co-op type thing” in Pedley’s words — a business trailer park. Hagen adds that the trailer owners “sold all sorts of magical things.” At the time, she was teaching yoga at a sweat lodge on site. “It was very much a community space. At one point, it was all gardens, and then it was [an] event space, and now it's kind of like our landscape.”

Although the two businesses have taken over the entire space, the community spirit prevails. It’d be hard to stifle, when it comes to plants, a major common denominator between basically anyone with their own space and the ability (or at least desire) to keep something alive. “The east side is changing,” says Hagen. “And a lot of people now don't even necessarily have yards; they have condos. [But] everybody has window sills, pretty much.”

It’s no surprise that houseplants experienced a sales boom as the pandemic kept more people at home. Not only did people at home have an incentive to bring the outside in — and the time to tend to something carefully — they had something to talk about. The first two years brought obvious hardship for many businesses, but broke sales records for the succulent shop.

East Austin Succulents social media director and retail manager Sonja Muniz runs with this willingness to engage, posting this-or-that polls that compare unique plants for sale, managing plant auctions, and sharing care tips with a strong, irreverent voice that’s either a charismatic wakeup call, or a vehicle for catharsis for home growers that have been trying to politely explain the issue on their own.

“People like to do games,” says Muniz. “You can only do scrolling so much. This-or-that gets people engaged with the variety of products we have. And it’s also just something fun that even if you don't like plants, you can still pick a plant you like.”

During Winter Storm Uri (the February 2021 “Snowpocalypse”), businesses all over Austin scrambled to minimize damage, turning to social media to check in with supporters and request patience and support. These nurseries barely had solid walls to rely on, let alone the temperatures most plants need to stay alive. Yet, as staff from both businesses hauled plants around to safer conditions and trimmed dead leaves, it somehow looked like they were having a good time.

“Yeah, we have to,” confirms Muniz. “We have a small-knit crew and our nursery was about maybe five of us on the team. So we had to really buckle down. It's kind of working on a ship.”

It wasn’t smooth sailing, but most of both businesses' inventory survived, and the teams took the opportunity to set an example for regular Austinites bringing their own plants back to stability. Comments from the days following the storm are littered with requests for advice. East Austin Succulents accepted texts to the store phone, diagnosing issues and prescribing care. (“We're kind of more like doctors on our social media,” says Muniz, reconsidering her metaphor.)

If all three plant people — Pedley, Hagen, and Muniz — share something with each other, their customers, and the plant world at large, it’s a compulsion to give advice. It’s woven through every conversation and medium. Both businesses are always planning workshops, seed swaps, and other opportunities for Austinites to gather and share experiences in this old neighborhood.

Photo by Brianna Caleri

East Austin Succulents (pictured) and Tillery Street Plant Company have built a small empire of beautiful and healthy plants, for a beautiful and healthy community.

Their top three pieces of advice: buy plants in good soil or repot them right away; let people with experience help you fall in love with the right plants for you; and sometimes things die. We’ve all killed plants, but there are people out there to help each other learn.

“It's just been bit by bit,” says Pedley of his own journey from bewildered non-plant person to a local cactus hero. “Baby steps to, you know … just what we're doing now.”

Photo courtesy of the Weird Homes Tour

The weirdest homes in Austin welcome tourists this Halloween weekend

Home, Weird Home

Halloween weekend is an oddly fitting time to go on a self-guided tour of architectural and interior design weirdness. But for these homeowners — whatever their chosen themes — they’re not costumes. These homes take commitment, from lifelong collections to murals to soil-based walls and a community endeavor. Weirdness is a state of mind, but it’s also a lifestyle that takes a long time to build, and most of us could use inspiration.

The most recent Weird Homes Tour took place in 2019, so October 29 will be a triumphant return for the odd Austin event. (Surely Austinites can understand the difficulties of having many strangers in personal homes for the past two years.) When the Weird Homes Tour says “weird,” it means it. These homes blow the sort-of-wacky out of the water, often appearing more like museums than someone’s primary residence.

Photo courtesy of the Weird Homes Tour

The Weird Homes Tour is returning for the first time since 2019, with classics on the roster. (Pictured: "The Bloomhouse.")

“We are beyond excited to bring back the iconic Weird Homes Tour to Austin post-pandemic, and we couldn't be happier having our friends at [Modern Architecture + Design Society] in the driver's seat for this event," said tour founder David Neff in a press release. "Austin is awash in too many eggshell white condos, and this event, full of color, wild collections, and gorgeous content will continue to open Austin's eyes on what's possible for design.”

This year’s tour offers seven locations, a few of which have been longtime partners of the tour and appear in the coffee table book, Weird Homes: The People and Places That Keep Austin Strangely Wonderful. As the title suggests, the homes are only half of the experience. Visitors drive from house to house, and explore the interiors with the homeowner present, often happy to answer questions.

No one puts this much effort into interior design to be tight-lipped about it. Plus, it takes a pretty interesting person to, say, paint her driveway and back fence like the ocean and all its inhabitants; create a larger-than-life mermaid mosaic; and pour an epoxy countertop over at least a carry-on’s worth of vacation souvenirs. Lois Goodman has put more than 20 years of work and memories into “A Mermaid's Oasis of Color,” and can be recognized around town in her similarly bedazzled art car, tarot cards likely on hand. Artist D. Warden put similar blood, sweat, and tears into his mostly upcycled artist’s studio, “The Keep.”

“Morningwood,” an even more curatorial space, houses “ancient cars, ancient beads, doll parts, pulp erotica, and forgotten esoterica,” among many other items crammed into a shed or given places of honor in the house itself. The homeowner, Carl McQueary, runs an estate services team, and absolutely brings his work home. So does the live music and events producer Luis Zapata, whose “Music Home” contains more than 30 guitars and 8,000 vinyl records.

A more austere space can be found in the “Bloomhouse,” a 1973 structure known for its sculptural form (which looks oddly like Zero the ghost dog in 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas). The wavy, white plastered form is designed to evoke “the symbiotic interaction of man and nature,” and is a tourist attraction that offers roughly $2,000-minimum stays. The “Community Inn,” another stay accessible to the public, is decorated with goods by formerly unhoused artisans who live in the surrounding neighborhood, in a very Austin twist on tiny houses and co-op living.

Tickets ($40) for the October 29 tour, taking place from 10 am to 4 pm, are available on Eventbrite. More information about each home is available at weirdhomestour.com. Each listing includes short descriptions, photos, and even videos on some of the longer partnerships. The Weird Homes book ($19.99) explores each selected house in much greater detail.

Photo by Leonid Furmansky

9 of Austin's most thoughtfully designed homes open their doors on self-guided AIA Homes Tour

Home Away From Home

It will never stop being delicious to get that little insider’s peek into someone’s home, even if it’s part of an official tour. For the curious and the creative, the AIA Austin Homes Tour returns for its 36th year of inspiring mental notes about storage hacks and wall colors this weekend, on October 22 and 23. Spend all the time you want staring at the perfect pots and pans display and skip the stairwell you could never commit to — this is a self-guided tour.

This is the tour’s first year as in-person-only after going virtual and hybrid in 2020 and 2021. Tour takers will explore nine new and recently renovated homes by local architects from Westlake to Pleasant Valley.

The work of nine architects is represented on the tour by The Austin Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Austin):

  • Cuppett Kilpatrick Architects
  • Candace Wong Architecture + Design
  • Dick Clark + Associates
  • Erica Heroy Architecture and Design
  • Lake|Flato
  • Forge Craft Architecture + Design with Hugh Jefferson Randolph Architects
  • Furman + Keil Architects
  • Lemmo Architecture and Design
  • Studio Steinbomer

A list of addresses on the website gives sneak peeks into each home, with photos, a short description, and a pre-tour webinar to make sure viewers catch important design details.

Eco-friendliness is a throughline: one residence at Bull Creek was awarded a five-star rating by Austin Energy Green Building thanks to work by Studio Steinbomer, and another by the Forge Craft-Hugh Jefferson Randolph partnership applies passive house standards for a minimal footprint in “a hot, humid climate.”

House Zero by Lake|Flato is not just a smart design, but a careful experiment. “House Zero is a demonstration project and field trial for a proprietary concrete wall printing system,” says the description. “This climate-responsive new home, which includes an accessory dwelling unit, connects inhabitants to a native Texas landscape and diverse Austin neighborhood fabric. The design team collaborated with software developers, robotics engineers, and material scientists to create a new set of architectural innovations and strategies for printed concrete construction.”

Something most of the houses share is a connection to past structures and the historical importance of their lots. The Wildflower House by Erica Heroy Architecture and Design remodels a house from the 1950s, while the Vastu House by Dick Clark + Associates updates the owner’s childhood home using design principles far older than even the original structure.

“There is no better way to experience architecture than to explore it in person, and I’m thrilled that we can offer that to the public again for the 36th anniversary of this tour,” said AIA Austin Executive Director Ingrid Spencer in a press release. “From the range of home sizes, budgets, styles, and innovative and sustainable technologies featured on this tour, there will be something to inspire and delight everyone.”

Tickets ($45 general admission, $50 day-of) are available at aiaaustinhomestour.com. VIP tickets ($95) include a swag bag and access to a VIP party on Friday, October 21.

Photo by Leonid Furmansky

The AIA Austin Homes Tour includes nine homes that merge Ausinites' interior spaces with well-loved surroundings. (Pictured: Stenger No. 2 by Candace Wong Architecture + Design)

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Austin chefs turn out for farmer-focused food festival, returning this spring

Field Guide

Sometimes reinventing the wheel is a good thing, which may explain the immediate and warm welcome Field Guide Festival received upon its launch in 2021 and return in 2022. Moving past the food festival trope of tiny bites, loud music, and general Baccanalian vibes, Field Guide Festival seeks to foster connections between farmers, chefs, consumers, and everyone in between. Returning to East Austin on Saturday, April 22, the innovative event invites Central Texans to consider their role in the future of food in the Austin community.

Founded by female powerhouses, Lindsey Sokol and Trisha Bates, the goal of the fest is to leave guests inspired to participate in their local food system, equipped with the knowledge of where to find the best, most sustainable food available in Austin and the surrounding area.

"Field Guide Festival presents an answer to the question, ‘Where does your food come from?’ by highlighting the local farmers and chefs of Austin," Bates shares in a release. "Our festival is the only place in the city where you will see the farmers side-by-side with the chefs who transform their food, creating dishes uniquely representing this exact time and place. You'll never have this food, presented in this way, again."

The recently-released 2023 lineup features an impressive roster of 34 farmer and chef partners who will partner together to create dishes exclusive to the festival using in-season produce. Tickets will include a full day of food and beverages, cooking demonstrations, symposium conversations, live music, and a farmer’s bodega — all benefiting the Central Texas Food Bank.

“The Central Texas Food Bank is honored to be a partner of such a special gathering,” says Mark Jackson Chief Development Officer of Central Texas Food Bank in a releasE. “Not only will revenue from the event help ensure that thousands of our neighbors facing food insecurity have enough to eat, but attendees will learn about the impact food has on our whole community while having fun.”

Curated by Field Guide Culinary Director Chef Philip Speer, the 2023 chef and farmer lineup is below:

  • Abby Love (Abby Jane Bakeshop) & Amalia Staggs (Farmshare Austin)
  • Colter Peck (Elementary) & Becky Hume (VRDNT Farm)
  • Fiore Tedesco (L’Oca D’Oro) & Sean Henry (Hi-Fi MYCO)
  • Graeme Little (Fairmont Austin) & Julia Poplawsky Lewis (Cielito Lindo Farm)
  • Graham Fuller (Emmer & Rye) & William Nikkel (Trosi Farms)
  • Joaquin Ceballos (Este) & Anamaria Gutierrez (Este Garden)
  • Krystal Craig + Ian Thurwachter (Intero) & Celia Bell (Two Hives Honey)
  • Mia Li (Ora King Salmon) & Joe + Kasey Diffie (Joe’s Microgreens)
  • Natalie Gazaui (Chef Consultant) & Gregory Mast (Central Texas Food Bank Garden)
  • Nicholas Yanes (Juniper + Uncle Nicky’s) & Perrine Noelke (Local Pastures)
  • Rhys Davis & Michael Fojtasek (Maie Day) & Marianna Peeler (Peeler Farms)
  • Kevin & Rosie Truong (Fil N Viet) & Travis Breihan (Smallhold)
  • Susana Querejazu (Lutie’s) & Hannah Gongola (H2Grow Farms)
  • Todd Duplechan (Lenoir + Vixen’s Wedding) & Ryan Gould (Geosmin Regenerative)
  • Zechariah Perez (Sour Duck Market + Odd Duck) & Montana Stovall (Dancing Bear Farm)
  • Ooni Chef Demos by Casey Wilcox (Little Trouble) & Christina Currier (Comedor)
  • Force of Nature Chef Demo by Katrina Ferraro and Freddy Diaz (Las Brasas)

Featuring a mix of savory, sweet, and plant-based options, all food and beverages are included with each ticket, allowing guests to roam and sample everything. Tickets are $100 for adults, while a new Young Foodies ticket option ($50 for ages 13-30) and free entry children 12 and under encourages the whole family to come savor and celebrate the best of Central Texas food.

“New this year, Field Guide will welcome guests of all ages!" says founder Lindsey Sokol. "We’ve created a food festival that puts education first in order to strengthen the food system for the future, including the next generation. Our goal is to present food in a way no one else in Austin is doing, where the local food system is the priority.”

For more information and to purchase tickets for the event, please visit fieldguidefest.com or follow along on social media @fieldguidefest.

Trendy boxing gym knocks out Cedar Park with more planned

Out of the Box

New or aspiring boxers who worry about punching above their weight may have a new solution that caters to all. Rumble Boxing, a gym that boasts clients including David Beckham, Selena Gomez, and Justin Bieber, is now open in Cedar Park, with plans to expand elsewhere in Austin in February.

Unlike the boxing-solo-before-dawn movie trope, Rumble offers group classes that make the sport accessible and fun, including some workouts that aren’t just traditional boxing (called “boxing-inspired circuits”). Boxers of all levels get together for something that looks in videos like a spin class with boxing equipment.

The gym calls it a “10-round, 45-minute fight,” but an explanation on the website reveals “fight” to be more of a metaphor. Some rounds involve punching bags, while others incorporate floor training with bodyweight and dumbbell exercises. The classes promise a balance of both; half and half throughout the class.

Ambiance plays a significant part in the experience, and the gym emphasizes its music and lights along with “the program, and the collective heartbeat of the room.” Although the program contemporizes boxing for greater accessibility, the core elements are still there. Boxers will learn “the six punches”: the jab, the cross, front and back hooks, and front and back uppercuts.

The system has proven popular so far, and not just with celebrities. In business since just 2017, Rumble has 35 studios in the United States, plus some in Australia and the Dominican Republic. In Texas, there are also locations outside of Houston and Dallas, with more set to open in both by March.

Rumble Boxing is now open at 12160 W Parmer Lane, Suite #150. Hours of operation vary by day and are available at rumbleboxinggym.com.

This professional development group is working to connect Black Austinites and keep them in Austin

Fellowing the Leader

Even though Austin is generally understood as friendly and good for transplants, it’s always hard to land in a new city and gauge your longevity there. Finding resources takes time and connections, and for new Austinites who experience social marginalization, it may not feel possible to thrive.

Seeking to create those connections, the African American Leadership Institute (AALI) is a professional development group focused on increasing civic awareness and leadership opportunities for Austin's Black population. According to the website, their mission is to "build a stronger Black Austin community by equipping exceptional leaders to live up to their moral responsibility ... to make life better for everyone in our city, state, and the world."

Established in 2021, the idea for AALI evolved out of the Leadership Austin model, which also provides civic leadership training and is in turn an evolution of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. After participating in the 2002 class at Leadership Austin, AALI founder Heath Creech noticed a pattern: Companies were bringing Black employees to Austin, but underutilizing their skill sets when they arrived. Feeling more like guests than active community members, those employees packed up and looked for a new place to hit the ground running.

Creech realized Black Austinites needed their own program like Leadership Austin, so he connected with BiNi Coleman, a strategist who prioritized Black leadership through her organization 212 Catalysts. Partnering with Leadership Austin to create a parallel system, the pair started AALI to target exceptional leaders through its annual Leadership Cohort. This group of annual fellows learns how to engage in intensive community building and “deep dives” into multiple issue areas — all with a lens toward the Black community in Central Texas.

In just two years, AALI has seen in its first two groups that a third of participants say they were thinking of leaving Austin, but decided to stay. To find people willing to offer the vulnerability to apply even while feeling untethered from the Austin community, AALI had to drop some pretenses that other organizations may use to ensure commitment to applying.

“[The] AALI launch committee … determined for one that our Northstar metric should be connection: Addressing this lack of belonging in the community,” says Coleman, now AALI’s CEO. “If people emphasize that they feel a greater sense of connection to the Black community, or the overall community, we are doing our jobs. So far, that's never been less [affirmative feedback] than 96 percent or so.”

The only eligibility requirement is that participants must live in the Austin MSA (the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos metropolitan area). The organization waived the minimum years of residence requirement. Applications could be written or recorded via video, to ensure that different communication styles made their strongest possible impacts. It’s working.

“We've had people that range from being … essentially homeless, and made it in AALI because they are relentless about being out in the community, and delivering basic needs to families and things of that nature,” says Coleman. “And then we have people that are corporate VPs, and we have people who are executive directors of nonprofits. In our inaugural year we had [Austin ISD Police Chief] Wayne Sneed, for instance. It really ranges the gamut.”

The 2023 fellows are no exception: Announced in January, the group of 34 includes an associate professor addressing education policy and philanthropy, the CPO of the Boys & Girls Club of Austin, the director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, a doula, multiple school principals, and more. Throughout the program, these Fellows’ main objective is to get to know each other and make themselves known, so when program leaders can offer connections to outside organizations, they know who to recommend. Coleman tells a story about Aaron Demerson of the Texas Workforce Commission speaking at a session, and having a meeting booked with one of the fellows within "a couple of hours."

AALI has further expanded its outreach by launching a one-day event, Black X Conference, which allows anyone who registers to join and make connections whether or not they plan to pursue a fellowship. Scheduled annually for the Friday leading into the Juneteenth holiday, this year's Black X Conference is set for June 16.

"People ... seem to just really enjoy it and it lights a fire beyond just connecting with each other" says Coleman. "They learn about all these different issue areas and the Black community history and lens ... and then they're connected. So now if they choose to activate, they'd have what they need: They've got the information, they're aware. They know where to get more information."

More information about the African American Leadership Institute (AALI), including a full list of 2023 fellows with LinkedIn pages, is available at aaliaustin.org.