Rendering courtesy of Steelblue/Trammell Crow

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. From employers to non-hierarchical art, here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Google soars to No. 3 in prestigious list of Forbes' best employers in Texas. Austin continues to hosts the best of the best employers in Texas, as Google and Apple move into coveted spots on Forbes' list.

2. Country icon Willie Nelson returns to traditional 'hillbilly' inspiration in new album. Nelson's new LP, Bluegrass, is his first album-length tribute to the traditional country genre.

3. Austin art collectives bring work made by 1,000 local hands to Burning Man. 500 Austinites helped dye and tie scraps of fabric in a flowing mosaic that became an unmissable part of the Playa.

4. More closed home sales in Austin show growing homebuyer confidence. The latest data showed the first increase in closed home sales year-over-year since February 2022.

5. Famous Austin furniture store Louis Shanks shutters last remaining locations. The furniture retailer first opened in 1945, and had been operated by the Shanks family for four generations.

Photo courtesy of Keller Williams

More closed home sales in Austin show growing homebuyer confidence

real estate report

The Austin Board of Realtors has revealed a more optimistic outlook on Austin's housing market, with the latest data showing the first increase in closed home sales year-over-year since February 2022. More closed sales and a gradual increase of housing inventory convey growing buyer confidence throughout the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan statistical area (MSA).

2023 ABoR president Ashley Jackson said in the report that with the increased inventory, buyers can afford to be pickier about the homes they want to purchase. It's especially prevalent for first-time homebuyers to own a house that "checks all the boxes."

"When compared to the past two years of highly competitive market activity, this is both a welcome reprieve and perfect opportunity for buyers looking to enter the market," Jackson said. "Now is the time to take advantage of the increase in leverage that buyers now have."

The slight boost of housing inventory in the MSA is good news, but supply is still limited overall, according to ABoR housing economist Clare Losey, Ph.D.

"ABoR’s Central Texas Housing Development Fees Analysis, released in July 2022, shows that Austin’s drastically high development fees pose a significant barrier to new home construction and thereby diminish growth of our housing supply, especially when compared to other development fees in other Central Texas cities and major metropolitan Texas areas," Losey said. "Higher mortgage rates have led potential sellers to wait longer before entering the market, further constraining the supply of homes for sale."

Losey says it will get harder to predict the state of the housing market through the rest of 2023, as interest rates are likely to increase again before the end of the year.

Median home prices dropped slightly to $460,000 in the Austin-Round Rock MSA, which is a 7.6 percent decrease year-over-year from August 2022. Closed sales rose to 2,939 in August; a 1.4 percent increase. Homes are spending an average of 60 days on the market, which is 28 more days than this time last year.

Travis County
Over 1,350 homes were sold in August of 2023 in Travis County, with median prices dropping almost 5 percent year-over-year to $534,000. There were 4,772 active listings on the market; about 18 percent more than August 2022.

Williamson County
More than 970 homes were sold in August, with median prices sitting at $435,516. There were 1,241 new home listings in Williamson County, with a total 2,867 active home listings.

Hays County
A total of 417 homes were sold in August in Hays County, with median prices continuing to fall to $394,990. Pending sales were up by 8.2 percent year-over-year, while active listings had also risen 33.9 percent to 1,550 homes.

Bastrop County
Bastrop remains the county with the highest inventory in the MSA at 4.8 months' worth, which is 1.2 months more than August of 2022. 154 homes were sold this past August, and median prices are just under $340,000 (a 15 percent decrease). There are 28 percent more active listings on the market in Bastrop County, coming out to 586 homes.

Caldwell County
Homes in Caldwell County sold for a median of $299,990 in July, which is a 6.9 percent drop year-over-year. 42 homes were sold last month, nearly 18 percent less than the year before, and there are 180 active homes on the market. In a massive uptick in new home listings, Caldwell County had 92 new homes on the market in August, or 61.4 percent more than this time last year.

Photo by J King on Unsplash

Texas is the 3rd hottest state for international homebuyers, new report shows

international homebuying report

The trend of international buyers purchasing homes in Texas shows no signs of slowing down, as revealed in the latest Texas International Homebuyers Report.

Released September 6 by Texas Realtors, the report shows that the Lone Star State remains the No. 3 hottest U.S. destination for international homebuyers. Texas ranks behind Florida and California for the fourth consecutive year.

From April 2022 to March 2023, 9,900 Texas homes were purchased by "foreign buyers," which the report defines as people who don't live in the U.S., don't live here full time, live here temporarily on non-immigrant visas, or have been in the country for less than two years.

61 percent of buyers fell in the latter two categories: some examples from its definition include "diplomats, foreign students, foreign workers," along with recent immigrants. These homes make up 11.7 percent of the total number of Texas Realtors sales transactions. For comparison, Florida (No. 1) accounted for 23 percent of purchases, with California (No. 2) at 12.2 percent.

In other words, although there are proportionally more foreign buyers in Texas than almost any other state, they only make up about a tenth of total home sales, and more than half of the buyers already lived in the U.S. or were legally committed to living here full-time.

Only 18 percent of homes bought by foreign buyers were intended as rental properties, and 10 percent were vacation homes. More than half (51 percent) bought a primary residence in Texas.

"Texas has long been one of the most popular states for international buyers," said 2023 Chairman of the Texas Realtors Marcus Phipps in a release. "Our strong economy, diverse population and high quality of life make the Lone Star State an attractive destination."

International buyers spent $4.3 billion on these Texas homes during the time period, the report says. Nearly half (49 percent) of buyers avoided the need for a mortgage by paying for their homes in all-cash.

In all, 84,600 international buyers bought property in the U.S. between April 2022 to March 2023, down from 98,600 buyers in last year's report.

The report further states that the median home price for international buyers is slightly lower than the overall Texas median: $320,800 versus $342,000. However, the average purchase price for international buyers was significantly higher, at $446,100.

Mexico made up 41 percent of the top buyers, followed by China (8 percent) and India (7 percent). Nigeria and Venezuela accounted for five percent each within the top foreign buyers.

Photo by Jeremy Doddridge on Unsplash

Austin is home to the 8th most attractive U.S. housing market, new report says

settling down

When it comes to places to buy a house, Austin still remains near the top of the list. So says WalletHub's highly anticipated 2023 report on the best real estate markets in the U.S.

The new study by the personal finance website, released August 22, names Austin the No. 8 most attractive real estate market in the country. The state capital joins a host of other Texas cities within the top 10.

Texas housing markets have dominated WalletHub's report throughout the years, showing resilience as other markets rise and fall. Austin and its Central Texas neighbors have been at the top in similar reports, but the city has slid in WalletHub's 2023 report after ranking No. 4 in the 2022 edition and No. 2 in 2021.

With a great housing market come new businesses. It's no wonder that hot new restaurants, coffee shops, and other attractions are opening in the Austin area or choosing the city for new locations.

Data from the latest Austin Board of Realtor's real estate report shows median home prices in Austin have fallen 10 percent year-over-year to $462,000. Homes are spending an average of 59 days on the market, another indicator that buyers are willing to hold out for that perfect home for the right price.

Potential owners should attempt to buy their home soon while sellers are more willing to negotiate on housing prices in the wake of higher interest rates, according to Kelly Snider, an urban regional planning professor at San Jose State University.

"More important for the housing market is that brokers and agents pay attention to what buyers want and spend less time listening to what sellers 'expect' or "deserve,'" Snider said in the report. "It is becoming a buyers' market, and 2024 should be good for people looking to buy a house."

The top 10 real estate markets in the U.S. are:

  • No. 1 – McKinney, Texas
  • No. 2 – Frisco, Texas
  • No. 3 – Nashville, Tennessee
  • No. 4 – Denton, Texas
  • No. 5 – Cary, North Carolina
  • No. 6 – Allen, Texas
  • No. 7 – Durham, North Carolina
  • No. 8 – Austin, Texas
  • No. 9 – Port St. Lucie, Florida
  • No. 10 – Gilbert, Arizona
The study analyzed 300 U.S. cities across 17 metrics in two categories to determine the best real estate markets. Datapoints include median home price appreciation, ratio between rent to sale prices, housing affordability, job and population growth, and more.

The full report can be found on wallethub.com.

Photo by André François McKenzie on Unsplash

High interest rates aren't deterring homebuyers in Austin

real estate report

Real estate experts now have a much clearer picture regarding the resilience shown in Austin's housing market. The latest Austin Board of Realtors' (ABoR) report revealed that July 2022 was when the Austin-Round Rock housing market initially started stabilizing. If current trends continue, ABoR says 2023 will have a "strong finish."

"We now have a direct year-over-year comparison of when our market began stabilizing, and the big fluctuations we’ve previously seen have started to even out," said 2023 ABoR president Ashley Jackson in the report. "Potential buyers who have been on the fence about purchasing a home should know interest rates are settling, and now is the time to act."

Even with interest rates beginning to settle, affordability is still a major limiting factor for potential buyers. According to Dr. Clare Losey, ABoR's housing economist, the median family income in the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan statistical area (MSA) is $122,300 in 2023, which is not enough to afford many homes for sale in the area.

"This means buyers generally can afford a home priced between $300,000 to $400,000, however, less than 40 percent of homes sold in the Austin-Round Rock MSA in July of this year alone fall into this price range," Dr. Losey said. "ABoR’s July housing market data stresses not only the strong, ongoing housing demand in our region, but also the critical need for more housing stock at all price points."

June's real estate report stressed a need for more housing inventory, which continued to be a limitation in July. Active listings in the MSA increased 13 percent to 9,663 last month, continuing a slow but steady improvement for the year.

Dr. Losey pointed out that Central Texas is becoming less and less likely to experience a recession with every passing month. She predicted Austin's strong labor market will allow the region to continue exceeding "national expectations" despite rising mortgage rates.

"With a rise in pending sales and closed sales remaining consistent, this further indicates that buyers are becoming more accustomed to the higher interest rate environment and understand that elevated mortgage rates may continue," she said.

Median prices dropped to $462,000 in the Austin-Round Rock MSA, which is 10 percent decrease year-over-year from July 2022. Homes are spending an average of 59 days on the market, which is 37 more days than this time last year.

Travis County
More than 1,300 homes were sold in July 2023 in Travis County, with median prices dropping 9.2 percent year-over-year to $545,000. There are 4,697 active listings on the market; about 16 percent more than July 2022.

Williamson County
Fewer than 900 homes were sold in July, with median prices sitting at $428,350. There are more than 1,200 new home listings in Williamson County, with a total 2,788 active home listings.

Hays County
Exactly 400 homes were sold in July in Hays County, with median prices continuing to fall to $405,243. Pending sales are up by 27.3 percent year-over-year, while active listings have also risen 31.1 percent to 1,493.

Bastrop County
Bastrop County has the highest inventory in the MSA at 4.6 months' worth, which is 1.2 months more than July 2022. 132 homes were sold this past July, and median prices are just under $350,000 (a 15.7 percent decrease). There are 25.6 percent more active listings on the market in Bastrop County, coming out to 545 homes.

Caldwell County
Homes in Caldwell County sold for a median of $298,048 in July, which is a massive 20 percent drop year-over-year. 44 homes were sold last month, which is nearly 23 percent less than the year before, and there are 140 active homes on the market.


Austin defies national trend with slightly more affordable starter homes than last year

affordability gaps

A new income analysis by online real estate brokerage company Redfin has revealed just how much money a potential homeowner needs to make in 2023 to afford a "starter home" in Austin, a concept that's becoming seemingly less attainable with rising mortgage rates and increased competition among buyers.

The report revealed that first-time homebuyers need to earn $92,057 annually to afford home in Austin this year, which is (surprisingly) 3.3 percent less income than what was required in 2022.

According to Redfin, the average salary needed for a typical starter home in the United States is $64,403, about 13 percent more than a year ago. Despite being $27,654 above the national average, Austin's number is still an improvement over the city's standard from last year.

These findings further confirm that affordability is one of the biggest struggles for potential buyers in the current real estate market.

Median sale prices (for starter homes) in Austin are sitting at $347,000, and median mortgage payments are about $2,301 a month, the report said. However, the analysis indicates that home prices in the city have dropped 12.2 percent since this time last year.

Redfin senior economist Sheharyar Bokhari said in the report that it's a "wild goose chase" for homebuyers seeking their first home in the current market.

"The most affordable homes for sale are no longer affordable to people with lower budgets due to the combination of rising prices and rising rates," said Bokhari. "That’s locking many Americans out of the housing market altogether, preventing them from building equity and ultimately building lasting wealth. People who are already homeowners are sitting pretty, comparatively, because most of them have benefited from home values soaring over the last few years."

Bokhari predicted the wealth gap between current and potential owners could become "even more drastic" if current trends continue.

Buyers looking elsewhere in Central Texas might find some success. Even though the income necessary to afford a San Antonio home has risen by 18.7 percent, that only amounts to $55,657.

Elsewhere in Texas, a first-time homebuyer would need to make $57,513 to afford a home in Houston, which is nearly 14 percent more than in 2022. Fort Worth saw a similar percentage increase in income necessary to afford a home, at 14.4 percent, with buyers needing to make $64,933. In Dallas, potential homeowners saw a 10.6 percent increase in income needed to afford a home, making it the city with the second highest income required out of all Texas cities in the report: $72,885.

The full report can be found on redfin.com.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Tasteful Austin ice cream shop starts crowdfunding to scoop up new cities

Tastes Like Profit

We're not sure how many licks it takes to get to a popular Austin ice cream shop into new markets, but a crowdfunding campaign gives fans a chance to find out.

Lick Honest Ice Creams, known for interesting, mature flavors (without getting too serious), has launched a campaign via MicroVentures that will allow onlookers a chance to support the business with small investments of $100 or more. Ice cream never goes out of style, and the company is hoping to appeal not just to repeat customers, but anyone who thinks the sweet treat has growth potential.

Although this could be a long-term holding, the root idea is to eventually trade back the stake for a financial gain once the company has grown. In less than two days (since the campaign launched on September 28), Lick has already sold stakes worth more than $66,000 from 90 investors.

“This isn’t just an investment in terms of capital," said CEO Anthony Sobotik in a news release. "It’s an opportunity to own a piece of your favorite ice cream shop, shared memories, and a piece of Lick’s future. By investing, you’re supporting our dream and commitment to spread the Lick experience further, enabling Lick to support family-owned farms in a more significant way, and ensuring more people can truly know what they’re licking."

The ice cream shop has been in Austin since its inception in 2012, and now operates three stores in the area, plus stores in San Antonio, Houston, and College Station. The total store count is currently at eight, with a ninth coming to Houston's Autry Park "soon," according to the website. The release states intentions to use the crowdfunding to "build more scoop shops and expand into new markets," but does not specify which cities the brand is eyeing, or even if they are in Texas or farther away.

Some of the flavors pay homage to their Texas roots, like "Caramel Salt Lick," "Hill Country Honey & Vanilla Bean," and "Texas Sheet Cake." It is easy to see where ingredients come from, as suppliers are listed on the menu. Seasonal flavors right now include creative twists like "Back Porch Iced Tea" and "Fig & Fromage," sticking to Lick's script of interesting and local ingredients. The menu also includes a small number of dairy-free flavors.

“From our first scoop shop opening in 2011 to where Lick is now, it’s been an extraordinary journey. We’ve now served over a million scoops, and with each one, we’ve shared our commitment to and love for thoughtfully crafted, ethically, and sustainably-sourced and produced ice cream,” said Sobotik.

“But beyond just charming your taste buds, our flavors tell stories," he continued. "Those are the stories of favorite dishes, the family and friends we shared them with, and the farmers we work with. It’s a special connection that ice cream grants us, and it’s what really makes this our story, not just Lick’s story.”

More information and links to contribute to the campaign are available at microventures.com.

Hopdoddy mooves toward regenerative meats, nixing plant-based substitutes

86 the Beyond Patties

Hearty Austin-based chain Hopdoddy Burger Bar has unveiled a new lineup of regenerative burgers that are supposed to be better for the planet and the consumer.

The term ‘regenerative burger’ could cause a few head-scratches: Some may think of lab-grown or 3D-printed meat, while others think of plant-based alternatives but it’s neither. It is grass-fed meat, sourced a bit differently. "Regenerative farming" is a term used to describe farming and grazing practices that claim to restore and rebuild degraded soil, resulting in better-quality air and water.

Hopdoddy’s vice president of culinary Matt Schweitzer explained that it all began with with a sense of obligation to do better as a brand for the consumers and the ecosystem.

“We felt like we could really take a stand and look to move our entire supply chain in a regenerative fashion, so we could really be proud of the work we’ve done and we could hopefully leave the animals, the farmers, the ranchers, the native grasslands, and our planet a better place than before we started,” says Schweitzer.

The new menu items include the "Roosevelt Burger" with grass-fed regenerative bison; the "Nashville Hot Sandwich" with regenerative raised chicken; the "Regenerative Royale," which is a play on a classic double quarter-pounder with cheese; the "Mother Nature" with grass-fed regenerative beef; and the "Buffalo Bill" also uses regenerative bison, but appears not to be grass-fed.

The five burgers are available at all Hopdoddy locations nationwide. The beef and bison are sourced from Texas-based regenerative company Force of Nature, while the chicken is from Cooks Venture.

With this launch, Hopdoddy removes all plant-based meat substitutes from its menu, significantly reducing the options for vegans and vegetarians. The company felt the ingredients and ethos of the alternative meats — describing some such as Beyond Meats as "falsely advertised" regarding nutrition in a press release — no longer aligned with its values and mission. However, the house-made veggie patty remains on the signature "El Bandito" burger.

Schweitzer says the regenerative burgers have received positive feedback, as people are excited to know where their food comes from, how it gets to their table, and what type of impact it causes. Regarding the future of regenerative meat, he says there is no doubt it could become mainstream soon.

“I think the flavor profile, the eating experience, the story, the mission, the purpose, really speaks for itself," says Schweitzer. "So, I really think it’s a matter of time until 'regenerative' is talked about in the same way that 'organic,' or 'sustainable,' or those type of buzzwords are talked about."

To further show its commitment to regenerative agriculture, Hopdoddy is also one of the sponsors of Common Ground, a documentary about the pioneers of the regenerative movement, premiering October 4 in Austin. The "uplifting" film, according to a release, features well-known actors Laura Dern, Rosario Dawson, Jason Momoa, Woody Harrelson, Ian Somerhalder, and Donald Glover, emphasizing that this motley crew does share one thing in common: a strong belief in regenerative agriculture.

For more information about the new regenerative burgers, visit hopdoddy.com.

Rock star Bono's daughter makes her own sweet music in Flora and Son

Movie Review

The new Apple TV+ film Flora and Son centers on a single mother and her teenage son, a situation that typically calls for an uplifting story about the mother’s struggles trying to support the two of them, and the bond that develops between them as go through the troubles together. While that element exists somewhat here, it goes down a much different path that’s both saltier and equally as rewarding.

Eve Hewson and Oren Kinlan in Flora and Son

Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Eve Hewson and Oren Kinlan in Flora and Son.

Set in Dublin, Ireland, the film follows Flora (Eve Hewson), a single mom to Max (Oren Kinlan), who gets in a fair bit of trouble. She shares custody with her ex, Ian (Jack Reynor), and their antagonistic relationship, along with Max being a teenager, likely has an effect on how Flora and Max get along. A typical interchange between mother and son has them calling each other all sorts of bad names, although there rarely seems to be any true animosity behind their arguments.

When a guitar Flora refurbishes for Max goes unappreciated, she instead starts taking online lessons herself with an American named Jeff (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). She’s no less brash with him, but her sincere interest in learning how to play and in finding out more about Jeff’s music opens a new door for Flora. Soon, a discovery that Max is making music of his own on his laptop helps them communicate better than they have in a long time.

Flora & Son is the latest music-focused film from writer/director John Carney (Once, Sing Street), and he once again finds the sweet spot in telling a personal story enhanced by song. Flora has more than a few rough edges, making her a less-than-ideal protagonist, but the heart of the character shines through precisely because she has no filter. Once music is added to the equation, it become that much easier to see the type of person she is and why you should root for her.

Both Hewson and Gordon-Levitt are charming actors, so they establish a connection through a screen well. Fortunately, though, Carney chooses not to leave it at that, adding a slight fantasy element to some of their scenes by having Flora imagine Jeff in the room with her. A romantic element naturally arises, but it’s the unexpected way in which two lonely souls find each other from across the world that makes them the most interesting.

There are a couple of decent songs that come out of the process of all of the music-making, but nothing that you could truly call an earworm. Instead, it’s the feeling you get seeing the characters interact when they’re sharing music with each other that makes the film sing. Only one character could be classified as a professional musician, with the rest of them making music for the pure joy of it, an emotion Carney translates well in his storytelling.

Hewson (the daughter of U2’s Bono, in case you were unaware) is having a moment after 15 years in the business. She has a boldness that serves her as well in this role as it did in the recent Apple TV+ limited series, Bad Sisters. This is Kinlan’s first major part, and he acquits himself well. Both Gordon-Levitt and Reynor are seasoned actors who know how to make the most of their limited scenes.

The depiction of a mother/child relationship in Flora and Son is atypical, but it still winds up in a great spot thanks to the power of music and some fine performances. Carney’s love for both songs and filmmaking has yielded some memorable movies over the years, this one included.


Flora and Son opens in select theaters and on Apple TV+ on September 29.