Month: September 2015


Apple Inc. is transforming a 38-acre wooded lot in Austin into its largest global operation outside of Silicon Valley.  Apple has pledged to create 3,600 new jobs while retaining at least 3,100 existing jobs.  If Apple reaches those hiring figures, it would make it the second-largest technology employer in Central Texas behind Dell Inc., which has about 14,000 local workers.  When Apple completes its Austin campus next year, it will boast 1.1 million square feet of space including restaurants, a gym and a wellness center.  Apple’s new campus is responsible for running the company’s business operations for the Western Hemisphere.

TransUnion, one of the three major credit reporting agencies, reports that this year 700,000 U.S. consumers will be capable of re-entering the housing market, and within the next five years, that population (called “Boomerang Buyers”) is expected to grow to 2.2 million.Between 2006 and 2014, TransUnion was able to track 180 million consumers, and in 2006, 48% (78 million) of that population had a mortgage, and 8% (7 million) of that group had trouble repaying that loan between 2006 and 2009. By December 2014, 18% (about 1.3 million) had rebuilt their credit to meet Fannie Mae underwriting guidelines, and TransUnion estimates 2.2 million of the remaining 5.7 million former homeowners will rebuild their credit to that point within the next five years.To be considered eligible to re-enter the mortgage market for this study, consumers have to have no unpaid judgments, garnishments or outstanding liens; no accounts past due; a FICO credit score of at least 620; and enough time elapsed between the negative event occurred and when they wish to re-enter the mortgage market (i.e. four years after a short sale and seven years after a foreclosure), according to TransUnion. Even among the 18% of consumers who have rebounded from the credit damage they sustained during the financial crisis, the majority (58%) have yet to re-enter the mortgage market.

Fort Worth-based Dollamur, is the largest manufacturer of wrestling, martial arts, gymnastics and cheerleading mats in the US.  Dollamur expects to ship about 6.3 million square feet of mats in 2015 to customers all over the US and sales are up 20% over 2014.  The company’s high-density vinyl mats are used at more than 5,000 high schools and colleges, as well as at U.S. Olympic trials, Ultimate Fighting Championship tournaments, and World Cup and NCAA competitions.  The company has grown from 80 employees in 2013 to over 100 full times employees in 2015, and plans to continue growing at or above 20% each year.

The Texas Comptroller’s early September report shows the pre-recession Texas employment peaked at 10,638,100 in August 2008, a level that was surpassed in November 2011, and by July 2015 Texas added an additional 1,188,400 jobs. Job growth, sales tax collections and building permits all signal that the Texas economy continues to outpace the national economy.  Over the past year, Texas added jobs in 9 of the 11 major industries, including professional and business services, trade, transportation and utilities, leisure and hospitality, education and health services, construction, government, financial activities, information, and other services. The Texas unemployment rate has been at or below the national rate for 103 consecutive months.

Developers are launching construction of the largest new real estate project yet in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood. Investor Westdale Properties and StreetLights Residential plan to build a 17-story apartment tower just south of Baylor Medical Center. Called The Case Building, the 337-unit tower at Main and Hall streets will be the first high-rise apartment in Deep Ellum. To fit into the old commercial district, the new apartment tower will be built in what the developers call an “industrial style.” Rental units will have 10-foot concrete ceilings, exposed brick walls and open metal shelving in the kitchens.


DIY Patios: What to Consider When Designing a Patio

Adding a patio to your home is exciting. It’s the perfect place for relaxing outdoors, alone or with company. It’s not as simple as finding a patio you admire and duplicating it, however. You have to design a patio that will work with your location, budget and other factors. Here are some things to consider when designing your patio to ensure it suits your needs while expressing your personality and style.

Patio Location

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to location. No rule says a patio has to adjoin the rear of the house. You may prefer placing it in the front yard, or off to the side instead. A beautiful “destination patio” in the middle of the backyard with a pathway leading to it may fit your home and lifestyle perfectly.

When deciding on your patio location, keep in mind other design considerations such as the size, how you plan to use it, and how much sun, shade or climate protection the location offers. Even the land itself influences the patio location. A more level area, free of underground lines, requires less work to prepare. (Always call 811 before digging. Utility companies will dispatch and mark underground items for you.)

Don’t forget the view, either. Plan on laying out in your swimsuit? You may want a more private location. Socializing with the neighbors allows for a more open setting.

How Will You Use the Patio?

Just as important as the patio location is how you plan to use it. A patio meant as a private retreat may not be very relaxing next to a full, active house, for example, while a patio meant for dining and cooking works best closer to the home.

Do you plan to host small, intimate gatherings or do you have a large family? Will children and pets regularly use the space? Rather than a flat, simple rectangular patio, would you rather have various areas, perhaps with different shapes or levels, to create groupings for different times and purposes? Look for patios you admire to spark your design ideas.

Patio Size

Size is everything. Depending on your budget, you may have to limit the size of your patio, change the layout or compromise on special features. Don’t think of your patio as a one-time chance to get it right, either. You can always keep the design expandable and add the extras later, as money permits.

Create a Budget

Your budget will impact not only the size and layout, but also the building materials you choose. Don’t assume that a limited budget means your patio has to be plain. Even concrete can be made beautiful with stains and special finishing techniques. Brick allows for a richer color variation, and pavers can create an old-world feel. Once you have determined the patio size, location and layout, it’s much easier to price the materials needed. Consider adding graceful curves, beautiful planters or special borders to make up for less-fancy materials.

Decide on Extras

It’s the furnishings and features that make a patio your favorite place to hang out. Also consider any irrigation, drainage, landscaping and lighting you want to include. It’s much easier to run pipes, lines and cables now, before the patio is built, than later. Other options include:

A fire pit

A built-in grill (or space for your portable grill)

A water fountain or pool

Built-in seating or flowerbeds

Steps and railings

A roof and screened-in areas

Walls or fences

A built-in kitchen or bar

As you plan your patio, look for other patios you admire and modify the elements that catch your eye to suit your own design. Designing and planning your new patio is really the fun part. Well, other than the hours you will spend enjoying the end result!

10 Projects to “Green” Your Home

“Going green” means living in a way that’s environmentally friendly. It uses less water, less electricity, and less fuel, conserving natural resources while protecting the environment. It also saves money on utility bills, which is something all homeowners can appreciate. From simple to elaborate, here are a few ways to green your house and property.

Focus On the Light

Replacing your most-used light bulbs with CFLs will lower your electric bill while producing less heat and lasting longer than your incandescent bulbs.

While you’re at it, consider adding dimmer switches, motion sensors, and timers for when you’re away from home in the evening. Also, keep your light bulbs clean: Dirt and grease coats the bulbs and not only reduces the available light, but causes the bulb to burn out sooner.

Mix Your Own Cleaners

Many commercial cleaning products contain bleach and other harsh chemicals. Switch to natural products and solutions you mix up yourself. Clean up hard water deposits with vinegar, for instance, or use it to wash your windows. White vinegar mixed with hydrogen peroxide also sanitizes countertops (killing 99 percent of E. coli).

Go Low-Flow

Low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators (the tip that screws on to the nozzle) cost little and can save about half the water without sacrificing water pressure. Low-flow toilets are another option. Look for a water-saving toilet displaying the WaterSense label. Alternatively, fill a 2-liter bottle with water and drop it in the toilet tank to displace some of the water. This will force the toilet to use less water per flush.

If you’re in the market for a new water heater, consider choosing a tankless water heater. It allows you to use the same amount of water, but it heats the water only when it’s needed, so you save a lot of energy. Wrapping a conventional (tank-based) water heater with a special insulation and insulating all the hot-water pipes also conserves energy.

Spread the Greenery

To really green your house and property, visit your local plant and tree nursery. Outdoors, shade trees not only cut your cooling costs (up to 25 percent), but in the winter, trees and shrubs also break the wind and affect your heating costs. Inside, plants not only make a home feel more comfortable, they also help purify the air and produce oxygen.

Reduce VOCs

Indoors and out, you’re surrounded by volatile organic compounds. VOCs are any carbon-containing substance that “off-gasses” (meaning it becomes a vapor, or evaporates) at room temperature. VOCs pose a significant health hazard. Paints, varnishes, cigarette smoke, pesticides, gasoline and other fuels, various glues and adhesives, cosmetic products, automotive exhaust, even cleaning products are but a few of the items that contain VOCs. When painting, look for low VOC paints, particularly those featuring the Green Seal.

Look for the Energy Star Logo

Getting rid of old appliances and upgrading to new, energy-efficient models can save you a significant amount of money. The EPA suggests replacing any appliance older than 10 years. Select models displaying the Energy Star logo to ensure energy efficiency.

Plant a Garden

Gardening can be a soothing activity, but this project also ensures you have healthy food. Home-grown food costs drastically less, enhances the outdoor environment, and reduces the environmental impact of commercially-bought food. Even if you have a small property, you can use containers and hanging devices to maximize your growing space.

Reduce Your Need for Paper

Register for paperless billing with utility and finance companies, and stop getting as much unsolicited mail as possible. The Federal Trade Commission offers a guide on how to “just say no” to junk mail.

Use Reclaimed Wood

Have a DIY project needing wood? “Used” wood is environmentally friendly and creates a beautiful look. Salvaged lumber can be used anywhere regular wood is used. You can even get creative and build a fence with wood pallets, for instance.

Move the Air

Insulating and sealing your home is critical. Another simple project to lower your heating and cooling costs is installing ceiling fans. In the winter, set the rotation to push warm air downward; in the summer, switch the blade rotation to draw warm air up instead. Moving air makes it feel cooler in the summer as well, allowing you to keep the thermostat a little higher.

As you green your home and lifestyle, be on the lookout for additional incentives. You may be eligible for tax benefits for some energy-saving projects. Going green doesn’t have to be expensive,