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SimplySanAntonio NUMBER 5


Living on a hill (or even a mountain) top...

San Antonio is a fairly flat city, just 772 feet above sea level, so it comes as a surprise that some folks in the city and its immediate surroundings choose land, upon which to build a house, that is actually on a hilltop or hillside, if not a mountain top (a category used loosely here, for the nearest mountains are actually a fair distance north and west of the city). However, traversing the city, the surprise fades with the number of hilltops there really are. And, for that matter, how many houses actually get built “on high” – though generally no more than one or two per hilltop. As I’ve wandered the city these many years, traveling west on IH-10 towards the Hill Country, I’ve often wondered what type of person actually lives on a hill or mountain top. In my eagerness to learn more about that person, I’ve gone so far as to consult with psychologist friends, or those in research; folks who could tell me whether there is something psychological at play here or there are research papers published on the subject. Is it someone who is high-minded, someone with a superiority complex or someone who just enjoys being apart from others? It turns out I was making molehills into mountains. Having spoken on this subject with two couples and an individual who all live high up on a hill, it turns out to be none of that. Rather, it is folks who enjoy seeing a beautiful sunrise or sunset, want to get as far away from flooding as possible or just enjoy “being on top of things.”

In this issue of

SimplySanAntonio • The Secrets of Street Names and Home Values • Floor Slopes • Farmers’ Markets • YES! Non-Sport Activity Abounds in Our Schools Couple number one says: “The children were leaving home. The neighborhood with their friends and the proximity of the school bus stop seemed less important. A development with acreage on the border of the Hill Country was just opening. I saw 2 lots that seemed possible. One, nestled in a quiet dip at the end of a short dead end, had serene potential. A vision of a hillside covered with houses looking down on us, however, was a distinct future possibility. The other lot was on a hilltop looking north across tree-filled valleys. The lot included the down slope of the hill so no one could spoil the view. My wife and I were quite enchanted. Planning and building our home took some years and we then moved in. Quiet, peace and serenity were now ours. We were 25 minutes from work. A breeze was common. Summer temperatures were typically 10 degrees cooler than Continued next page

• Should I be part of a Homeowner Association or Not? • 3 Reasons NOT to Rake and Bag Leaves • Latest News from SABOR • New Regulations for Water Heaters • Grand Finalé: a Great Non-Sport School Activity Story!

Living on a hill (or even a mountain) top... Continued from front cover

the city. Dining al fresco, especially in Spring and Fall, was a delight.” Couple number two says: “We have LOVED being high on our hillside. Not a person comes in the front door who does not utter ‘WOW” (I did too!) when they see our view from the windows in the great room. We feel the same way as we watch the sunset, gathering storms, leaves change in the fall and new growth appear in the spring. We almost always have a breeze on the back porch. And while it can be a bit cooler here then in downtown San Antonio in the winter, the height and air movement is actually a frost deterrent. It can be a bit cooler here in summer, also. This is always a good thing.” Individual number one was quite succinct in his reply: “My wife insisted we buy the house. In the final analysis, I’m glad we did. I get no flooding on this hill top.”

As with most things in life, negative invariably shows its ugly face, even when there are mostly positives. However, in the case of the two couples above, the negatives are only slightly so. Couple number one: “Years have passed and San Antonio has extended its reach. The valleys are filled with grey-roofed houses. It takes 25 minutes now, just to get to the expressway. Our view of the distant hills and beautiful sunrises and sunsets remains untrammeled. Even when a long day means coming home well after dark, we look out into the night and the space is quite calming. We are so pleased we chose the lot on top of the mountain and aim to live here for as long as possible.” And couple number two states: “We love the privacy the hillside affords us, and the total quiet in our backyard. We feel fortunate that a park/flood plain is directly behind us, so while we see lots of houses now to the left and the right, we will always be secluded.”

The Secrets of Street Names and Home Values By Spencer Rascoff and Stan Humphries In “Romeo and Juliet,” the young Miss Capulet poses one of literature’s most famous questions: “What’s in a name?” When it comes to a street name, the answer is: a lot. Street names tell stories. They tell us if a neighborhood is expensive or affordable, brand-new or decades old. With street names alone, we can uncover all kinds of insights. This might seem surprising, especially given the relatively random process by which streets get their names. A real estate developer might come up with a motif that seems relevant to a particular place, or just an arbitrary theme—Caribbean, equestrian or United States presidents. Some developers hold competitions among employees and then pick the winning names. The local government usually takes a look at the resulting map, just to make sure names won’t confuse mail carriers or ambulance drivers. And that’s about it. But if you look at enough data, patterns start to emerge. Even randomness has an order. Turning to the same database we use to estimate and analyze home values, we looked at years of data about sales and listings. We learned three things about the relationship between home values and street names: First, names are better than numbers. Second, lanes are better than streets. Third, unusual names are better than common ones. Imagine that one of us (Spencer) lives on 10th Street and the other (Stan) lives on Elm Street. With only this information, we can guess that Stan’s house is probably worth more than Spencer’s. On average, homes on named streets are 2 percent more valuable than those on numbered streets. (We looked only at single-family homes, condos and co-ops. Large apartment buildings, especially in New York City, would skew the data.) For some cities, this named-street premium is higher—greater than 20 percent on average in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Riverside, Calif., and San Francisco. We found only three cities where name streets don’t have the upper hand. In Atlanta and New York, named and numbered streets are roughly equal. Denver is the sole city where numbered streets are more valuable. Next we looked at street suffixes—the “roads”, “drives” and “boulevards”— and found that, for instance, homes on “Washington Street” are usually different from homes on “Washington Court.” For one thing, a house on Washington Street is probably older. Different street suffixes were popular at different moments. “Streets” and “avenues” were stylish in the 1950s, “ways,” “circles” and “courts” in the late ‘80s. Street suffixes also offer clues about the size of their neighborhood. Boulevards and avenues include the most homes on average, while courts and lanes include the fewest. Most significantly, suffixes have a lot to say about home prices. Homes on “streets” are almost always among the least valuable. If you’re looking for a higher-value home, you’re much more likely to find it on a “Way” or a “Place.” Continued on page 3

FLOORLOPES S Greg Sethness, P.E.

There are four basic parameters that are looked at when evaluating a foundation: floor slopes, cracks, surface water drainage, and structural issues (sagging, damaged or improper structural members). Floor slope readings more accurately portray how much movement has occurred in a building then cracks do. The floor slope in percentage terms is the drop of the floor divided by the distance over which the drop occurs, times 100. Certain floor slopes (about 1%) are acceptable for older homes (say over 20 years old). Of course a new house should be level except for the garage and porch floors, which are normally built with slope for drainage toward the driveway or yard. A 1% floor slope is 1” of drop in 100 linear inches (8’4”). So a 1” drop across a kitchen floor 8’ 4” wide is normally acceptable for a 20 year old home. A 2% floor slope (1” of drop in 4’ 2”) is noticeable to everyone and not considered to be normal. If your house’s floors are off 4”, that may sound like a lot, but in a 33’ distance being off 4” is a 1% slope which is acceptable for an older home. You should not hire someone to level your home without first knowing what the floor slope percents are in each room. One average floor slope reading for the whole house is not definitive enough, because the floor slopes are usually not the same in each room. Levelling is normally done when the floor slopes are about 2% over a significant floor area. When purchasing a home you should know if the slope of the floor, in each room, is normal or not.

Farmers’ Markets Shopping for Fruits and Vegetables - Food Safety

Visiting a farmers’ market is a fun way to find locally grown foods. In Texas, there are hundreds of farmers’ markets offering seasonal produce, eggs, honey, baked goods and other items for sale. For many, shopping is an opportunity to interact with growers and learn about the foods being produced in the local area. Here are some tips on how to make your trip more enjoyable: • Bring cash. Not all markets take checks, credit cards or coupons. Small bills are usually welcomed by vendors • Select produce at farmers’ markets the same way you do at the grocery store. Avoid overripe produce or produce with bruises, mold, cuts or other blemishes that can result in poor quality or contamination by bacteria • BYOB—Bring your own bag. Canvas bags hold up well and can be washed and reused for the next trip • Go early for the best selection. Some items may be on sale at the end of the day but popular items sell out fast • Buy only what you can use within a few days, otherwise the produce may spoil and go to waste • The quality of fresh produce begins to decline after it is picked, so get it home right away Courtesy of Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service.

The Secrets of Street Names and Home Values

Continued from page 2

Which brings us to our third rule: You should also look at streets with uncommon names. Nationally, the most common street names tend to have the lowest home values. Look at Main Street. It’s by far the most common street name in America. It’s also the least valuable. Main Street homes are worth, on average, about 4 percent less than America’s median. On the other side of the spectrum are street names such as “Lake” and “Sunset.” Homes on “Lake” average 16 percent more than the national median home value, and “Sunset” houses are a close second. We aren’t recommending that you start a petition to rename your street. Correlation is not causation. Homes on “Lake” aren’t more valuable because of the name; generally they’re more valuable because the descriptive name reflects a truth about the real estate. In this case, they’re probably next to—you guessed it—a lake. And of course, all of these rules reflect broad national trends. There are plenty of exceptions; like politics, all home values, trends and characteristics are local. No matter, where you look, however, street names have meaning. They are artifacts from a neighborhood’s genesis, bearing data that we finally can uncover. Just a few years ago, real estate information was guarded in county courthouses and secret databases. Shopping for a home was like being in a dark room. An agent might shine a flashlight on two or three homes—but all you wanted was to flip the switch and see it all for yourself. Today, real estate information is more transparent and democratized; the connection between street names and home values is only the beginning. Buying, selling, renting, regulating, and financing all have been illuminated. Spencer Rascoff is chief executive and Stan Humphries is chief economist of Zillow. They are the authors of “Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate.”

YES! Non-Sport Activity Abounds in Our Schools The San Antonio media’s seeming obsession with sports belies the fact that other activities abound in this city, including activities at our schools. And, for that matter, many schools play the same game as the media, announcing on their lighted signs outside of schools that the next scheduled football or volleyball game is to be played Thursday or Friday night. But what about those other activities in schools? Are there any non-sport activities and, if so, what are they? To answer such a question, I first visited the website www.uiltexas. org where I learned that the University Interscholastic League was created by the University of Texas at Austin in 1910. It exists to provide extracurricular academic, athletic and music activities among schools, administered by teachers and administrators. Schools are divided into conferences, based on size, with categories of 6A, 5A, 4A, 3A, 2A or 1A. In addition, the UIL provides students with educational experiences through competition and sponsors regional conferences, clinics and tournaments for athletic, music, drama, and academic contests. Having a son who some years ago participated in Lincoln-Douglas debate at a local high school, I visited the website, www.speechanddebate.org (National Speech & Debate Association), which suggests that, similar to athletic sports, speech and debate is challenging, competitive in nature and requires regular practice, coaching dedication and hard work. Speech and debate events include commentary, declamation, dramatic interpretation, impromptu, original oratory, prose, and Lincoln-Douglas debate, among others. Looking still further, according to websites of school districts in the metro area and information provided by Public Information Officers in various district offices, a plethora of activities abound in schools. These activities incudes many classes and clubs which compete on the UIL level alongside football, basketball, volleyball, and other athletic events. According to Leslie Garza, former Public Information officer at Harlandale ISD, and Vice President of the San Antonio Public Information Officers’ Public Relations Association, in-class / extracurricular activities cater to a wide variety of interests. These include Current Events, Debate-Speech, Journalism, Literary Criticism, Math, One-Act Plays, Prose and Poetry, Ready Writing, Computer Science, Robotics, Academic Decathlon, Marching Band, Orchestra, Choir, and Theatre Arts. Monica Ruiz-Mills, the Fine Arts administrator at

Harlandale, says “Fine arts are an integral component of the school curriculum and cannot be learned as an occasional or random exposure; they require skill development just like any other subject. They provide students with a complete 360-degree education, educating the whole child. Students learn at various levels and process information differently, while creating critical thinking skills and analyzing content, using the whole brain and not just the right-brained theory. “Music allows for students to express themselves in a true authentic aesthetic manner, one which cannot be assessed by a standardized measurement. When students participate in extracurricular activities, they want to come to school because they can identify themselves as a musician, thespian, or cheerleader, giving themselves a sense of belonging while competing, both formally and informally, against others.”

Harlandale’s McCollum High School Theatre

I also had the opportunity to visit with John Muñoz, the Robotics instructor and club sponsor at Alamo Heights High School, who says, “The students that like to design, program, build and market are also celebrated on campus, alongside athletes. As part of a league called First Robotics, the Alamo Heights robotics class has a ‘preseason’ when the students will work on many projects that will help mold them into responsible adults. Our team will be building and programming our robots for future competition. “In addition, they will be marketing, fundraising, outreaching and mentoring, speaking directly to our strategic plan of learning, being engaged, challenged and relevant.” Continued on page 5

YES! Non-Sport Activity Abounds in Our Schools Working towards a common goal, the students learn each other’s positive and negative traits, and how to deal with them. They recognize that in order to do well in competition, they will need to rely on each other’s strengths. Jesse Rosart-Brodnitz, a student in Mr. Muñoz’ class, says “In Robotics, we learn programming, wiring, designing, 3-D modeling, team building and interaction skills. We are even taught, and get to experience first-hand, engineering design process. Going to the competition also gives students the true feeling of being on a team and the satisfaction of knowing that they have built something very cool.” So, let’s give due credit to non-sport competitive activity in our schools. In-school classes, and by extension, clubs associated with them, help to mold our children into fuller human beings. And let’s look forward to the day the signs in front of our schools announce that Football, Debate, Robotics, and One-Act Play competition will all be on next week’s schedule!

Continued from page 4

Students at Alamo Heights High School Robotics Club

Should I be part of a Homeowner Association or not? The choice may not be yours. If you want to know about the attractiveness of a subdivision, whether it maintains a high or low standard you find comfortable, stand outside and look in. The point is, odds are the entrance will be a good starting point as it will more than likely reflect the inside’s look and upkeep. If the human nature of the people in the subdivision (how residents interface with each other and whether they treat the environs in a clean way) is your main objective, your best bet, short of riding around and getting to know the residents, is to check with the homeowner What about a neighbor with a trailer in his driveway? association (HOA). Once you’ve made contact, you could find out additional information by acquiring the rules and regulations (covenants) through which the HOA governs. In fact, I strongly recommend you do both, since homeowner associations are not all created equal, nor do they offer the same amenities such as a pool, tennis courts, walking or biking trails or clubhouse. Very recently, some folks I know were looking around our metro area for a house. The man steadfastly stated he did not want to live in a subdivision with a HOA, believing associations dictate rules he didn’t necessarily agree with. If you’re the type who is fastidious about your house and property, a HOA with stringently enforced rules might be for you. It invariably keeps a steady and watchful eye on residents and the neighborhood. If, on the other hand, you don’t agree that fences should be standard height, or think that it’s OK for cars to be parked in the street and dogs to roam the neighborhood alone and poop on any lawn they choose, think twice about where you’ll live. I live in a subdivision with a pool and tennis courts. The HOA charges $230 a year, mainly to keep the center esplanade mowed twice a month and pay lifeguards during the summer months. They do, however, have an architectural review committee that judges plans you present to change the look of your property, especially an addition to, or deletion from it. Continued on page 6

Should I be part of a Homeowner Association or not? Continued from previous page Other homeowner associations may charge the same amount, or more; the price varies dramatically. I know of one HOA that charges more than $3000 per year and, save for a guard and gate at the front entrance, offers little else. Others may do more, but unquestionably not less than my subdivision. For instance, a friend lives in a subdivision whose HOA won’t allow cars to park on the street overnight, nor have garbage cans left in front or alongside the house, “exposed” to passers-by. HOA regulations run the gamut, but will certainly include what front landscaping can look like, i.e. xeriscaping versus growing a lawn or letting it go to weeds; placing religious symbols a distance from the house (generally controlled by a city ordinance); types of vehicles that can be parked on the street or in your driveway (no RVs or trailers for example); permissible types or the height of fences (generally not the popular Texas white picket variety); or where a garbage can can be placed (likely in a garage or on the side, but out of sight). If you want to do anything different then what is called for in the HOA rules, you will have to ask for a variance. Depending on where you live, many rules are generally superseded by city or township regulations. Residents of another subdivision allowed their dogs to run free and left garbage cans on the street beyond the pick-up day. If either of those is a concern, I recommend checking further with the HOA to see what’s allowable and what isn’t. Oh, by the way, the friend who didn’t want a homeowner association did find a house without a HOA and now can have his trailer parked on his property, albeit in a detached garage / workshop a distance from his house.

3 Reasons not to rake and bag leaves. By Dr. Calvin Finch Leaves are reservoirs of nutrients and sources of organic material that can be recycled to your soil. The easiest way to achieve this recycling is to just let them decompose where they fall on the lawn. To speed up the process of decomposition, run the lawn mower over the leaves on the lawn. They will disappear in three to six weeks and the soil will be better for it.

Mulched Beds

If your neatness genes will not permit you to let leaves lie even for three-to-six weeks, rake them up. Raking is good exercise and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Use the piles of leaves as mulch for the shrub border and the gardens. Leaf mulch reduces water evaporation, keeps the soil cool, reduces weed pressure and adds nutrients to the soil. A newly planted tree with six inches of mulch over the root system will grow as much as 40 percent faster than a tree that has lawn grass growing up to the trunk. A mulched tree is also less likely to be damaged by a string mower because grass is not growing against the trunk.

Compost Pile

Leaves are basic raw material for the compost pile. Fill a five-foot circle formed by four-foot high hog-wire with leaves mixed with a cup of lawn fertilizer for every one foot of depth and wetted every week. The material will decompose to compost in one to two months. Use the compost as soil conditioner in your vegetable and flower gardens.

Gifts for Gardeners

If you are still not convinced that your leaves are too valuable to bag and be wasted in the landfill, consider giving the bagged leaves to a neighbor. Keep them available long enough to place a note in your neighborhood newsletter or to ask a few neighbors if there is anyone they know that might want them. A harsh message from one HOA which would no doubt be even more effective with correct spelling !

Enjoy the autumn leaf color and recycle your leaves. It makes sense for your landscape and the environment.

Latest news from the San Antonio Board of REALTORS速

Did you know there are new Federal regulations for water heaters? Beginning April 16, 2015, the minimum Energy Factor (EF) ratings for virtually all residential water heaters increased. An EF rating measures the annual efficiency of a water heater – a higher EF means a more efficient water heater. Manufacturers can no longer produce units that do not meet the new standards. Products manufactured prior to April 16, 2015 can continue to be purchased and installed.

For 20–55 gallon water heaters: Both gas and electric water heaters between 20-55 gallons now have more insulation. This means they could be up to 2 inches taller and wider, which means some units may not fit in current installation sites. (e.g. small closet)

For water heaters over 55 gallons:

Call me with your real estate related questions. Whether it’s your first time, or you’re moving up or downsizing, I represent sellers and buyers of fine homes, as well as investment and commercial properties.

David Simon Realtor®, SRES (210) 573-0643


Both gas and electric water heaters over 55 gallons now have unique installation requirements and use a new condensing technology. Electric water heaters over 55 gallons are required to use heat pump technology, which calls for the installation of a condensate disposal line, and the provision of sufficient air volume to accommodate the heat source, which may prevent installation in smaller spaces.

And for our grand finalé....One more great story about nonsport activity in our schools Elena Lopez performs Diva’s Lament, from Monty Python’s Spamalot, winning first place at the 2014 Thespian Fest in Dallas. At the time, Elena was a Junior at O’Connor High School here in San Antonio. That’s the story – now watch the movie of her incredible performance on YouTube.

14855 Blanco Rd, Suite 403, San Antonio, Texas 78216 Your referrals are always welcome.


In this fast-changing city and metro area in which we live, it behooves us to stay in touch with the old as well as the new. Change touches all of us. Thus the mission of SimplySanAntonio is to highlight change and how it affects us, as homeowners, so that we can make the most of the present and keep a watchful eye on the future.


Profile for Elm Grove Publishing

Simply San Antonio No.5  

For Residents, Visitors or Anyone Passing Through

Simply San Antonio No.5  

For Residents, Visitors or Anyone Passing Through


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