Greetings from Gruene! Second Shelters contributor Andrew Chalk was kind enough to head south to the Texas Hill Country and check out second/vacation home real estate in the beautiful New Braunfels area:
New Braunfels may be the most popular location in Texas for vacation homes. Little wonder, given the natural beauty of the Guadalupe and Comal rivers, the rolling countryside of the southern rim of the Texas Hill Country, picturesque village of Gruene and amenities. Recently, I was the guest of the New Braunfels Convention & Visitors Bureau for a few days. Over the next few weeks, I am going to write about different facets of the New Braunfels area for the prospective vacation home buyer. You’ll want to stay tuned. I will address all price points and also cover a little of the lifestyle of the area. Today… I’m gaga for Gruene.
Gruene is a historic Victorian town that has been carefully preserved to keep its small town atmosphere. I could walk my dog the length and breadth of the town each morning because it was so compact and our accommodations were perfectly located, just on the edge of the village. We stayed in one of the condominiums at The Village at Gruene. This development was completed in 2008 and offers single level homes on three floors serviced by an elevator situated at the front of the building but cleverly disguised as a grain silo. Local real estate agent Susan Phillips of A1 Vacation Realty is a realtor at The Village at Gruene and manages 13 properties for their owners. She showed us a three bedroom unit similar to the one that we stayed in, on the market for $364,900, fully-furnished. A buyer could purchase today and lease it out tomorrow. Rental rates are $375 per night in the October-through-March off season and $500 in the peak season. HOA fees run about $240/month.
Candy baby, here is your Hill Country version of Christian Louboutin: a four-master suite penthouse available for a cool $1m. The balcony is the largest in the complex and features a large bar and game area. With those four master bedrooms several couples could be here comfortably, simultaneously.
The view from the top floor penthouse is of the Guadalupe down through the trees (shown in summer).
Holiday rentals dominate Gruene Road going into town. Recession, what recession? There are signs posted everywhere about new construction. Condominiums and townhomes are the dominant new property types in the village. Houses are more common in some of the other area that we will discuss in future articles. Readers should be aware that the New Braunfels area has strict zoning ordinances regarding how residential real estate can be used for vacation rentals. In order to avoid running afoul of these, do work with a local broker.
The layout of the town of Gruene is unusual. From The Village at Gruene we found we could either walk along the road to the center of town (about 300 yards) or take a parallel path that was rather like walking through each property’s back yard (though quite legally). It is actually a path that preserves the privacy of residential properties while letting you take a bee-line to restaurants and bars on the way to town. At night it was easy to find the action as live music is ubiquitous in Gruene. Gruene Hall is reputed to be Texas’ oldest dance hall and has hosted such stars as Willie Nelson, George Strait, Leon Russell, Asleep at the Wheel and Ray Wylie Hubbard. They were unfortunate to miss us on our February visit but the hall was still alive with live music all day Saturday and Sunday. The temperature reached 70ºF during the day so languid evenings allowed outdoor live country music performances at a nearby bar. The wine tasting bar just 100 yards north of the center of town also had a full patio late into the evening.
We ate at the famous Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar, so named because it used to be an old cotton gin. The location, perched over the Guadalupe, is spectacular and the menu of familiar chicken, beef and fish dishes, along with sandwiches and soups, is priced at a point where ordinary families find it affordable. At Saturday lunch over 300 diners were there and the restaurant was only about half full.
We found it possible to get into all venues and there were spare parking places at the weekend when we were there. However, the situation is very different in the summer. The large outfitters’ parking lots on the Guadalupe that were empty in February are packed in the summer. The river looks like a parking lots of ‘toobers’ (as tubers are called), and parking and restaurant reservations are tight. This is when vacation rentals can really pay for themselves.
I spoke to mortgage broker James Racanelli who is based in New Braunfels and lives in Gruene. He says that mortgages are available, but the conventional 30-year fixed rate is difficult. Most buyers would use a 5 year ARM with a 15 year amortization and rates on a vacation home will run about an 1/8th or a ¼ of a percentage point above those on a first home. This includes condominiums. The big change since the “nuffin’ down, buy from yer prison cell” days of 2007 is that good credit is essential, and lenders check.
Gruene is not only just minutes off I-35, it is also only 40 miles from Austin and 30 from San Antonio. Dallas is a more robust 240 miles and Houston is about 160 miles away. That adds up to major accessibility from all major population centres of Texas. Susan Phillips described how the mix of visitors changed seasonally. In the summer the village is populated by short-term guests from Houston, Dallas, College Station, Austin and even Mexico. In the winter there are longer-term guests who come in January and stay through the end of March. They hail from such places as Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada. The Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce throws a large reception for them. There is a also a corporate relocation market that creates a demand for temporary lets.