Episode #4 – Collin Pemberton from Whisper Valley gives us a look at the most technologically advanced Agri-Community in America.
On this episode of Agrihood Radio, we catch up with lifestyle director, Collin Pemberton. Collin discusses Austin area’s new master planned Agri-Community, Whisper Valley. This is a 2,100 acre property that’s going to offer 7,500 residential residential units.
We learned about two-thirds of those are going to be single-family, detached units and about one-third will be multifamily, duplex-condo, townhomes.
Whisper Valley also includes a thermal energy supply system, in the form of geothermal heating and cooling loop field into the ground.
This was set in place before any of the homes were actually built.
Collin explains how all the new homes of Whisper Valley will have solar panels and Google Fiber.
Whisper Valley will also offer the Nest and the Google Nest package for the SmartHome features as well. We also discussed the special tax advantages and incentives, the FT5695 federal tax credit.
New homeowners are getting a return of up to 30% of the value of their homes renewable energy system. This adds up to approximately $7,000 to $10,000 upon moving in.
There’s also plans for 2,000,000 square feet of commercial space which will include shops, retail, restaurant, coffee shops, juice bars, all the cool and trendy things Austin is known for.
Enjoy the interview!
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Brett: Hey Collin, how’s it going buddy?
Collin: Hey, Doing well. Thank you, Brett.
Brett: Cool, I want to catch up with you. We were out there a couple of weeks ago and we are super impressed with what Whisper Valley has going on. In our travels, we haven’t seen a community that has so much high tech features. You guys, are I mean net zero, Google Fiber, it’s really up there. So give us a little bit about what’s going on with that, and then I want to talk about the future the development of the shops and stuff like that.
Collin: OK yeah, sure. So basically we are a master planning community out here in the east, right off the new toll road 130. We’re a 2,100 acre property and we’re going to have 7500 units. About 2 thirds of those are going to be single-family, detached units and about one 3rd of those are going to be multifamily, duplex-condo, townhome. We’ll have it all. But what’s so interesting about Whisper Valley is that we actually installed a thermal energy supply system, in the form of geothermal heating and cooling loop field into the ground before any of the homes were actually built out here. So essentially what the home builders are doing, is they’re hooking up to our geo grid allowing them to operate the heating and cooling of the house with the ground source heat pump. So we’re reducing our electricity consumption, kind of widespread across the development and then we’re also installing all the new homes with solar panels as well. And then as you mentioned we have the Google Fiber. Then we also offer the Nest, and the Google Nest package for the SmartHome features as well. So that’s kind of what we’re working with right now at least. And then in the terms of the future, we’re going to have 2,000,000 square feet of commercial. So you’ll see shops, retail, restaurant, coffee shops, juice bars, kind of the local Austin things. We’re going to try and kind of keep that vibe, as they say, keep it weird and we’re definitely going to try and do that.
Brett: On your site it says, you’re an environmentally, sensitive development, dedicated to energy, efficiency, and cutting edge technology. I mean that’s super cool, as far as getting those houses right into net zero, right?
Collin: Yeah, so zero energy capable. So essentially with the ground source heat pump, as I said we’re going to be reducing the electricity consumption by about 50-60 percent. Most of the heating and cooling is going to take up your electricity bill, especially in Texas but then when you add the solar ray you’ve reduced the electricity consumption. And now we’re going to have solar on the rooftops. That is when you’re going to start finding a very, very energy efficient home. and that’s what we’re doing out here.
Brett: On top of that, talk to me about the advantage of special tax incentives.
Collin: Yeah sure so all the homeowners that purchased a house out here, they are going to receive a federal tax credit in the form of, I think it’s FT5695 federal tax credit. But basically, they are getting 30 percent back of the value of your homes renewable energy system. So the solar P.V. system including the installation and then the geothermal heating and cooling system which we’ve kind of broke it down into the total cost and then divided it by the lots for the piping, as well as the heat pump. The homeowners are getting about 7,000 to 10,000 back in tax credits as well, upon moving in.
Brett: That a one lump sum deal, right?
Collin: I mean we’re kind of in to do things differently. And where we’re really trying, but yes so the tax credit is a huge incentive especially for those 1st time home buyers, so pretty happy to have that.
Brett: You know we’ve seen to date now 21 different properties across America and I can honestly say there’s none that come to mind right now and don’t quote me on this; but none that come to mind right now, that are doing things exactly like you guys are doing it. And that’s pretty cutting edge technology Collin.
Collin: Yeah it really is and I definitely will quote you on that one, just, kidding. But yes so we’re the 1st of its kind doing the kind of master plan geo-grid community. But really we’re really just trying to connect man with nature. We have a lot of hiking bike trails, open green space, but then yes we also are going to definitely post the cutting edge technology, in the form of the geo-grid that we have here.
Brett: I also want to compliment you guys on that community center. Your lifestyle director, you know visitor center, or whatever you guys want to label it. It’s spot on because it’s such a nice feature to have, for potential home buyers like our family. My wife and I come into a community we have never been to before; we have only seen it on the website. By the way, the website is fantastic and I want to have you share that in a minute. But walking into that visitor center, the community center and have the knowledge, the personality and the warm welcome that you guys gave us, honest to God again and I’m not just b.s.’n you guys. This is really, really a great feature you guys are doing there as far as getting people familiar with how your community is being set up. But then, also making it easy for them to make a buying decision, if they decide that an Agrihood is for them. So you guys are doing everything right the right way, so good on you for that.
Collin: Yes, we try to be available to everyone here at the center. We are open 7 days a week. Yes, it is a marketing and sales center but we’re going to talk to the homeowners if they stop in and then obviously potential homeowners, like you and your family or anyone who stops in. We have a bunch of educational pieces about the geothermal, how the system works, the Eco-Smart system. And then we have a lot of just different informational materials here in the center about Austin, things to do. And then we plan a lot of events at this nice community center as well.
Brett: You have the BOSCH show Kitchen which is pretty cool. What I like about it is you know, sometimes you walk into a development and they want to sell you a house. And my wife said something when we first started this journey. She said, let’s find a community first that feels right and then the house buying part is going to be easy. But first of all let’s see how it feels to be in that community, what they have to offer, how they separate themselves from the rest. And that’s exactly what you guys are doing with that community center, so again congratulations for that.
Collin: Yeah thank you. I appreciate that.
Brett: While you were talking about the Green standards, I wanted to ask you something, oh..let’s say the original home buyer decides not to tap in that geothermal loop and the next family comes in there wants to, is that a possibility?
Collin: So we’ve made it a little more complicated than that.
Brett: I figured it would be, but I had to ask.
Collin: Glad you did. So basically we’ve actually created a covenant, a geothermal covenant and it’s attached to every lot. Now what that means is there is a geothermal assessment that you will be paying to Eco-smart to operate and maintain that geo-grid. That is $60.00 a month fee but our goal is to really offset the savings through the utility bill. But in short, you would be paying for that $60.00, the geothermal assessment even if you didn’t want to use the system. So it wouldn’t make too much sense in my opinion not to use it. But yeah, so we’re hoping everyone just hooks up on that grid. They have an individual borehole with the well system as well but it is connected to that thermal energy supply system. So they would definitely want to hook up to that grid at all times.
Brett: Initially. So let’s talk about home prices a little bit. The range is what Collin?
Collin: So that’s a good question. The cheapest house that we’ve sold here I think it was $213,000 after the tax credit, so it’s about $220,000. But on average right now in inventory, we have about $230,000’s all the way up to $400k. But like I said $212,000 I think was the lowest price. So we have a pretty wide variety from the low two hundreds all the way up to the mid $400’s.
Brett: Those are very good prices. What’s the lot sizes there, the range?
Collin: Yes the standard lot is going to be a little smaller than what you might typically imagine. But here in Austin, that’s kind of how we do it, so 60 x 120 and then 50 x 120 are going to be the standard detached lot size.
Brett: And the typical home buyer you are seeing is, are they Millennials?
Collin: You know, I think the target was sort of that group, but we have come to learn that any and all people from all walks of life appreciate an Eco-conscious decision in buying a house. So we’ve seen retired school teachers, yes some of the millennial, empty nesters, really just any in all, every type of person.
Brett: We didn’t get a chance to talk much about the community gardens and farm?
Collin: Yes. So right now what we’re doing is, we have two community gardens that we have partnered with, an Austin local food group called Lettuce. Now what they do is they’re going to professionally maintain those gardens and eventually we are going to open a hub farm here. But at phase 2 , we’re actually opening 5 more gardens than the previous two that you saw. So the Lettuce team is going to maintain, kind of operate those gardens and then we plan a lot of volunteer days for the homeowners to go in there, you know pick stuff and then they get to leave with some kale, or whatever is fresh.
So we try and keep the homeowners involved and then in the future we’re talking about maybe experimenting with some plots to rent for the homeowners themselves in the gardens. So we’re kind of trying to come up with a good way to make that work.
Brett: Exactly. And the C.S.A. as a subscription is it 6 months, 12 months? How are you going to run that as far as getting people the produce?
Collin: That actually goes through our partnership with Lettuce. Think Blue Apron, it’s actually really that simple. Just weekly pricing, they drop it off at your door and they pick up your compost and they are all re-usable packaging. But it’s all coming from Austin. And the end goal is we’re going to have enough stuff here, where most of your food is probably coming from on the site here at Whisper Valley. So it would be more food neutral, kind of moving towards that area. It’s definitely a goal of ours.
Brett: So Lettuce is the outside source right now that you guys are using to provide the healthy vegetables. Are they certified organic?
Collin: Yes, yes
Brett: That’s cool. And then where is that food coming from?
Collin: They have partnered with local farms here in the Austin area.
Brett: I got you.
Collin: We’ve all tried the Lettuce meals, they are awesome. I think the furthest thing we got came from San Antonio. It was something random too. But for the most part it all comes from Austin. They actually do gardens at schools, churches, wherever anyone will let them,
you know. And we’ll start growing. But really we want them to professionally maintain the gardens. But again the goal again is trying to get the community in those gardens and spending time out there and that’s the main goal.
Brett: That’s awesome and I think if you get a chance you can share this with your residents and definitely with your team there. Right now on Netflix, we just recently saw the documentary called Sustainable. It’s available on Netflix and that’s going to give your residents a whole new insight and appreciation for the type of lifestyle that we’re exploring. And I think the people in your community, once they see that documentary they’ll appreciate the services they have available to them right there. It’s pretty eye-opening.
Collin: Yeah. I mean I’ll definitely check that out. I’ve actually heard a few things about that so I need to watch that myself, and I’ll let all the homeowners know as well.
Brett: Definitely man. So let’s say from your community right there, to downtown Austin we’re talking on a good day without that bumper to bumper traffic, how close are you?
Collin: It’s about 20 or 25 minutes from downtown Austin on a good day. Which is pretty remarkable. I mean you’ve been to Austin, you’ve seen how much growth we’ve had but anything within 30 minutes or less to downtown Austin is pretty amazing these days. We’ve hit that mark where I think we’re about 20 or 25 minutes away.
Brett: Cool and as we’re talking here, you know I share this a lot. With our experience of looking into and researching the different Agrihoods around the country, we have a sense of the community, fresh foods and the different events. That’s from the outside looking in. It seems as if everybody we talked to has the same feedback and insight they can share with us as being part an Agrihood. So since you’ve been there at Whisper Valley, what experiences could you share with my family and other people listening right now about what that whole concept is like? Because a lot of times we get asked what’s an Agrihood? Do you have to work on the farm? It can often seem confusing. People ask if it’s a commune? So to clear it up, with your personal experience now that you have been at Whisper Valley, looking from the inside looking out, share with your perspective and your views on that?
Collins: Yeah sure. Really, I think what it comes down to is when you have a residential area, right next to farmland, it’s an amazing thing. It’s a thing of the past right? No, it could be a thing of today. So what we’re seeing are pretty amazing things. Garden activities, they have days where they actually go to weed the gardens. Which sounds kind of crazy, but they enjoy doing that. I think that this whole vibe of an Agrihood, has given everyone kind of a sense of pride in the community. Just last weekend they actually had a volunteer trail cleanup day where a lot of the residents got together and they went and were picking up trash or plastic bottles that have been scattered throughout the trail during the construction process. So I think those little things are what kind of make up an Agrihood. When you start taking pride in where your food comes from, and what you’re eating, really, really it’s just a truly amazing thing.
Brett: It Is. Collin, what kind of events do you have? And how many do you put on per year?
Collin: Oh my goodness. We do a lot of events. We do a monthly craft fair, hopefully soon to be farmer’s market one day. Where we bring vendors and we sell jams, jellies, goodies from local Austin vendors. Then we do yoga classes, cooking classes . The yoga classes are weekly, the cooking classes are monthly right now. But we do tons of stuff and then we have holiday parties here at the center as well, for the residents. And we do a lot of events here.
Brett: It sounds like. What’s the next big thing happening there at Whisper Valley?
Collin: The next big thing is going to be our phase 2. So what you saw was phase 1, that is 237 lots. Our phase 2, they are actually just starting construction on that, just started clearing the grounds. That is breaking ground and it should be about 265 lots or so. And we’re hoping those will be delivered towards the end of the year.
Brett: Cool stuff man. Tell everybody how they can get a hold of you? How can they find you?
Collin: Yeah, so the website is going to be: www.WhisperValleyAustin.com. And then there are tons of good tabs you can kind of click-through and navigate there, as well as phone numbers for us, and email addresses. So if anyone has questions or anything please send it my way and we’ll I try and get them answered.
Brett: If they are anywhere near the Austin area, it would be worth their time to come out there and check out the property and that visitors’ center, the community center. It really is like you’re walking into like a science center, the way you guys have that set up showing how technologically advanced the whole community is. You’re on board with some pretty big players there in that community.
Collin: Yeah I mean we’ve partnered with BOSCH. We’re going to have Tesla charging stations. But, really like you said the educational bits, and the material in here is, pretty awesome. And just the way that we’re able to convey the concept or the mission here at Whisper Valley. I think that’s important to anyone in Austin, feel free to stop by and check us out any time.
Brett: Sounds good man. Did I miss anything? Are there some things you want to share? Go ahead.
Collin: I’m not sure, there’s so much and it’s so new. I think you touched on more than I was expecting actually. I think we did great
Brett: That’s awesome. I appreciate your time. It’s been a great experience for our family to check out the different Agrihoods around the nation. My whole journey started when I was sitting in the living room watching T.V. about 3 years ago. CBS Sunday Morning came on and they were talking about this farm to table community called Agrihoods and they featured a segment of Serenbe, which is down in Georgia. And Lena was in the back, she had been up all night with Cash our boy. He was just newly born, I think he was about a year old. And then when she came out of the bedroom and got her day going, I started telling her about this Agrihood concept and I felt like I was a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t wait to tell her everything I saw. And then we kept it in the back of our minds. So then this past summer, we said let’s take a tour. Let’s go on a road trip and let’s go venture out and look at some different Agrihoods around the country. And I tell you what, it’s been an amazing experience getting to know what this whole farm to table lifestyle is about. And you guys are sitting on top there with that Whisper Valley. So cudos to you.
Collin: I appreciate the kind words and what a journey, like seriously your story is pretty amazing and I’ll be following now myself.
Brett: Sounds good man. Are you guy on social media as far as Instagram too?
Collin: Oh yeah Instagram, Facebook: Whisper Valley Austin. That should pull it all up.
Brett: Alright buddy. If you have anything that you want to share, some new updates, please reach out to us. We’d love to learn about them, and we can share it with our audience and followers of the awesome Whisper Valley.
Collin: Alright, we’ll do Brett.
Brett: Tell everybody there we said hello,
Collin: Alright, I will.
Brett: Thank you, bye bye.
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