Archive Monthly Archives: December 2010

What exactly do you pay your Austin Property Manager to do?

I remember the day clearly, Wed April 14th, 1999. I received a call from one of my property owner clients. He was working on his income taxes and he was angry, not at the IRS but at me! Even though he received a monthly statement showing all income and expenses on his property, adding it all up at tax time caused him to question the $1,200 in management fees for that year.

“Why am I paying you $100/mo to sit on your butt and do nothing?”, he wanted to know. There had only been two service call repair events that year at his home. Both were minor and less than $100 each. The largest expense for the year was management fees, and he wanted to know what I had done to earn that $1,200.

I responded by asking if his house (the one he lived in, in Nevada) had burned down that year? He said, “no” and “what’s that got to do with anything”. I asked if he’d called his insurance agent and yelled at him because, after all, that insurance agent had been paid all year for doing nothing, and in fact had done even less work than than me, the property manager. I went on to explain that property managers are paid not only for what we do, but for what we stand ready to do 24/7, 365 days a year. We are compensated for the peace of mind we provide by being on call so the owner doesn’t have to. From an owner’s perspective, we manage only that one house, but from a property manager’s perspective, we earn a living managing a portfolio of rental homes.

In order to understand why it’s a good thing if your property manager didn’t have to work hard on your property for an entire year, you have to understand the economics of owning and operating a property management company in Austin TX.

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Posted by Steve
5 years ago

Will recent low interest rates stunt future Austin move-up activity?

low interest rates

One of our buyers closed last month with a 3.87% interest rate. We saw many sub-4% loans the past several months, though rates have now climbed back above 4.6%.

Let’s imagine hypothetical first time buyers with a toddler who closed this year with an interest rate below 4%. Fast forward 5 years to 2015 and imagine they now have a 6 year old and a 3 year old. The career is going well, income is up, savings account is healthy, cars and student loans are paid off, the economy is good and the house is starting to feel a bit small.

This is the profile of a typical move-up buyer in Austin. Move-up buyers play an important role in the real estate market by providing resale housing stock for first timers to buy and, simultaneously, providing demand for the mid and upper range homes in Austin. We need this “move-up churn”. It’s good for the real estate market and Austin’s economy.

But now let’s also imagine that in 5 years from now that the best interest rate available on a new mortgage is an unfathomable 6.75%. Don’t think it will go that “high”? That’s not ever a “high” interest rate! And yes, it will get that high again – eventually. How hard will it be for a move-up buyer to let go of that 3.75% loan on the current home? Very hard, I’m going to bet.

I think the psychological urge to hold onto that loan is going to be very strong.  And I think it will factor into the move-up decision more than we may currently realize.

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Posted by Steve
5 years ago

Are You a Home Owner Just For the Tax Break?

tax deduction for homeowners

As a Realtor, I’m in the loop and a part of the massive “call to action” machine that goes into motion anytime local, state or national governments appear to be heading toward regulations or changes in the law deemed harmful to the real estate industry and its consumers. The latest call to action is regarding the recent debt commission recommendation to scrap the mortgage interest deduction enjoyed by those home owners who itemize tax deductions.

The National Association of Realtors is coming out strongly against any change in the mortgage interest deduction (MID). Since I’m not a mindless Realtor drone, I do have opinions that differ from my industry on a number of subjects. On this one I have more questions. First, let’s see what NAR has to say:

“As the leading advocate for housing and home ownership issues, NAR firmly believes that the mortgage interest deduction (MID) is vital to the stability of the American housing market and economy.

The MID must not be targeted for change. NAR is actively engaged on behalf of the nation’s 75 million home owners and 1.1 million Realtors® to ensure that the current deduction is not modified as was recommended in the Deficit Reduction Commission report released today.”

You can read the entire position statement here. I’m disppointed that it contains no actual data, statistics or substantive supporting argument, but instead just general statements saying, basically, this would be a bad idea. Come on NAR. Where’s the beef? In exactly what specific way would the elimination of this tax deduction jeopardize the “stability of the American housing market and economy.”? I mean, that’s a pretty big assertion.

OK, I understand the basic NAR position and mission of trying to keep things in place that are good for home owners. But I am also vaguely aware of the fact that not many people itemize their deductions on a Schedule A in the first place. Most take the standard deduction, making the MID a mute moot point on their particular tax returns. And many people pay no mortgage interest (1/3 of homes are free and clear) or don’t pay enough to deduct. So they are unaffected also. Who does that leave to absorb to feared repercussions?

How many home owners, or prospective home owners would, upon elimination of the MID, throw their hands up in disgust and scream (think George Costanza’s parents…) “That’s it! I’m selling my home and renting for the rest of my life! They’re not going to get away with this“?

Or, “Honey, let’s cancel the home search. If we can’t deduct the mortgage interest, it just doesn’t make sense to give up the pleasures of renting, and moving from home to home every couple of years”?

I dare say I don’t think many, if any, home owners or prospective home owners would forgo all the benefits of home ownership based solely on an ongoing income tax policy. So, who in fact might be affected by the elimination of the mortgage tax deduction and would it in fact ruin the real estate market, home values and the U.S. economy?

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Posted by Steve
5 years ago

Is Some Austin Real Estate Worth Zero? Yes.

home value

I previewed some real estate listings today that I wouldn’t own for free. These were condos in SE Austin priced in the $30Ks range. I’ve seen these listings online and I know the area, but curiosity finally got the best of me so I went and had a look to see just how bad a listing has to be to be priced in the $30Ks.

I don’t like condos in the first place. Yes, condos have their place in the spectrum of real estate product, but I don’t like owning or managing units with shared walls. I’m especially averse to not having control over water leaks from above or the sides. If a tenant calls and reports a leak coming from the ceiling in a single family home, I make 1 phone call to my roofer or HVAC guy, depending on the type of leak, and the problem is solved.

With a condo leak, I have to deal with the HOA and/or find out who owns the unit above and hope they make the proper and permanent fix to the problem. I don’t like that scenario because my action choices don’t have defined outcomes. I have to rely on someone else to cooperate in a competent way. There are also the issues and disputes with neighbors over parking and noise, neither of which come about with houses.

Nonetheless, how bad could it be that I would say “no thanks” even if (hypothetically) someone offered one of these condo units to me for a purchase price of zero? One word. Exposure. Exposure to risk. I don’t like certain types of risk.
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Posted by Steve
5 years ago

What Happens with Early Termination of the Texas Lease?

BReaking your Austin lease

Great new job offer in New York, but what about my lease in Austin?

Most leases in Texas are written for initial fixed terms, usually 12 months. Renewal periods are also usually written for a fixed number of months. During these fixed terms, the tenant has agreed to remain in the property and pay rent through a certain date, and the landlord is obligated and required to allow the tenant to remain for that period of time. The only exception is a month-to-month lease which can be terminated with a 30 day notice by either party.

So what happens if it’s October, your lease doesn’t end until the following May 31st, but life circumstances are forcing an early departure from your Austin rental home?

Perhaps you’ve lost your old job and already found a new one, but the new job requires relocation to another city? Sometimes tenants divorce and neither can afford the rent alone, so both have to move. Sometimes tenants are under no financial duress but elect to buy a new home and terminate early, and simply include the early termination costs in the overall financial decision to buy the new home.

There are a number of life circumstances that can cause a tenant to contact us and ask “what happens if I can’t finish my lease term”?

This is called Early Termination and is covered by paragraphs 27 and 28 of the Texas Association of Realtors Residential Lease Agreement.

Paragraph 27 covers Default, whereby a tenant simply moves out and stops paying rent. We call this a “skip” and it results in legal action, damage to the tenant’s credit report, and ultimately the account being placed for collection. In the event the tenant buys a house, our attorney will sue, then after obtaining a judgment, we place a lien on the property. In other words, the worst financial and credit consequences possible are realized, and the price is paid for years to come.

Paragraph 28 provides a graceful exit from the lease. Most tenants want to avoid damaged credit, ruined rental history and collection, a judgment and a lien on their new home, so we more commonly operate under Paragraph 28, which involves locating a replacement tenant to take over the occupancy of the home and allows the tenant to depart on good terms. Below, I’ll outline how this works.

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Posted by Steve
5 years ago

Why All Landlord-Tenant Communication Should be in Writing

Repair Request in Writing

Repair Request in Writing

One of the biggest challenges I have as property manager in Austin is convincing tenants that it’s in your best interest, as well as the landlord’s, to have all communication with your landlord or property manager in writing. By “all communication” I mean matters that affect your lease and/or legal rights, such as repair requests, lease changes, disputes, notices, etc. I’m not talking about informal communication about matters not material in nature, or questions seeking clarification of something already in writing.

Landlord-Tenant disputes are the most common action in Justice of the Peace (small claims) Courts in Texas, and probably elsewhere as well. If you were to attend and watch some of these cases at JP Court, you’d quickly notice that, most of the time, neither the landlord or tenant is prepared. Neither the tenant or the landlord has anything documenting their assertions. It’s the classic “he said, she said”. This leaves the Judge having to decide who to believe.

If you ever become a tenant in such a dispute, you want to be able, when it’s your turn, to hand the judge copies of the letters and/or emails you’ve sent to the landlord, in reverse chronological order, along with any responses you’ve received. This written history is called “evidence”. The communication is in black and white and not subject to memory or interpretation. It’s all there in writing to see and read. Otherwise, all you have is a story to tell, and the landlord may have a different story, and the Judge has to try to figure it all out, which isn’t always easy.

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Posted by Steve
6 years ago