I recently read the autobiography Keith Richard’s Life. In it, Keith Richards, of Rolling Stones fame of course, talks about becoming a songwriter and how it changed his perspective on life. It caused him to more closely observe people and how they behave. To more closely listen to comments and phrases people use, always keeping an ear tuned for that next catchy song line. Explaining how the songwriter part of him is always active and aware, “never turning off. Unconsciously constantly running.”
I totally understand. It’s like that for me as a real estate person. Not that I’m literally “always thinking about” real estate, but I easily connect real estate concepts and the behaviors I observe in people to things outside real estate. It happens automatically, whether I want it to or not. When I go into a house I’ve never been in, such as a friend’s house, I notice things about the house automatically. Not that I judge good or bad, I just notice. If I was quized later about ceiling height, flooring, layout, updates, etc., I’d probably be able to recall whereas a normal nRealtor wouldn’t pay attention to those details.
I also take note quite often of how people make choices and decisions. This can happen in line at Amy’s Ice Cream, in the parking lot at Barton Creek Mall (it’s curious the effort people go through to get a closer spot, or “better location”), or even eating out and observing the phenomenon of how often “I’ll have the same thing” is selected. Decision-making just interests me, which is why I like working with and helping home buyers so much.
Thursday night last week I escorted my youngest daughter and her friends to see the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part II. We arrived about 8:45PM, waited in a line for a while, then we were let into the theater at 10:30PM, an hour and a half before showtime.
As we were about middle in line, the best seats were already taken, but there were plenty of good ones remaining in the top section, though they were filling fast. Our group of kids stalled at the bottom entrance as they scanned the remaining supply of seats. I said bluntly “Don’t think, just go”. and one of the boys said “good idea” and they immediately hauled it up to the third row from the top where they claimed 5 seats in a row, relegating me to sit a row below on an end seat (most likely to the delight of my 15 year old daughter, who would have preferred an even greater distance I’m sure). This actually proved to be an excellent vantage point from which to observe the slow stream of remaining viewers enter the theater and look for seats.
Latecomers to theater seating exhibit almost the same behavioral attributes of buyers in a sellers market, where there are no easy pickings. Here’s what I observed.
Unprofessional and unpleasant demeanor. General lack of realistic market knowledge and trends. Probably better suited as a property manager, but lacks the proper people skills to be effective as either a listing or selling agent. Argumentative and combative.
Definitely would NOT recommend, especially as a listing or selling agent
It’s hard to describe how jarring this was to read at first. Hit me smack in the face. I haven’t felt a jolt like that since the final scene in Boogie Nights. Crossland Real Estate has escaped all such “bad reviews” online until now, though I knew the day would come. After the initial shock and dismay, it settled in that Crossland Real Estate now had a 1-star rating on Yelp, which in turn displays next to certain search results. Not good. Not the sort of visual indicator that motivates a prospective new client to click through to our website from a search results page. For a moment I leaned back in my chair and stared at the ceiling and thought, “it was so much less complicated in 1993”.
To add insult to injury, Yelp has “filtered” the two legitimate 5-star reviews and the 4-star review written by actual past clients of ours because the reviews are deemed “suspicious”. Yelp considers those reviews “suspicious” because they are the only Yelp reviews written by those reviewers. I actually talked to a Yelp rep about this last year and he said that the automatic “filtering” system hides solo 4 and 5-star reviews to prevent abuse. That makes sense, but these are actual client reviews, not bogus made up reviews. Yet, since Paul B from Round Rock has written 12 reviews, he’s considered a valid Yelp reviewer, even though, as I reported to Yelp, he’s never been a client of ours and we know not who he is or why he wrote what he wrote.
So, determined not to let a 1-star review from Paul B of Round Rock stand as the only visible Crossland Real Estate review on Yelp, I decided I needed to somehow dilute Paul B’s opinion with some rebuttal reviews more reflective of the truth. But this needed to be done without running afoul of Yelp’s rules. Here’s what I did.
I’ve been working with buyers recently looking in Central Austin neighborhoods. A recurring scenario always develops. Buyers are in love with neighborhoods such as Allandale, Travis Heights, Zilker, Barton Hills, Hyde Park, East Austin, etc., but cannot find an acceptable home to purchase in the Central Austin areas they love.
A couple of months ago we did get lucky and find a newer home in an older Allandale area and my buyers got exactly what they wanted at the price they wanted. More recently though, after exhausting all available inventory in Allandale, a different set of buyers finally gave up. We eventually found a great house in a Northwest Austin “family subdivision” of cookie-cutter homes that is now awaiting closing. The buyers are, however, very, very happy with the home they are buying, having decided against being hard core Central-Dwellers.
This is a common outcome for buyers who start off in love with Central Austin. Many end up in a newer subdivision further out because the just can’t handle the Central Austin housing stock.
This morning, I received a call from an agent about a lease listing I have in East Austin. “Will the owners consider selling instead of renting?” she wanted to know. “Let me guess”, I responded. “Your buyer wants East Austin but you’ve shown all the available inventory and it’s all either over priced or too ratty, or you keep losing out to multiple offers”. Bingo.
The buyer, I was told, has lost out on multiple instances of multiple offers, losing the last one even after bidding $14K over list price. Ouch. Been there, done that with buyers myself. Very frustrating. Welcome to the Central Austin home buying experience.
So, the Austin everyone falls in love with – the non-cookie-cutter central areas with charming homes on tree lined streets close to everything, walking distance to the funky little coffee shop and the hip new restaurant and 6-12 minutes from work – contains these older Austin homes that are actually not suitable for the majority of buyers who fall in love with the neighborhoods in which they are located. That’s the reality of it.
It’s sort of like being enamored by the aura and ambiance that cool, funky hippy chick you met at the party last Saturday night. The conversation was great and you had the time of your life! You think about her constantly for three days and you’re certain it’s real love. Then over lunch in the light of day three days later you realize she has some deal breaker “issues” going on that you’d really rather avoid dealing with.
Central Austin is that cool hippy chick and you’re just some poor dude with good credit who wears Dockers, works in a cube and wants desperately to be anything other than a bland, normal person. You want to be a cool Austinite, or that cool couple living in Central Austin, near a park where your dog can run. But when you and/or your wife get inside that charming Craftsman in Hyde Park and get your first look at that grungy small bathroom, you immediately feel repulsed and rule out that house. Could you really be expected to get by in a 5×8 master bath with a commode, standard tub and a one pedestal lavatory sink? “Who can wake up to that every day?” you might wonder.
And this continues until frustration and deflation cause a rethinking of either your price range, home size/condition and/or location. Suddenly, Circle C, with big soaking tubs and separate showers, separate commode closet, double vanity sinks and huge master closets seems much closer to downtown than before, especially when you walk into a $350K home in Circle C and compare it to what you get for $350K two blocks from the cool coffee shop.
So how does one actually find a suitable home in Central Austin? You have to either lower your standards or raise your price. One word: Compromise.
Homes values in Austin are trending up overall. This graph shown below can be deceptive though, because market activity is highly localized within pockets and neighborhoods. Let’s have a look and I’ll discuss further below.
It’s impoortant to understand what a graph like this is and what it isn’t. It’s not an indicator of the value of your specific home. Many homes in Austin still won’t sell for the price they sold for in 2007. Many will sell for more now. It’s very dependent on activity and demand in your local area.
We recently listed a home in Avery Ranch at a farily agressive price and had multiple offers right out of the gate. That actually surprised me. Many other homes in Avery Ranch are just sitting though. We put our listing through a lot of prep and staging in preparation for the market, and the market responded. I see a lot of listings that may look similar on paper, but when you walk in, they fall flat on preparation and staging, often with dumb things left undone such as minor touchup paint and yard cleanup.
Meanwhile, one of our Central Austin listings which is priced well (a 3/2 under $250K) in a great location off S. 1st in the 78704 zipcode isn’t receiving the level of activity we’d expect at that price point in that location. It’s staged and well prepared as well (though it did have tenants occupying it at first). But we’re still waiting for the right buyer. This is frustrating. I know this house is a good deal but can’t explain why the market isn’t responding.
So, “prices in Austin are up” doesn’t apply to every home.
Nevertheless, the chart is meant to show the overall macro trend as indicated by the data in the entire Austin MLS for all homes sold. From that viewpoint, the Austin real estate market has surpassed the former peak of 2007 and looks to be experiencing increased values overall. Eventually, a rising tide floats all boats and that’s where I think we’re heading. I think Austin is on the leading edge of what may be a steady 4 to 7 year up cycle. Not a boom per se, but steady and reasonable value appreciation of 3% to 5% annually.