When Sylvia and I started leasing and managing rentals in Austin in the early 1990s, the business operation was phone-based. I had a phone, answering machine, and spiral pad on a desk in our kitchen nook. All business happened there. I also had a Windows PC, a 386 with a dot matrix printer which ran the DOS version of my property management software. If you don’t know what 386, DOS or “dot matrix printer” means, you’re probably less than 40 years old. Oh, it probably had a 2400 baud modem as well, and a 50 meg hard drive. It wasn’t until 1996 that I put up my first website and started using email for business.
All rental inquiries thus originated with a phone call to that one phone. It was a “single channel” communication system. Those callers either saw a yard sign or a 3-line ad in the Rentals section of the Sunday newspaper, and called to inquire. That was the extent of the entire communication system with regard to advertising a rental listing and taking inquiries. We did also have the Austin MLS, so Realtors could show our homes for lease, same as today, but if they called, it came through that same 1-phone system.
Today leasing inquiries come through multiple channels. So much so, it’s difficult to control, and impossible to manage manually.
Both Zillow.com and Trulia.com could vanish tomorrow, completely – websites crash and stay down forever – and it would make ZERO difference, at all, in the successful sale of any home in Austin TX, or elsewhere in the U.S. Period.
There is no hardship or selling disadvantage created for sellers or their listing agents if their real estate listings do not appear on these real estate entertainment and advertising websites because it is not the purpose of these consumer portal sites to sell homes, but instead to sell advertising to Real Estate Agents.
These consumer sites not only fail to cause homes to sell, the websites fail to create smarter, better educated buyers and sellers. Instead, they create consumers exposed to bad data, and too much of it. Including the ridiculous Zestimate, which everyone knows is inaccurate but which nonetheless remains the “favorite” feature of Zillow.com users, according to Zillow.
Thus, at a Real Estate Syndication panel I attended a couple of weeks ago in Austin, which included a panelist from Zillow, when asked about the fact that these websites often serve to simply confuse and mislead consumers, the response was that this is a good thing for Realtors. The Zillow panelist offered up that, by creating a mis-educated, confused consumer, Zillow is creating an opportunity for the Realtor to step in and straighten things out by filling the gaps and providing correct data and information.
We get to un-confuse the consumer as our value proposition, and for that we should be grateful. So, as a consumer, is it your desire to be confused and mislead, then have a Realtor “un-confuse” you? Or would you rather just get good info from the start?
Don’t get me wrong. These sites are here to stay. Like it or not. Bad and outdated data or not. That cow has left the barn. Read more …
What will the real estate market in Austin do for 2015?
Most likely, more of the same. More of what we saw in 2013 and 2014 Spring/Summer selling seasons, which was strong price increases caused by limited supply and increasing demand. Especially in the central core areas of Austin but not limited to just those areas. Even homes in Pflugerville get multiple offers now.
The increasing demand is coming from job growth in Austin, which is showing no signs of abating in 2015. Unemployment in Austin is a low 4%. Simply put, barring a major macroeconomic event that affects our local economy and job growth, our housing market will keep chugging along and prices will continue to rise. Nothing will stop it short term, but it will top out eventually and take a breather. Maybe in 2 or 3 years from now.
The recent drop in oil prices will affect Texas to some small degree, maybe Houston mostly, but represents nothing more than a pothole in the road for Austin currently. If anything, it could free up a bunch of construction labor that fled to the oil fields for higher pay, which would help the new home builders increase volume. New home construction is currently restricted by labor shortage and low availability of build-ready lots, which exasperates the effort to meet demand.
Current, Past and Future Values
The median value of a home in the Austin Metro area is now about $250,000. Average value will probably break $350K this summer. A decade ago median sales price was about $150,000 and the average was $225,000. That’s really only a 5% annual increase roughly, which is what we expect over a decade of time, but so much of it has happened the past few years that it feels like too much too fast.
Also, and of concern, much of the appreciation is concentrated in the central “core” areas of Austin proper, which is no longer affordable to service workers or median income families. I sold a home last summer in 78704 zipcode for $290K which sold for $58K 18 years earlier. That’s bumping a 10% annual appreciation rate over two decades. Same with a home we bought in Westlake in the low $300s in 2010 and sold for $500K in 2014. That’s a 10% annual increase over 4 years.
And wages haven’t kept up, so the median income buyer who wants to live in Austin proper, close in, will continue to be pushed out into the suburbs like Leander where a home at or near $200K is still doable, but where they will have to endure ever worsening and soul crushing commutes on our congested roads.
How Should Austintes feel about this?
The value appreciation of Austin home prices gives me mixed feelings. Read more …
Have you ever woken up on a Friday morning with no intention of moving and by 5PM that day have submitted an offer on a home? That’s what Sylvia and I recently did, and it’s not the first time.
We really thought our current place in Westlake would be our “forever” retirement home. We’ve slowly improved and updated it, but still had a major kitchen and master bath redo and expansion in our future. The location is, in my opinion, the best in Austin for both our current working/family and future empty-nester lifestyles. 8 minutes to Town Lake, Zilker or Downtown, easy access to Mopac or 360, walking distance Trianon Coffee, FroYoyo, a Thundercloud Subs and more. Even a Cap Metro bus stop 6 minutes walk from our front door goes through Zilker Park and into downtown.
Our daughter can walk to Westlake High, and we’re within even closer proximity to the elementary and middle schools, which is what draws so many families and gives the Woodhaven neighborhood such a good mix of great people. It’s really perfect. A geographically “central” location without the quirky annoyances and absurdities of the 78704 areas.
But …Prices in the ‘hood have gone through the roof. It’s not going to be affordable or practical as a retirement home. If we make the contemplated improvements, our “retirement” home – a basic 1970s rancher – would be transformed and more highly valued and thus produce an annual property tax bill bigger than I want to swallow for the next 30 years. Sure, we’d be building equity, but still, property taxes seem to have gone too high already.
Life as an Austin Realtor requires a varied set of skills. Add to those now the ability to operate under constant Red Alert conditions if you hope to be an effective Buyer’s Agent. Here is the latest example.
Sylvia had buyers in from out of town last Saturday. Both houses they liked already had multiple offers. They went in on one of the homes. It wasn’t until Monday morning we found out another offer was selected. Meanwhile 5 new properties came on the market. The buyers were leaving town Monday night. Sylvia wasn’t feeling well so I took her buyers out Monday. We found a home they liked, checked with the agent and was told at 2PM that the owner was already reviewing multiple offers from the weekend.
We convinced the agent to wait for our offer. Saw the house, liked it, drove to my home where we all sat around our embarrassingly unclean kitchen table while I wrote it up. We did “old school” signatures on paper instead of DocuSign. I scanned and emailed to the agent with a pre-approval letter, followed by a phone call to “sell it” to the agent that this was the right buyer to select. This is all done with a sense of urgency, but not panic. Nevertheless, no room for mistakes, delays or incompetence. For adrenaline junkies like me, it’s fun. But not for most people.
How did it turn out? Read more …
I often experience something many Austinites will never know. A quiet uncrowded Austin. No traffic. No noise. No crowds. Just peaceful serenity and bliss.
There is no turning back – no solution – for Austin’s traffic problems, congestion, growth, commercial encroachment into central neighborhoods, and myriad other small and big annoyances caused by Austin’s economic “success”. We all have to develop coping mechanisms to keep our sanity intact. Resistance is futile. You will either assimilate, or move away in disgust. I don’t want to leave Austin, I want to Love Austin. I want to keep that love alive. So I’ve adjusted my personal lifestyle and business practices in ways that equip me to better cope with the new reality of life in Austin. Here’s what I do.
Wake up at 5AM and go Running
You don’t have to run, you can walk, or do something else. Either out your front door through your still-sleeping neighborhood, or drive to your favorite hike and bike trail, park, or the gym. There will be no traffic. The city will be yours. At 5-6AM, there are typically only about 3 cars parked under the Mopac bridge at Town Lake.
Running (or walking) around Town Lake (aka Lady Bird Lake) in the pre-dawn silence, under the dim light of the Zilker Moon Tower, and the distant glow of downtown Austin, is as peaceful and quieting an experience as one can know. When I do this, usually Sunday, Monday and Thursdays, I do it unplugged. No iPod music. Just the dark silence of the morning. I usually encounter no more than a few others on the trail, depending on the weather and how early I go. By 6AM, the trail starts slowly populating, but is still uncrowded, and by 7AM, the normal early birds are there, the sun is up, and it’s no longer deserted. Read more …