“I love you Austin, but we’re growing apart emotionally. I can feel it. You can feel it. I’ve been spending time in another city, and I think I’m falling in Love”.
That’s how I would start my “Dear John” letter to Austin. I’m not ready to write that letter yet, but as empty-nesters and longtime Austinites, Sylvia and I have in fact been spending a lot of time at our place in Wimberley.
As I was surfing through my XM Radio channels the other day, I happened across a “relationship” show on which a caller and the host were discussing whether the caller’s friendship and time spent with a man not her husband constituted “Emotional Cheating“. The conclusion was that it did, and she needed to stop it.
If I were to call into that same show and describe mine and Sylvia’s time spent with Wimberley since early August, our weekends at our cabin, swimming and canoeing on Cypress Creek, walks to Blue Hole preserve and to the Wimberley Square coffee shop, and ask if that time spent constitutes “Emotionally Cheating” on Austin, then we’d be guilty as charged!
How did this happen? Let’s imagine a conversation between me and a confused Austin, wondering if I still love it: Read more …
In an increasingly “unaffordable” Austin, it occurs to me that many of us could live way cheaper if we could just get along and live in extended family groups or roommate groups. I’ll use my own family as an example to explore this CRAZY idea for curing Austin’s affordability problem.
Sylvia and I live in a home in SW Austin with a $3,000/mo mortgage. Our utilities average $250/mo for everything, plus yard care of $80 per month, and of course repairs and maintenance as needed. We intentionally downsized to this home from Westlake, because we want to live more “affordably” and we no longer needed to live in Westlake Eanes ISD after our girls graduated high school.
My mom, in her 70’s, lives three blocks away in a home I purchased as investment (but for her to live in). I charge her $1,200/mo rent (market rent would be $2,000, my payment/cost is $1,800/mo), and her utility bills average about $180/mo, plus lawn care. I cover the repairs and maintenance.
Sylvia’s brother lives in an efficiency apartment in Hyde Park, which is $1,000/mo, plus about $100/mo utilities.
My oldest daughter graduated college this year, has a salary job, and is living at home still for now, but plans to get her own place after the new year (and after saving some money first – smart move). A modest place would cost her $1,000/mo to live alone, or $800 if she pairs up with a roommate or two. But let’s call it $1,000/mo for a 1/1 to keep the math simple, plus $100 utilities.
My youngest daughter is a freshman in college, and I’m paying for a dorm room, so she doesn’t necessarily count in the equation, except for the fact that I’m paying for two places for her currently – her college dorm and her room at home for visits and during summer. So I’ll ignore the dorm costs and count her as living at home still.
So, in summary, we have mine and Sylvia’s 3 bedroom house, my mom’s 3 bedroom house, my brother-in-law’s no-bedroom efficiency apartment, my older daughter’s future 1 bedroom apartment.
That’s a total of 8 sleeping spaces, 6 bathrooms, 4 kitchens, 4 utility bills for 6 people and 5 cars. Total monthly outlay for mortgages + rents is $6,800, utilities $630, yard care $150, plus repairs and maintenance for two separate houses. Grand total $7,580/mo for 6 people with 5 cars. More about vehicle expenses later.
What if I just bought a 5 bedroom 3 bath house and we all lived together?
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.
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 …
When you read a news article about Austin real estate that reports average and median home prices, the values quoted are often those from total Austin MLS sales. Those sales figures are compiled from the entire Austin MLS service area, including suburbs, nearby cities as well as some far flung areas. The “Austin MLS” might more accurately be referred to as a “Central Texas MLS”.
Therefore, you might read in one of the “Best of” articles about Austin, that “The Average Sold price for single family homes in the Austin Metro area for 2013 is $314,300 and the Median Sold price is $235,000”.
Those values are represented in the green bars in the graph above. To those thinking of moving to Austin, a median price of $235K sounds pretty affordable. It means half of all houses in “Austin” sell for less than $235K. A buyer with good credit earning the Austin median family income of $65K annually, can qualify for a mortgage payment of $1,950 per month at 5%, or a $266K home. Austin seems like a sweet deal and a great place to live to an outsider reading about it.