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.
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.
Austin Buyers, when trying to win a multiple offer situation on a home in Austin, how much is “too much” to pay? It’s a hard question to answer because it’s both personal and subjective. One buyer’s “too much” may another’s “good deal”. One buyer’s “perfect” floor plan may be another’s “it’s just ok”.
That said, if you’re about to write your 5th offer having lost the last 4 multiple offer situations over the past 2 months, you have to wonder if the 4 buyers who beat you were all fools. Were they? Probably not. They all have a house now, and you don’t.
And when you finally do get your own home under contract, you may have to pay relatively “more” than it would have required to win one of those 4 lost bid efforts a few months earlier. That’s ok though. Losing out on multiple multiple-offer situations is a progressive, education process. Losing out on homes does provide value and context as it toughens your resolve going forward, and makes you smarter and, more importantly, braver. Hopefully you have a good agent keeping you sane too.
But here’s how I look at paying “too much” for a home in Austin. There are two kinds of “too much”. There is “irresponsibly too much“, and “responsibly too much“. Or, boiled down to its essence, “responsible risk” vs “irresponsible risk”.
We all make these decisions in life, not just in housing, but in many areas, whether it’s picking one job opportunity over another, or one college over another. Spending $2,500 to repair the 12-year-old car vs buying a new one. Even who you marry.
Sometimes, you have to pull up your A-Game, check your gut, and make the best decision you can in that moment. But in doing so, you are taking a “risk”. And you don’t get to find out of you were “smart” until later, at some point in the future, once all the data becomes known and the dust settles.
One of my favorite pastimes while driving in Austin is listening to Bloomberg News on my XM Radio. More specifically, I enjoy hearing interviews and discussions with people who explain and justify the positions they take on a wide range of (mostly) business topics. This includes small business, the economy, politics, real estate, etc., but also more specific micro topics such as the current and future outlook for farm tractor sales. And, thankfully, Bloomberg Radio is free of the bluster, yelling and arguing heard on the other XM Radio news stations. These are, for the most part, reasoned subject matter experts giving their honest take on things.
Call me nerdy, wonky, or whatever, but I really dig listening to this sort of stuff. When not listening to it, I’m reading about it. I believe it helps me better understand my own life and business. And it helps fulfill one of my ongoing goals, which is to never stop learning.
Recently, a dating expert was being interviewed about the business of match making sites and the state of modern “mate seeking”. She also discussed the mistakes she sees made by most aspiring romantics. Turns out there are a lot of frustrated romantics unable to find what they want in a mate. This despite the fact that finding and “connecting” with good, quality candidate dates has never been easier. I was struck by how similar her points were to the typical “match seeking” efforts of real estate buyers looking for the “perfect” home.
The quote that stuck with me most was related to how many daters reject someone who actually possesses more than 85% of what the seeker says she “must have” in a mate. To that point, she said. “Do you know how hard it is to get to 85%? If you find someone who meets 85% of your most important criteria, you should be running, not walking, to the alter with that person”. That’s what she said. Run, don’t walk to the alter.
Daters, apparently, allow too many small, picky “deal breaker” distractions into the evaluation process. “I don’t want to date a guy with thin hair” or “I can’t see myself with a guy who would wear a checkered shirt”. But if the guy loves horses, wants kids, and appreciates and “gets” her sarcastic irreverent humor, he’s going to make the great husband she says she wants because he meets the most important set of criteria. Even if he’s only average looking and a little too short.
Dating is more complicated than house hunting because the three (and only three) most important criteria a mate seeker should be evaluating will differ from person to person. House hunters, on the other hand, have had the same three static criteria forever – Location, Price and Condition (which includes age/size). It’s really not complicated at all. But modern buyers have made it so, by allowing too much information and data into the equation.
So, why do so many Austin buyers reject homes that are priced right, in the desired location, and of acceptable condition/size? Are Austin real estate buyers too picky? Yes. And many are just as frustrated as the single 34-year-old gals that dating expert was talking about.
Today I attended a property tour for my listing in Great Hills. There were 11 homes on the tour, including our listing. The other agents on the tour were the listing agents for the other 10 houses. This gives us a chance to see each other’s listings and to offer feedback on pricing, staging, etc.
This particular tour was a van tour. There are two types of Realtor tours – caravan or van.
On a caravan tour, agents travel in a caravan either alone or carpooling. This limits interaction and always results in the caravan getting stretched out with the faster ones getting way ahead and the slower ones getting way behind. So, the last few listings end up having the agents straggle in at staggered times and then that listing agent has to lock up and in turn becomes the final straggler on the next home. This is a bummer, but that’s how it goes. It’s also a huge waste of gas to have 11 agents travelling in 7 cars.
On the van tour, we all ride together, talking on the drive in between homes, and there is more interaction and discussion about the houses and the market. This is better in every way except one. When riding in the van I lose track of where I am because I’m not driving or paying attention to where we’re going. This affects my ability to offer an accurate pricing opinion on the feedback sheet. It’s not easy to say how much I think a house is worth if I’m disoriented and fuzzy about the neighborhood I’m in.
Imagine being blindfolded, driven to a property and let out in the front driveway. You walk inside, look around and then have to write down a price opinion. That’s what it’s like. Yes, I know I’m in Millwood, but which side of 183? Which schools does this one attend? Wait, are we down the street from that park? Can you hear the railroad tracks from here?
This disorientation doesn’t happen when I drive myself into a neighborhood and up to a house with buyers. When I’m driving, I have a clear sense of where I am. I’m taking notice of the street and the other homes as I approach the subject property. Now I see why buyers sometimes get turned around and confused about where certain homes were that we saw, because they are riding instead of driving.
So, are property tours even worth the time and effort and is the opinion I wrote down on the 10 feedback sheets today worth anything to the listing agent and the seller? Are the 10 feedback sheets I received for my listing helpful? Yes, here’s why.
Below is a chart breaking down the 2010/2009 sales comparisons by MLS Area for the Austin real estate market. This time I’m adding a couple of new things. First, there is color coding on each of the summary rows for each area. A green shade indicates “improvement” in the measured metric. I put “improved” in quotes because it’s debatable what that means, and for whom, so perhaps a better word to use would simply be “increase” toward seller’s market. Note that a decrease in Days on Market is an “improvement”, however, as it means homes are selling faster, so a negative number on DOM is coded green and vice-versa, whereas the other negative numbers are red. Confusing enough? I hope not.
Next, I added a new column called SP/OLP which is the Sold Price divided by the Original List Price. I think this is a useful metric to observe as it informs us of the gap between the original list price a seller was hoping to obtain and the ultimate sold price achieved. This is more useful to know than the more commonly reported metric of SP/LP (Sold Price/List Price) because it doesn’t disguise the price drops that occurred before the home eventually sold.
In other words, a home that started at a list price of $300K, was eventually dropped to $270K, and then sold for the $270K list price, would produce a SP/LP ratio of 100%, but a SP/OLP of 90%. The 90% is a more accurate measure of market strength or weakness in a given area. You’ll see below that some areas are right at 95% (which is pretty good) and some are below 90%, which is a tougher market requiring bigger price drops.
OK then, let’s take a quick look at the new format using the cumulative sold data for all of 2010 compared to 2009.
|All MLS||# Sold||Avg Sold||Med Sold||Avg SQFT||Avg PSF||Avg Days||Med Days||SP/OLP|
So, with the color coding, this allows a “quick glance” gleaning of which areas saw increases/decrease in the measered metrics across the board. We can see above, looking at the entire Austin MLS market as a whole, that the average sold price increased 3.78%, median sold also increased, by 2.63%, Sold Price Per Square Foot increase 2.04%, and homes sold faster when looking at Avg Days on Market. But we also see that 5% fewer homes sold (lower demand) and that the median DOM and the SP/OLP ratios worsened. This “mixed” market is in fact what most areas produce.
One last aside, if an MLS Area is mostly red all the way across, such as Area 10S, does that mean buyers should avoid that area? Absolutely not. This is a look in the rear view mirror and doesn’t necessarily predict the future or indicate a trend. Same with areas that did well in 2010. This is just a snap shop of what happened in the given year 2010 compared to the year prior. If you own a home in an area that had a dog year, your particular neighborhood or size/price of home may have perfromed differently, and that won’t be reflected in this type of macro analysis of area-wide stats.
OK, the entire Austin MLS is broken down by MLS Area in the chart below. As usual, questions, comments, observations are welcome.