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.
This isn’t a full-blown market update, but I wanted to post a few graphs real quick to show current market activity and movement. Let’s start with the graph below showing Average and Median Sold values for homes in Austin for the past 49 months.
So, what looked like a pretty bleak December/January (lowest of lows for past 49 months. See the previous bottoms) quickly turned into an upswing. This isn’t necessarily unusual. In fact, if you look back at every May in the chart, that’s when the price peaks normally occur, and we’re heading that direction again this year. What is unusual is the fast and sudden absorption rate of homes combined with shrinking inventory. This is a sudden “spike”, at minimum, and may develop into a sustained upswing. I’ve been monitoring this and don’t see any let-up yet.
Let’s look at the Active/Pending chart below.
Above, we see the aftermath of the Tech Bust in 2000/2001, and what happened to the Austin sales market in 2003. For 2003 there was an inverted Sold/Not Sold ratio. More listings failed to sell than actually sold. That’s a really weak, sour market when that happens. Dismal in fact. But then it happened again in 2010 in Austin. More sellers gave up (Expired or Withdrew) than successfully sold their homes in Austin. 2010 was the 4th year in a row of declining sales volume.
Then in 2011, we see these lines achieving separation again as the number of failed sales drops and the number of closed sales increases. And the separation is sudden and pronounced, indicating very strong buyer demand.
Now let’s see what that graph would look like for just the first 3 months of 2012.
The Austin real estate 2011 sales breakdown by MLS area is below. Most areas of Austin are holding steady. I’ve color coded the results columns of each area to show whether or not that area performed above or below the greater Austin market on whole.
For example, let’s look at MLS area “W” (West Austin).
|MLS Area||Year||# Sold||Avg Sold||Med Sold||Avg SQFT||Avg PSF||Avg Days||Med Days|
This shows are W outperformed the Austin real estate market in some categories, but not in others. Those categories break down as follows:
Number of Sale: The number of sales overall in the Austin market rose by 6.9% in 2011. Number of sales rose by 5.95% in MLS Area W, so it gets flagged a red colow code for under-performing the overall market.
Avg Sold Price, Median Sold Price, and Sold Price per Square Foot all outperformed the market as a whole. Avg and Median Days on Market underperformed as well.
That said, pricing metrics are the most important in determining the direction of the market, so keep that in mind as you review the various areas and how they did in 2011 compared to 2010. Squre footage is not ranked but is shown for referrence and used to calculate sold price per sqft.
The color coding allows you to see in a glance areas that did well, did not do well, and that were mixed. A row of “all red” means the area under-performed on all metrics. Several areas unfortunately did just that.
Below are the Austin housing market stats for October 2011 and year to date.
|Austin Sales Market Update – October 2011|
|Homes only (condos, duplexes, etc. not included) compiled from Austin MLS data|
|Sep 2011||Oct 2011||Oct 2010||Yr % Change|
|Avg $ SQFT||$113.57||$115.78||$116.04||-0.23%|
|Not Sold %||44.39%||45.79%||58.29%||-21.45%|
As shown above, average and median sold prices are down 2.3% and 3.6% for Oct 2011 compared to Oct 2010. The number of homes sold increased and the number of failed sales efforts (Withdrawn or Expired) decreased. The sold to list price ratio increased a bit and the Days on Market improved.
Nothing really suprising or new here. The Austin real etstae market is still moving along somewhat, treading water for the most part. See the Year to Date and 44 month graphs below.
Last year I made (saved) $120 by spending 3 minutes on the telephone. All I did was call Sheraton Hotel in Seattle and say “I’d like to convert my reservation to the internet rate“. A couple of minutes later it was done. No fuss about it. I then paid $30 less per night during our 4 night stay, saving me $120 plus whatever the taxes would have been on the extra $120, so probably more like $150. That paid for all of mine and Sylvia’s dining out.
Why didn’t I make the original reservation with the internet rate? Because the “internet rate” is non-refundable and is charged to the credit card immediately. The “normal” reservation is refundable and you don’t pay until you stay. A lot can happen in the two or three months between a hotel reservation and an arrival, so paying in full months in advance, and having it be non-refundable, just isn’t the best way to manage your travel expenses. The smart-money thing to do is make a fully refundable hotel reservation and convert it just prior to your arrival, thereby receiving the benefits of a refundable reservation at the discounted non-refundable price.
I use this example because so much of our modern money management efforts require knowing stuff and doing something extra as a result of what you know. Prices that seem “cheaper” are often not, especially in the airline and hotel industry when you factor in the risk value of up front non-refundable charges. And they gloss over that small detail that when you make the reservation (and/or you don’t read the fine print). You have to know about it, or learn about it the unfortunate way, when life circumstances force the cancellation of a trip.
I bring up this topic because so many real estate consumers get bogged down in the infinitesimally small cost factors of buying and owning a home, as if the homes we live in are the only source of expenses and savings in life. And, as American consumers, we often remain blissfully unaware of the multitude of simple things that can be done daily to, as Clark Howard puts it, save more, spend less, and avoid being ripped off.
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.