I recently had a tenant utter the phrase “greedy landlords”. Ironically, it was out of frustration for what was in fact a tiny rent increase of less than 3%, raising the rent to a rate still about $75 less than market value. It was one of those “no good deed goes unpunished” moments that property managers frequently experience. More about my philosophy of rent increases can be read in a previous blog post on that subject.
But for this article, I want to talk about just who in fact your landlord is if you’re an Austin Tenant living in a single family home. I don’t mean the identity of your property owner, but more generally, what caused the owner to own a home that needed to be rented.
Owners fall into the following general categories.
Pure Investor – These are pure investors who purchased the property from the outset as an income producing asset. Many have maxed out retirement plans, or simply lost faith in the stock market and need a way to invest. Investing in real estate is very risky, fraught with uncertainty and surprise expenses. But for those with the right attitude toward proper care of the property, holding longterm, and treating tenants fairly, it can be one of the best ways to build wealth. They also need to have the financial and emotional strength to weather the ups and downs of owning rental property. All of our “investor” owners fall into this category, else we don’t take them as clients. But most of our clients are in fact not “pure investors”. Most fall into one of the categories below.
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.
The Austin real estate market finished 2010 with increased overall sales prices. The market is roughly a bit higher than the peak 2007 values. See the graph below for an illustration of Austin home sales values from 1999 through 2010.
The graph can be deceiving though. It simply represents the cumulative data from all MLS sales. Certainly, most homes in Austin are at or still below the 2007 values. Some are significantly below the 2007 values, especially in the high end at $500K and above. For the entire year of 2010, 48% of all MLS listings departed the MLS as a failed sales effort (expired or withdrawn). Anytime half the listings are not finding buyers, it’s a tough market for sellers overall.
On the flip side, 2010 was not exactly a “buyer’s market” in Austin. There was little to no “low hanging fruit” to be plucked from the market. Sellers were, for the most part, not crying Uncle and were not dropping prices drastically. Yes, we have anecdotal examples of some good deals that were had by some buyers, but most buyers were simply frustrated at the difference between the perceived “buyer’s market” and the actual reality of trying to find a great home at a great price.
The only winners in 2010 were the sellers who were fortunate enough to sell quickly at an acceptable price, and the buyers who allowed for themselves enough flexibility and patience to eventually find the right combination of motivated seller and acceptable home. It was not a good year for picky buyers with narrow parameters, as they kept running into stubborn sellers unwilling to negotiate to the degree buyers thought warranted by market conditions.
Year 2011 will be more of the same in the Austin real estate market, but volume will pick up and I believe sellers will start enjoying a slightly better market. 2012 is the year that things will really bust loose again, in my opinion, but we’ll see. 2011 may have a surprise upswing in store if job growth continues to pick up in Austin. More market stats below.
The average year-to-date sold price for homes in Austin is $256K, which just broke through the (peak) year 2007 YTD of $255K.
Now, there is a lot of discussion and caveats that must be considered along with this milestone statistic, but nevertheless, look at the graph below for a visual representation of where average and median home prices in Austin stand right now relative to past years. Further down you’ll find additional monthly and YTD stats and an overview of what Sylvia and I are seeing in the real estate market in Austin as we continue to wheeze through the tax credit hangover and head into the fall/winter months .
Looking at the above graph, one might assume that home prices are rising in Austin. Actually, what’s happening more specifically is that fewer lower priced homes are selling than before, as a percentage of all homes sold. This is dragging the average and medians upward. Nevertheless, the graph remains what it is and to the casual observer, newspaper reporter, or market cheerleaders, this will be fodder for the simple utterance that “prices are rising in Austin”. The real question is, is your particular home worth more today than is was at the peak in 2007?, and the answer is “probably not”, unless it’s a sub $200K home. The graph is really a reflection of segment and price range shifts.
Below is the chart for August sales, YTD sales, a Pending Sales analysis, and some other stuff that I hope you’ll find interesting and useful.
As someone who’s bought and sold a bunch of rentals, and helped other investors buy, sell and manage investment property in Austin for a number of years, I’m about to ask a question that might seem counter to my professional mission of being in service to real estate investors.
Is rental property investing in Austin still a good way to build long term wealth?
My answer, for a lot of people, is “probably not”.
Let me rephrase the question.
Is rental property investing in Austin a good way to lose money and create financial stress in one’s life?
Absolutely. More so than ever.
So, am I saying you shouldn’t invest in real estate in Austin, or elsewhere? No, I think everyone should consider doing so. But I do think, after careful consideration, a much higher percentage of people should decide against it than would have been the case 15 years ago. The opportunity for mistakes, bad decisions and cash flow disruption for the real estate investor today is much greater than in past years.
In other words, your margin of error is very thin. You better know what you’re doing, or have a good adviser. Success is harder to achieve than if you started in the 1980s or 1990s simply because today’s ratios are thinner. The financial and psychological profile of a good candidate real estate investor today has a much higher bar to clear than in years past. Let’s take a look at why that is.
The $8,000 buyer tax credit ended April 30, 2010. Take a look at the following graph to see the effect the tax credit had on buyer activity in Austin TX. This shows Pending activity for Austin MLS listings going back to Jan 2005 through April 2010. The green line is 2010. The previous years of 2007, 2008, 2009 are represented by the other colored lines.
I used Pending listings because a lot of the April Pending sales haven’t closed yet, but anything that qualified for the tax credit would have to be Pending by April 30th, so this gives us a sneak peek at what the sales data will look like for May closed sales.
A couple of interesting things to note here. I went back to 2007 because that was the peak year for Austin. As you can see on the chart, April Pending listings exceeded the peak year of 2007 for April. I suspect we’ve never experienced an April in Austin where almost 3,000 homes received accepted offers.What does this mean for the future?