As we head into the Spring/Summer leasing season in Austin, and I just mailed my first batch of renewal letters, I’m already fielding inquiries from tenants who have lease-end dates that don’t coincide with their future plans. The inevitable question is “can we have a move-out date of x instead of y?
For one tenant, planning to get married, extending the lease from a March 31 end date to a May 31 end date (two months) is not a problem. The home is owned by a long-term investor, and the new May lease end date benefits both the owner and the tenant. This is a win/win. It places the home dead center of the summer leasing season cycle.
In these win/win scenarios, I have flexibility because the adjustment benefits my client, the owner. I work for the owner and must only make decisions that are in the owner/client’s best interest. Thus, if that same tenant, in that same house, asked for the same 2 month extension for a lease that ended July 31st instead of March 31st, the answer would be “no”. Timing is everything.
As the listing agent for a lot of rental homes in Austin (for over 20 years), I’ve been dealing lately with a lot of really angry, frustrated renters and agents.
The reason for the upset is primarily the renter losing a home to other (multiple) applicants who applied quicker and/or had their act more together. Then thinking it was unfair that they lost out.
I’ve dealt with some applicants who have lost out on 3 or 4 homes in a row and who have to be out of their current house in 1 week, and have nowhere to go. Understandably, in this tight rental market, that sucks. Big time.
But that’s the “landlord’s” rental market we have in Austin at present, so you better become more prepared and more competitive if you want to avoid this angst. This is no market for slug footed, unprepared renters who don’t take the rental home search process seriously. You have to bring your “A Game”, or you may experience great frustration.
This article is written to help those searching for a home to rent in Austin TX to avoid that unfortunate circumstance where you lose out on a home to those better prepared. It’s a step by step guide to help you become the most awesome rental applicant out there. So read this and you’ll be a step ahead of others. You will become the winner, not the loser, in this competitive Austin rental market, and hopefully find the house you want.
Determine Your Specific Move Date Window
This sounds like a no brainer, but it’s hard to believe how many renter prospects I talk to who can’t answer the simple questions “when do you need to move”. You need to know, with certainty, the soonest and latest dates you can start a new lease. The larger window of time you can create for yourself, the better.
Rents continue to rise in Austin as more buyers opt to be renters and the supply of homes shrinks relative to demand. See the graph below for a snap shot of the wild ride Austin rental rates have taken since 1999.
It took over a decade for Austin’s rental rates to return to their 2001 peaks. Good for renters but it’s been a rough 10 years for landlords. And not all homes are back to pre-2001 rates, these are just the averages.
For November 2011 compared to a year ago, let’s take a look at the chart below.
Most Austin Property Managers, in fact all that I know, require tenant repair requests to be submitted in writing. This is required by Texas Property Code as well as the commonly used TAR (Texas Association of Realtors) and TAA (Texas Apartment Association) lease forms. It’s good practice for tenants to follow, even if the landlord or property manager doesn’t strictly enforce it. As a tenant, you want all of your important communication regarding your lease to be documented in case the worst case scenario ever comes about and you end up in court over a dispute.
At Crossland Property Management, we provide an online repair request form for the convenience of our tenants. 99% of our repair requests originate here, albeit sometimes after I direct a tenant there from a phone call or email. Occassionally tenants fuss about this. “Why can’t you just take the info over the phone?” is a common gripe. “Because we already agreed in the lease agreement that repair requests are submitted in writing or online” is my response. “And we make that super easy for you by providing an online form”.
The operational efficiencies of having all repair requests originate online through a repair request form are phenomenal.
1) The online request form is interactive.
This is very important. All property managers should be programming your online repair requests with this functionality. It’s simple to do even for non-programmers if you’re using the right web tools. Sorry, but none of the “out of the box” pre-fab websites that many property managers use provide for this, which is another good reason to develop, host and manage your own website with WordPress, then you can use a simple Forms Plugin.
For example, on my repair request form, once the checkbox under “Problem” is checked “Air Conditioner” or “Furnace”, an informational blurb automatically appears above the Submit button. It reads:
“Many of our service calls for A/C and/or furnace result in “user error” as the cause, especially when seasons change from hot/cold and thermostats are not properly set. Please double-check your thermostat and also make sure you have clean filters properly installed. If you feel confident that the thermostat and filter(s) are in order, proceed with your request so we can get out to have a look.”
Likewise, if the tenant checks “Electrical” as the problem, the following blurb automatically appears:
Zillow now offers “Zestimates” for rental properties in Austin. Want to see how much a home might rent for? Just look it up on Zillow the same way you would the value of a home in Austin. Let’s see how accurate it is.
I took a look at some actual homes I manage, from all areas of Austin, and compared the actual rented value to the Rent Zestimates for Austin.
|SW Austin 78736||$1,260.00||$1,295.00||-2.70%|
|South Austin 78745||$1,276.00||$1,195.00||6.78%|
|South Austin 78748||$1,394.00||$1,395.00||-0.07%|
|SE Austin 78741||$1,195.00||$995.00||20.10%|
|Central Austin 78704||$1,539.00||$1,795.00||-14.26%|
|Central Austin 78705||$1,332.00||$1,650.00||-19.27%|
|Central Austin 78756||$1,319.00||$1,595.00||-17.30%|
|NW Austin 78759||$2,429.00||$2,495.00||-2.65%|
|NW Austin 78729||$1,417.00||$1,395.00||1.58%|
|Cedar Park 78613||$1,252.00||$1,300.00||-3.69%|
Looks like Zillow Rental “Zestimates” either get it pretty close or way off. Of the 10 homes reviewed, 4 are incorrect by 14% or more with three of the four underestimating the rent, and one over estimating by 20%.
Five out of the remaining six were within a margin of error less than 5%. Not bad, actually. These were mostly underestimated as well.
So how do you know “for sure” the rental market value for a house in Austin? There are some simple rules of thumb.
The Austin rental market remains strong, and rent values continue to rise overall. Let’s start with a look at the historic rental value graph. Going back to 1999, the YTD 2010 average and median rental rates still remain below the peaks of 2000/2001.
The big dip in rental rates in Austin following the peak in 2000/2001 was a result of the tech bubble (does anyone even remember that) followed by 9/11. Around the tail end of 2005 our real estate sales market started picking up after remaining flat for 4 years, and rental values started to rise as well. We’re almost back to where we were at the start of the decade.
Next, the chart below shows August year-over-year rental market stats for Austin.