And just like that, we’re moving again

moving boxes Austin

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.

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Austin City vs Metro Home Prices 2013

Austin vs Austin metro home prices

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.

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Forgetting the MLS Key Really Stinks

Photo of MLS ActiveKey Austin

No doubt every Austin Realtor has forgotten – or almost forgotten the electronic MLS key when showing a property. That really stinks when it happens. Me and Sylvia are still old school and carry around these horrible devices. The alternative would be to use an iPhone app that requires a small infrared stick that plugs into the bottom of the iPhone. The problem with that is if you lose your iPhone, or the battery goes low, you’ve also lost your MLS key.  I’d rather spread the risk to separate devices. I also don’t want to have the tiny plugin stick to keep track of or junking up my key ring.

Anyway, I drove way up northwest by the lake today, past Lakeway, to show some buyers who had driven up from Corpus Christi to meet me at a house. This was a 45 minute drive from my house. About 15 minutes away I realized I left my MLS key laying on my desk, where it had been charging.

I quickly assessed the options in my head while not panicking, but almost panicking. I checked the listing agent on the MLS printout and noticed it was a KW agent in Lakeway. I just happened to be on 620 not far from the KW office.

I called the agent and got ahold of the assistant. “I’m on my way to show your listing on {Street name} and left my MLS key at home. Is there a combo box on the property or is the MLS box the only way in?”, I asked cheerfully, keeping my optimism high. “No”, the well informed assistant told me, “there is no combo box”.

“OK”, I said. “Do you have a spare key in the office that I could come by and pick up? I’m not far from you” . There was no spare key either.

I was now about 12 minutes away. I could either:

a) Turn around and know for sure that although I’d be terribly late arriving (like, 75 minutes late), I could call and ask the client to go get lunch and show up later for the appointment.

b) Show up on time and deal with it, knowing I might not be able to get in.

c) Call a Realtor friend close by and beg them to meet me there.

I’ve always been lucky. I decide to give myself a chance to get lucky and proceeded to the appointment to face the music. I’d just have to figure out a way to get inside.

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Austin Real Estate Market – 2010 Breakdown by MLS Area

Real Estate Market Stats

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
2010 17,709 $255,049 $195,000 2,214 $115.20 73 48 93.19
2009 18,636 $245,765 $190,000 2,177 $112.89 75 47 95.2
Change -4.97% 3.78% 2.63% 1.70% 2.04% -2.67% 2.13% -2.11%

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.

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Austin Real Estate Market – Year 2010 Summary and 2011 Predictions

Austin Home sale statistcs

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.

Austin Real Estate Sales Market Graph

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.

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How Long Does it Take To Add a New Listing to Austin MLS?

Austin MLS Home Listings

I just finished adding one of our new listings to the Austin MLS. Years ago, this took about 15 minutes. There was far less data included and only 8 photos with no comment space for photos, no pdf attachments, and far less space to type the general description of the property.Today, a nearly overwhelming amount of data, photos and attachments must be included with a properly entered MLS listing, and it takes a while to enter it all in.

How long do you suppose it takes today to enter a real estate sales listing into the Austin MLS, from start to finish, sitting down at the computer with photos, files and info all ready to go? This includes 25 photos to upload and type in comments for, several pdf attachments, 512 characters of description (both agent-only and another 512 for the public sites), and (I haven’t actually counted) what must be well over 100 fields and data-points, including driving instructions to find the property right down to trivial data such as whether the 2-car garage has one door or two and which compass direction the property faces.

The one I just completed took me about 70 minutes. I started at 7:42AM and completed it at 8:50. It’s best to do it late night or early morning to reduce interruptions. Sometimes it can take as much as 2 hours, or longer if interruptions occur, or sometimes we have to save as “incomplete” and finish later before posting live.

But it’s important to get it done, start to finish because not all of the listing feeds update properly. This means that if I add a half dozen photos to start with and decide to finish the rest later, the initial data feed that sends listings to the vast array of public facing websites will send out an incomplete set of photos.

Some photos will update later, but others will not, and those sites will retain only the initial set of pics. So, in the case of adding a new listing, first impressions are literally the only impression in many instances. So it’s important that your listing agent knows how to gather everything needed ahead of time, including all 25 of the best photos to be used, virtual tour links, and all of the data points needed so that every photo and every field on your listing is correct right out of the gate.

An impatient seller might ask, “what’s the big deal. Can’t we hurry up and get the listing in this weekend and add the better photos later?

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