If People Bought Houses The Way We Buy Cars

Person with a newly bought car

I’ve been buying and selling stuff lately other than real estate. Mainly with Craigslist ads. Washer/Dryer left over from a sale. A Fridge too. Bought a used car for my daughter, and we’re selling our minivan. It’s funny how the non-real estate inquiries differ so much from real estate inquiries.

First up, I’m selling our trusty 2007 Honda Odyssey. It has 107,000 miles now, and we no longer need it. Our oldest daughter is in college and youngest in high school. We just don’t haul around gaggles of kids to parties, playdates, etc. anymore. Plus, the van is a 16 mpg gas hog. As a replacement, we bought Sylvia a 2012 Hyundai Sonata Limited, which achieved 38 miles per gallon driving our daughter up to TCU in Ft Worth last week! It’s a neat little car. GPS just like the Honda, and built in blue tooth connectivity for the phone. So, when driving and the cell rings, Sylvia just taps a button on the steering wheel to answer and start talking hands free. It’s roomy inside and nice enough for taking clients around, but more economical and easier to drive and park than the minivan.

Anyway, if real estate buyers were like auto buyers from Craigslist, and you were selling a home, let’s say, for $285,000, you might receive a text message saying “wil u take 235 I buy today“, and similar gibberish. What sort of dummy thinks this method of engagement is an effective initial communication for a purchase discussion? After enough of these pings, all of which I ignored, I altered my ad to say “Calls only. DO NOT TEXT. Text messages will not receive a response“.

So now I just get calls, thankfully, from intelligent people . For the Odyssey, the buyers all ask the the same opening question: “Has the timing belt been replaced?” Huh? No it hasn’t. But after enough of those calls I took it down to Howdy Honda to get the timing belt replaced. It’s just an $800 preventative maintenance thing that’s recommended at 7 years or $100,000 miles. I just figured a new owner would get it done, but that’s not working. These Honda buyers are tough! Way tougher than house buyers.

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Austin Real Estate Market Snapshop March 2012

Austin Home sale statistcs

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.

Austin Real Estate Sales Graph

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.

Austin Sold/Expired Graph 1999 thru 2010

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.

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Understanding Austin TX Lease Agreements

Austin Lease AgreementThis year I leased 36 homes through the Austin MLS, plus some that never made it into the MLS. So probably 40+ leases this year. I would have leased another one and moved the people in this Friday the 30th, but they refused to sign the lease, so it didn’t happen.

A lease starts with an Application for Rental. Once a tenant is approved, we send the lease agreement via DocuSign, which allows the tenant to read and sign it securely online. Once I’ve signed off on behalf of my owner client, a copy of the completed lease agreement is automatically delivered via pdf attachment to all tenants who signed.

This paperless system is pretty cool, but it doesn’t provide for the face to face sit down that we had in the old days when we signed leases. Instead, tenants can email or call me with questions about the lease before signing.

The lease we use is the standard Texas Association of Realtors lease agreement. When I started leasing homes in Austin in 1990, the lease we used was 3 pages long. Today’s TAR Lease Agreement is 14 pages. Some tenants sign the lease without reading it carefully, judging by the short elapsed time between me sending and a tenant signing. Other tenants read the entire lease carefully, which is what I want every tenant to do. A lease agreement is a legally binding contract and a tenant should understand the obligations being entered into. Some tenants take issue with terms and conditions of the lease, and want me to make changes, which is what happened on the latest deal. But I don’t alter our leases for anyone, for any reason. Here’s why.

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Austin Rental Market Update – Nov 2011

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.

Austin Rental Market 1999 thru Nov 2011
Austin Rental Market 1999 thru Nov 2011

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.

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Where is Westlake, or is it West Lake Hills?

Map showing Westlake ISD Austin TX

Where exactly is “Westlake” in Austin? Well, it depends on which boundaries you use. In the broadest sense, “Westlake” is considered to be those areas which attend Westlake High School, or those areas within the Eanes ISD boundaries, as shown on this map.

So, in general terms, the area west of Austin known as “Westlake” is everything that feeds into Eanes ISD schools.

If a buyer tells us they want a home that attends “Westlake Schools”, we will restrict the search in the Austin MLS to homes where School District = Eanes ISD aka “Westlake Schools”.

Many people also think of “Westlake” as the 78746 zipcode. In fact, the entire 78746 zipcode is contained within the boundaries of Eanes ISD, except for a small southern portion that crosses Barton Creek into the Barton Creek Greenbelt and Austin ISD. None of that area is developed though, so all homes in the 78746 zipcode attend Eanes ISD schools.

The 78733 zipcode is also contained within Eanes ISD. This includes neighborhoods such as Barton Creek West and Cuernavaca. But if you ask people there where they live, they are more likely to self-identify with the neighborhood rather than say “Westlake”. See map below.

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Austin Real Estate Market Update – October 2011 Stats

Real Estate Market Stats

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
# Sold 1601 1346 1202 11.98%
Avg List $262,989 $267,793 $278,846 -3.96%
Med List $197,999 $199,900 $206,500 -3.20%
Avg Sold $252,815 $257,957 $264,112 -2.33%
Med Sold $192,000 $192,650 $199,925 -3.64%
Sold/List % 96.13% 96.33% 94.72% 1.70%
Avg SQFT 2226 2228 2276 -2.11%
Med SQFT 2044 1992 2058 -3.21%
Avg $ SQFT $113.57 $115.78 $116.04 -0.23%
Avg DOM 76 78 87 -10.34%
Median DOM 52 55 67 -17.91%
# Expired 478 434 704 -38.35%
# Withdrawn 800 703 976 -27.97%
Not Sold 1278 1137 1680 -32.32%
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.

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