Austin Real Estate Market Update – Nov 2009

Maybe I should start terming my Austin real estate market update blogs “Austin Real Estate Market, as Influenced by the Federal Government”. Indeed, the word “market” does need an asterisk next to it for the Sept-Nov time frame in Austin. Instead of taking its natural course, whatever that might have been, the lower end of the market was stimulated by government incentives for the Latter part of 2009 through November, and the sub-$200K buyers responded. Thus we see on the graph below the drastic drop in the average and median sold price for November 2009 as the final batch of first time home buyer tax credit sales closed.

Austin Real Estate sales graph Nov 2009

It’s not hard to see what the real estate market is doing, but it is hard to know for sure why it’s doing it, or, that is, to what extent the number of sales (way up) and the average/median values (down) are influenced by these the artificially low interest rates and the buyer incentives, both being caused by government intervention in the market. Some economist believe that once these stimulus measures peter out, as they will later this year, the national real estate market is in for another big drop in prices as foreclosures will snowball to the highest levels we’ve seen yet.

So what does all of this mean for Austin? Is Austin real estate in generally good enough shape to ride it out better than most markets? I think so. Let’s have a look at the November stats.

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Austin Rental Market Update – Oct 2009

The rental market for houses in Austin is still slowly improving, climbing out of the huge dip we took after the tech bust and 9/11. For October 2009, average and median rents are both up about 1%, but homes are taking longer to rent, averaging 42 days on market compared to 38 a year ago in October.

This is a macro view though. In talking with other property managers in Austin, it’s not uncommon for some homes to be renting for the same or less than a year earlier, while others can do a bit better. It’s really a function of the number of competing homes and the location of the property. It took 45 days for me to rent a central Austin home in 78704 recently and we had to take $50/mo. less than a year earlier. Had I accepted large dogs and/or poor credit, it would have rented right away, so rental criteria is also a determining factor in how long it takes and the amount attainable.

October stats are listed in the chart below.

Austin Real Estate Rental Market Update October 2009
Houses only (condos, duplexes, etc. not included) compiled from Austin MLS data

Sep 2009 Oct 2009 Oct 2008 Yr % Change
# Rented 665 660 684 -3.51%
Avg List $1,437 $1,421 $1,401 1.43%
Med List $1,250 $1,250 $1,250 0.00%
Avg Rent $1,419 $1,402 $1,388 1.01%
Med Rent $1,250 $1,250 $1,240 0.81%
Rent/List % 98.75% 98.66% 99.07% -0.41%
Avg SQFT 1970 1951 1882 3.67%
Med SQFT 1808 1800 1739 3.51%
Avg $ SQFT $0.72 $0.72 $0.74 -2.56%
Avg DOM 40 42 38 10.53%
Median DOM 32 34 29 17.24%
# Expired 56 55 83 -33.73%
# Withdrawn 148 114 180 -36.67%
Not Rented 204 169 263 -35.74%
Not Rented % 23.48% 20.39% 27.77% -26.59%

Let’s have a look at 2009 year to date through October, compared to the same period in 2008.

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Investing in Small Commercial vs. Residential Real Estate

One of my commercial tenants skipped out on me earlier this year, so I have my office building on Manchaca Rd. for rent again. I knew it could possibly take 6 to 12 months to find a new tenant, and so far, even after dropping the rent from $1,700 to $1,495, I still don’t have it leased. Bummer.

This unfortunate reality is one of the first big differences between owning small commercial investment property versus single family homes in Austin. It would never take 6 to 12 months to rent a house (well, if you have a lousy Austin property manager it could I guess). But extended vacancy is not unusual with a commercial property, especially in this economic climate. Meanwhile I am absent the $1,700/mo. rental income that the former tenant, a tow truck company, provided. Ouch.

Ironically, I could have leased this property immediately, which would have been a streak of incredible luck, but I decided I didn’t want the type of business that the business owner wanted to set up. This is the second big difference in owning commercial investment in Austin versus residential rental property, making sure the tenant is a good fit for the property and the community.

The tenant prospect wanted to open up a “gaming room”. I wasn’t even sure what that was until I looked into it a bit more. It’s legal, apparently, but I just don’t want 40 or 50 of these gaming machines, which are a cross between bingo and slot machines, in my building, with gambling addicts sitting in front of them till midnight smoking, guzzling coffee and blowing their money trying to win Visa gift cards. It just doesn’t seem like an activity that adds value to the community of Manchaca, or society in general, so I don’t want to be involved by providing the venue. And I worry that even if the business is technically legal at present, our friends down at the Texas State Capital, who have a fondness for trying to legislate morality, might change the laws and cause me a vacancy. So I passed on the quick lease-up for personal reasons.

With residential property, you can’t do that. Applicants either qualify or they don’t, and even if the applicant owned a business I don’t like, it would be improper for me to decline rental on that basis.

Plus, that’s too many gamblers flushing my commodes in a property serviced by a 30+ year old septic system. On the other hand, the $15K in lost rent between then and now would have paid for a brand new septic system.

So, in a nutshell, this small commercial investment property is a cash cow when it’s leased. I paid $58K cash for it in 1998, and immediately invested another $17K remodeling it, so I’m in $75K for a property that was paying $1,700/mo. rent until it went vacant. Not a bad return. I can’t buy anything today that even comes close to that kind of ratio. Plus, it’s appreciated nicely to a value of about $250K today, and it’s located in the fastest growing zipcode in Austin, 78748. Had I invested that $75K in the S&P 500 10 years ago, I’d still have about $75K. Today, rent proceeds plus equity buildup make this a good investment.

But when it’s vacant, it stays vacant for a long time. Much longer than a typical house. As an investor, if you’re thinking about small commercial, you have to ask yourself if that’s ok. Can you handle extended vacancy or will it drive you crazy? I’m in it for the long haul and the vacancy, though unwanted, is just part of the business of investing in small commercial real estate, so it’s not upsetting or distressing to me given the return the property has already produced. But I don’t think the average small investor wants to own a property that is this difficult to rent. It’s high return, high risk and I think most small investors would prefer a more predictable real estate investment.

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Austin Real Estate Market Update for August 2009 Sales

Austin Real Estate values for August 2009 are down about 5% from the same month last year. Average sales prices for the 1,657 houses that sold are down 5.12%. Median sold prices are down 4.80%. The number of houses sold is down 15% from August 2008, which is less of a decrease than we’ve seen for most of the past 12+ months.  The sold to list price gap is 96%, which is the same as a year ago and the same as last month. The average list price was $257K and the average sold price $247K, so the average home is selling for about $10K below the final list price. Note that this measures the gap only between the last list price, not the original list price. Unfortunately I have to work harder to obtain the ration of sold to original list price so I don’t calculate it monthly, but my best guess is that it’s probably somewhere between 90% to 92%.

The Days on Market keep climbing, now at 73 days average and 43 days median on market. Even though that’s higher than last year, those are still fairl decent DOM numbers.

The Not Solds (Expired and Withdrawn listings) continue to be fairly high at 45%. This means that of all the listings that departed the MLS in August (no longer Active for Sale), 45% of the listings departed as failed sales efforts. This tells us what we already know, which is that many sellers are not desperate and they refuse to drop their list price below whatever mental threshhold they’ve established, regardless of what the market data says. This in turn is keeping our sold prices reasonably stable but also may be creating a shadow inventory of pent up future listings that will come online in the next 2 or 3 years once seller perceive a better selling environment.

Below is the chart comparing August with the month and year before. Further below is the usual collection of monthly charts and graphs.

Austin Real Estate Sales Market Update August 2009
Homes only (condos, duplexes, etc. not included) compiled from Austin MLS data

Jul 2009 Aug 2009 Aug 2008 Yr % Change
# Sold 1972 1657 1948 -14.94%
Avg List $258,562 $256,663 $270,759 -5.21%
Med List $199,900 $197,500 $206,352 -4.29%
Avg Sold $248,984 $247,072 $260,411 -5.12%
Med Sold $195,000 $190,400 $200,000 -4.80%
Sold/List % 96.30% 96.26% 96.18% 0.09%
Avg SQFT 2184 2199 2191 0.37%
Med SQFT 1981 1971 1992 -1.05%
Avg $ SQFT $114.00 $112.36 $118.85 -5.47%
Avg DOM 70 73 64 14.06%
Median DOM 44 43 44 -2.27%
# Expired 476 491 740 -33.65%
# Withdrawn 825 900 876 2.74%
Not Sold 1301 1391 1616 -13.92%
Not Sold % 39.75% 45.64% 45.34% 0.65%

Next is the Year to data chart showing how our Austin real estate market is doing compared to the market at the same point in 2008.

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Rental Moveout Walk-through in South Austin

Yesterday, September 1st, I walked through a rental property in South Austin that had been vacated the day before. I had my Flip Mino Video Camera with me so I decided to make a short video of the walk-through and share a few things about what I look for when walking a vacant rental property after a tenant move out.

The result is one of the worst videos I’ve ever seen. I have no idea what I’m doing, or how to make a good video. I move too fast, muddle my words, don’t hold the camera steady, etc. I look like a dork and sound stupid. My Inner Critic is telling me to forget it, don’t post it. It’s terrible. Learn some video editing first. But if I wait until I know what I’m doing, it will never happen.

I have the camera mainly for vacations and recording family stuff, but I’ve thought for a while now that it might be fun to start making some video blogs, so this is what I’m starting with, for better or worse.

Here goes …

If you wonder what it’s like being a landlord, you’ll find it interesting (if you just watched the video) that the tenant emailed me the same day, after not following the instructions provided for returning keys, and stated in the email, “I spent a lot of time cleaning the house. I hope it was up to your standards.”

This is why I don’t allow tenants to walk through properties with me, or meet them for move-out walk-throughs. There is too big of a disconnect between what I observe and what a tenant deems to be acceptable. For more on that, read my past article “Why I Never Do Move-out Walk-throughs with Departing Tenants

Back to video making and why I decided to go ahead with my first rough draft right out of the gate.

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Austin Real Estate Market Update – July 2009 Stats

It’s getting real hard to write about the Austin real estate market when month after month it just keeps doing what is expected, treading water overall, doing well under $200K, especially close in, and still soft in the $400K+ price ranges. That really sums it up, month after month. At the beginning of the year I predicted Austin would be down 3% to 5% overall this year, and we’re still on track for that.

For July, the average sold price compared to July 2008 is down about 4%, a bit more than the 3% average we’ve been seeing each month, but not a surprise. Median sold price is down 1.5%. Average price per square foot is down 5% from a year ago. Days on market is up to 71 average and 44 median, which are not bad numbers, but still worse than a year ago, which was worse than the year before. See the chart below for the previous month and pevious year comparisons for July.

Austin Real Estate Sales Market Update July 2009
Homes only (condos, duplexes, etc. not included) compiled from Austin MLS data

Jun 2009 Jul 2009 Jul 2008 Yr % Change
# Sold 2031 1950 2017 -3.32%
Avg List $264,959 $259,167 $269,724 -3.91%
Med List $206,000 $199,900 $203,000 -1.53%
Avg Sold $254,059 $249,560 $260,832 -4.32%
Med Sold $200,000 $195,000 $198,000 -1.52%
Sold/List % 95.89% 96.29% 96.70% -0.42%
Avg SQFT 2221 2188 2166 1.02%
Med SQFT 2012 1985 1962 1.17%
Avg $ SQFT $114.39 $114.06 $120.42 -5.28%
Avg DOM 77 71 61 16.39%
Median DOM 48 44 39 12.82%
# Expired 392 476 537 -11.36%
# Withdrawn 679 825 881 -6.36%
Not Sold 1071 1301 1418 -8.25%
Not Sold % 34.53% 40.02% 41.28% -3.06%

The year-to-date chart is below. For the year Austin Average Sold price for houses is down 2.96%, median is down is dead even at 0% change, and average price per square foot is down about 5%. Our “not sold” are holding at 42%. See below for the details

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