Is Rental Property Investing in Austin Still Profitable?

Is Rental Property Investing in Austin Still Profitable?

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.

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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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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 Rental Market Update – March 2009

Average rents in Austin have taken a slight dip for the first quarter of 2009. The number of rented homes is up 11% over the same three months a year ago, no doubt due to the fact that many sellers are opting to rent instead of dropping prices below their bottom dollar. This creates additional rental inventory, which gives renters more homes to choose from, and prevents prices from increasing.

Personally, I’ve leased 4 or 5 homes in the past 2 months, and the market is really spotty. One house I leased central received 4 applications in 2 days. Another one I leased north central leased immediately for $1,650 a year ago, but took about 45 days to lease for $1,595 this year. Another one in Western Oaks leased for $1,550 (same amount as last year) in about a week. A different home in Western Oaks, also listed at $1,550, and newer and in better condition, has not received any showings in more than a week. It’s not an easy market to predict right now, much like the sales market. 

The stats chart is below, followed by the 1999-2009 Austin leasing history graph. 


Austin Real Estate Rental Market Update Q1 2009 Jan-Mar
Houses only (condos, duplexes, etc. not included) compiled from Austin MLS data

Oct-Dec 2008 Jan-Mar 2009 Jan-Mar 2008 Yr % Change
# Rented 1878 1979 1782 11.05%
Avg List $1,407 $1,382 $1,393 -0.79%
Med List $1,250 $1,225 $1,250 -2.00%
Avg Rent $1,390 $1,364 $1,384 -1.45%
Med Rent $1,225 $1,200 $1,225 -2.04%
Rent/List % 98.79% 98.70% 99.35% -0.66%
Avg SQFT 1934 1930 1919 0.57%
Med SQFT 1794 1798 1799 -0.06%
Avg $ SQFT $0.72 $0.71 $0.72 -2.01%
Avg DOM 42 50 41 21.95%
Median DOM 33 40 29 37.93%
# Expired 293 206 183 12.57%
# Withdrawn 513 458 350 30.86%
Not Rented 806 664 533 24.58%
Not Rented % 30.03% 25.12% 23.02% 9.12%


As noted in the chart above, average rents in Austin (for single family homes) are $1,364/mo., down 1.45% from $1,384/mo. the same quarter 2008. Median price has fallen from $1,225 a year ago to $1,200 this year, meaning half of all homes in Austin rented for $1200 or less. 

Below is a graphical representation of the Austin rental market from 1999 through March 2009.

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Austin Rental Market Update for 2008

The rental market for single family homes in Austin continues its march upward. Rent prices increased about 6% in 2008 over 2007. Remember though that the 2008 average rent amount of $1,424 per month in Austin is still less than the year 2000 average rent of $1,497/mo. and the year 2001 peak of $1,524/mo. The graph below shows the historic average and median rent values for Austin from 1999 through 2008. The big dip you see in the chart is a result of the tech bust, 9/11 and the resulting job losses, weak economy and over-supply of rental homes that resulted in all the failed sales efforts from 2002 through 2004. You can see that our rental market bottomed out in 2005 and turned upward in 2006 and has continued that trend for three years now. But most rental homes in Austin still rent for less than they did in 2000 and 2001, so renters have had a good run.


Will the Austin rental market continue its upward climb in 2009? It’s hard to know for sure, but I think it might level off a bit for 2009. Demand for rental homes will increase due to the non-buyers who are choosing to not buy a home and instead becoming or remaining renters. But that is offset by the slower job market, and the increased rental supply provided by sales listings converted to rentals after not selling, as those sellers refuse to lower the price further and instead decide to simply hold off on selling for a year or two until the sales market rebounds. Also, although the rental stats look really good for landlords, those of us in the business of renting properties know that we are not always able to increase rents and not all homes rent as quickly as the stats suggest.

Finally, apartments are over-built again in Austin and there will be a large number of just completed new apartment units coming online in Austin in 2009, as well as new condos converted to rentals due to slow sales. The move-in deals and concessions offered by apartments tend to siphon away at least some of our home renters who ordinarily might not consider an apartment but can be swayed by economic incentives such as three month’s free rent, $99 deposits and free washer and dryer. So, while demand will increase, supply will be increasing by even more.

I just mailed lease renewal notices out for 4 rental properties I manage, and we did not raise rent on any of those particular properties. It’s much cheaper and more prudent to retain a tenant at the current rental rate than to cause them to think about moving because of a $50 or $100/mo rent increase.

December rental stats, Year to date rental stats, and a breakdown comparing 2008 to 2007 by MLS area are all posted below.

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Austin Rental Market Update – July 2008

The Austin TX rental market continues to do well overall. Rents are steadily rising for the third year in a row after falling for 4 straight years (2002 through 2005). Average rents for homes in Austin for July 2008 were $1,493 per month. Year to date the average rent is $1,425. the graph below shows nearly the past 10 years of Austin’s rental market and our ups and downs.
Austin Rental Market graph 1999-Jul2008

The rental market is helped now by the fact that fewer renters can qualify to purchase homes, which increases demand. The easy loans that renters were able to obtain from 2002 through 2007 are gone. You need a down payment and decent credit to buy a home now, as it should be.

The chart above shows the past decade of the ups and downs in Austin’s rental market. Despite three years of gains, the average and median rents are still lower than they were in 2000. Yes, that’s right, rents are lower still today than they were 8 years ago. Austin renters have had a great ride, while landlords have been nailed with higher property taxes, insurance costs and repair costs.

I just rented a home I own for $1,225 after an extensive remodel. I rented the same home, in average condition, for $1,325 in 2001. Rents are still very specific to location, price range and condition. We just rented a luxury home for $2,295 that rented for $2,495 a year ago. We simply did not have the number of showings needed to fetch the higher rent this time, and we disallowed large dogs.

Below are July rental stats chart and the year to date stats chart. I’ve added some color formatting to the charts this time. Green fields indicate numbers that are moving in a direction positive for landlords.

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