Home sellers in driver’s seat amid low supply, high demand
By Shonda Novak
In its monthly report Wednesday, the Austin Board of Realtors said January home sales in Central Texas jumped 33 percent over the same month last year, hitting their highest January level in six years. The area’s median sales price also rose, climbing 10 percent, compared with January 2012, to $197,900 last month, the board reported.
The board said 1,402 single-family homes were sold in the Austin area in January, the most for a January since 2007. The increase marked the 20th month in a row of rising sales in a market where competition for properties is increasingly fierce and multiple offers are common in many areas and price ranges.
“The Austin real estate market showed steady growth in demand throughout 2012, and, if the first month of 2013 is any indication, this year looks to be continuing that momentum in a big way,” said Cathy Coneway, chair of the Austin Board of Realtors.
Housing demand is being driven by the region’s job and population growth coupled with historically low mortgage interest rates, experts say. Other factors include a local apartment market that is virtually fully occupied and marked by rising rents; a low supply of new and resale homes; and increased consumer confidence locally and nationally, stemming from rising home prices.
“All the statistics point to a very strong market this year with sellers in control,” said local real estate consultant Charles Heimsath, president of Capitol Market Research.
Inventory is extremely low, experts and agents say, and buyers who don’t act quickly will lose out.
The local market featured 2.5 months of supply in January 2013, the lowest inventory figure seen in the Austin area in the past decade, the board noted. There were 25 percent fewer listings than last January, and pending sales were up 25 percent.
“The local housing market is exploding right now,” said Dylan Everett, an agent with JB Goodwin Realtors. “In fact, it can be very stressful working with a buyer right now because you are fighting multiple offers,” and houses are selling even before they hit the Board of Realtors’ database of listings, he said.
In January, 38.2 percent of new listings in Austin went under contract within 14 days of their debut, according to Redfin, a national real estate brokerage that tracks housing data in several Central Texas counties.
“The national average was 30.3 percent, so Austin is right behind our California market in terms of speed of sales,” said Rachel Musiker, a Redfin spokeswoman. “The speed just intensifies the competition for homes.”
Carrie Bills owns Green Mango Real Estate, which specializes in the 78704 zip code that includes Travis Heights, south of downtown.
“I’m busier than I’ve been in four years,” Bills said. “It’s become a seller’s market because the inventory just isn’t there.” She said it has become common for three-bedroom homes in Central Austin that are priced below $500,000 to receive multiple offers and sell quickly, she said.
“That’s quite a jump from what we’re used to,” Bills said. “It’s hard because families with double incomes who are just looking for mid-range homes are being crunched out.”
Bills said the demand is being driven by families relocating to Austin from California, New York and Chicago, among other cities. “They’re in the health care industry, gaming and high-tech, and it’s frustrating because they have a decent amount of money and they can’t find anything,” she said.
Diane Dillard, an agent with Amelia Bullock Realtors, said she has shown a $2.4 million home in the affluent Barton Creek areato 10 prospective buyers, “and more than half are coming from out-of-state, and several were coming to Austin and moving their companies here.”
Dillard said the $300,000 to $500,000 price range is particularly in demand.
Many areas are facing a shortage of listings, including Tarrytown, Westlake Hills and Barton Hills, among others, Dillard said.
In a part of South Austin that includes the Westgate and Cherry Creek areas, only 28 homes are for sale in the $200,000 to $400,000 price range; in Travis Heights, 23 homes are on the market ranging in price from $315,000 to $950,000, “the lowest number of actives that I’ve seen since 2007,” Dillard said. In Hyde Park, north of UT, there are 34 listings ranging from $199,000 to $869,000.
Austin mirrors national trends, where home sales “are on a sustained uptrend, mortgage interest rates are hovering near record lows, and unsold inventory is at the lowest level in 12 years” — all conditions for strong price growth, according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
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