Austin Real Estate: Strong in 2007, Holding Steady in 2008

By: Greg James

2008 has begun with a mix of decidedly lousy economic news and some pessimistic projections, so at first glance it might be very tempting for those hoping to either buy or sell homes in Austin to stay on the sidelines and avoid the Austin real estate market completely.

That would be a mistake. Don't be discouraged, because things are not exactly as they appear. You need to look past the negative-leaning news headlines in order to find the proverbial silver lining in a cloudy real estate picture.

Of course the mortgage industry is still reeling in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, with some experts anticipating yet another large wave of borrowers defaulting on their loans. National statistics show existing home sales in 2007 down at least 20 percent over the previous year. There's talk of the housing bubble bursting in various regions of the country, news of the highest unemployment rates in two years, and now even some presidential candidates openly using the dreaded "R" word, recession.

But that's the national scene. When it comes to Austin real estate, the news was far from bad in 2007. In fact, to insert the word 'bad' into any discussion of either last year's local housing market or any analysis of the year to come would frankly border on irresponsible. The truth is the Austin real estate market bucked national trends and appears poised to remain solid this year, despite mixed economic predictions.

Yes, sales of homes in Austin were also down in 2007, but only by 12 percent, better than the national average. And there is further reason to avoid applying what you hear in the national news to the Austin real estate market: according to the National Association of Realtors, in several regions around the country average sales prices have actually increased, and that includes Austin homes, which went up in value by nine percent.

More encouraging news is that Austin homes in 2007 didn't take too long to sell, and didn't linger: on average, they stayed on the market 47 days, compared to 49 days in 2006 -- hardly a cause for panic.

According to some economists, the Austin real estate market will cool in 2008. A new report from Austin-based Angelou Economics says stricter lending restrictions in the wake of last year's mortgage crisis may price some first-time or low-end homebuyers out of the market -- and it thinks this may have already started happening: apartment vacancy rates, typically seen as a leading indicator for decreased home sales, are at a five-year low, meaning those folks won't be seeking homes in Austin, but will keep renting.

But at the same time, Angelou acknowledges that continuing population and job growth will cushion the Austin real estate market from the worst effects of the sub-prime mortgage troubles. After all, Austin is still perceived as a great place to live, work and play. The simple fact is people are still moving here, and shopping centers, hospitals, schools and entertainment venues are popping up all over the landscape.

Angelou also says increases in the prices of Austin homes will slow from "rapid" to "average". That's not exactly a grim development for sellers.

Angelou expresses concern about new home construction, which saw a significant slowdown in 2007 -- a nearly 40 percent drop in new home permits over 2006. And according to a study cited by The Austin Business Journal, new home construction dipped 20 percent. By year end continuing angst over the mortgage crisis caused home builders to run for cover and scale back their previously aggressive plans in central Texas. The most recent and striking example of this came just in December, when Centex Homes announced it was backing out of plans to purchase nearly 500 acres of land in northern Travis County -- an acquisition that would have eventually led to 1400 brand new homes.

Yet even this doesn't necessarily translate into bad news for potential buyers and sellers of Austin homes. Buyers could be the recipients of favorable deals, as those home builders now focus on getting rid of their existing unsold inventory. As always, they'll compete with the existing resale homes in Austin by offering incentives to buyers, who could find themselves in a brand new home at a bargain price.

But that new home inventory won't last forever -- and with less of those brand-new subdivisions being built and aggressively advertised, that's less competition for homeowners who might be inclined to put their homes on the market. And of course it's in their interest to price their resale homes competitively, in order to compete with the builders and sell within a reasonable amount of time. All that competition only works to the advantage of people in the market for an Austin home.

So don't let a little gloomy news get you down. The Austin real estate market finished 2007 strong, and will remain that way in 2008.

America Properties
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on America Properties
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles