Monday, December 1, 2008

From small town to boom town

Liberty Hill defies real estate downturn with many new neighborhoods
By Charles Ealy


Sunday, November 30, 2008

At least one area in Central Texas is thriving these days despite the real estate slowdown: Liberty Hill, the small town just north of Cedar Park and Leander.

In fact, Liberty Hill is in the only real estate zone in Travis, Williamson, Bastrop and Hays counties where more homes have sold this year than last. Through October, 150 homes have sold there, with a median price of $217,000. That compares with 112 homes sold through October 2007, with a median price of $229,840.

"We're not growing as much as we were, and sales are flattening out a bit," says Shane T. White, a broker/owner of ReMax Town & Country in Liberty Hill. "But we're still doing OK."

And he thinks the area is "on the verge of explosive growth" once the economy bounces back, mainly because of its proximity to Austin, which is about 40 minutes away if you drive down the new 183-A tollway. "183-A opened us up as a bedroom community," he says.

White and other real estate agents say one of the big draws for the area is the quality of schools. The Texas Education Agency rates the district as "recognized," which means that 75 percent of all students taking TAKS exams earned a passing grade, with a high school completion rate of 85 percent and an annual dropout rate of no more than 2 percent. Less than 23 percent of the state's school districts have that rating, and less than 3 percent of districts get the higher "exemplary" rating.

"Our family moved out to West Texas for a year, and I can tell you that the Liberty Hill schools are far more advanced," says Christie Weems of City Real Estate and Mortgage.

"There's a real sense of community here, and everyone turns out for the high school football games, even people who don't have children in school," she says. Part of the reason, of course, may be that the Liberty Hill Panthers are two-time Class 3A state champions.

Neighborhoods spread like wildflowers

But there are other reasons for Liberty Hill's growth. A big factor: More subdivisions are going up in what was once a rural area.

Christie Weems and her husband, Ronnie, are working on their own Liberty Hill development, Stone House Estates, with 29 lots of about 5 to 6 acres each. Six of those lots back up the North San Gabriel River and sell for $189,000 to $235,000. Lots that aren't on the waterfront start at around $80,000.

"To my surprise, we've had much more interest so far in the more expensive lots on the waterfront," Christie Weems says. "I guess it's because waterfront lots in Central Texas are so rare these days."

The development is off County Road 200, about six miles north of Texas 29. Its centerpiece is a remodeled ranch house with an old red barn, as well as a recently remodeled guest house.

The 3,300-square-foot house with the barn is on the market for $423,000, while the smaller house, with 2,370 square feet, is listed for $365,000. Weems has both listings.

While Stone House Estates is still in the early stages of building, other new developments are also being built, with some near completion. They include:

* Cierra Springs, with 36 lots of about one acre and houses built by Drennan Day Custom Homes . Lots are priced from about $30,000 to $45,000. Drennan Day homes typically start at about $200,000. Cierra Springs is on County Road 214.

* Cierra Vista, with 80 lots of about 1 acre, also being developed by Drennan Day. It's along County Road 200, the same road that leads to Stone House Estates. Houses go for about $235,000 to $320,000. White has a listing for a four-bedroom house with 21\/2 bathrooms at 204 Howard Lane in Cierra Vista. The asking price: $290,000.

* Sundance Ranch, another Drennan Day development off of County Road 200. It's a gated equestrian community with more than 270 lots of about 5 acres each. Only a few lots are still available.

* Gabriel's Overlook, a Drennan Day development about halfway between Georgetown and Liberty Hill, off Texas 29. It's also gated, with lots of 1 to 4 acres, some overlooking the San Gabriel River and others abutting Avery Lake. Home prices range from the $200,000s to the $400,000s.

* Stonewall Ranch, with a first phase of 37 home sites and houses ranging from about $139,000 to $161,000. When complete, the master-planned community owned by Buffington Capital Holdings and built by Texas Classic Homes will have more than 1,000 houses.

* Rio Ancho Ranch, between Liberty Hill and Bertram, along the San Gabriel River, near the intersection of County Road 322 and Texas 29. Lots go from the $50,000s to the $90,000s.

Other communities include Boulderwood Park, Carrington Ranch, Deep Lake, Durham Park, High River Ranch, Indian Oaks, Post Oak Ranch, Quarry Lake Estates, San Gabriel Oaks, Saratoga Springs, Silver Creek, Stable Oaks, Stage Coach and the Overlook. Summerlyn, a 169-acre development on U.S. 183 in North Leander, is just south of Liberty Hill.

Small-town charm but thinking big

Despite its recent growth, Liberty Hill still has a small-town feel. The historical downtown area has cozy shops and dining spots, a quaintness that survives despite the nearby bustle along Texas 29.

And land along the highway is poised for even more rapid development, mainly because a new sewer system is going in, which is expected to bring an influx of fast-food restaurants and other establishments, White says.

"McDonalds has already bought the Star Burgers site," Weems says of a funky-looking local burger joint off of Texas 29.

Not everyone is excited about the growth prospects. Proposals to widen Texas 29 from Georgetown to Liberty Hill have stirred up controversy in recent months, and some landowners are worried about whether they'll be forced to sell their property.

But construction probably won't begin for 20 to 25 years, Williamson County officials say, and they expect that wider roads will be necessary because most of the county's growth is expected to be along Texas 29, west of Interstate 35.

Whatever happens, Liberty Hill residents probably won't have to drive so far to get to the city in 20 years. It looks like the city is coming to them.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Well its been awhile. The good news is I've stayed happily busy. In my own business, I'm just now starting to see a slow down. There is still good news! Great deals to be had. And there is money out there to be lent. Here is an article that discusses that.

Mortgage Is Not a Bad Word: Steps to Getting a Home Loan in the Credit Crunch
by Ki Gray
November 03, 2008
The bad news about the economy is inescapable these days. Consumer confidence is at an all time low and it's easier to follow a tennis match than keep up with the daily rise and fall of the stock market. Even though everyone is carefully watching the bottom line, life does go on.

For those looking to buy a house, the current credit crisis can seem daunting. "Mortgage" seems to be the newest bad word. However, with some careful research and thoughtful consideration of long-term plans, it is possible to get a mortgage. Mortgage rates are historically low and housing prices are coming down, making it a good time to buy a home.

S Moe of LeaderOne Financial, a mortgage bank operating in the Austin real estate market, says, "For the credit worthy borrower there is lots of money to be lent." He recommends the first step in this tougher economy is to be realistic about how much house to buy.

Mortgage calculators and other useful tools are easily found on the web at sites like Realtor and Zillow. Taking the time to figure out a practical price range will save time and heartache when the actual house hunting begins.

A good place to start is to gather all financial records and look into credit scores. It is also important to determine in advance how much cash is available for a down payment. While the media may make it sound like it is impossible to qualify for a mortgage without 20% down, that is not actually the case. FHA loans can be done for as little as 3% down; nevertheless it is important to keep in mind how much the actual monthly mortgage payment will be.

Once credit worthiness and how much mortgage is truly affordable have been determined, it's time to shop for a loan. This is can be the tricky part. While the days of easily qualifying for a jumbo loan are gone, it is still possible to get a bigger loan than you can afford. "Pre-approval is key," says Mr. Moe.

Look into various lending sources such as banks and mortgage brokers. Websites like Lending Tree and E-Loan provide easy one-stop shopping, but it may be worth the effort to do some footwork. Keep in mind the loan costs, including the mortgage interest rates, broker fees, points (each point is one percent of the amount you borrow), application fees, credit report fee, and appraisals--just to name a few.

It is important to get more than one quote and be sure to read the fine print. It may take some time and effort on the part of the buyer, but the decision to purchase a house should not be made hastily. The economic news may seem bad, but the long-term investment in a family home is a sound one.

Austin Chronicle 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Why I remain happily busy


Austin-area median home price up, U.S. trade group says

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Austin-area real estate market continued to outperform the nation in the second quarter of 2008, a new report from the National Association of Realtors said Thursday.

Median home prices in the Austin area rose by 4.1 percent, to $194,200, from the year-ago period, while the national median fell 7.6 percent, the real estate group said.

Among Texas cities, Austin and El Paso had the third-highest price growth. Amarillo led all other metropolitan areas, with a 7.2 percent increase, followed by Corpus Christi, up 6.2 percent.

Several Texas markets posted declines, however. Dallas-Fort Worth's median home price fell 3.5 percent, the real estate group reported, with prices also falling in Beaumont-Port Arthur by 2.2 percent and in Houston by 1 percent.

The trade group expressed optimism that the housing market might rebound soon.

"Prices have fallen sharply and quickly in very distressed markets, but most or all of the price declines may have already occurred in these areas since buyers have now returned to those markets," economist Lawrence Yun said in Thursday's report.

"Furthermore, the momentum of buying is likely to continue in light of the housing stimulus package that was recently enacted."

But other economists have predicted that housing won't hit bottom until 2009. Price declines are expected to continue in many markets because of high numbers of foreclosures and a weak national economy.

In the second quarter, the largest drops in median home sales prices were recorded in Sacramento, Calif. (down 35.6 percent from a year ago), Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla. (down 33.1 percent) and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., (down 32.7 percent).

The largest home price gains were in Yakima, Wash. (8.9 percent), Binghamton, N.Y. (8.7 percent), and Amarillo.

Preowned home sales were down 15.7 percent in Texas in the second quarter from a year earlier, compared with 16.3 percent nationwide, the group said.

How Texas cities fared

The percentage change in median prices for existing single-family homes in the state's metro areas:

Amarillo 7.2% $124,600

Corpus Christi 6.2% $144,400

Austin-Round Rock 4.1% $194,200

El Paso 4.1% $137,700

San Antonio 2.5% $158,100

Houston -1.0% $153,400

Beaumont-Port Arthur -2.2% $124,900

Dallas-Fort Worth -3.5% $151,000

Source: National Association of Realtors

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Austin, Texas makes another top ten list.
Best Cities to Live, Work and Play
These ten great places will only get better.
From Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, July 2008
Our approach this year to picking the ten best cities in which to live and work was simple: Look for places with strong economies and abundant jobs, then demand reasonable living costs and plenty of fun things to do. When we ran the numbers, some of the names that popped up made us do a double take at first. So we hit the road to meet movers, shakers and regular folks, experience the ambience and take in the sights.
Our 2008 Best Cities at a Glance
How We Ranked Our Top Places
Which City Is Best for You
Complete City Rankings
Find a Home in Your Favorite City
We discovered that our numbers guru, Kevin Stolarick, hadn't steered us wrong. Stolarick, research director at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank that studies economic prosperity, says: "Our formula highlights cities not just with strong past performance, but also with all the ingredients for future success." One key to a bright future is a healthy shot of people in the creative class. People in creative fields -- scientists, engineers, architects, educators, writers, artists and entertainers -- are catalysts of vitality and livability in a city.
The cities that made our list also represent larger surrounding areas. And because we understand that city living isn't for everyone, we've highlighted some great suburbs, too.
Pack a bag and join us on a tour of the Best Cities for 2008 and prepare for some surprises.
No. 1: Houston,Texas
No. 2: Raleigh, N.C.
No. 3: Omaha, Neb.
No. 4: Boise, Idaho
No. 5: Colorado Springs, Colo.
No. 6: Austin, Texas
No. 7: Fayetteville, Ark.
No. 8: Sacramento, Calif.
No. 9: Des Moines, Iowa
No. 10: Provo, Utah

And now; why Kiplinger loves Austin:
No. 6: Austin, Texas
By Jane Bennett Clark, Senior Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance
July 2008
Population: 1,506,425Population Growth Since 2000: 17%Percentage of Workforce in Creative Class: 36.5%Cost-of-Living Index: 92.8 (100 being national average)Median Household Income: $52,882 Income Growth Since 2000: 12.2%
Don’t think for a minute that the laid-back, rockers-and-tacos atmosphere of downtown Austin is all this metro area has to offer. In fact, Austin and the surrounding region offer a strong economy, a solid, moderately priced housing market, a growing population and enough natural beauty to justify staying outside even if the weather weren’t great -- which, by the way, it is.
Take Our Walking Tour Through Austin
Already home to the University of Texas, the state capitol and a bustling music scene, Austin has lately expanded its economy to include digital media, green energy and biotech, creating 114,000 in the area in the last five years. Meanwhile, downtown Austin is in transformation mode. Redevelopment includes the Second Street District and more than a dozen residential developments. Among them: 360, where a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a lake view starts at about $400,000.
City life not to your liking? Head to Round Rock, an 18.5 mile hike up I-35. This family-oriented suburb boasts topnotch public schools along with a local economy that includes Dell, three hospitals and a brisk business in sports tourism thanks to the playing fields it rents out for tournaments. As for housing, it’s a deal: For $270,000, you can buy a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house in the Teravista community and enjoy its rolling hills, 18-hole golf course, clubhouse and a pool.
Down the road apiece, in the tiny town of Lago Vista, residents enjoy access to Lake Travis in the spectacular Texas Hill Country setting. Once mostly a resort community for retirees, this 11-mile stretch of land increasingly appeals to young families who like the small-town atmosphere and don’t mind commuting to Northwest Austin or to Round Rock.

Monday, July 21, 2008

July 2008 - Value of Austin homes remains stable.

7/21/08 Value of Austin homes remains stable
Real estate market grows due to first-time buyers and young people in their early 20sBy Mohini MadgavkarDespite home price depreciation around the rest of the country, Austin housing is holding its value.

According to an Austin Board of Realtors study, the median price of single family homes is at $200,000, a 4 percent increase from last June.

"Our homes are affordable in comparison. Less than $200,000 is amazing," said Socar Chatmon-Thomas, chairman of the board. "In most parts of the nation you can't buy anything as a first home for less than $350,000."

Sales of single-family homes are coinciding more with national figures, as they have decreased by 20 percent since last June.

"Austin is a vital and dynamic environment because of business growth," said Beverly Kerr, vice president of research at the Austin Chamber of Commerce. "We're a lot less expensive in terms of taxes and regulation than other tech industry centers รข€¦ and we're a great place for quality of life."

Forbes magazine ranked Austin as America's third-most "recession-proof city" in April. At 3.7 percent, Austin's unemployment levels are nearly 2 percent below the national average."

Growth in Austin is really driven by the job market," said Chay Walker, senior agent manager at Austin's Uptown Realty.

However, Walker said, Austin's 6 percent unemployment rates in 2001 and 2002 prevented the city's housing market from growing at 45 percent, the highest appreciation rate seen in some parts of the country, Walker said.

"Austin's real estate market stayed flat," Walker said. "When the rest of the country started having problems, our markets were just coming around."

Austin builders responded to the crisis by scaling back production of new homes, Chatmon-Thomas said. Austin housing appreciation continues to hold steady at around 5 percent.

Chatmon-Thomas said some of Austin's real estate growth stems from an influx of Asian-American and Hispanic first-time home buyers and younger buyers.

"A lot more young people are buying homes in their early 20s," Chatmon-Thomas said. "I think it's that younger people realize the value of a home and realize that 'If I purchase this home now, I can use it as an investment property when I get married or change lifestyles or whatever.'"

The bubble factor

I'm often asked; "When will the Austin market bubble burst? You know like everywhere else" The answer is; "We never had a bubble, there isn't anything to burst"

Austin seemed to have learned from the rest of the country. We're sortof like the Tortoise in the age old story of the tortoise and the hare. And now after watching the rest of the market run faster then its legs could carry it, we are sitting back and enjoying our slow and steady progress.

Consequences of coming from a dead market to a stable market:
Every real estate text book tells you to offer 10 % below fair market value. Good advice. Many clients these days though are coming in from markets where you can get away with offering
15 % or even 20% below market value.

Same rules don't apply in every market.

Often buyers will make those extremely low offers and 1 of 2 things will happen;

1. The seller says no way and won't even counter. (As a realtor I hate this scenario. I beg the other realtor to convince the seller what a dumb idea this is. Please come out and play ball, don't just take your ball and go in the house.)

2. A back and forth of counter offers and in the meantime another offer comes in, the seller takes it just to get over the low low offer first buyer has made. Result: the second offer ends up getting a smokin' deal. The deal the first buyer would have liked to get.

Good news is my clients are smart! They've done their research and they've picked a good realtor who know the market. Together we determine an aggressive offer price that will help us end up at the optimal price, without alienating the seller or losing to another buyer.

Most of my blogs will be articles about Austin. So many places are talking about Austin, it often makes the top ten lists.