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Bill Morris
RE/MAX Capital City
13018 Research Blvd
Austin, TX 78750

Direct or Text: 512-785-3345
Email:              bmorris@remax.net

Texas Broker License # 505218

Thank you for visiting today. If this is your first visit, please take your time and look around. I have plenty of information and resources available to you. If you are a return visitor, thank you. I will welcome your comments, questions, or suggestions. I would also love to learn about your real estate needs, wants, and objectives, and I will offer my best professional advice and counsel.

My Thoughts on Central Texas Real Estate

Interest Rates Rise

Well, here we go again ….

Mortgage interest rates (30-year fixed rate loans) have been very low for a very long time  — mostly 5% or below since early 2009, and mostly 4% or lower since late 2011.  There have rumors periodically during each of those years that rates were about to rise.  We’re hearing it again this week, and if you look at the most recent history, it certainly looks like the rate increases are really here:

Mortgage Interest 9-17 to 1-18

Yes, over the past four months, the average 30-year fixed rate mortgage has gone up to more than 4%!  But … let’s adjust the scale and add some historical perspective:

Mortgage Interest 1972 to 1-2018

For those of you who don’t remember, interest rates spiked to 18% in the early 1980s, and were consistently above 12% from late 1979 through late 1985 — about as long as we’ve had sub-4% rates in this decade.  The long-term average (1972 to Present) was 8.2%, about twice today’s rate.

I actually believe that this time we will see rates rise, but not by much and not overnight.  I last wrote about this subject almost a year ago (Interest rates going up?), and I included comparisons to other market interest rates and their relationships with mortgage rates.

That post also includes some insight into how higher mortgage rates affect prospective home buyers.  If you’re planning a home purchase over the next couple of years, you should be aware that interest rates do impact your buying power.

So … mortgage rates going up?  I think so this year.  In a recent presentation, Dr. Jim Gaines, Chief Economist at the Texas A&M Real Estate Center, suggested the increase might be in the 0.5% (1/2 of 1%) range by year-end.  I’m going to trust Dr. Gaines’ crystal ball on this.

Austin Market Price Distribution

I comment frequently about home prices in the Austin area (most recently in Market Dashboard – 2017 recap), but it has been a while since I shared the overall distribution of residential sale prices across the Austin metropolitan area.

We’ll come to the data a little later, but this chart shows the important trends in pricing of houses, condominiums, and townhouses in the 5-county metro area:

Here are the highlights:

  • The decline in sales below $150,000 was obvious for all seven years shown in the graph above.
  • The $150,000 to $200,000 price range still contributed about 20% of all sales through 2015, but had slipped a little even then.  Then sales in that price range plummeted in 2016 and 2017.
  • The percentage contribution of all other price ranges has been rising steadily throughout the period shown.
  • Sales between $400,000 and $500,000 represented 10% of all home sales for the first time in 2016.
  • Homes sold in the $500,000 to $750,000 range reached 10% of total sales in 2017.

With those high points identified, here are more details:

In the top half of that table, I highlighted the years in which each price range peaked over the past seven years.  Note an important difference in 2016 and 2017 — double peaks, in the $200,000 to $250,000 range and between $300,000 and $400,000.  Unless new home builders get very busy building under $250,000 (unlikely), I don’t expect we will see that happen again in 2018.

In Home prices are up in Austin, but … I discussed the ten year period that ended in 2014.  At that time, you could still shop under $200,000 and see a little more than half of the area’s active listings.  In 2017, you had to be looking at homes up to $300,000 to see half of all listings.  I fully expect that point to move up to the $300,000 to $400,000 range in 2018.

In Market Dashboard – 2017 recap), you saw that I expect 2018 to be another fast-paced year for Austin-area real estate.  With that in mind, we’re not done yet with upward pressure on home prices, and I would expect 5% to 6% increases generally, about the same as the last couple of years.

Market Dashboard – 2017 recap

My regular readers have seen the market dashboard that I have used over the past ten years or so, covering a variety of data from 1990 to present.  In this post I will focus on 2017, with some comparisons to the last couple of market cycles.

First, it won’t surprise anybody who has been paying attention to know that home prices continued to rise in the Austin metro area last year:

Note that, not only have prices been going up in recent years, but also that in 2016 and 2017, they have been consistently above the long-term trend.  The average sale price of a home (house, condo, or townhouse) across the 5-county metropolitan area reached a all-time high of $307,722 in December 2017.  Very limited inventory of homes for sale is the reason for ongoing price pressure:

The dotted green line shows how long existing inventory will last at the current pace of sales.  We have now completed five full years with inventory at or below half of what market economists consider a “balanced” supply (6 to 6 1/2 months’ supply) — the longest and most lopsided seller’s market we have ever experienced.  And that results in competition among buyers for the limited supply.  To put that into perspective, let’s use the long-term view:

“Odds of Selling” means the percentage of active listings that sold each month.  From January 1990 through December 2017, the “odds of selling” averaged 25%.  Note this comparison:

  • This metric reached 40% for the first time in May 1999 and stayed at or above that level  for 12 of the next 16 months, going over 50% for 3 months in early 2000.
  • The next time the “odds of selling” reached 40% was in March 2013.  It has now been at or above 40% for 34 of the next 58 months, going to 50% or higher in 7 months over that time, including December 2017 (the only time that’s happened outside the traditional Spring/Summer selling season).

As I have commented previously, demand for housing in Austin and Central Texas is still being driven by real job creation and resulting population growth, not speculation by over-eager investors.  Market cycles do happen, but I agree with most local market watchers that there is no reason to expect this market strength to be a “bubble” of the kind that burst in 2000 and 2006.

In some ways, we are in uncharted territory here, but most market watchers and local economists expect inventory constraints to remain with us in 2018, and for high demand to continue.  Some geographic areas and price ranges will experience this differently, but it looks like another wild ride ahead this year.  Will we see the market move toward “normal” in the future?  Certainly, but so far it doesn’t look like it will be in 2018.


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