The median price of a single family home in the City of Austin rose 3% to $350,000 in June. When you take the surrounding cities into account, the median price was up 8% to $295,000. This sounds like great news to investors, but it actually makes our game riskier. Just as the higher prices are denying many first-time home buyers and lower income families the opportunity to buy a home in Greater Austin, they make it harder for investors to find the margins we need to sustainably run our businesses. Not impossible, just harder.
If you talk to a real estate agent, they’ll say, “Buy high, sell higher.” But remember agents are motivated by commissions, and they get paid no matter which way the market trends. They get paid more if it goes up, but they still get paid if it goes down, assuming it doesn’t collapse and they can still sell something.
The more people get priced out of the market, the fewer people there are to buy any given home. That doesn’t seem to be a problem yet—along with the “affordability crisis” the ABOR article mentions, we have a supply crisis. Our inventory levels remain at historical lows, less than two months. I’ve even heard speculation we may see a one month inventory in the near future. That means, despite the price, someone is buying all the houses that are for sale, and it’s not just investors.
Remember, a stable market has around six months of inventory. So we are still in a really hot market.
But consider this: this business is cyclical, and it can turn on a dime. Add to that what our mentor Shenoah Grove says: “We’re currently eight years into a five year cycle,” and you can begin to see why some investors are starting to talk about bubbles. And finally, I’ve seen a market correction in the first year of every new administration since I can remember, regardless of which party was involved. So you have to ask yourself if we are approaching the crest of the wave.
Over time, real estate has always appreciated. But that appreciation isn’t a straight line, unless your talking about the very long run. It’s downright bumpy. And as I’ve always said, to reap the long term benefits, you have to survive the short term. Or as I once heard Alan Greenspan quote John Maynard Keynes when asked why investors don’t plan for the long term, “In the long run, we’re all dead.”
So how do we continue to help people and make money in times like these? We have to stick to basics.
- Don’t buy assuming appreciation will fix our mistakes. I think it will…in the long run—if we survive the short run.
- Know your end buyers well enough to improve the house to the right level, neither over improving nor under improving.
- Remember your time lines and try to eliminate slack from your schedules. This one is really hard right now when contractors and subs still have more work than they can handle. Why do should they care about your schedule?
- Manage your holding costs. Use private money rather than hard money. Use bank money rather than private money.
- Partner up to spread the risk. You only shoulder half the risk with a seasoned partner, but you only get half the profit.
That said, don’t forget the motto I learned from my mentor Than Merrill: “People first, profits second.” This business revolves around solving other people’s problems. Even in these high-priced times, even when the market turns down, if you can help people solve their problems, this business will continue to be rewarding and profitable.
For the full report on the June market from the Austin Board of Realtors, see Austin-Round Rock home sales on pace to surpass 2015 record levels amidst affordability crisis