State of the City part 4: Real Estate & Cost of Living

In part 4 of State of the City, Shelley Seale takes a look at the cost of living in Austin. Check back tomorrow for part five’s political climate review.

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With our city growing and changing around us, we take a closer look at the issues shaping Austin today.

Speaking of the high cost of housing in Austin, the numbers tell the story. March 2014 saw a seven-percent increase in the number of homes sold from March 2013, and the median sales price of a single-family home went up by six percent. Condominiums and townhomes saw an even bigger increase, with the median price going up 24 percent in the same one-year period. Homes staying on the market for only a short time, and seeing multiple offers—often for more than asking price—has not been uncommon in the last year or more.

The average sales price of a single-family home as of April 2014 was $289,762. And while most Austinites have watched the prices jump, they still look pretty good to many people moving in from other parts of the country where prices are much, much higher, particularly on the coasts.

“The housing market is stronger than it has been in many years,” says Realtor Laura Shirey of National Agent Network. “Some [listings] get offers before even hitting the Multiple Listing Service. Rental properties are in short supply and prices are up.” She adds that many low-income, and even average-income, people are being priced out of the market. According to the Austin Board of Realtors Housing Affordability Index, housing is now more than 15 percent less affordable than a year ago.

“This means that many people are having to choose options they might not have considered otherwise, such as continuing to rent, having roommates, choosing something more affordable like a condo instead of a house, moving to outer-lying areas to find property in their price range and purchasing new construction so they don’t have to compete with multiple-offer situations,” says Shirey.

On the plus side, Shirey notes, Austin does have some affordable housing programs that can help people purchase a home, especially for new construction. And interest rates are historically very low, making that aspect attractive for purchase and refinance. The increased property values have created major appreciation for many people, although they have also meant skyrocketing property taxes.

“The Austin market is creating jobs for thousands of people, and the real estate market is an example of the strength of our economy in Central Texas,” says Shirey.

Originally published January 18th, 2015 in The Austinite Magazine.

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