Austin Real Estate News

June 20, 2017

Boomers Look to Real Estate to Afford Retirement

Baby Boomer Selfie Austin Texas Real Estate RetirementAs many as 10,000 baby boomers retire daily. Members of this generation are increasingly looking to real estate to diversify their retirement portfolios and boost returns.

Many boomers have realized their retirement plans are not sufficient and have turned to alternative investments, such as real estate, to compensate. About 30% of baby boomers have no retirement savings and one-quarter have less than $50K saved, according to research by GoBankingRates.

These boomers, who were born between 1945 and 1964, survived the Great Recession and were raised by parents who survived the Great Depression. They have been employed in a world where pension funds are growing less common and employer-led 401(k) retirement accounts are increasingly more common.

Paying for Predictability

“The alternative investment world doesn’t become more popular until it’s time for people to retire,” The Entrust Group Director of Professional Development John Paul Ruiz said. Entrust provides services for self-directed individual retirement accounts (IRA), which, unlike typical IRAs, allow for alternative investments like real estate.

Retirees typically want their investments to become more stable before making withdrawals.

“Many of our clients think, ‘What other types of investments can I hold in my IRA that are outside the securities world because I can’t handle another crash?’ Ruiz said.

Residential Versus Commercial Investment

Many turn to commercial real estate because the monthly rent they can collect does not undergo the highs and lows of stocks and bonds. Precious metals, notes and timber have also become more popular. Investors recognize residential real estate in core markets typically increases in value with proper maintenance, and owners can collect rent on the asset.

In the commercial world, leases run several years, allowing the stability of collecting rent to transcend smaller cycles, CBRE Managing Director of Global Industrial and Logistics Jack Fraker said.

Within real estate, single-family homes remain the most popular asset for IRA holders to purchase, according to research from The Entrust Group. In 2016, more than half of the real estate purchases made by Entrust clients were for single-family homes. Last year, more than a quarter of clients purchased multifamily properties, and about one-fifth purchased raw land.

“Within the last 100 years, the best places to put money is in the marketplace and in real estate. One of main reasons [why] is familiarity. You may not ever talk to the money manager of your mutual fund. But with a real estate asset, you can see it; you can meet your tenant,” Ruiz said.

retirement saving moneyInstitutional Versus Individual Investment

Private, individual investors are not the only ones cashing in on real estate holdings. Institutional investors have increased the percentage of their real estate holdings recently, Fraker said.

“It used to be more like 5% of their assets were in real estate, but has certainly doubled over the last 10 years. That’s good for us [in real estate] because it means more of their money is going into our assets and less into stocks and bonds,” Fraker said.

Hard assets’ ability to withstand economic cycles better than Wall Street makes real estate a more attractive and less risk-prone asset for investors.

Looking to Future Generations

When Generation X, the generation following baby boomers (born between 1965 to 1979) begins to retire in greater numbers, The Entrust Group's Ruiz said he is unsure what their investment patterns will look like. Many of the real estate assets bought by boomers will be inherited by Generation X, and there is not enough data yet to know what Generation X will do with those assets, Ruiz said.

“But there is a new generation of people getting more familiar with self-directed IRAs," Ruiz said. "Many have accumulated wealth through them, and those getting involved in self-directed IRAs are younger and younger."

By Julia Bunch,

Posted in News
June 14, 2017

Austin's Housing Boom Makes Way for Quirkier Home Styles

architecture austin texas real estate designJames Bond meets Midcentury Modern. Italianate villa - with a sky bridge. A white stucco and steel home primarily designed for cars. These are some of the luxury home styles you’ll find in Austin, Texas, where the transformation of the city from laid-back college town to high-tech magnet is rapidly reshaping the architectural landscape.

New homes are going up fast. Single-family home permits are up 138% over the past five years, according to census data. The median price for single-family homes has increased 48.2% from $250,000 in April 2012 to $370,600 in April 2017, according to the Austin Board of Realtors.

Meanwhile, city ordinances designed to limit the size and density of new homes have had some unintended consequences. To get around size restrictions, homeowners are adding more carports and screened-in porches, which qualify for a larger exemption than garages. The result: some odd workarounds and construction quirks that add to the eclectic look of many new or renovated homes.

The current landscape in Austin

Right now, the landscape is “fluid,” says Matt Fajkus, principal of Austin firm Matt Fajkus Architecture. “Sometimes, while we are working on a house, the entire neighborhood will change,” he says. “It’s an interesting challenge. Are you designing something for the way the neighborhood is now or how the neighborhood will be?”

architecture austin texas real estate designIn older neighborhoods near downtown, tiny, dilapidated shacks sit across the street from new boxy white contemporaries. Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired mansions are cattycorner to what look like breezy beach bungalows.

Mr. Fajkus, who is also an associate professor of architecture at the University of Texas, recently finished designing a 1,000-square-foot, one-bedroom home in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood that cost about $1 million to build. The modern white stucco and steel house was designed around a couple’s vast vintage-car collection and includes 2,000 square feet of garage and outdoor space. The home’s upper-level cantilevers are 20 feet out from the box-shaped lower level.

The owners, John and Lisa Weinberger, moved from Chicago to Austin in 2014, when many homes in Bouldin Creek were rundown. They bought a new four-bedroom spec house, then bought the lot next door and built their new modern home - mainly used as a place to put their cars.

Is Austin losing its identity?

 “Houses are coming down by the week,” says Mr. Weinberger, 85, an auto-dealership owner and car racer. Just down the block from the Weinberger property, a plain 1,412-square-foot house is listed for sale - with marketing that suggests it is ideal as a teardown or gut renovation. (“What a lot!”) The asking price: $650,000.

The rapid change has some locals fearing that Austin will lose its identity. “It’s not just the streetscape and character we are losing, it’s also visual elements of our city’s past,” says Kathie Tovo, an Austin City Council member and the city’s mayor pro tempore.

Luxury is being redefined

Scott and Cindy Trainer recently custom built a 3,700-square-foot, four-bedroom brick-and-stucco home for over $1 million last year in the Zilker Park neighborhood. Asked to describe the style, Mr. Trainer hesitates: It’s a combination of Midcentury Modern and classic James Bond, he says, pointing out both the long cedar roof overhangs and the floor-to-ceiling steel-framed glass walls.

architecture austin texas real estate designAustin architect Michael Hsu, whose firm designed the Trainers’ house, says “luxury is being redefined here.” The only unifying stylistic theme he sees is what he calls “casual modernism,” which he describes as modernism that is authentic and accessible. His clients are moving to Austin from places like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco because they want a lifestyle shift; they don’t want the kinds of homes they’ve left behind. “Everyone deserves a place to live of their choosing. There’s not a prescription for Austin for how you should be.”

Mr. Trainer, 57, moved to Austin in 1982 from upstate New York after visiting his brother. He got an environmental-engineering job and moved to the Zilker Park area, first buying a small bungalow for $56,000, renovating it and selling it for $100,000 in 1991. That same year he bought a ¼-acre lot for $50,000 and built a three-story home, selling it in 2011 for $1.3 million because he and his 46-year-old wife, a real-estate agent, wanted a home better suited for their two children.

Their new house replaced a larger, 4,500-square-foot home with a pool they bought for $650,000 that hadn’t been updated since 1959. Mr. Trainer, who became a commercial real-estate developer in 2004, had admired the property for years because it is on a bluff overlooking a large park and part of the Austin skyline.

The house, slightly angled, is designed with minimal windows facing the street. Instead, all-glass walls on the back of the home face the park and expansive skyline. It has concrete floors, soaring ceilings and a splayed back that folds around a courtyard and swimming pool. The master bedroom and bathroom are in a wing that is 4 feet higher than the rest of the house, a way to get separation, since the subdivision doesn’t allow homes with more than one story.

The “McMansion Regulations”

Currently, the City of Austin has what it calls “McMansion regulations” that limit the scale and bulk of new construction, remodels, and additions to make sure homes are compatible with existing neighborhoods.

While the goal of the McMansion ordinance was to preserve the character of neighborhoods and has helped curb size, some detractors say it has also had negative effects. For example, carports don’t count as square footage under the ordinance, but garages do. As a result, more carports have been built, affecting the appearance of the neighborhoods.


Recently, the city has proposed a new land-development code that may further change the face of neighborhoods. Dubbed CodeNext, the goal is to update and consolidate regulations and deal with the issues of neighborhood density, affordability and livability. “The goal is to preserve what we love and improve what we don’t,” says Alina Carnahan, who is working on CodeNext for the city.

architecture austin texas real estate designJamie Chandlee, a 2005 graduate of the University of Texas, moved back to Austin in 2010 to take a job with Facebook, which had just opened an office there. She met her future husband, Blake, who also worked for Facebook, and in 2012 they moved into a five-bedroom, five-bathroom mansion they bought in the Tarrytown neighborhood.

Two years ago, the couple embarked on a $300,000 addition to their 6,000-square-foot home, built in the Italianate style, with a red-tile roof and rounded rooms. They wanted a playroom but couldn’t change the footprint of the house because of limits on “impervious surfaces” - which is any surface like a roof or driveway - that can’t absorb rainwater.

So they asked Hugh Jefferson Randolph - the home’s original architect - to enlarge the space over the garage and link it to the second story of the main house with a sky bridge. The addition gives their Old World-style home some decidedly modern touches.

Variety makes Austin unique

Since they moved to Tarrytown, there has been nonstop construction in the neighborhood, Mrs. Chandlee, 34, says. Around the corner, a modern home sits next to a small bungalow. A few doors down a nondescript two-story, five-bedroom, seven-bathroom home with a three-car garage and a swimming pool is replacing a 2,972-square-foot ranch house built in the 1950s.

“There’s a lot of variety. That’s what makes Austin unique,” says Mrs. Chandlee. “The thing that bothers me the most is just that there are people out there who are just so desperate to sell that they can’t wait to get fair market value on their home,” he said. “I mean, honestly, wholesaling in my opinion has a place in the marketplace.”

By Nancy Keates

Posted in News
June 1, 2017

What's Up With Those Handmade 'We Buy Houses' Signs Around Austin?

Bandit Sign Real Estate AustinYou’ve probably seen them while driving around town – those handwritten signs next to the road with messages like: “We buy houses for cash! Call now!”

In the latest installment of our ATXplained series, Austin resident Jennifer Kolb asked:

“What’s the story behind those homemade real estate signs? Who’s looking to buy up these houses, and what actually happens when someone calls their number?”

Kolb is a graduate student studying social work at UT. Before that, she worked for an affordable housing nonprofit.

“Every day on my way to work, I would pass this hand-lettered, white-with-black-marker sign that just says, ‘We buy houses for cash fast!’” Kolb said. “And I was just like – what is that about? That’s weird.”

She also wondered about the method of advertising.

“It was interesting to me because – why a handmade hand-lettered sign if you have enough money to buy my house outright?” Kolb said. “Why don’t you have a nice fancy sign or a billboard or an ad? You know, it’s very anonymous-seeming.”

Kolb thought about calling the phone number listed on the sign, but she was wary. She thought it might be a scam or a way to profit off Austin homeowners who were having trouble paying rising property taxes.

“I’m very aware and conscious of the crisis of affordability, the ways that I have seen just in the time that I’ve lived here, East Austin change drastically, you know, much more white, much more hip," she said. "I’m very attune to the ways that I see people trying to make money off of that.

Following The Signs

It’s not hard to spot these homemade real estate signs around town. We found one in North Austin at the intersection of 53rd and Duval Streets that read “Compro casas feas,” or “I buy ugly houses.” The man behind that sign is Angel Martinez. He said he’s been in the real estate business for only about a month and things have been fairly slow.

“I’ve gotten pretty much people that are calling, and then they don’t want to follow up, and yeah, it hasn’t been too lucrative yet,” he said.

austin real estate bandit sign wholesaling investorMartinez is part of a team that is buying up houses around Austin and then quickly selling them to investors. He and his partners advertise to people who are looking to sell their homes fast. When someone calls, he’ll ask a series questions to determine the value of the home – whether the owners have a mortgage, whether the home needs any repairs. If he decides the house would be a good investment, he’ll offer to buy it with cash.

Martinez said he typically closes these sales within two days. The tradeoff is that wholesalers like him buy houses for less than the market rate. Martinez said he typically offers at least 70 percent of the home’s market value, and the owners agree to take a loss in exchange for a quick, cash transaction.

“Usually, we mostly work with distressed sellers, people that are having trouble,” he said. “Maybe they fell behind on their payments, that they’re getting a divorce or anything like that, and you know, we offer them an easy and fast way out.”

Then, Martinez will turn around and sell the house to a real estate investor. He said he typically makes a $5,000 or $10,000 profit on those transactions. He’s been putting signs all around the city, not focusing on one particular neighborhood, though he said more and more wholesalers have their eyes on property in East Austin. As for the strategy behind using handwritten signs, Martinez said it’s cheap, and he’s heard that these signs are more effective.

“I’ve heard in a bunch of videos that more people get more feedback from the handwritten ones than the ones that are printed out,” he said. “I guess it makes people feel more like they will be talking to somebody more local, makes people call back a little more than the regular ones that are printed out.”

Kolb was surprised to learn the homemade signs were a marketing strategy to try and make the buyer seem local.

“I hadn’t thought about that component of the transaction seeming more possible and fast if it’s someone down the street from you that you can just run over and check in with,” she said. “I hadn’t thought about that, but I don’t think they’re marketing it at me.”

Catching 'Bandits'

It turns out, many of these signs are illegal. John Hale is an investigator with Austin’s Code Department. He calls these roadside advertisements “bandit signs.” Hale said it’s against city code to post these signs in a right of way or on public property, which, of course, is where you typically see them.

“I mean, it is a Class C misdemeanor so it’s punishable up to a $2,000 fine,” Hale said. “We always like to give people the benefit of the doubt, you know, a new business, they may not have known. We educate them, and then they don’t do it again, but if they continue to violate the city ordinance, then yeah, we would pursue charges.”

Hale said the code department does sign patrol on the weekends, picking up and throwing away these bandit signs. But it’s not long before new ones pop up.

The Wild, Wild West

Barrett Raven, a real estate agent and investor in Austin, has a slight fascination with learning about the wholesale market.

“Wholesaling is kind of like this Wild, Wild West right now of real estate, especially in Texas,” Raven said. “I mean, ask a Realtor right now, like, ‘Hey what’s wholesaling? What’s wholesale investing?’ Most people have no idea what it is, so it’s kind of this super niche subgroup of real estate investors, even, who are using this practice.”

Raven said he’s bound by a different code of ethics, and he wouldn’t try to buy someone’s home for less than fair market value. But when it comes down to it, wholesaling isn’t illegal.

“The thing that bothers me the most is just that there are people out there who are just so desperate to sell that they can’t wait to get fair market value on their home,” he said. “I mean, honestly, wholesaling in my opinion has a place in the marketplace.”

By Syeda Hasan,

Posted in News
May 26, 2017

Uber and Lyft return to Austin on Monday

Uber Lyft Return to AustinUber and Lyft will relaunch services in Austin on Monday, now that Texas lawmakers have passed a bill overriding local regulations on ride-hailing companies. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign House Bill 100 into law the same day. That measure establishes a statewide framework to regulate ride-hailing companies and undoes local rules that the two companies have argued are overly burdensome for their business models.

"Austin is an incubator for technology and entrepreneurship, and we are excited to be back in the mix," Uber spokesman Travis Considine said. "... We know that we have a lot of work to do in the city, but we couldn’t be more excited for the road ahead." 

"We're excited to return to Austin on Monday. As we've said for months, we will relaunch in the city as soon as Gov. Abbott signs HB 100 into law," Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison said.

Why did Uber and Lyft take a leave of absence?

Uber and Lyft left Austin after the Austin City Council passed an ordinance in December 2015 requiring ride-hailing companies to perform fingerprint background checks on drivers, a stipulation that already applies to Austin taxi companies.

Uber and Lyft fiercely opposed the rules, gathering petition signatures to force a public vote and spending nearly $9 million on an unsuccessful campaign asking voters to overturn the regulations. Following the vote, both companies halted services in Austin, and the resulting ride-hailing vacuum attracted several start-up ride-hailing apps that agreed to comply with the city's rules.

If HB 100 gets the governor's stamp of approval as expected, it would standardize ride-hailing regulations statewide, requiring companies to have a permit from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, pay an annual fee to operate, and perform local, state and national criminal background checks on drivers annually. It doesn't require companies to fingerprint their drivers.

At a public bill signing for a different bill Thursday, Abbott declined to comment on when he would sign HB 100 into law. "Now, you know I’ll tell you about that when I get ready to sign it," Abbott said.

Following the passage of the bill in both chambers, Austin Mayor Steve Adler issued a statement saying he was "disappointed" the Legislature voted to nullify regulations the city had implemented.

"Our city should be proud of how we filled the gap created when Uber and Lyft left, and we now must hope that they return ready to compete in a way that reflects Austin’s values," Adler wrote.

It's unclear what Uber and Lyft's plans will be in other Texas cities once the bill is law. Uber previously reached an agreement with Houston to stay in the city, which also required fingerprint background checks, through Super Bowl LI, which was held on Feb. 5, 2017. 

By Alex Samuels,

Posted in News
May 22, 2017

Austin housing market poised for another hot summer, says new report

Barton Springs Pool, Austin Texas, SummerAustin may have seen a mild spring selling season, but the market is poised for a hot, hot summer, according to the latest monthly report from the Austin Board of Realtors.

"After a slow beginning to the year, increases in single-family home sales, homes on the market, and housing inventory across the region in April 2017 indicate that the Central Texas housing market is ramping up for a strong summer selling season," says ABoR president Brandy Guthrie in a release.

Let’s look at the numbers…

In April 2017, the metro area saw a 3.2 percent increase in home sales compared to April 2016. Overall, 2,640 houses were sold in the Austin-Round Rock metro, with a median price of $305,000 (up about 6 percent from the previous year). Active listings jumped almost 17 percent year-over-year, indicating the potential for a hot

In Austin proper, home sales grew 2 percent in April 2017. Active listings grew significantly here too — almost 15 percent year-over-year. A single-family home in the city will cost you, however. The median home price? A whopping $370,600. 

Those looking for more affordable housing options should note a recent report from Metrostudy, which shows that Central Texas experienced 14,392 new home starts in the first quarter of 2017 alone. Many of these new builds are found in the suburbs of northeast Travis County and throughout Williamson County. 

Why so far from Central Austin?

"Rising development and construction costs, as well as regulatory hurdles, however, are impeding growth in some markets, causing some builders to look outward in attempt to meet buyers' affordability needs," says ?Vaike O'Grady, Austin regional director for Metrostudy.

The submarkets with the most new home starts are Cedar Park/Leander West, Pflugerville, Kyle/Buda, Hutto, and Del Valle.

 By Nicole Raney,

Posted in News
May 8, 2017

Popular Austin ZIP code ranks among best places for millennials to rent

Austin Millenials

Austin is the dreamiest city in America for millennials, but where should they live? Central Austin, according to a new study from HomeUnion.

The real estate investment firm analyzed 46 metro areas with a population of 1 million or greater to determine the best places for millennials to rent or buy a home. While Austin doesn't make the cut among the best places to buy - no surprise there - Central Austin, specifically 78705, appears at the top of the list of the best places to rent.

What researchers are saying…

"We know that millennials would like to own a home, but we also know that they struggle to find suitable for-sale options near major employment centers due to high home prices and low inventory," says Steve Hovland, director of research, in a release. "To help millennials with their housing predicament, we created a comprehensive list of ZIP codes that are the most affordable with excellent public schools, and also have the shortest commute times to job centers."

The study considered public school ratings, commute times, and affordability. For the best places to buy, the monthly mortgage could not exceed 28 percent of median household income. For the best places to rent, a rent-to-income ratio of 2.5 times was used. 

Where does Central Austin rank?

Central Austin ranks No. 3 on the rental list, coming in just behind submarkets in Milwaukee and Louisville, Kentucky. The 78705 ZIP code boasts a public school rating of 86 and an average commute time of 33 minutes. Monthly rent is $1,904, 39 percent of the median household income of Austin-area millennials. 

Austin is the only Texas metro to appear on either list. Millennials who want to achieve the dream of homeownership should consider submarkets in St. Louis; West Palm Beach, Florida; Pittsburgh, Cleveland; and Oklahoma City, the top five metros on the list. 

By Arden Ward,

Posted in Leases
May 2, 2017

Temperatures are Rising: 5 Ice Cream Shops to Try this Summer

 Austin Ice Cream Summer Cow Tipping Creamery

Lick Honest Ice Creams (3 locations)

Unique in flavor, Lick guarantees a farm-to-table product that is always fresh and delicious working directly with local farmers and food artisans to source their fine ingredients to make the most ‘honest, ice creams possible.

Cow Tipping Creamery (4715 S. Lamar)  

CTC started as a food truck in 2012, but now it has a brick-and-mortar on S. Lamar as well. They specialize in “stackers:” layers of soft serve and homemade toppings. You’re guaranteed a unique dessert that you’ve never experienced before.

Prohibition Creamery (1407 E. 7th Street)

A boozy ice cream shop with a cool, speakeasy feel to it with leather tufted seats, dark, wood floors, and a copper bar with low hanging lights. The ice cream and milkshakes are infused with alcohol, making for a unique combination of two of the best treats in life: cocktails and ice cream!

The Science Cream (1511 S. Congress Avenue)

The first liquid nitrogen ice cream shop to open in Austin, Texas in November of 2015 by the Vaca family. The Vacas had a vision of creating a fun dessert business that will not only amaze by the flavor but entertain as well.

5. Amy’s Ice Cream (Multiple locations)  

An Austin institution established in 1984 handcrafting artisan super premium ice creams - home of the world famous Mexican Vanilla. You’re sure to get friendly Austin vibes at each location!  

Posted in News
April 25, 2017

Your spring housing forecast for the Austin real estate market

Austin Real Estate Housing MarketSpringtime is, no doubt, a very popular time to look for a home. With the 2017 tax season behind us, most people now have pockets padded with extra cash to finally make a move.

Looking to move this spring?

CultureMap decided to take a look at the current state of the Austin housing market, to discover how likely it is to find your dream home in this competitive market.

Although the nationwide housing market is slowly improving, there is still an issue with inventory shortage. More and more millennials are entering the housing market, increasing the price and need for entry level, single-family homes in a national market that still hasn’t fully recovered from the economic downturn of 2008. The good news is that, according to Trulia, housing starts were up in March, growing by 9.2 percent since last year.

 What does pricing in Austin look like?

Austin is, unfortunately, not immune to the housing squeeze, and prices are on the rise. The recent Central Texas Housing Market Report shows that single-family home sales in March 2017 in the city of Austin increased by 1 percent year-over-year, while the median home price rose by 13 percent to $371,606. Home sales priced under $300,000 declined sharply, pointing to the "missing middle" of Austin's housing stock.

According to the Austin Board of Realtors, the average number of days a home in the metro area spent on the market decreased from 65 days last year to 61 days in March 2017. In Austin proper, inventory stayed on the market only 48 days (that's actually up from last year).

However, things are still looking bright for the Live Music Capital of the World. In fact, Austin was named the No. 1 market to invest in for 2017.

Should you invest in Austin real estate?

If you are looking to buy a home this spring, you may not come across many deals in the Austin area. However, as prices and demand are both continuing to rise, an investment in the Austin real estate market is currently a good one. Chances are, prices will continue to grow for a while longer.

Want to get started on your home search?

Do you have additional questions regarding the Austin real estate market, or the homebuying process in general? Contact your Pure Gold Realty representative today! 512-467-4053

By Hannah Goodman,

Posted in News
April 20, 2017

The best suburb in Texas is an Austin-area city, according to list

Eanes Schools - Rollingwood AustinAccording to a new list from school and neighborhood ranking site Niche, Texas’ capital city has some of the best suburbs in the state, with one landing in the top 20 in the U.S. 

Rollingwood, the city west of MoPac Boulevard and south of Lake Austin, topped a list of Texas’ best suburbs and ranked No. 19 on a national list. The Niche rundown puts the median home value in Rollingwood at a whopping $757,100. The suburb west of downtown Austin received “A+” grades for its public schools, family-friendly neighborhoods, jobs and healthy lifestyle. 

Other suburban areas making the list: 

·      West Lake Hills (10)

·      Brushy Creek (11)

·      Cedar Park (21)

·      Shady Hollow (26)

·      Bee Cave (30)

·      Hudson Bend (37)

·      Round Rock (39)

·      Lakeway (41)

·      Manchaca (50)

·      The Hills (57)

·      Georgetown (58)

·      Pflugerville (60)

·      Wells Branch (64)

·      Serenada (71)

·      Leander (75)

·      Barton Creek (87)

Niche calculates its ranking using reviews and grades on its site, as well as public data, such as the U.S. Census. For the 2017 Best Surburbs to Live in America list, the density of college graduates factored into 15 percent of a suburb’s score. This was the largest value in the ranking. 

How was each suburb scored?

Cost of living, home values and public schools each made up 10 percent of a suburb’s score. Diversity and commuting time each accounted for 7.5 percent.  All other factors like nightlife or jobs made up 5 percent of a suburb’s grade. 

The list of top suburbs noticeably skews to more affluent areas, since higher education, property values and public school grades comprise 45 percent of the score. Pflugerville and Wells Branch are the only Austin-area suburbs on the list in which white residents make up less than 50 percent of the population. 

As home prices within Austin city limits rise, locals and transplants are increasingly looking to the suburbs to offer bigger spaces or more affordable housing. In July 2016, the Austin-Round Rock metro area finally surpassed the two-million resident mark. 

By Maribel Molina,

Posted in News
April 10, 2017

Travis tax appraisers tout new techniques for assessing property values

Austin Texas House Real EstateThe Travis Central Appraisal District is figuring out the values of properties faster and more accurately, all while fighting off a record number of protests and lawsuits from taxpayers challenging their appraisals, agency leaders told the Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

Lonnie Hendry, who heads the district’s commercial property division, described how the agency is now mining through immense amounts of disparate online data – found everywhere from company websites to social networks – to get a better sense of how much a property is worth.

How is the Travis County Appraisal District determining value?

“We’ve really changed the focus of our efforts from looking simply for sales prices to use as a method of validation for market value, and we’ve gone to what the market participants look at, which is underwriting criteria, loan-to-value ratios, appraisals done for financing, re-financing,” he said.

As a result, the agency contends that it is able to more accurately assess the values of commercial properties, which city and county leaders have long complained are taxed at a value far lower than they are actually worth on the market, partly because Texas is one of a number of states that does not require the public disclosure of sales prices for properties.

Last week, the district reported that the appraised value of county properties has increased 16 percent this year over last. Commercial values shot up 23 percent, while home values climbed 8 percent.

What has this done for disgruntled property owners?

The increased precision the agency is touting certainly has not done away with disgruntled property owners, however. The number of people protesting their appraisals has steadily increased in recent years, hitting a record of 116,000 in 2016. The number of lawsuits has also risen dramatically, from 195 in 2012 to 703 last year.

And yet, agency leaders told the court, after boosting staff and investing in new data analysis tools, they are now able to much more quickly resolve challenges to appraisals. The agency completed all of its protests by Aug. 31 last year, earlier than ever.

More important still, the agency’s appraised values held up well against lawsuits. On average, lawsuits from commercial property owners succeeded in reducing their appraised value by 6.4 percent.

How are commercial property owners being affected ?

Commissioner Brigid Shea was happy to see a rise in the appraised values of commercial properties, saying that for too long homeowners “were forced to subsidize” business owners whose properties were being underappraised. More accurate appraisals of commercial properties will help reduce the substantial tax burden on residents, she said.

Similarly, Shea was pleased to learn that the district is beginning to “segment” neighborhoods based on whether the homes had been recently remodeled. Shea, who lives in Allandale, said that there was “growing resentment” among longtime residents who feel the value of their homes is being unfairly inflated due to newcomers who are spending big to remodel.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt applauded the district’s efforts to “scrounge for data” in the absence of mandatory sales price disclosure. That the state does not require disclosure is “absurd,” she said, adding that the county will continue to press for a state law change.

In 2015, the city of Austin brought a lawsuit against the appraisal district and thousands of commercial property owners, arguing that commercial properties were being systematically undervalued, in part due to the absence of sales price disclosure. The district’s chief appraiser, Marya Crigler, supported the city on the matter. A judge threw the case out, ruling that the city lacked standing to sue on the matter.

Opponents of the sales price disclosure, notably those in the real estate business, have long argued that such information should be private and that forcing disclosure would open the door to taxes on real estate transactions. The latter argument was largely rendered moot by a state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2015 that both raised the homestead tax exemption and prohibited real estate transaction taxes.

 By Jack Craver,

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