Share

By Shonda Novak  

Home sales slowed a bit in the Austin-area last month, but the median sales price was up, renewing concerns about affordability in the local market, the Austin Board of Realtors said Monday.

In its latest monthly report, the board said 1,459 single-family homes changed hands last month, 1.9 percent fewer than the 1,487 sales reported a year ago January. The figures cover the five-county Central Texas region spanning Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties.

On the sales price front, half of the houses last month sold for less than $254,999 and half sold for more than that amount, marking an increase of about 6.3 percent in the median sales price over the prior January’s $240,000 median.

Housing supply in the Austin area remained below the level that’s considered to be a market balanced between buyers and sellers.

Low housing inventory coupled with high demand has been a key factor pushing housing prices higher for several years in the local market, experts say.

“Inventory has fallen below three months for three years and while we’ve seen this affect home prices for months, it’s possible that we’re now seeing it affect home sales,” said Aaron Farmer, new president of the Austin Board of Realtors.

Some local real estate agents said that though sales might level off some, they think 2016 will be another strong year for the Austin area housing market — echoing the recent annual forecasts of some local housing experts.

“I think the pace and the volume will slow down, but that’s usually what happens when prices continue to accelerate,” said Barbara Ditlow, a broker associate with Realty Austin.

Kay Zazy, a local real estate broker, said mortgage interest rates are still low, and the prospect of rate increases this year has motivated some sellers to buy sooner rather than later.

“I don’t think we’ll see any slower market,” said Zazy, owner of United Real Estate Austin. Zazy said homes priced at $250,000 and below “go really quickly.” Local agents said areas including Pflugerville, Leander, Cedar Park and South Austin are especially hot.

Lalo Herrera, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Austin, said there was a bit of a seasonal slowdown in the winter, but the market is now “as busy as it was the prior two years.” The board said pending sales, those due to close within the next month or two, were up 16.6 percent, at 2,207 sales.

“I personally don’t see the pace slowing down. It’s just as hot as it has been,” Herrera said. “This leads me to believe the spring and summer will be as competitive as we have seen the past two years.”

Herrera said he advises buyers not to worry too much about interest rates.

“It’s all about timing,” Herrera said. “Homes are appreciating quickly, and you won’t be able to afford tomorrow what you can afford today.”

Farmer said he is encouraged to see some business owners and community leaders stepping up to help address some of the affordability challenges the region is facing.

Farmer noted that developers including Terry Mitchell, president of Momark Development, are working to provide more affordable solutions through projects that provide workforce housing or subsidized housing for families who make 80 percent or less of area’s median family income.