Home sales trend upward in local markets

New construction and favorable financial atmosphere point to positive 2013

Home sales in Leander and Cedar Park are on the rise, and real estate insiders forecast 2013 will be a stable year for property sales, interest rates and home values.

Monthly home sales in the Austin area improved each month in 2012 compared with 2011, according to the Texas A&M University Real Estate Center. In November 2012, Austin-area home inventory sunk to its lowest level since January 2007, according to the center.

Homebuyers are in a competitive and expanding market, said Christy Gessler, a local real estate agent and 2012 president of the Williamson County Board of Realtors. The regional trends are mirrored in Cedar Park and Leander, she said.

"We have really low inventory right now. There are many neighborhoods where there are maybe only a handful of resale homes available," Gessler said. "Luckily, we have a lot of new construction going on, and I think that's probably the most exciting thing happening in 2013, is that builders understand that there is a demand."

Building out

Much of the area's new home construction is centered in Leander because only a few pockets of land remain for new neighborhoods in Cedar Park, said Greg Mayberry, a representative for Pulte Homes. The homebuilder has two neighborhoods in the area, including Pearson Place on the east side of the Avery Ranch Boulevard in north Austin and Cold Springs near the intersection of Ronald Reagan Boulevard and Crystal Falls Parkway in Leander.

"There are some little pockets in Cedar Park where you can buy some land, but for the most part, all of it's been built for the last 10 years," Mayberry said. "No one was really willing to go north before because there was land and houses farther south. But now with Leander ISD being a strong district and FM 1431 building up with shops and restaurants, it's only natural that things are moving north of 1431."

Infrastructure

The completion of Toll 183A in 2012 and the connection of Ronald Reagan Boulevard to Hwy. 29 in 2008 has eased access to the once-remote city of Leander. The city supports emerging neighborhoods through the use of development agreements, including subdivisions such as Reagan's Overlook, Villages at Messina and a deal that helped ensure more than 3,000 homes in Crystal Falls West.

"We've been doing what we can to help them extend infrastructure, and that's part of the Crystal Falls West development agreement. A huge impediment to them was a lack of utilities, so we helped them set up the financial means to pay for that through a municipal utility district," Leander City Manager Kent Cagle said. "If we had the financial means, we would extend water everywhere we could. We just don't have the ability to do that right now, so we do it in conjunction with the developers."

Most agreements don't financially incentivize developers so much as support their efforts, Cagle said. But regardless, many homebuilders understand Leander's appeal for homebuyers and have planned accordingly.

Ryland Homes plans to build its first model home this spring in a new subdivision, Savanna Ranch, located near Halsey Drive and San Gabriel Parkway. Sales Consultant Kreg Conner said the homebuilder's presence should grow in 2013. Aside from the Leander-based Savanna Ranch, Ryland has plans for another neighborhood known as Park West in Cedar Park. The company could also announce two or three additional subdivisions in 2013, Conner said.

"As a company, we're working on acquiring land, and we are deciding on where we need to go forward next," he said.

Financing

This year, homebuyers can expect low interest rates, said Doug Smithe, a loan originator for United Lending. He said on average, he handles mortgages in Cedar Park and Leander with interest rates around 3 percent.

"I think interest rates, where they are now, they're around the floor of where they're going to be," he said. "When you figure if the rate of inflation is a little over 3 percent and you can get a bank to loan you money at or below the rate of inflation, they're lending you money, and they're barely making anything on it."

Multiple Listing Service data shows home sales in Cedar Park and Leander are stabilizing after the subprime mortgage crisis in the mid- and late 2000s. Local market recovery progress in 2012 is expected to continue this year.

"I think Austin as a whole didn't feel it nearly as badly as other parts of the country. We didn't take such a dip, so there's not as much of a recovery to come back," he said. "For the first time in years, over the summer, it was booming. There were multiple offers on almost anything under $300,000, and sometimes for homes over $300,000."

Appraisals

Home values are poised to remain stable through 2013, so long as interest rates follow, said Paula Moss, an Austin-area licensed home appraiser. The last year has been strong for Cedar Park and Leander property values, although each home is unique, she said.

"I believe that in 2012, a lot of neighborhoods stabled out or even increased compared to 2011 and 2010, when a lot of areas took a hit," she said. "If the market stays like it was in 2012, we should have a good market in the coming year."