Here is the summary from the Statesman:
"The 21c museum, hotel and condo development slated for Third and Brazos streets will reach 44 stories into the Austin skyline, making it a dominant presence in the area of downtown east of Congress Avenue. The $200 million project will include 209 condos along with an upscale, 230-room hotel and contemporary art museum. The Design Commission voted unanimously on Monday to support the project, which has already garnered the approval of the city's Downtown Commission and support from the Downtown Austin Alliance."
The building is expected to begin construction in January and to be completed in 2010. The sales center is expected to open later this month.
While the ground-breaking does not truly commit them to completing the project, it is a step in the right direction. The project team announced that they have lined up full financing for the project from Spanish sources. With the financing complete, they are now commencing construction. When the cranes go up, it will be a good sign that the building will truly be a reality.
The Austonian is an exciting project that is one of the most bold developments in Austin. At 56-stories and with 188 units starting at $500,000, the project is exclusively focused on the high end of the market. This is the segment that remains the most unproven downtown. The commencement of construction is a good sign for the Austin condo market, especially in the middle of the current credit crunch and ongoing subprime lending crisis.
- The W Austin Hotel & Residences, which is currently building a sales center at Block 21 in downtown Austin, reports that about three-fourths of the 196 condo units have been reserved with a deposit. Construction of the building will begin in October.
- At Spring Condominiums just south of Whole Foods, 40% of the units are under contract. They report that they have sold out of all of the lower priced units. The building broke ground last month.
- At 360, the 44-story tower next to Austin Music Hall, 90% of the 430 units are under contract. The building has been very desirable because it is tall, well-located, and reasonably priced with virtually all of the units priced under $500K. The building has been under construction for a while, it is already approximately 30-stories tall.
- The 305-unit Monarch, also just a block from Whole Foods, is cryptically reporting that "there are prospective buyers for at least half of the units" although it remains clear whether these buyers have signed contracts.
- The Four Seasons Residences reported a month ago that 80% of the on floors 14-32 had already been reserved after just 6 weeks on the market. As a result, they have now opened the lower floors - floors 6 to 13 -- for reservations. They expect to begin construction later this fall
With the ongoing mortgage crisis, the billion dollar question is how the Austin condo market will fare. The answer: while the Austin market is one of the strongest in the country and condo demand remains strong, nobody really knows. The issue is that this is a new market: there is really no good parallel in the history of the city. According to the Statesman:
Forecasting demand for luxury condos is difficult, partly because there is little historical data for the fairly new phenomenon in Austin, said Eldon Rude, director for the Austin market of Metrostudy, which tracks the housing market.The next 12 months will be telling, Rude said. "We won't know how strong this market is until we see some of these projects get completed and begin to close units and move residents in."Their performance will depend on the economy, he said, "and it's impossible to forecast the state of our economy 12 months from now. "
As we have discussed, thousands of units are being planned for downtown Austin -- more than 1,000 are currently under construction. In fact, hundreds of units have been reserved in the last two months alone. For comparison, only 15 downtown condo units have sold on the resale market in this same time period. The difficult thing is that it is dozens of new projects which are being simultaneously introduced to the market. While demand has been strong for the prime projects, it can't be bottomless and nobody knows where the market ends.
One thing which is clear is that the market is stronger on the low end than the high end. The lowest priced units are moving very quickly while it remains to be seen how the high end units will fare. Like many other markets, it will likely be years before we know how many people want to live in a downtown condo and have the resources to afford it!
The best analysis of the market comes from Ki Gray and his blog:
All.........Outer Austin.......Inner Austin
If we look at the numbers, we saw a total increase in inventory of 1083 homes. If we break this down, we saw an increase of 1050 in outer Austin and an increase in inventory of 33 homes in central Austin. So this is an increase of inventory in the suburbs of 15 percent compared to an increase of 2 percent for central Austin.Another way to look at this is to look at months of inventory on the market:
So in summary, the numbers for the Austin market are better than what we see in an average market (6 months of inventory) but we have slowed down a bit from the fasted pasted market that we saw last year. Also we are seeing central Austin again outperform the suburbs.
When analyzing these numbers, there are a few things to note. First, prices are increasing sharply in downtown neighborhoods: as much as 20-30% in the prime neighborhoods over the last year. Second, these statistics do not include the strong sales of downtown condos which are not listed in MLS. In fact, when these units are considered, it is possible that citywide sales actually grew in July. Finally, it is very important to note that these numbers do not reflect the dramatic changes in mortgage lending which occurred in mid- August. While iy will will take a few months to see the full effect of the current lending environment, it will be strong and negative. The good news is that Austin is better prepared than almost any other metro area: with a strong market and low inventories, Austin should ride the down market quite well.
We have learned of additional details of the planned project:
- 75’ lap pool on the 5th floor with an outdoor kitchen
- Private dining for rent with a full kitchen
- Gas cooking
- All 2 and 3 bedroom residences are corner units with 180 degree views
- 2 and 3 bedroom units come with 2 reserved parking spaces
- There is a rentable guest suite available to building residents
- Bosch appliances are standard
- Pets allowed
- Designed as a Green building
The latest renderings or shown below -- and we've updated the full AustinTowers profile on on the project.
According to the Austin Business Journal:
The cost of Austin-area homes has increased 5.6 percent in the last 12 months as prices on the national stage dropped 1.5 percent, a report released Wednesday shows.The median price for a home in the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan market stood at $186,600 at the end of the second quarter, up from $176,700 in the second quarter of 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors' quarterly housing report.
While this growth does not reflect what has happened over the last couple of weeks, and provides no guidance as to what will happen in the next couple of months, it is better to enter a difficult period from a position of strength.
Seaholm is a 7.8 acre site, the main feature of which is the 136,000 historic art deco decommissioned power plant. The redevelopment project will add a 22-story hotel and condo project featuring 80 condo units atop a 160 room hotel. While the initial phase of the project will open in 2008, the Seaholm Plaza Hotel is not expected to open until 2010.
The project will also include offices, extensive retail, and more than 3 acres of open space. However, the most exciting part of the project is the redevelopment of the Seaholm facility itself. When complete, the art deco structure will include nearly 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurants.
More than anything else, Seaholm will further shift the heart of downtown to the west. While downtown life used to center around 6th street between Congress and red river, the warehouse district, 2nd street district, and Whole Foods have shifted the balance. With Seaholm, the downtown action will increasingly be centered between Congress, Lamar, 5th, and Town Lake.
First, many buyers who qualified for loans a couple of weeks ago will not be able to get financing at all today. For those who can still get financing, rates have risen dramatically and are currently hovering between 7.5% and 8.0% for jumbo 30-year mortgages.
Bankrate.com reported today that:
Buyers of pricey houses are finding that money has suddenly become more expensive to borrow. Ditto for loan applicants who don't want to prove that they told the truth about their incomes.Rates on jumbo and Alt-A mortgages have zoomed upward since the last week of July, even as rates on conforming, fixed-rate mortgages slipped downward.The development is bad news for people who want to borrow more than $417,000 to buy a house or refinance a loan, or who can't or don't want to document their income. Rising jumbo rates make it more difficult to sell a house costing half a million dollars or more.
Over the last few months, hundreds of Austin buyers have put units under contract in new condo projects such as 360, the Four Seasons Residences, and the W Hotel & Residences. many of the buyers may no longer qualify for mortgages, or, may not be comfortable with the higher monthly payments now required. While every building is different, some projects do allow buyers to get 100% of their deposit back if rates climb over a certain threshold, one of the major buildings set this rate at 8%, or if buyers are unable to secure financing. With rates spiking, some buyers will be able to take advantage of these provisions.
For the majority of downtown units priced under $500K, including most of the units I buildings like 360, the current mortgage crisis is not catastrophic. While lending standards have tightened this week, most buyers with solid credit and documented income will still be able to qualify for the same traditional mortgage, just at a slightly higher rate.
For buyers who can afford the higher rates or our planning to pay cash, now might be a great time to negotiate with developers. If this crisis continues, it will be very difficult to sell many of the high-end units currently planned for downtown Austin.
As the subprime lending crisis has evolved into a global problem—the bankruptcy of two large lenders seems to have tipped the scales — the market spotlight has turned a negative eye on every participant in the residential mortgage market. As the bad news has spread, lenders are dramatically cutting back on loans -- and rapidly raising rates at the same time.
The market changes in Austin over the last 48 hours are dramatic:
- A number of lenders, especially brand name lenders such as Wells Fargo and Bank of America have hiked jumbo (>$417K) mortgage rates from 6.8% to over 8.0%. Many other lenders seem to be following.
- Specialty loans -- especially loans that do not require income verification or documentation -- have quickly disappeared. These loans, which were commonplace a week ago, are now very difficult to come by. The same is true for loans that do not require a full 20% down payment.
- It has been reported that large loans (>$1.5M) are now very difficult to obtain, even for people in a very strong financial position.
These changes are bad news for buyers -- especially buyers who have placed deposits, are stretching their budget, and haven't locked in their final loan. We'll see how the marker evolves over the next few weeks. While anything could happen, most experts believe that the mortgage lending environment will get worse before it gets better.
The pictures show sample units as well as the rooftop amenities: a pool, yoga deck, and sun deck more than 30 floors above town lake. The pictures complement a very impressive "walk-through" video rendering of the project which can be viewed in the Four Seasons Residences appointment-only sales office.
As previously reported, the project recently opened the lower floors to prospective buyers after more than 80% of the units on the upper floors were reserved in the initial sales phase. The project seems to be on track to sell out by ground-breaking sometime this fall.
The good news is that job growth in Austin is expected to remain strong. According to Mark Dotzour, chief economist and director of research at the prestigious Texas A&M Real Estate Center, 2008 should be a great year for the Austin housing market.
The Statesman reported that:
Dotzour said national job growth will be only about 1 percent but that Texas' rate probably will be double that. And he predicted that Central Texas will outperform both the nation and the state with 3.5 percent job growth. "Austin is blowing the doors off the state of Texas," Dotzour told a crowd of more than 1,000 people. On the housing front, Dotzour said, the Austin metro area should see healthy sales and price appreciation. . . Home sales were at near-record levels at mid-2007 with a low, four-month supply, Dotzour said. . . It's no surprise, he said, that Central Texas home prices appreciated 11 percent in early 2007 compared with a year earlier, according to federal housing data. That outpaced rates of 6.87 percent in Texas, 4.34 percent in Florida and 1.19 percent in California. "I would expect at the current low levels of inventory, home prices are likely to continue to appreciate substantially in the next 12 months, possibly rising in the 8 to 10 percent range," Dotzour said in an interview.
For condo shoppers, market appreciation and rapid increases in construction and land prices are clearly putting upward pressure on condo prices. As long as demand remains strong, condo prices will likely continue to slowly rise.
According to the story:
"There's no available operators in Austin right now," said construction worker Sam Buchanan. "They're all working." With a nationwide shortage, construction managers are paying more to keep cranes moving in Texas.
Over the last two decades, only a handful of tall buildings have been built downtown. As a result, local construction companies are only staffed to build a couple of major projects at one time. With more than 20 projects currently under construction or being planned, it is getting very difficult to find labor and equipment to build new projects. The result is simple: construction prices are going up and condo prices will likely follow.
Watch the story here!
In the current hot condo market, top projects will sell out before the first ceremonial shovel of dirt is removed from the lot. In these circumstances, buyers will be required to pay deposits years before they will be able to occupy their newly selected home. The deposit requirements vary widely among projects. Typically, buyers will be required to pay between 3% and 10% of the purchase price of the unit in order to execute a sales contract. The projects that are super-upscale or in high demand are the ones most likely to have high condo fees.
A typical payment scheme would be an initial payment of $5,000 or $10,000 to be paid at contract signing. This payment reserves the unit. The balance of the deposit would be paid over 90 or 120-days (or with some projects all money is due by ground-breaking). In addition, most buyers are required to pay 50-100% of upgrades such as wood floors, premium appliances, and sound system packages.
One comment we have heard from buyers is that it is currently a seller's market: prices are non-negotiable, deposit requirements are steep, reservations require a sales contract, and there are very few good deals or incentives to be had. While the 360 supposedly provided a 3% down incentive for a limited time to move some remaining units, these sorts of incentives are hard to come by and almost never available on the prime units that tend to sell first.
While the current market for condos may be a sellers market, this won't be true for every project that comes along over the next couple of years. The name brand projects such as the Four Seasons, the W Hotel & Residences will see high demand from people who value the brand. Other projects, like the tall and reasonably-priced 360, will also sell well. For the other downtown projects, competition for buyers will be fierce. It is inevitable that some buyers will be able to negotiate better deals, free upgrades, or reduced deposit requirements by shopping around and playing projects against each other.
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While dozens of high rise condo projects rise from the ground in downtown Austin, interesting condo developments are also nearing completion in other parts of the city. One notable project is the SoCo Lofts which is nearing completion in the red hot South Congress district. This 69-unit condo development with ground-floor retail is located near Saint Edwards University. By building outside the core of downtown, the project has been able to hit a price point that is much lower than any current downtown project. With 616 SF units starting at $169,900 and 2-bedroom units starting at $289,900, the project is at least 25% less expensive than the new downtown projects.
The SoCo Lofts are not alone: a number of interesting projects are currently under development on South Congress, South Lamar, and on the East side across I-35 from downtown.
Here is a full profile of the project: Read More...
The W is offering 19 different floor plans ranging in size from 644 to 3,779 square feet. They have launched a new website which includes all of the floor plans: http://www.block21residences.com/plans.asp. The project is located in the heart of the second street district directly behind city hall. The modern W brand is popular and should fare well with a young, affluent audience.
Here is a new image of a model of the planned building: