Ask the Expert
Austin real estate expert's 4 top tips for buying a home when relocating
Folks are flooding into Texas (hi, Californians!) at a record pace right now, and the influx doesn't look likely to stop anytime soon.
But whether you're gearing up to become an honorary Texan or prepping for a move to another state, there are some vital things to know about buying a home when relocating.
And Kuper Sotheby's International Realty agent Jenny Law should know. Born in Beijing, China, she earned her degree from Boston University before working in London, New York, and Los Angeles. Law and her husband settled down in Austin in 2014.
"The majority of my clients from the past two years have been from California, Washington State, and New York," Law says. "As someone who relocated to Austin many years ago, I understand how to work with clients who are purchasing remotely and make sure that all the appropriate and necessary information is provided to them, so that there are no surprises when they see their new home in person for the very first time."
Below is a list from Law of key factors to consider when house hunting in a new city:
Narrow down the location first
While you can always renovate the interior of a house to suite your preferences, location is something that cannot be changed.
Each neighborhood tends to have its own personality, and in Austin especially you can choose between city, suburban, Hill Country, and ranch/farm living. Don't forget that deciding on your lifestyle also impacts how near or far your neighbors will be, too.
It helps to ask yourself questions like "Do you like older, more established neighborhoods with tall grown trees, or would you prefer a newer neighborhood that is pristine but with trees that are still growing?"
How close do you want to be to shops, restaurants, and — most importantly — grocery stores?
"Everything is bigger in Texas, which includes the distance between one place and another," Law says. "You'd be surprised how many people move into a beautiful home, only to realize H-E-B or the nearest hospital is 20-30 minutes away."
Is walkability a top priority? While most neighborhoods in Texas require driving, there are a few areas in Austin — such as downtown, Tarrytown, UT, and East Austin — where it's completely possible to walk down the street to brunch.
Find the floorplan that works best for you
Much like location, a floorplan is near impossible to change. Major structural changes require city permits, which can take as long as six months for residential homes (and don't forget about supply chain backups).
Law advises nailing down the number of bedrooms and stories early on, as well as determining if an office, media room, or in-law suite is a must-have or simply a would-be-nice. That goes for tall ceilings, open-concept layouts, and multi-car garages, as well.
Decide on a budget
"A lot of my relocation clients want to see how much house they can get in Austin without having a set budget," says Law, "but it is very important to speak with a lender prior to the start of your search, as the loan amount uses a variety of factors and often people are surprised by how different their lender-provided monthly payments look from their personal calculations."
And don't overlook tax rates. Law says that new construction communities can have tax rates in the 3s, while more established communities have lower tax rates in the 1s.
"The monthly payment for a $600,000 home in a new-build community could very well be the same as that of a home in the $800,000s in a well-established community," she says.
Do your research
How do you make sure you don't overpay in a city you're not familiar with?
Find a Realtor who is knowledgeable and understands the comps in the neighborhood in which you are looking.
"Because Austin offers a variety of different communities in a vast area, not all Realtors (no matter how highly ranked they are) will be experts in every single neighborhood," Law says. "It is very important to do your research and find someone that has done numerous transactions in the neighborhoods you are looking at. Always interview a few different Realtors before selecting the one you will be touring homes with. A good Realtor can save you five to seven figures, depending on price point, so beware of the ones that are quick to offer a rebate to get your business."
A good rule of thumb is to ask them about Austin real estate statistics, Law says, as the ones who can provide exact numbers in terms of percentage increase in property value for specific neighborhoods, as well as Austin overall, are usually a good sign. It's also a good idea to check their social media to see what type of transactions they've done in the past.
Don't overlook nearby commercial developments, as they can hint at potential property value appreciation. Big corporations do this type of thorough research prior to investing, so why shouldn't you?
"Austin has been a great place to invest in due to all the tech companies moving here, such as Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Samsung, Tesla, and Oracle, just to name a few," Law says. "Knowing that this is just the beginning of all the developments coming this way provides peace of mind for many of my relocation clients, despite having to compete in multiple-offer situations and paying above list price. They know that in just a few months time, it is very likely they will be sitting on positive equity."
See Jenny Law's latest listings here, or contact her at 917-885-4854 or firstname.lastname@example.org.