Get this: Austin has an unemployment rate of only 6.7%. That could be why, except for South Padre Island, Austin now has the highest priced median homes in Texas: $194,600, according to the Real Estate center at Texas A&M University. Sales of existing single-family Texas homes in August were up 24 percent from a year ago, according to the most recent Multiple Listing Services (MLS) data compiled by the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. More than 21,200 existing single-family homes were sold, data showed. The median home price was $153,200, about the same as a year ago, and the state’s overall inventory was at 7.4 months.

So why is our little sister city to the south, the one often equated with San Francisco, kicking butt in the real estate market? I reached out to my friends at Realty Austin, an Austin real estate firm. Here’s what agent Brittanie Flegle has to say:

Based on the latest financial news, one might assume that very few people are purchasing homes this year.  However, you might be surprised to know that in Austin, July and August home sales reached record highs.  In fact, July marked the best month for Austin real estate in over 2 years!  Here is a snapshot of the Austin real estate market as compared to one year ago.

  • $524,492,455 – Total dollar volume of single-family homes sold, 23% more than July 2010.
  • $196,750 – Median price for single-family homes, 11% less than July 2010.
  • 1,973 – Single-family homes sold, 32% more than July 2010.
  • 205 – Condos and townhomes sold, 45% more than July 2010.
  • 77 – Days on market, 5% longer than July 2010.
  • 2,808 – New single-family home listings on the market, 13% less than July 2010.
  • 9,393 – Active single-family home listings on the market, 20% less than July 2010.
  • 1,994 – Pending sales for single-family homes, 28% more than July 2010.

All of those total to a 32% increase in year over year home sales. This can be explained by the sharp decrease that occurred when Federal homebuyer tax credits expired on June 30, 2010. However, there are several other positive factors driving the Austin real estate market.  These include:

  • Record low mortgage rates
  • Stable home values
  • An unemployment rate of only 6.7%
  • A limited supply of new and resale homes for the 56,000 people expected to move in 2011

One great example of an Austin community that has seen lots of growth in the past year is Scofield Farms. Price points: $300K.  Located in North Austin, it has quickly become one of Austin’s most sought-after neighborhoods for new Austinites and their families.  Scofield farms realtor Jenny Walker agrees. “Scofield is great for families because it is a very close knit community.  Neighbors really look out for one another here.  Scofield is also within walking distance of great schools and near high-tech employers like Dell, Samsung, and IBM” Jenny says.

On the other hand, if you’re in the market to sell, keep in mind that there are 20% fewer homes on the Austin market than there were at this same time last year.  In short, this means significantly less competition for those selling homes.

After a challenging year in real estate, the Austin market seems to be back and holding strong.  How do you spell a healthy real estate market? JOBS!

Read Steve Brown and you might say what someone from last month’s ULI Conference told me they felt like doing after the opening session: committing suicide. Steve says north Texas pre-owned home purchases were down 15 percent in May — the 12th consecutive month of declines, a solid year of flushing.

Real estate agents last month sold 6,224 single-family homes through the MLS, which is 145 percent less than they sold during the first five months of 2010. Because of, let’s all chant now, the “First Time Homebuyer’s Credit.”

Sales volume is down, which was expected once the crack cocaine was taken away. But experts are glancing at the U.S. economy and scratching heads, because it ain’t looking so rosy, and everyone’s re-thinking recovery ETAs.

“I don’t have a concern about things getting a whole lot worse,” (usually chipper) Jim Gaines, an economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M told the Dallas Morning News — RECON is like the Bible of real estate statistics in Texas. “But where is the demand going to come from?”

Good question, when banks are not lending and employers are not hiring. Maybe Mexico? Capital flight? That only leaves the rich buying homes, which we know they are.

“I can’t see any kind of substantial increase” in home sales for the rest of 2011, Gaines told the DMN.

Sales. Last week, the Standard & Poors/Case-Schiller report showed a 2.5 percent drop in Dallas area home prices in March – the 9th straight monthly decline. Every metropolitan area in the country except for Washington, D.C. showed declines. That 2.5 was not so bad compared to other areas. Patricia Szot, president of the MetroTex Association of Realtors, told KERA our local housing market is stable overall and showing some improvement. In fact, Szot says the average home price in north Texas is $195,000, six percent higher for the first four months of the year than we were last year. Our median price is $143,000, up 1% from last year. I’m not going to go into other details of the interview because we all know that Dallas has a growing population, 350 to 398 new families arrive in North Texas daily looking for jobs, our unemployment levels are not as bad as the rest of the country’s. Szot, like me, is more concerned over how federal banking regulators are making it hard to get loans. No loans, no sales. But the biggest challenge remains employment. One more positive note: Dallas is the only federal district where the economy is expanding, says the Federal Reserve. New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago are slowing, says the Fed, according the Beige Book report, while the other districts are expanding. Some experts say that’s because of the increase in oil prices which tends to benefit the Texas economy while it drains consumer’s pocketbooks. The report also says real estate prices continue to decline in most areas, while it noted that:

Dallas indicated that improved traffic has raised prospects of improved sales in the second half of 2011, and Boston observed signs that the market is stabilizing. Sales activity was characterized as mostly steady in the New York, Cleveland, Dallas and San Francisco Districts, but declining in the St. Louis and Minneapolis Districts.

I’m not going to say Dallas Real Estate is a hoppin’, but we are really hanging in there. Really. As I mentioned yesterday, I was in Southlake on Saturday, and I went to that adorable Southlake Town Center. Met a cute couple who were building a home in Colleyville because they had just sold their home in Keller in 6 days. Wow!  I got nosy and said, so how much did you reduce it by? Was it a fire sale? Only $2000 under asking, they said. You live out here, I asked? Nope, both work in downtown Dallas. They are in Colleyville for a new home, schools and safety.

Welcome to the suburbs, which are not as dead as the media might have you believe. Over on YouPlusMedia, my good friend and super respected home builder Brad Holden says the Frisco new home market is “experiencing a growth that has builders scrambling to get permits for new lots in their communities. This increase in new contracts over the past couple months shows me signs of buyer confidence and the fact of low interest rates slowly rising.” Case in point: Meritage Homes, he said, had 649 closings last year, so Brad wonders where Steve Brown gets his info on home starts plummeting.

Case-Shiller spoke this week, and we all grabbed our Depends. CS says Dallas-area pre-owned home prices dropped just 1.2 percent in February 2011 from a year earlier. That’s really not bad. Not trying to be Susie Sunshine, but I’d almost say they just held steady.

In fact, the decline in the LOCAL Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller Home Price Index was a lot better than what we’ve been hearing, especially when prices were about 3 percent or 4 percent lower than last year.

There are two ways to look at this. One, is to be Steve Brown and note that Dallas-area home prices have been down for eight consecutive months. Well, he has a point.

Or we could note, as Dr. James Gaines over at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, that the diminishing is getting better.

“It could indicate a trend toward being back to even or perhaps even start a trend toward positive increases,” Gaines said Tuesday.

Did he say positive increases?

Case-Shiller said our price decline was less than half of what the rest of the nation suffered, which was about 3.3 percent. Prices were down in all of the 20 major Case Shiller markets with the exception of Washington, D.C.

Nice to know our tax dollars are helping lift that market.

“There is very little, if any, good news about housing,” Standard & Poor’s David Blitzer said. “Prices continue to weaken, while trends in sales and construction are disappointing.”

You talk to these guys, it seems that the economic recovery is moving about as fast as a slug.

Steve says Dallas-area home prices are now about 10 percent below the Case-Shiller mid-2007 peak in the Case-Shiller index. Could we be coming out of the tunnel? David Brown at Metrostudy says maybe. Brown  also thinks that the dearth of housing inventory could bring on inflation in home prices.

“For-sale housing inventory is not growing, even with sales at a low for this housing cycle,” Brown said. “Demand is likely to grow.”