This is part of a series of stories related to the 2022 Austin Residential Real Estate Awards. Read about the other winning homebuilders and Realtors here.
Kumara Wilcoxon started relatively small. Early in her realty career, she focused on downtown Austin condominiums, hoping to cut her teeth by selling to people around her age with similar lifestyles.
As Wilcoxon grew as a Realtor, the connections she made did the same. The same people she helped find condos were finding success in business and starting families, and they turned to Wilcoxon to help them find their next home. And the next. And the next.
Now, two decades later, Wilcoxon is one of the biggest names in the Austin luxury market as an agent with Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty. With $359 million in sales volume last year — averaging out to almost $1 million a day — she earned the No. 1 spot in the individual agent category of the Residential Real Estate Awards for the second year in a row.
In 2021, almost 20 years after she started her home-selling career, she sold 77 homes — translating to an average price of almost $5 million.
How’d you get started working in real estate in Austin?
My mother is the reason I started. She drove me to the real estate school and said, “I think you should get your license.”
I started selling in the downtown condo market. I started in 2002, and the condo market was sort of just starting downtown. I felt like it was a good fit for me because I was young, and the buyers in that market were also a younger, targeted demographic and mostly in tech.
Over time, you obviously found a new niche in the luxury market. How has working in that space changed over the past few years?
Right now, the luxury market is the most active I’ve ever seen it in Austin.
We’ve never seen this much wealth and this much demand, which also makes deals more difficult to find. We have very little inventory and so many buyers moving into the market. We also have so much demand from locals.
It makes it interesting, and it makes it challenging. You have to be creative. I’ve had to use my strong network of high-profile clientele to find the properties that are perfect for my clients. I have to go out and even try to find properties for them that are not on the market.
A lot of deals are done off market, especially that I do. And it’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s hard because if there were more homes to sell, it’d make our jobs easier. But we’ve just never seen so much demand.
It’s interesting that you’ve had to essentially scout properties that aren’t on the market. Are there any other strategies you’ve adopted over the past couple of years that have been fruitful?
I’ve had to focus more on digital marketing and social media. I do a lot of video now, and I work with a video company that curates content for all my listings and keeps my social media fresh. I also advertise all over the country on high-profile digital outlets.
Do you have any advice for Realtors who want to break into the luxury space?
First, always surround yourself with your potential clients. Work your sphere of influence.
Second, pick a niche market and stick with it. Really farm it. It’s always the best way to learn the market. Focus on knowing the inventory and understanding the facts and understanding market data and going and looking at every property you can possibly look at. You’re most successful when you know the market. It will naturally progress if you have that confidence in that knowledge.
The final and biggest reason I’ve been successful is I have a crazy hard work ethic. Sometimes people get into this business because they think it’s easy and flexible, and you can make a lot of money. It’s not exactly true — the reason I have been so successful is because I work my tail off.
In order to be successful in the luxury market, you have to be prepared to really work hard. It’s you who will make yourself the most successful.
What mortgage company changes mean for your home loan
It’s been a bumpy ride for mortgage companies lately. Some lenders have gone out of business, merged with other companies or narrowed their focus. And more changes are likely in 2023.
What does all this mean for borrowers?
Here are answers to common questions, whether you’re shopping for a mortgage or paying off a home loan.
WHAT’S BEHIND THE SHAKEOUT?
A key factor: higher mortgage rates. Demand for home loans plummeted last year as the Federal Reserve raised a key interest rate to control inflation and mortgage rates spiked in turn. The average for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage doubled from near-historic lows in early January 2022 to almost 6.4% at year’s end, according to Freddie Mac, an enterprise created by Congress in 1970 to support the U.S. housing finance system.
Higher mortgage rates shrink buying power, so elevated rates shut out some prospective homebuyers, already squeezed by eye-popping home prices.
And for homeowners who had locked in historically low rates in prior years, the spike removed money-saving incentives to refinance their mortgages. Unless your primary aim is to cash out some home equity, it doesn’t make sense to refinance to a higher rate.
As a result, fewer people applied for mortgages. Mortgage applications to buy homes dropped almost 40% year over year in the last few months of 2022, and refinance applications were down almost 90%, according to a December Mortgage Bankers Association forecast report.
Higher rates also increased risk for banks and mortgage companies that buy mortgage loans from lenders.
WHAT IF MY LENDER GOES BUST?
Here’s what would happen:
— If the lender that issued your loan goes out of business or goes bankrupt after the mortgage has closed, you’ll be unaffected. The loan terms will stay the same. If the mortgage company that services your loan changes, you’ll be informed of where to send your monthly payments.
— If your lender runs into trouble and can’t fund the loan when you’re a week or two away from closing, the company will likely work with you to find another lender, says Mark Indelicato, a bankruptcy attorney and partner with Thompson Coburn Hahn & Hessen in New York. “What I’ve seen so far in the industry is the players work together to make sure that the borrowers themselves are not hurt,” he adds.
Some mortgage companies have filed for bankruptcy or gone out of business in the past year. First Guaranty Mortgage Corp. announced June 30 that it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, for example. And some smaller lenders have simply gone out of business recently. Reali, a real estate company with an online lending arm, said in August that it was shutting down, and LenderFi said in an email in the fall that it was leaving the mortgage business.
Indelicato, whose firm is the lead counsel for unsecured creditors in the First Guaranty Mortgage Corp. case, does not expect to see a big wave of mortgage company bankruptcies. “It’s not so bad that you’re going to see the wholesale bankruptcies like you saw of mortgage originators in 2007 and 2008,” he says.
WHAT IF MY LENDER MERGES WITH ANOTHER COMPANY?
A merge will have little direct impact on you. Your loan terms will stay the same if your lender merges with or is acquired by another company.
Meanwhile, don’t be surprised to hear more about mortgage company mergers. Stratmor Group, a mortgage advisory company based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, projected in an October report that almost 50 mergers and acquisitions would be announced or closed by the end of 2022, a 50% jump from 2018, the year with the next-highest number in the past 30 years. And the consolidation trend will likely continue this year.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY MORTGAGE SERVICER CHANGES?
You’ll be notified of where to send your mortgage payments. Your mortgage servicer is the company that processes payments and manages the loan. If the servicing rights are transferred to a different company, generally the old and new servicers should notify you, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The notices will tell you when the old servicer will stop accepting payments, when the new servicer will start accepting payments and the new servicer’s contact information. Read the notices and send payments to the new servicer after the transfer.
WILL OTHER MORTGAGE BUSINESS CHANGES AFFECT ME?
You’ll still have options if you’re seeking a mortgage. Some lenders may change the types of loans they offer or focus on different segments of consumers. Wells Fargo, for instance, said in January that it would create a “smaller, less complex” home lending business focused on bank customers, as well as people in underserved minority communities.
The advice for shopping to get a mortgage remains the same. Look for lenders that offer the types of mortgages you’re interested in and apply with multiple lenders to compare rates and fees.
WILL MORTGAGE COMPANY LAYOFFS COMPROMISE CUSTOMER SERVICE?
Not necessarily. Layoffs generally correspond to lower loan volume; there’s less work to go around, so fewer employees are needed.
Regardless of what’s happening in the industry, customer service is a key feature to consider when shopping for lenders. Many lenders offer a streamlined online application process. But even with robust digital tools available, you should be able to reach a human to help you through the process.
Check customer service ratings online and from companies such as J.D. Power, a global data and analytics company. And when shopping for lenders, compare how quickly and helpfully they respond the first time you contact them with questions.
ARE THESE CHANGES A SIGN OF A HOUSING CRASH OR MORTGAGE CRISIS?
“Consumers should not be concerned about a potential crash as the one we saw during the Great Recession for a number of reasons,” Selma Hepp, chief economist at property analytics company CoreLogic, said by email in reference to the 2007-09 financial crisis.
Lending standards have been strict in recent years, and a lot of buyers made sizable down payments, Hepp noted. In addition, most homeowners now have a lot of home equity, thanks to rising home prices.
“That means that even if they lose a job, they are not forced into a foreclosure but can instead sell their home at a profit,” she said.
Hepp doesn’t expect a huge wave of homes coming on the market. Many people bought their properties or refinanced when rates were low, so they have an incentive to stay put.
Given the limited supply of homes for sale, experts generally don’t expect average home prices to fall steeply as they did in 2008 and 2009.
This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Barbara Marquand is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @barbaramarquand.
NerdWallet: How to get a mortgage https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-how-to-get-a-mortgage
Dems: Biden should be embarrassed by classified docs case
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senior Democrats, dismayed by a steady stream of startling disclosures, expressed criticism Sunday of how President Joe Biden handled classified material after leaving office as vice president and disappointment that the White House has not been more forthcoming with the public.
Lawmakers who might have anticipated questions focusing on the debt limit or Ukraine aid when they were booked last week for the Sunday news shows found themselves quizzed about the latest development over the weekend in the document drama that has put Biden’s presidency on the defensive: During a search Friday of Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, the FBI found additional documents with classified markings and took possession of some of his handwritten notes, the president’s lawyer said Saturday.
Biden should be “embarrassed by the situation,” said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, adding that the president had ceded the moral high ground on an issue that has already entangled former President Donald Trump. Special counsels appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland are investigating both cases.
“Well, of course. Let’s be honest about it. When that information is found, it diminishes the stature of any person who is in possession of it because it’s not supposed to happen. … The elected official bears ultimate responsibility,” Durbin said.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Biden “should have a lot of regrets. … You just might as well say, ‘Listen, it’s irresponsible.’” The president told reporters on Thursday that he had “no regrets” over how and when the public learned about the documents and that there was “no there there.”
Despite their criticism, Biden’s fellow Democrats defended what they said was his cooperation with the Justice Department as the search for additional classified material unfolds. They contrasted it with Trump’s resistance to efforts to recover hundreds of documents after he left office.
“It is outrageous that either occurred,” Durbin said. “But the reaction by the former president and the current president could not be in sharper contrast.”
Biden voluntarily allowed the FBI into his home on Friday, but the lack of a warrant did not dim the extraordinary nature of the search. It compounded the embarrassment to Biden that started in earlier in January with the disclosure that the president’s lawyers had found a “small number” of classified records at a former office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington shortly before the Nov. 8 elections.
The White House has disclosed that Biden’s team found classified documents and official records on three other occasions in recent months — in follow-up searches on Dec. 20 in the garage of his Wilmington home, and on Jan. 11 and 12 in his home library.
The discoveries have become a political liability as Biden prepares to kick off his 2024 reelection bid, and they undercut his efforts to portray an image of propriety to the American public after the tumultuous presidency of his predecessor, Trump.
Manchin excoriated both men for their handling of sensitive security documents. “It’s just hard to believe that in the United States of America, we have a former president and a current president that are basically in the same situation,” he said. “How does this happen?”
At the same time, Democrats worried that Biden’s travails have created an opening for newly empowered House Republicans.
“We have to worry, since this new group that has taken over control of the House of Representatives has promised us endless investigations, confrontations, impeachments and chaos, what is going to happen,” Durbin said.
The new chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said he took Biden “at his word when the first set of documents were found. … But now this is gone from just simply being irresponsible to downright scary.”
The Justice Department says Trump took hundreds of records marked classified with him upon leaving the White House in early 2021 and resisted months of requests to return them to the government. Biden has willingly turned over the documents once found. But the issue is wearing on Biden and his aides, who have said they acted quickly and appropriately when the documents were discovered, and are working to be as transparent as possible.
Durbin appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Manchin was on CNN and NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Comer was interviewed on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Seung Min Kim reported from Rehoboth, Delaware.
In Booming Austin, Texas, There Is Still Room for Upside in Key Areas – Mansion Global
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Austin, Texas, has been heating up since long before the pandemic. Now, home prices there are reaching unprecedented levels.
Over the past decade, prices for single-family homes in central Austin have risen 177% from an average of $212 per square foot in 2012 to $586 per square foot this year, according to data from Douglas Elliman. That kind of price growth has been evident in the luxury market as well.
“The whole state of Texas is seeing increased prices, and on waterfront properties, definitely—mainly because there is low inventory,” said Tammie Bennett, a real estate adviser for Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty.
“It’s the quality of life,” said Michael Reisor, an agent with Douglas Elliman. “You can spend the morning on a hike with a view of the city and then spend the whole afternoon at Barton Springs…There’s a huge cycling lifestyle, yoga, everything.”
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Quality of life has been a motivating factor for remote workers since the pandemic. Then there are the professional draws. Some 100,000 employees are expected to head to Austin’s downtown core over the next three years. Facebook’s parent company Meta just signed the largest lease in Austin’s history, and other companies including Tesla and Samsung are establishing stronger footprints there. It is not only tech companies—a number of private-equity firms are also opening up shop in Austin and bringing relatively young employees in with their families.
Despite the city’s popularity, there are still communities in the Austin area where luxury home buyers can realize upside. While a house with a glimpse of the lake in the leafy, central neighborhood of Tarrytown might cost you up to $8 million or $9 million, several areas just outside central Austin offer space, convenience, commutability—and, yes, lake views—at a fraction of the price.
Whether you are a young family relocating for work and looking for good schools, a power couple from New York looking for a change of pace and more space, or grandparents in search of a second home for family gatherings and outdoor recreation, look west—along the Colorado River or down into ranchland—and you just might find the deal you are after.
One area to look in is Dripping Springs, about 25 to 30 miles southwest of Austin on Route 290. It is a suburban community in the heart of ranchland with wineries, distilleries, breweries and restaurants. Since Covid, Mr. Reisor said, it has become “the hot spot for a lot of people coming from New York or northern and central California.”
Homes between 2,500 and 3,500 square feet situated on up to 5 acres of land typically list from $1.25 million to $2.5 million, he said. One of his properties currently for sale is a 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home with an eco-build design on 5.2 acres of land, asking $2.5 million.
“So the pricing for something like that—some of them with a pool, some with a guest house—is nothing like you could get in Austin,” Mr. Reisor said.
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The developments have primarily been built between 2018 and 2020, and the community is located in a sought-after public school district. In addition to being a short drive away from the city, Dripping Springs is also minutes from the Hill Country Galleria, home to a Whole Foods, box stores, boutique fitness clubs and other amenities. What’s more, short-term and Airbnb rentals are easier in Hays County than in Travis County, where Austin is located.
“Dripping Springs is about 30 miles from [central Austin] but it’s one straight shot—one road and you’re there,” said Anna Lee, an agent with Moreland Properties, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate. “It’s booming.”
As of February, the average year-to-date sales price in Dripping Springs was $897,536, compared to $1.017 million in central Austin, according to data from Douglas Elliman.
“People have this idea of Texas that there’s just a lot of land everywhere,” Mr. Reisor said. “The standard lot size is between 7,000-12,000 [square] feet, and that’s not really as big as some people would imagine that they can get in Texas, so they can sort of fulfill that dream in Dripping Springs.”
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Another spot about 25 miles away from the heart of Austin is the Lake Travis or Lakeway area. According to Ms. Lee, that’s “where all the building is taking place.”
The area is close to water and offers greenery and access to nature. It also has a good public school system and access to nearby amenities—including a Whole Foods.
Ms. Lee said her clients moving from larger cities such as Chicago often come to Austin with the “Texas dream” in mind: land, a pool and a modern home for a reasonable price.
“Inevitably, every time, we start in central Austin and by the third day we’ll be out in Lake Travis,” she said. “You can get an acre, a beautiful new construction, with a pool. Nowadays that will be more in the $2 million range…if it’s a large home, $2 million to $3 million.”
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Prices for single-family homes in Lake Travis increased from an average of $138 per square foot 10 years ago to an average of $334 per square foot this year, with the average sales price, year-to-date as of February, at $910,592, according to data from Dougas Elliman.
Ms. Lee has recently toured the area with clients from Washington, D.C., California and Brooklyn, New York.
“The prices to them are nothing compared to where they’re from,” she said.
A little further west along the Colorado River is the community of Spicewood. Situated about 45 minutes (or 35-40 miles) from central Austin, it offers lake access and space for much lower prices than the city.
“People say, ‘Ok, I have a budget of a few million dollars and I want to be on the lake in Austin,’” said Mr. Reisor. “I tell them that’s not going to happen, because you can’t be in the city of Austin and on the lake for anywhere near $2 million.”
He said land value alone—“if we’re just talking dirt”—would cost $10 million or more per acre on the lake in the city.
“So the next best thing, if you want to be accessible to Austin and either have lake access or views of Lake Travis, is going to be Spicewood,” he said.
Mr. Reisor said that about three months ago, he helped a couple move from Portland for a “different pace of life.” They were able to buy 8 acres of land in Spicewood with access to the lake, a boat slip and panoramic views for $1.3 million.
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“If we’re going by Austin prices, if you wanted to be on Lake Austin in the city, that would have been $80 million for that much land on the lake,” Mr. Reisor said.
Prices for single-family homes in Spicewood have risen about 155% to $338 per square foot, compared to $133 per square foot in 2012, according to Douglas Elliman. The year-to-date average sales price, as of February, was $825,912.
“If people want water, I’ve helped actors and actresses moving from Los Angeles buy in Spicewood,” said Mr. Reisor.’
Lake Lyndon B. Johnson
If a second home is what you are after, you might consider looking in Horseshoe Bay, Granite Shoals, Marble Falls or elsewhere in the Lake Lyndon B. Johnson area.
Tammie Bennett, who covers the area for Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty, said 90% of her market consists of resort and second-home sales, and Austinites are a big feeder market.
“A lot of these folks own a second home and come here on the weekends for boating, fishing—there’s a lot of golf up here, a couple of resorts,” she said. “If you look at Lake Austin, their housing prices are much higher than they are on Lake LBJ.”
She said that, like elsewhere in the Austin area, Lake LBJ is low on inventory, with 35 properties currently available, ranging from $580,000 to $7 million.
One of her homes presently for sale is a four-bedroom, 3,585-square-foot lake house in Horseshoe Bay asking for $3.6 million. It is part of a waterfront community and within walking distance to the local yacht club and Horseshoe Bay Resort. She anticipates more properties coming onto the market in the spring.
“I have what I call three sets of buyers,” Ms. Bennett said. The first set consists of younger couples looking for a place to bring their kids for “great memories of being raised up on the lake.” She said she is surprised by how many clients in their mid-30s she has looking at $3 million lake houses.
The second set of clients are parents who are about to become empty nesters.
“We’re so centrally located, so if the kids are going to school in Austin, Houston or anywhere in Texas, it’s a good location to meet on the weekends,” Ms. Bennett said.
The final group are grandparents who want a home in which to “get all the family together,” she said.
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The Pay Off
These areas offer lower prices now but also future upside, as agents expect prices both in central Austin and the surrounding areas to continue to rise. Mr. Reisor said there will be “no slowing” of the growth in Austin in the years to come because more office space is being leased and built in the city.
What’s more, he said, agents are seeing a “perfect wave” of strongly motivated buyers that have been watching the market for some time but, worried about rising interest rates, have finally decided to engage. The combination of buyers who are incentivized to lock in rates and the already-tight inventories will push prices even higher in the months and years to come.
“It’s like the old proverb, but modified,” he said. “Of course the best time to buy would have been 20 years ago, but the next best time is today. Even three years ago, homes would have been half this price, but now is that time you’re going to be looking back on and saying, ‘I wish I would have done it.’”
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