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COVID-19 & Austin Real Estate: Market Statistics & Leading Indicators

This is our newsletter for tomorrow, April 17. Before the crisis, we sent one newsletter per month that included basic YOY statistics for the previous month, commentary on those stats, and interesting news. Since COVID began, we’ve been sending a post a week, as there is a lot of interesting news, statistics, and content. We’ve received good feedback and we’ll continue writing and sending these as long we think it’s relevant and interesting.

I wrote on this topic last week in a more conversational tone and then rewrote this for the newsletter. The April blogging challenge has been positive in that it’s helping me identify what’s truly relevant & interesting, and it’s helping me dig into those topics more deeply.

April 17th Newsletter:

We hope that you and your loved ones are staying safe during the ongoing crisis. We’re reaching out today to discuss the recently released March 2020 Austin real estate market statistics and leading indicators.

Our friends at Independence Title released the March 2020 market statistics this week that are available for download here. Independence provides a valuable resource in these statistics and we always look forward to receiving them.

This month, we are looking past the traditional metrics – median/average sold price, days on market, etc – because these are lagging indicators. Almost all properties sold in March were under contract in February or earlier. This means that the properties sold and closed in March do not have a sales price affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We did take note that pending contracts in March 2020 were down -8.4% over March 2019. We believe that this is the beginning of a downward trend that will trend back upwards at some point in the future (and hopefully soon!)

If we discount lagging indicators, then which leading indicators do we follow?

We watch pending contracts very closely, but those generally lag behind earlier economic indicators. The Consumer Confidence Index & University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment research are both leading indicators of the US economy that are regarded as two of the most accurate leading indicators. US Consumer Confidence is at 71, currently. The low during the 2008 financial crisis was 55.3. It was at 101 in February 2020.

As a company, we monitor & track hyper-local metrics. We measure and track local Austin market metrics, which are lagging indicators. When there are more homes under contract & sold, and when prices go up, we know that the market has already performed better. This is helpful to monitor when the market it isn’t in flux. However, it’s better to monitor leading indicators in order to know before sales data begins to turn. National leading indicators like the CCI report only once per month and don’t measure consumer sentiment at the local level. However, there are local indicators that we track in order to know when the market changes as early as possible:

  • Consultation & Showing Inquiries: We measure the year over year volume of inbound inquiries to view properties and/or to speak with agents about purchases or sales. When these begin trending up, we will know that the market is improving. Right now, our post-COVID qualified web inquiries are down more than 41%.
  • Web Traffic: We have a highly trafficked website with years of data. When site traffic declines (year over year) we know the market is slowing and when it begins to trend upwards, we know that it’s improving. We analyze our web traffic overall, as well as organic & paid traffic, in order to identify trends. Our overall post-COVID traffic is down 47% and targeted search traffic is down 76%.
  • New Purchase Applications: When buyers begin to shop for properties, they apply for loans. When there is more buyer activity, more buyers apply for loans, and vice versa. We stay in close contact with our preferred lenders to monitor this activity. Our lender partners have reported that new purchase applications were down 32% in March.

Well isn’t that depressing! Why send this email?

We’re not sending this email to point out how bad things are. There has never been a recession that didn’t reverse course and most recessions are short. We strongly believe that objectively monitoring and measuring leading indicators will help us know as soon as possible when the Austin market begins to recover. Traditional market statistics are fantastic, but in times of crisis, leading indicators become more important.

We fully expect to share positive news about leading indicators in the near future, and we will happily and expeditiously do so!

You Can’t Out Train a Bad Diet

I did a mini-challenge last week. I challenged the conventional wisdom that “You can’t out train a bad diet.” It took me ~30 years or so to actually believe that, but it still seems like you could work out enough that you can eat/drink whatever you want.
At the beginning of last week, I weighed in at 162.8 pounds. I hiked a little over 60 miles last week. I ate and drank whatever I wanted and didn’t record anything in MyFitnessPal. I weighed in yesterday morning at 163.3 lbs. 60 miles hiking. I gained a 1/2 pound. (Not huge, but extrapolate this to a lifestyle, and it’s no bueno.)
So, I weighed in yesterday at 163.3. I’m going to be as perfect as possible w/ MyFitnessPal journaling and I’m going to continue hiking and doing body weigh exercises. I’m not setting any goals for caloric deficit, but MFP always makes me eat better. I’ll post the weigh in results next Monday.

How Will We Know When the Austin Real Estate Market Begins to Recover?

The easiest way to tell if the market is turning is by looking at the # of pending sales and the # of new closings. However, these are lagging indicators. Sales were under contract 30-45 days ago and buyers started shopping 1-6 months before they put a property under contract.

Can we determine that the market is turning prior to these lagging indicators?

More than likely, we can. Search traffic, overall web traffic, property/agent inquiries, & mortgage pre-approvals all happen well before a buyer puts a property under contract.

We’ve set the “COVID Crisis” start date as March 16. This is when the Colorado Governor shut down all ski resorts, which was a crushing emotional blow. It’s also midway through March (and a Monday), which is really handy for reporting.

Our good friends/partners, the Leamans, were kind enough to share their purchase inquiry data. January/February purchase inquiries were up a combined 12% over 2019. They don’t have March sliced into pre/post-COVID (or mountain closure). The entirety of March was down 20% from 2019. Based on expectations from Jan/Feb (up 12%), you can extrapolate that March inquiries were down 32% (where half of March is considered “COVID Crisis.)

Our own inquiries show a similar pattern. From Jan 1 to March 15, 2020, we saw a 5% increase in inbound inquiries over 2019. From March 16, 2020 to April 9, 2020, we saw a 36% decrease in inquiries. Accounting for expectations, this is a 41% decrease in inquiries.

Web traffic is likely the earliest indicator we can watch. Buyers & sellers will typically search online for some time before they reach out to an agent to help. Our overall web traffic tells a similar story. Pre-COVID, our overall traffic was up 39%.

Post-COVID, our overall traffic was down 8%.

Accounting for expectations, our overall traffic is down 47%.

Search traffic is highly targeted, so is an even better indicator. When people are searching for real estate and service providers, you can assume that they’re engaged in the market at some level. Again, this tells a similar story. Pre-COVID, paid search was up 11% and organic was up 35%.

Post-COVID, paid search is down 60% and organic is down 45%.

Without doing too much math, we’ll just average the two and account for expectations. Search traffic is down 76% during the crisis.

Great numbers, Eric! Why does any of this matter?

The reason we want to monitor these numbers is because they will be the earliest indication that the real estate market is recovering. When buyers and sellers start to search for real estate & providers, reach out to agents for help, and apply for loans, you can assume that they’re getting back into the market. By recognizing that early – before properties start to go under contract – you can adjust your decisions accordingly.

We’re here to let you know when that happens!


How Did Past Recessions Affect the Austin Real Estate Market?

And how could this recession affect the market?

I’ve monitored the COVID Crisis probably more than I should. Credible sources are speculating that the recession could be incredibly short & v-shaped & other credible sources are predicting that it will be very long and disastrous. I tend to lean towards Goldilocks, who says it will be somewhere in the middle – likely a pretty bad 2020 (with a horrible 2020 Q2) with a nice recovery in 2021. Regardless, all reputable sources agree that we’re entering a recession (which is defined by 2 consecutive quarters of negative economic growth.)

Since almost everyone can agree that we’re entering a recession, it’s great to look at how the Austin real estate market was affected by past recessions.

Tara McGuire shared a link to TAMU market data for the Austin-Round Rock MSA from 1990 to present. It’s available here and is super interesting. I’m a bit of a numbers nerd and pulled it into a spreadsheet to start building charts.

Since 1990, the USA has experienced 3 recessions:

  • July 1990–Mar 1991 (8 months)
  • Mar 2001–Nov 2001 (8 months)
  • Dec 2007–June 2009 (18 months)

The most obvious question for any buyer or seller is “What did this do to home prices?” The surprising and consistent answer is, “Not much.”

We don’t have data for 1989, but 1990 finished the year with an average sales price of $81,770 (whoa!) 1991 saw an average of $88,132, which is average appreciation of 7.7%. The 2001 recession saw a very similar lack of price changes. The average sales price increased in 2001 by 1.3% and it increased again in 2002 by 2.6%. The 2001 recession appears to have slowed appreciation, but prices didn’t decrease. (The median price saw similar movement.)

The 2008 recession was specifically caused by bad mortgages. The general consensus is that it crashed the real estate market. Looking at the numbers now, that wasn’t the case in Austin. In 2007, the average sales price was $245,178. The average price in Austin bottomed out at $235,887 in 2009 which is only a 3.8% declineIn 2010, the average price was $246,460, which is higher than the 2007 peak. Effectively, we regained the minimal losses that the recession caused 1 year after the recession ended.

I personally remember the 2008 recession as a difficult time. If real estate prices only saw a minimal decline in 2008 and no real decline in the past recessions, then why do people reasonably correlate recessions with down real estate markets?

Units & dollar volume sold provide insight. 1990 saw 7068 units sold with $580M in volume. 1991 saw 7485 units sold with $662M in volume. This means there were 6% fewer units &  14% less volume sold in 1990 as compared to a recovered 1991 market. The 2001 recession is a headscratcher. Talking with friends and colleagues who worked through this recession, their memories are of a really tough market. The numbers don’t reconcile this, though. 2000 saw 18,321 units & $3.5B in sales. 2001 saw 18,095 units & $3.5B, and 2002 (post recovery) saw 18,414 units & $3.6B. These numbers are close enough that they’re effectively rounding errors and it’s safe to say that the Austin real estate market was unaffected by the 2001 recession in terms of sales.

Again, 2008 showed more movement. During the 2008 financial crisis, there was a relatively steep national decline in price because of the large number of foreclosures (which were correcting bad loans.) Most people moving to Austin had homes to sell elsewhere that they couldn’t sell, so they had to rent in Austin and wait for prices to recover there. This took time. At the 2007 peak, there were 27,571 sales and $6.8B in volume. This bottomed in 2010 (one year after the recession ended) at 19547 sales and $4.8B in volume. The bottom represented a 30% decline in sales. This is why so many agents left the business and why sellers remember this as a difficult time. The market was relatively recovered by 2012 and 2013 saw relatively large gains over the 2007 peak.

What does this mean for buyers & sellers?

Properties still sell and pricing doesn’t change much. That said, things are generally sluggish. When there is more inventory on the market, it’s generally good for buyers and hard for sellers. Looking at all 3 recessions, there is more inventory & units on the market during a recession. The 1990 recession had an average of 24% more listings on the market than the 1991 recovery and 1990 had 8 months of inventory (firmly a buyers market) vs the 5.8 months of inventory in 1991. 2001 saw more than 2x the number of listings on the market and a jump to 4.3 months of inventory from the 2000 low of 1.98 months. The 2008 recession saw 19% more listings and saw inventory increase by 40% to 5.3 months. The market bottomed in 2010 with 6.3 months of inventory and inventory was fully recovered by 2012.

Recessions are very stressful because of the level of uncertainty. There is no realistic way for us to predict which past recession 2020 will most resemble. We think it’s unlikely that the real estate market will be affected as heavily as it was in 2008 because that recession was caused by a fundamental problem with real estate lending. The most likely scenario is that we will see relatively unchanged real estate prices and some level of decline in volume & units sold. I personally think that we’ll see a 20% to 30% decline in 2020, followed by a recovery in 2021 that will be anywhere from a 10% decline to a 10% increase in volume, depending entirely on how severe the virus is and how long the economy sits on “pause”.


“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.” – Calvin Coolidge

I look back on my college experience really fondly and the fraternity I joined was a big part of that. That said, I won’t be upset if fraternities are no longer around when Beck makes it to college (if he goes.) It was a ton of fun, but mostly irresponsible fun. When I was a pledge, they made us memorize a bunch of goofy things – members middle names, etc. We also had to memorize quotes from famous alumni and one has stuck with me. “Persistence” by Calvin Coolidge seems to ring true throughout life, and especially in times like these. I started thinking about it again a couple of years ago when goal setting became a big part of my life and I’ve thought about how poignant it is during difficult times.

During the 2008 Financial Crisis / Great Recession, I was completely unprepared. I had a negative net worth and zero systems in place. My plan was to bail – just go to law school and reset after I got out. I owed money to the IRS, so that plan wouldn’t work. I remember sitting in my home office (our office lease expired and we didn’t renew) and just cold calling like crazy – 100+ IDX leads or expired listings a day. I absolutely hate cold calling, but it worked. I had low quality leads coming in and I knew that, if I called around 50 of them, I would pick up at least 1 viable client. This experience is what got me through a really difficult financial time and also what made me become obsessed with generating quality inbound inquiries.

I learned a lot from 2008 and we’re much more prepared for this coming recession. That said, persistence is what will also get us through this (though hopefully a little more easily than in 2008.) I’m hugely obsessed with efficiency, but during really difficult times, it’s important to go back to the basics and just stay busy. The more you keep your head down and work on productive activities, the better you’ll come out of this. I’m looking forward to watching everyone on our team come out of this strongly.

April Challenge – Blog Posts

Adam Salamon originally inspired me to try out monthly challenges in 2019. I obviously swung and missed on that in 2019. I think my issue was a really strict and hard challenge for January that I only stuck to for about 2 weeks. Adam recently recommitted to his own monthly challenges, so I thought I should give it another try.

My first monthly challenge for April is simply blogging. I’ve always enjoyed writing, so this one should be pretty easy to accomplish. My goal is to blog 3x a week with something (hopefully) interesting and to share it on social media. This is blog post #2 for this week, so I’ll come up with something tomorrow. Blogging is pretty old school, but I think it’s worthwhile.

Second Try….

My 2019 resolution to write about goals/challenges/etc went off with a massive thud. I did an okay job journaling last year, but an awful job with monthly challenges. Goal setting went well. I hit a lot of my 2019 goals and have my 2020 goals in place (which I’ll share later.)

Last week, I put together goals to accomplish during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s difficult to stay focused with such disruption in our lives and business, so I felt that a guide to follow would be helpful. The goal set is somewhat of a living document, and many are more of “ongoing tasks” than actual goals, but here’s the current list:

COVID-19 Goals

Business Goals

  • Dedicated workspace and “clock in” every morning at 9am
  • Every morning, first put together your daily task list
  • Continue to support all agents
  • Monday morning virtual meetings
  • Complete website redesign
  • Set up a/b tests for all landing pages – bounce rate is the initial goal to monitor. Compare bounce w/ page load.
  • Projects for every employee
  • Monitor advertising
  • New conversion tools implemented w/ a/b tests
  • Improve spec spreadsheet w/ Mason
  • Monitor TFY build
  • Work on Callrail live call transfer
  • Audit close out process and build out weekly process (rather than rely on TFY tasks)


  • Outdoor activity with Beck for 1 hour/day
  • 2+ hours exercise per day
  • Blog 3x week
  • 100% Myfitnesspal log
  • 2 pounds/week loss until target of 150lbs is met (12 lbs loss)
  • Every other day, one “big” fitness goal – hike w/ weights, ride bike 15+ miles, etc…
  • Pushup challenge (100/day)
  • Hike every trail here:
  • Learn at least one skill here:

Monthly Challenge(s) – January 2019

We’re back from our ~2 week mountain trip and it was excellent! Beck skied 4 days this year and really took to it. I took him to the top of the ski lift and he was able to get down on his own, only falling a couple of times, and in control the entire time!

Now that I’m back, it’s time to dive back into work and health. I’m moving forward with the diet challenge for the month, but I’ve added a second challenge b/c I’m motivated to do it and I think it’s important: Journaling.

I’ve dabbled with journaling over the years and have never stuck with it for more than a few days. I think I’m disciplined enough now that I can consistently do it. My goal in journaling is to improve my memory recall and to be more mindful about life. I feel like my memory has gotten worse as I’ve aged. Journaling is supposedly a good way to sharpen your memory. I also feel like it’s a nice way to reflect on your day.

I started this morning with a journal entry for 1/6. I will write my journal entries at the end of the day or the beginning of the next. I’m using Google Docs/Drive and a really simple template I came up with. The template is intended to jog my memory as I write.


Part II of my monthly challenge is a stricter and improved diet. I’ve had good success with intermittent fasting, but I feel like I’ve restricted my caloric intake too much. When I had my body fat tested, my muscle mass was much lower than I expected, so I believe I’ve lost a good chunk of muscle in the process. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a baseline prior to the end of Dec 2018.) Here is the diet I’ll follow for January. My weight is currently 171.5 (Jan 7 morning weigh-in) and I’ve been losing roughly 1.5 lbs per month for the past 6 months.

January Diet Challenge

This won’t be perfect b/c we get back to Austin on January 6th from our family ski trip and I’m on a guy’s ski trip over MLK weekend. The two ski trips are “off” with regards to the strict diet, but fasting is “on” during these trips.


  • Jan 7 (Monday) morning weigh-in is the benchmark. Feb 4 morning weigh-in is the end result.
  • Caffeine is allowed, but no coffee or diet soda. (Low key ice tea addiction is surviving this month’s challenge.)
  • Everything goes into MyFitnessPal, no exceptions (plug-in ski trip fubars.)
  • Each Monday morning weigh-in is your weight for the week.


  • Sun – Breakfast egg white taco X 1 / high protein lunch <400 cal / <200 cal snack / <600 cal dinner
  • Mon – Fast to 5pm / <200 cal snack / <800 cal dinner
  • Tues – 4X egg whites breakfast / high protein lunch <400 cal / <200 cal snack / <600 cal dinner
  • Wed – Fast to 5pm / <200 cal snack / <800 cal dinner
  • Thurs – 4X egg whites breakfast / high protein lunch <400 cal / <200 cal snack / <600 cal dinner
  • Fri – 4X egg whites breakfast / high protein lunch <400 cal / <800 cal dinner – 3x drinks allowed at dinner
  • Sat – Breakfast egg white taco X 1 / high protein lunch <400 cal / <600 cal dinner – no alcohol limitation

*Sat/Sun 1X breakfast taco can be subbed to 2X breakfast taco with lunch skip
*4X egg whites might get old/gross. If that happens, look at fruit/protein smoothie.


2019 Resolution: Blogging & Challenges

I’ve always been a goal oriented person, but my goals have been relatively sub-conscious until recently. The first deliberate goal I set was a few years ago and revolved entirely around business revenue. Last year, a friend encouraged me to set much more explicit goals for both life and business, which I did, and was massively happy to have done. Another friend/couple successfully completed monthly challenges in 2018. The better/best challenges morphed into permanent changes and I  know they’d tell you they’re much better for them.

Alex Honnold discusses living a deliberate life in an REI podcast that’s worth a listen. I don’t know if he sets goals for anything other than climbing, but his climbing goals are very explicit and he tracks his progress perfectly. (In fairness, I’m not sure if he has any other goals than climbing.) I love the idea of living a deliberate life and it seems that goal setting & tracking are a big part of that.

My 2019 resolution is to set monthly challenges and to blog about these challenges. The monthly challenges are a logical extension of goal setting. Blogging is fun and creates accountability.