Home sales got off to a strong start in the Austin-Round Rock market in 2020.
On Jan. 2, Zillow declared Austin the nation's hottest market due to the city's affordability, low unemployment, attractiveness to young people and booming tech industry. Even March sales figures were in the black, showing a 2.2% increase over the previous March, as the coronavirus pandemic grew.
Austin homes were rapidly appreciating, with median sales prices up 11.7% over the previous March. It was a bubbling sellers' market.
"March was a hangover from a fast start," said Romeo Manzanilla, president of the Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR) "Everything that was in the pipeline closed. We will see in April the true effect of the pandemic."
Romeo Manzanilla, president of the Austin Board of RealtorsRomeo Manzanilla
Of course the COVID-19 outbreak has had more deadly consequences, but it came at a bad time for sellers and buyers. The peak time for home sales is April through August.
Depending on shelter-in-place and restrictions on travel, Manzanilla predicts the Austin market will recover in the fourth quarter, perhaps active even in the holiday season. "Being both optimistic and realistic, there will be a lot of pent-up demand," he said. Sales numbers could be in line with last year, he added.
Manzanilla, 47 years old, moved to Austin in 1999. He is the broker-in-charge of Realty Austin, which is owned by Jonathan and Yvette Boatwright. The business has 560 agents and reported $3.45 billion in total sales in 2019. Manzanilla and his wife Monica live in Avery Ranch.
This still could be a good year for you if you're a certain kind of buyer. Mortgage interest rates are low, ranging from 3.2 to 3.9%, depending on the duration of the mortgage. Yet, jumbo loans—those exceeding $510,400 in Texas—have all but vanished.
Favored in today's market is the luxury real estate buyer who is liquid. "Instead of competing with 10 offers, they may find three or four offers on a home," said Manzanilla.
Not favored is the highly-leveraged borrower with drooping stock holdings and an unsteady job situation. "It's still a sellers' market," said Manzanilla, "just not quite as unbalanced [in favor of the seller] as it has been."
Sellers are more likely to negotiate extensions on closings, with appraisal and approval processes slowed by shelter-in-place and heavy demand for refinancing.
ABoR is advising agents to comply with social distancing, foregoing open houses and individual house calls in favor of pictures and virtual tours on web-based listings. Drones are being used for flyovers to substitute for walk-arounds. Online research by buyers has picked up, said Manzanilla. Realtors "should follow the CDC guidelines to minimize exposure to clients," he said, "and anything that puts you in a precarious situation."
Among his own clients, he added, a lot of prospective sellers are withholding their homes from the market, and those who have listed are holding firm on asking prices. Sellers know that there is a diminished pool of homes.
In good times and bad, Manzanilla loves real estate and interacting with clients. The best and worst of real estate? "Some clients you absolutely love. Some clients you absolutely love when a transaction ends."
Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
- Willie Nelson to host cannabis convention for 88th birthday - austonia ›
- First hemp vodka in Texas makes its way to Austin - austonia ›
- Travis County approves first Texas Hemp Harvest Festival - austonia ›
- Delta 8 has landed in Austin: what is it and who uses it? - austonia ›
Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
- Austin downgrades to Stage 4 as COVID cases decline - austonia ›
- Joe Rogan incorrectly says vaccinated people cause mutant strains ... ›
- Everything you need to know about breakthrough cases in Austin ... ›
- After racing for a first dose of the vaccine, some Austinites find ... ›
- COVID in Austin: 9 ICU beds, alternate care site, booster shots ... ›