Damn. I had no idea that there was such a real estate boom going on in Central Texas. I mean, I knew that Travis and Williamson Counties were hot stuff, but that's not what this is about.
In the Kerr County resort community of Hunt, land shoppers are sometimes floored by the asking prices, said real estate agent Emily Petty.
"They still think that they should be able to come here and buy a little cabin on the river for $150,000, and they are just appalled," Petty said. The shock is felt most by those who don't preview land on the Internet.
"You won't find much under $200,000, $250,000 out here," for land only, Petty said.
Rural land is appreciating throughout the state — the median price was up 15 percent in the first three quarters of 2004 compared to the same period in 2003.
But some parts of the Hill Country showed even higher increases, according to A&M data that showed typical prices were up 27 percent in the western hills around Real County, and up 24 percent in the Highland Lakes, where the number of transactions jumped by 54 percent.
Rural land in the northern Hill Country near Lampasas rose 13 percent, though fewer sales were recorded last year as the number of highly desirable tracts diminished.
In the region's southern counties — Kendall, Kerr, Bandera and Blanco — prices rose 11 percent in the first three quarters of 2004. Although that was less than the statewide trend, it was based on only a 7 percent increase in transactions, another reflection of the tough market for buyers. Even so, the area's median price has remained among the highest in the state, $4,448 per acre, data shows.
"Buyers will get focused on an area like that and pretty soon there aren't very many attractive properties for sale anymore, so they start looking further and further afield," said research economist Charles Gilliland.
That's why areas in the western Hill Country, such as Real and Uvalde counties are increasingly popular, and it's also why people who set out to buy a waterfront cabin wind up with "river access" land — not directly on flowing rivers or creeks — or they settle for scenic land away from the hottest areas, experts said.
Nowadays, all-cash purchases of $500,000 or $1 million are routine, although borrowing remains common, real estate agents said.
People from Florida, California, Arizona and a smattering of foreigners have joined in the Hill Country land rush. The influx — some settlers, some speculators — raises eyebrows, but the interest is understandable, Gilliland said.
"They may be casting a broader net, coming out here and seeing if they can probably buy more here than they could get at home," the researcher said.
[M]any buyers are looking for more than an investment, said real estate agent Shirley Shandley in Leakey. They want a secluded getaway, and some find the region to be a bargain compared with other resortlike areas of the United States.
"A lot of people come out here and say 'Oh, we didn't know Texas looked like this — hills and all that stuff,' " she said. "We get people from Arizona and California, and they're real impressed with our prices, and our taxes are less than what they're used to."
"The hardest part is finding good listings. It seems like it's getting harder every year. There's less and less riverfront coming up and more of it gets tied up into commercial use," like lodges, she said.
As a result, Shandley said, "the country here is changing."
A longtime ban on liquor sales was recently lifted. Businesses are popping up — just like land prices.