One of the more than 230 families that visited model homes at Gregg Ranch by Pulte Homes in Marble Falls during the development’s first open house April 17. The subdivision plans 750 single-family homes and 250 multi-family residences in its 240-acre, master-planned community. Courtesy photo
Homebuilding in the Highland Lakes has never been busier, but it can’t keep up with a rising demand from newcomers looking to move to the area, according to several local leaders in the construction and real estate industries.
“This is the most growth we’ve ever seen, even when my grandfather started the business,” said Matt Winsborough of Winsborough Construction, a company that has been specializing in custom homes and remodels in the Highland Lakes for three generations. Winsborough is president of the Hill Country Builders Association, a not-for-profit professional member organization that promotes and supports building and construction trades in a 10-county region.
“I attribute it to people moving here from big cities, wanting a more peaceful area to live in, a place that is cheaper, at least taxwise,” he said.
The Texas Hill Country has become ground zero of a recent statewide explosion in the demand for land and houses, according to Texas A&M University’s Texas Real Estate Research Center. Rural land sales in the 17-county area generally known as the Hill Country, which includes Burnet and Llano counties in its northeast corner, have increased by 85 percent from last year. The area’s 3.1 million population is expected to jump to 4.3 million in the next 10 years, much of that centered on the chain of Highland Lakes.
“Builders can’t build fast enough to give us enough inventory to sell,” said Realtor Zina Rodenbeck of Zina & Co. in Marble Falls. “Just this past week, one house had 12 offers. Right now is a very unique time in the real estate business.”
In the first quarter of 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic began to shut down businesses, the Highland Lakes Association of Realtors had 878 active listings for residential homes in its six-county area, which centers on Burnet and Llano counties. In the first quarter of 2021, as Texas began to reopen for business, only 346 homes were on the market, according to Nat Barfield, association CEO and executive vice president.
“Sales are skyrocketing, but the availability of the homes being listed are going in the opposite direction,” Barfield said. “What’s listed is being sold.”
Currently, the monthly inventory is at 1.7, meaning if no other properties come on the market, all available homes will be sold in less than two months.
“We generally run at three to four months’ inventory — a good healthy number,” Barfield said. “Right now, for every two or three sales, we are only getting one listing.”
Where sellers once used to close at 85-95 percent of their asking price, they are now getting asking price or above.
“We’ve never been in that situation before, with multiple offers,” Barfield said. “Buyers have to bring their highest and best offer to the table to even be considered.”
The demand and shortage of product has reduced the willingness of some to sell, even when they can get a good price.
“If they sell their house, where are they going to go?” Barfield said. “They love where they live and there’s nothing else available.”
Out-of-area people also love where the Highland Lakes lives, Barfield continued, whether lakefront property, country homes, or within town limits.
“We are getting a lot of people coming out of Travis and Williamson counties due to the high taxes there,” he continued. “Some are people moving in from out of state. They are coming in from California and northern states to Texas where the economy is good, the weather is good, and there’s no state income tax.”
Also, a year of working from home because of COVID-19 has proven it can be done effectively and from anywhere.
“It’s changed the way people design houses,” Rodenbeck said. “Builders are adding home offices now.”
Rodenbeck is adding office space as well. She is building an addition to her business at 614 Seventh St. in Marble Falls to make room for more agents. Her need for more room is driven by a general desire for more space in the Hill Country from three different groups she has seen buying in the Highland Lakes.
“We have a pretty diverse group moving here,” she said. “One, you have young couples looking for something more affordable than Austin. Then, you have retirees wanting to move out of the city to the lake. The third is the out-of-staters coming to Texas. We’ve had a big influx of them after COVID. That drives up prices and shortens inventory.”
Melissa Eckert, executive officer of the Hill Country Builders Association concurs.
“Getting out of the hustle and bustle of a city is huge,” she said. “People are looking for smaller towns to raise their children in. I think the pandemic was a force for people who had been thinking of getting out. It kicked that into overdrive.”
The increase in demand has led to big developments in the area, including the recently opened Gregg Ranch at U.S. 281 and Texas 71, south of Lake Marble Falls. When completed, it will have about 1,000 single- and multi-family homes. It’s just one of many developments underway and is the first new home community in Marble Falls in 30 years.
Realtors and builders interviewed agreed: Growth can be good for the Highland Lakes, depending on how it’s handled by city and county governments and school districts.
“I think it’s great for our builders; it’s great for jobs in the community,” Eckert said of the boom in the housing business. “These towns need people for survival.”
“Everyone has jobs; everyone is getting paid. Overall, that’s good,” Winsborough said. “I’m not ever going to complain about that.”
They also agreed it would not last forever.
“There’s always an end,” Rodenbeck said. “I wish I had a crystal ball to tell me when, but I don’t.”
This story is part of a series on post-pandemic growth in the Highland Lakes. “Growing Pains” stories will be posted online throughout the month of June on DailyTrib.com.