For years, Houston was one of America’s fastest-growing cities; it was referred to as a 21st century boomtown. The price of oil kept heading skyward. Cranes crowded the sky, and new suburbs continue to pop up circling the city’s center. Then the bottom fell out. Energy prices crashed. Companies began laying off workers. Growth stalled. And companies transferring employees to Houston tapered off. To find out how much the relocation market has been affected, Realty News Report talked to Realtor, broker and business owner Amy Bernstein. Recently named one of Houston Agent Magazine’s Who’s Who in Houston Real Estate, she opened Bernstein Realty in 1985 and never looked back.
Realty News Report: Your firm has done a significant amount of corporate relocation business, finding homes for professionals who are being moved to Houston by their employers. With the downturn in energy, what is happening currently with corporate relocation activity in Houston?
Bernstein: We are still seeing relocation activity both with buyers and sellers in the Houston market. Many former Houstonians are repatriating back to Houston from all over. We are also assisting clients leaving Houston to move back to their country of origin. For the last couple of years, the real estate market moved at a very rapid pace, it was a strong seller’s market. Now it appears to be moving toward a more balanced market. Houston is extremely diverse and we are still seeing relocation activity because of the different industries.
Realty News Report: What kinds of companies are still moving people to Houston?
Bernstein: We are seeing relocation in the medical, financial, retail, technology, accounting and legal industries. The great thing about our city today that differs from the 1980s is that we are not dependent on the energy industry. We are experiencing an increase in the medical field with new hospitals being built and expanding into outlying areas of the city rather than just the medical center. There is still hiring in some sectors of the oil industry.
Realty News Report: Are any of these corporate relocation clients opting to rent homes, instead of buying?
Bernstein: Today more transferees are deciding to lease a home rather than purchase one. Many corporations are encouraging their employees to rent and offer incentives for them to do so. Others are opting to lease rather than purchase and feel this is a more conservative approach. Don’t get me wrong, many want to — and do — purchase because of the low interest rates and they feel more settled owning their own home.
Realty News Report: Speaking about the overall Houston residential market, what are the current trends in the market this fall? Are home sales losing steam? Are homes on the market longer?
Bernstein: For the past several years, the Houston residential real estate market was in a frenzy. Because of the shortage of inventory, an owner would put a house on the market and would receive multiple offers resulting in a bidding war. Often the property sold quite a bit over the asking price! Many purchases were cash, making it difficult for those financing a home to compete. At this time we are seeing a steady stream of homes coming onto the market and a steady stream of buyers to purchase those homes. This indicates that we may see a more balanced market soon. New construction remains strong in some areas. Generally speaking, the fourth quarter of the year is usually slower. It is hard to tell if the slow down is typical or whether it is a trend that is going to carry over into January. As long as interest rates remain low and there are excellent home buying opportunities.
Realty News Report: 2016 is just around the corner. What’s going to happen in Houston residential markets next year? The relocation sector?
Bernstein: I think the market will remain strong thanks to the diversity of Houston and the country’s low interest rates. I feel that 2016 will be a more balanced year and that the bidding wars will lighten. There will likely be a balanced inventory of supply and demand. I feel we will continue to see strong relocation activity.
Realty News Report: ExxonMobil’s new campus near The Woodlands has received a lot of attention. Exxon Mobil brought in 2,000 employees from Fairfax, Va., the remnant of Mobil. But some folks are saying the Exxon Effect was over–hyped and it hasn’t lived up to the high hopes many people had on the realty market. What’s your take on this?
Bernstein: It is easier to purchase a home in the Woodlands now than it was at this time last year because we are starting to see a more balanced market.
Realty News Report: Any other comments?
Bernstein: The Houston economy is diverse. I can’t emphasize that enough. It is not the oil-soaked economy of the ‘80s. We have strong medical, technology, financial activity and other areas, and all those sectors still remain active. Houston is a city that affords many different types of opportunities, especially for entrepreneurs. The price of housing is still relatively affordable. Houston is just taking a breather, getting ready for the next growth spurt!
Nov. 3, 2015
Realty News Report is a Texas-based publication edited by Ralph Bivins.