(By Dale King) HOUSTON – Realtor Vicki Fullerton, a broker associate at RE/MAX The Woodlands & Spring, took the stage at the Texas Realtors Conference in Galveston last month to take on the duties of chairman of the Texas Association of Realtors. The 38-year residential real estate veteran told Realty News Report during an interview that home builders “can’t keep up” with the demand for new houses. She also said Houston’s urban center is drawing new residents and people looking to attend sports events, dine at fine restaurants and partake of cultural events. Diversified employment is also easing the sting of reduced oil and gas prices. “I am honored to spend the next year leading such as prestigious organization” as the TAR, said Fullerton, who formerly served as chairman of the Houston Association of Realtors.
Here are other observations from the interview.
Realty News Report: Oil prices have been down, and there have been layoffs in the energy industry. How has that impacted residential realty markets in Texas?
Fullerton: Oil prices have stabilized at around $50 a barrel, down from over $100 a barrel a year and a half ago. This has impacted the Houston real estate market, but not as badly as when oil was $30 a barrel. Still, upper management ranks of some smaller companies have been downsized. Overall, the Houston housing market has stayed fairly strong. The number of households decreased, but the average price of homes increased. Will the decrease in the price of oil devastate Texas the way it did in the 1980s? No. I lived through the ‘80s. If you look at what’s happening today compared to the ‘80s, it’s just a blip on the radar screen.
Realty News Report: What jobs other than those related to oil and gas are attracting new residents to Houston?
Fullerton: Jobs in the medical field and engineering, employment related to the Port of Houston plus IT and research jobs. Builders of new homes can’t keep up with the demand. People are coming from many other areas where the price per square foot of new homes is out of their reach. New homes appeal more to families. To find a new home, you have to live outside of the circle of Houston, and that adds commute time. Otherwise, you’d have to be willing to buy a condo or a townhouse within Houston proper.
Realty News Report: What about the “walkability” factor, and the regrowth of urban areas. Are these good for the new home market?
Fullerton: I think this is really good, on two levels. I’m the chairman of the Texas Association of Realtors, and I live in a planned community. We have more than 220 miles of bike and hiking trails. We have great walkability. I have seen Houston and the surrounding ‘burbs, and how they have incorporated walkability into the feasibility planning of these new areas. Also, people don’t necessarily want to get into their cars and drive to a restaurant, café or event. Downtown, we have three stadiums, all within walking distance of the convention center. We will have a Marriott Marquis as part of the convention center. We have Minute Maid Park, the Rockets’ arena and a soccer starium. Downtown is really coming to life, unlike previous eras in Houston. I’ve been here since 1976 and the downtown is as alive as I have ever seen it.
Realty News Report: Houston, the Energy Capital of the World, is having a wonderful year for home sales. Why is it so strong?
Fullerton: For five years, it has also been the employment capital of the world, with the growth of the medical center, the energy corridor, and the upstream and downstream oil markets. The broad base of the market is drawing a lot of young people – because of the climate, the price of homes and the job availability. Houston is a can-do community, we don’t rely on someone else doing something.
Realty News Report: What are people looking for in a house today that’s different, say, from a few years ago – or even 30 years ago?
Fullerton: In the last five years, tastes have changed to a more open, casual, functional floor plan that allows the family to use the entire home. The functionality is so important for all age ranges. Seniors prefer one-story homes with open entertaining areas; millennials want access to urban settings and communities that have good walkability. The move up/move down buyer wants the amenities the newer homes have to offer.
Realty News Report: Many neighborhoods in Houston have a particular charm. Can you name several, and tell us why?
Fullerton: The Woodlands, where I live, is very popular. It was one of the original seven planned communities. For 10 to 15 years, it was one of the most popular communities in Houston. There has been growth in the number of millennials in the Rice Military area. The community around the Galleria is popular, as are River Oaks and West University Place areas for high-end dwellers. Medical professionals want to be near Rice University. Fort Bend County has a lot of planned growth; so has Katy.
Realty News Report: The TAR has reported that condo sales are strong across the state. Why is that so?
Fullerton: Condo sales have increased because of the millennials and the baby boomers. These people want the ability to lock up and leave in very urban environments.
Realty News Report: A number of luxury apartments is being built in downtown Houston. Will there be sufficient numbers of people looking to rent them, and will they be able to afford them?
Fullerton: The growth of large apartment complexes across the Houston region has been phenomenal in the past three years. And, to be completely honest, I have no idea what the absorption rate for all of them is or will be.
Realty News Reports: Are there enough Class B and C rental units, the so-called “workforce housing” dwellings?
Fullerton: I am not sure we are building enough moderate income properties, be they apartments or homes, to take care of the ever-growing middle income and lower income buyer.
Realty News Report: What about 2017? What’s going to happen in the Texas residential market next year?
Fullerton: If I had a crystal ball, I could give you my prediction, but I can’t, other than to say that the best economic minds seem to believe we will maintain the status quo. We do need more construction and moderate priced homes. The Texas market is strong and will continue to adapt to ever-changing economic conditions. That is what Texas has always done.
Oct. 18, 2016 Realty News Report Copyright 2016