By Mauri Elbel
Special to Statesman Solutions
One week ago, the Carroll family moved into their new home nestled in Highland Hills, letting out a big sigh of relief after an exhausting six months of house hunting.
When they decided to move back to Austin last year, finding a home in the current real estate market proved to be much more difficult than they anticipated. If it weren’t for finding out about a house that wasn’t even on the market, they would not be unpacking boxes right now in their home, a hidden gem tucked in the quaint tree-filled neighborhood northwest of RM 2222 and MoPac Boulevard.
“We wouldn’t have found this house if it hadn’t been for a pocket listing,” said Sherry Carroll, who moved back to Austin from San Francisco in October with her husband, Ryan, and their two young boys. “We had owned a home in Austin before, about two-and-a-half years ago, but the market is very different now.”
While the real estate market has grown more competitive due to record low inventory, the couple’s criteria also became more specific with the addition of children. They wanted a four-bedroom, 2,500- to 2,700-square foot home conveniently located to downtown with good schools and ample green space for their two young boys.
“To us, it was important to be centrally located so Ryan could have an easy commute to work at GSD&M, but we also wanted a good elementary school and we really wanted a nice yard for our kids,” she said. “Being in San Francisco, we had no yard. There were lots of parks we took advantage of, but having a great outdoor space right outside our door was important to us.”
The Carrolls officially began their search in August but soon realized that they needed to move to Austin to have a solid chance at buying a home. At the time, they were still living in San Francisco and were also expecting their second child. After spending countless hours scouring MLS listings, they discovered the houses they were interested in weren’t going to wait until they could fly down to see them. They moved to Austin in October, settling into a very cozy temporary corporate housing arrangement: a two-bedroom apartment for their family of four, including a 6-week-old baby.
“We basically tried every living situation imaginable, from the baby staying in our room to our living room to having him nap in his swing in the bathroom because our 3-year-old would make too much noise playing in our tiny space,” she said. “We were trying to make do with what we had, but it was very hard. We were very ready to get into a house and have our own space.”
In October, after the Carrolls were back in Austin, they began actively searching for houses, but they weren’t finding many options.
“That was a really strange time of the year to look for homes, because not many people list their homes before the holidays and not much was coming up,” said Carroll.
The couple lowered their expectations and began thinking beyond their original criteria. They expanded their search to include more neighborhoods, higher and lower price ranges, smaller homes that they could add on to, homes that needed updates and potential remodel projects.
Then their Realtor, Meridith Brewer of Realty Austin, heard about a house that was not yet on the market but would be soon. The Carrolls were immediately interested, but the current homeowners were in the middle of renovations to get their home market-ready. A week later, they said the Carrolls could come over and see it.
“We loved it,” she said of the their new four-bedroom, 2,700 square foot greenbelt home.
Not only does the home feed into their top choice school, Highland Park Elementary, but it also fits all the criteria they were searching for in a home — from its size and convenient proximity to downtown to their beautiful backyard with a creek view and sprawling front yard perfect for their children.
“It is not your traditional backyard, but it really works for us,” she said. “There is no grass to mow, and it’s a really pretty space with a nice deck and view to the creek and lots of trees. The front yard is where the kids will play when they are young, and we know when they are older they will really enjoy the back yard.”
But even though the home wasn’t listed on the market, it was still a race to the finish. After making an appointment to view the house once more before making an offer, the Carrolls found out the homeowner’s neighbors had friends who wanted to buy it, too.
“All the sudden there was this enormous pressure to make an offer on the house because someone else heard about it and wanted to buy it,” she said. “And it wasn’t even on MLS yet.”
Because the home wasn’t on the market yet, there wasn’t an official list price. Brewer immediately pulled comps, or comparables, and helped the Carrolls come up with a realistic offer. After some back and forth and more than a week of countering, the parties reached an agreement.
“We were very excited and relieved once we had all agreed,” she said. “Even though it was an exhausting and stressful process, we were so excited. After renting an apartment in San Francisco and staying in an apartment in Austin much longer than we had planned, it is so nice to know we are homeowners again. We love having a space that really feels like ours, and we feel like this is a great house to raise our kids in. We hope to be here for a long time.”
Sherry Carroll’s advice for finding an Austin home in today’s competitive market:
1. Find a well-connected Realtor. In Austin’s current competitive real estate market, Carroll said they wouldn’t have found their home if it hadn’t been for their well-networked Realtor who had access to a large pool of local agents and brokers. “We wouldn’t have found this house if it hadn’t been a pocket listing,” Carroll said. “Make sure you have a Realtor who can stay on top of the market.”
2. Be open. Although you probably have an idea of what criteria you are seeking in a home, be realistic and open to exploring different homes and neighborhoods. “There are a lot of really great homes here, but because the market is so competitive, you might not find exactly what you are looking for,” she said. “Be open.”
3. Be diligent. “Once you start looking, be diligent,” said Carroll. “That sounds crazy but if something pops up on the day you are not looking, then someone else may snag the house that very day it appeared. We felt like we had to check MLS listings every single day.”