[Full disclosure: I am currently listing a unit for sale at the Railyard]
The Railyard condos are unique. The two low-rise buildings sit on two of the best sites in downtown Austin, and have usually been more affordable than the newer, sexier high-rises. Part of the appeal is location: situated across from the Austin Convention Center, 100 feet from the MetroRail, one block from Congress Avenue, three blocks from competing luxury towers, the Austonian and Four Seasons. The Railyard has enviable proximity to most anything in downtown Austin.
Remember last year’s NIMBY fury over Austin’s Short Term Rental ordinance (pdf)?
You would be in good company if you assumed that all of downtown Austin’s condos and apartments were making money on STRs.
You would be wrong, though.
Downtown condos have home owners associations (HOAs). HOAs have rules, and in downtown Austin those rules are usually antagonistic to short term rentals. Breaking those rules could result in a $1000 per day fine by the HOAs. Despite the fact that the STR ordinance does not regulate apartments and condominiums, last year’s fight with the City of Austin to regulate STRs wasn’t going to impact most of us living in downtown because of these HOA rules.
The Railyard condos are very, very unique.
This past November, just a month after Austin’s new Short Term Rental ordinance took effect, an enterprising Railyard owner recognized the Railyard’s bylaws did not forbid short term rentals and put together a fund to purchase several units.
The investment rationale is simple: opening up your condo as a vacation-rental-by-owner (aka. VRBO) during SXSW, ACL, F1 (just to name just the big opportunities, not to mention conventions) can yield more rent during those events than the total rent from a typical 12 month lease! Same for Railyard owner-occupants who can lease their place out for a few nights, take a vacation, and make a couple thousand bucks.
The economics of Railyard ownership shifted overnight. Word quickly spread to the owners and a handful of Realtors. In the previous year (Nov 2011 – Nov 2012), 1bd/1ba units at the Railyard condos were trading at an average of $285/foot, and units with at least 2bd/2ba units were trading at an average of $275/foot.
Going forward, expect sale prices at the Railyard condos to be 20-25% more than last year, reflecting the new economics of embracing downtown short term rentals. Owner-occupants are getting in on the action, too.
Offering the flexibility to lease your condo on a short term basis is a privilege that makes the Railyard unique among downtown condos. This privilege has significant value.
STRs can be a win-win for owners and associations. The key is balance and monitoring the impact on residents.
The Railyard HOA is smart to approach STRs with reasonableness and attach fees to the process. These extra fees will help fund their operations, building improvements, and keep HOA dues low for homeowners. Homeowners, who are also able to capitalize on their property.
I’ll stop short of advocating that all downtown buildings should permit STRs – I don’t agree with that. However, there are several buildings that should be paying attention to what the Railyard is doing. It seems reasonable for more HOAs to experiment with loosening their STR rules, monitor the process, use the money for building improvements, and course correct as needed.