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Drought hurts waterfront sales

Drought has hit some waterfront properties harder than others.

The state’s scorching drought has dropped lake levels, slowed the flow of rivers and withered vegetation. And it’s not doing anything to help the sales of waterfront homes, which may not have much water now.

A dead, dried out fish lies in what was once a flowing Medina River north of Medina Lake. The Lake is down more than 30 feet and the Medina River, which flows into Mdina Lake, is completely dry in some areas. Photo: SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, JOHN DAVENPORT / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS (Photo can be sold to the public)

“Some of our waterfront houses haven’t had water for two years, properly,” said Michelle Reichle of Hi Energy Real Estate in Lakehills near Medina Lake. “One good rain and we could fill back up again, but at the moment we’re seeing the prices since the end of last year coming down.”

Medina Lake is down about 36 feet, Reichle said, while Comal Lake has dropped more than six feet and some of the upper stretches of the Guadalupe River look more like a trickle than a river.

Lake Conroe north of Houston is down just four feet, but because it has many shallow areas, Jamie Yancy of Lake Conroe Realty estimates that about half of the waterfront owners can’t launch their boats, or would have trouble trying.

“They always tell you to buy low and sell high,” he said. “Well, the lake is low.”

The waters in the Guadalupe River near the First Crossing are low enough that people can easily walk across the river. Photo: SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, TOM REEL / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

Prices are down slightly too, and making matters worse, the city of Houston this week ordered the San Jacinto River Authority to release 50 million gallons a day from Lake Conroe, which along with evaporation could drop the lake levels five to six inches per week.

Yancy said the release is causing the local rumor mill to churn, but he is taking a philosophical approach to the drought and figures normal rainfall patterns will return at some point.

“As far as buying waterfront real estate, if you don’t think it’s going to rain again, don’t do it,” Yancy said. “Water goes up and water goes down. That’s just part of Mother Nature.”

Boaters help a stranded ski jet near the end of the boat ramp at Red Cove Marina where drought conditions at Medina Lake have lowered the water level. Photo: SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, BOB OWEN / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

In the meantime, the drought creates a stark difference between deep- and shallow-water lake lots. “The deep waterfront homes aren’t as affected,” Reichle said. “It’s still that beautiful green-blue water.”

And although lake levels are generally down, the drought has hit some lakes harder than others.

Mark Virdell, owner/broker of Century 21 Landmasters in Llano, said sales on Lake LBJ, Inks Lake and Lake Marble Falls haven’t been impacted by the drought because the Lower Colorado River Authority tends to keep those levels stable. “If you just looked at those lakes, you would think everything was wonderful in Texas, and look at all the water we have,” he said.

A dock hangs on a limestone cliff that once floated in the current of the Medina River south of Pipe Creek, Texas, and north of Medina Lake. Real estate in the area has been affected by the state's scorching drought this summer. Photo: SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, JOHN DAVENPORT / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS (Photo can be sold to the public)

And so few Llano River frontage properties come on the market that Virdell doesn’t think a temporarily low water level would matter to sales.

But Lake Buchannan was 16.2 feet below its historic August average, according to the LCRA, and Virdell said the only remaining operable boat dock might close soon.

“Lake Buchannan has been way down for a long time,” Virdell said. “When people see the water 200 feet out there and they can’t get their boat in, it affects the market. The values have adjusted for buyers.”

The drought also has been tough on the rural land market.

Charlie Doege of the Phyllis Browning Co. said the ranches he has sold this year all had water, a feature that looks especially good now.

The Guadalupe River near Hueco Falls is now a collection of shallow pools. Photo: SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS, TOM REEL / SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

“Nobody wants to go out in 100-degree heat and kick up dust to look at a property,” Doege said. “A few years ago when we had that stuff called rain, you don’t think about water as much. When you have a drought, that’s what people focus on.”

Charlie Gilliland, research economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, said the drought hasn’t shown up in the data he tracks on rural land prices, yet.

“If it stays like this for any length of time (going forward), it’s bound to show up in the numbers. The pastures are just bare dirt,” he said. “Most of what I hear is just lamenting the fact that everything is dry and looks so horrible. It can’t be helpful.”

But the wretchedness of the drought and high temperatures haven’t dried up all sales.

In Comal County, lake and riverfront home and condo sales were up so far this year, with the median price holding steady at $320,000. But the median time to sell a house had increased to 188 days, up from 158 days last year. “The sales price is doing well, it’s just taking longer,” said Aja Edwards Patino of ERA D. Lee Edwards Realty.

In Guadalupe County, where hydroelectric dams create a series of lakes — Dunlap, McQueeney, Placid and Meadow, along the lower stretch of the Guadalupe River — water levels have remained steady. “It helps, and people really ask about it during a drought,” said Bill Bender of Bender Realty in Seguin.

As a result, sales volume and the median prices of waterfront homes were both up this summer compared with May through mid-August in 2010.

Categories: Uncategorized, Water
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