Kevin Burns Interview: Expert Analysis of the Downtown Austin Condo Market

Today, AustinTowers is very lucky to have the opportunity to interview Kevin Burns, the visionary founder of urbanspace Realtors. Kevin is a long-time downtown resident and a true expert on the downtown Austin condo market.

Founded just 8 years ago, urbanspace has made its name as the most important downtown-focused real estate agency. In this short period of time, it has grown to become one of the most successful agencies in the city.

Urbanspace was AustinTowers first sponsor and we have been working hard to get Kevin to sit down and share his insights on the local market.

Kevin Burns Urbanspace Realtors Austin
Kevin Burns
urbanspace CEO & Broker

Here is transcript of our interview with Kevin Burns:

How long have you lived in Austin?

I have lived in Austin for over 13 years. I came here in 1995 to attend the University of Texas. I fell in love with this city and never left. I earned my real estate license in 1997 between my sophomore and junior years at UT. In 1999 I graduated from UT with a degree in economics along with a concentration in real estate investment and finance.
Where do you live?

I have lived in Austin’s urban core since 2000 when I founded urbanspace Realtors, LLP. I have owned and lived at the Talisman condominiums on Barton Springs, The Austin City Lofts, The Milago Condominiums, a home on south 3rd st 11 blocks from Lady Bird Lake and my next residence is at the W that I currently have under contract. I chose the W because of its proximity to Lady Bird Lake, Second Street Retail District, Whole Foods and the warehouse district. Furthermore, it offered the size unit that would allow my wife, two daughters and dog to live comfortably. I also like the design of the building, the layout of the units and access to the hotel amenities. Also not to forget the easy access to Austin City Limits below.
Why live downtown — what are your favorite reasons to be downtown?

Why live downtown… There are so many reasons to live downtown. I have lived in both the suburbs and the urban environment. I choose downtown. Why, because of the quality of life that it affords. I hate sitting around behind my tv… when I live downtown there is always something to do. I like being around people… there are always people around in downtown. Because downtown is so pedestrian friendly, I seem to run into friends, business acquaintances and neighbors almost every time that I take a walk downtown. Chance encounters on the street are one of my favorite things and this happens all the time in downtown Austin. I like the convenience of downtown… I can walk, bike or drive to anything I need inside of a few minutes. I never have to go north of MLK or much south of Ben White. I love being able to get on the trail and be a part of nature while still being in the center of the action. You can buy whatever you need (and want) in downtown Austin now. That was not always the case…  I like being a regular at my favorite, restaurants and bars downtown that are just a short walk from home. I like the views from the buildings that I have lived in. I like not having to maintain a yard, take my trash cans to the curb, deal with a roof leak, etc… I like having a concierge accept packages, call my cabs, greet me at the door. I like the sense of security of being in a high rise. I like having a pool, spa and fitness facility at my disposal. I like the camaraderie of the different buildings. Each building has its own personality and style. I have found living in the different buildings that each one has afforded a different style, group of people, etc… some of my best friends I met because we lived in the same building. You do not seem to get that in the suburbs… In the W, I know half of the people that have purchased there… and they are all great, unique, interesting people… and they are all very different.
Whether size, view, or décor, what is the coolest downtown unit that you have seen?

Regarding my favorite residences in downtown… I have several picks. One of my favorites is PH22 at the Milago. It is a 2/2.5 with a study that has one of the best views of Lady Bird Lake and downtown. It was custom designed for the developer of Milago. The developer let his interior designer go all out with no expense spared. From the lighting and electronic curtains to the agate countertops and Miele appliances. Another one of my favorites is unit 102 at the Austin City Lofts. It is a unique first floor unit tucked away off of the street overlooking the pool and Shoal Creek. It is perched about 15 feet off the ground so it looks right at the bamboo and trees. You almost forget that you are downtown in this unit. The owner of this particular residence has traveled the world and brought back bits and pieces of his favorite places. From the 11’x11’ antique doors from India to the muralist from central Mexico to the modern clean lined cabinetry.
What led you to start urbanspace?

I founded urbanspace because I have always have loved urban environments. I grew up in downtown Charleston, West Virginia a block from the Capitol, next to the river and in the heart of the historic district. This is what I know. When I started my career in real estate, I did everything under sun. One day I was selling a ranch in Blanco County, the next I was doing a downtown commercial lease. I realized that if I was every going to become great at what I do, I had to focus, be passionate about what I was selling and most importantly become mayor of my zip code. Will Wynn has definitely given me a run for my money… The mixed use aspect of the urban core is what drives me. When I founded urbanspace there was very little product and variety to sell downtown, so I spent most of my time in the early days of my business advocating for downtown. It has now paid off…
How would you describe the different downtown lifestyles available to buyers?

Here is how I would describe the downtown lifestyles available in Austin:
High rise: The high rise lifestyle is rich in amenities, service and views. The floorplans are more traditional in nature with partitioned spaces. HOA fees are usually a bit higher, however you get what you pay for.

Low Rise: 
In many cases, fewer amenities, no concierge or doorman, stairs are the way you to your residences, etc. Floorplans vary from partitioned traditional spaces to open lofts. HOA fees are usually cheaper than highrises.

Open environment, usually in a converted building (adaptive reuse of an office or warehouse building). These spaces work well for singles and couples, not so much for families. They are great for entertaining, artists, etc… they can be found in high rise or low rise environments. Amenities vary based upon building.

Single family home:
Believe it or not there are quite a few single family home options in downtown. The advantage is you get a yard and you make all of the decisions about your property. The disadvantage is you have to make all of the decisions about your property.

Townhouse: a nice compromise between single family and highrise. If you need a yard, yet you do not want to deal with maintenance, this becomes a nice option.
How much interest do you see in downtown living?

Seems like everyone is at least curious about downtown living. I do not think it is for everyone, however I have found that downtown Austin is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Austin. I have also noticed that most people that try living downtown love it and stay. I continue to see very strong interest in downtown Austin, especially due to the increased number of options that have become available over the past few years.
Describe the typical downtown condo buyer?

The typical downtown condo buyer is anyone that enjoys being a part of a vibrant, convenient, pedestrian friendly neighborhood. Demographics are completely across the board. From singles to young families to empty nesters. The days of downtown being only for bachelors, artists and homeless people are long gone.

Why does a buyer need a realtor, can’t they just go sales office to sales office until they find the right unit?

A buyer can go directly into a condominium sales center without a Realtor, however I recommend working with a Realtor that is knowledgeable about downtown Austin. In many cases there can be substantial differences in value of a unit based upon a myriad of factors. A knowledgeable Realtor can help you through the process in finding the right you to fit the buyer’s needs. Furthermore, the Realtor can work as the buyer’s advocate through the process. I also feel that it is important to view multiple properties before buying so that you can make sure that you find the unit and building that fit your needs and personality best. A Realtor can show you all available properties in the marketplace.
What is different about buying a condo v. a single family residence?

There are several differences between buying a condo vs. a single family residence. It is very important to understand health of the Home Owner’s Association for a condominium project. Your value in a condo is directly tied to the condo project. If it is a desirable project, it can increase the value of the condo significantly. If it is not a desirable project or has a weak HOA you run the risk of the value of the condo being affected. The same holds true with which neighborhood you buy your single family home in. Other important things to consider when purchasing a condominium is the parking situation, views along with factors that could affect your view, HOA fees, etc…
What advice do you give people who are beginning their search for a downtown condo?

My advice to someone who is beginning their search for a downtown condo is to contact urbanspace. (or another knowledgeable downtown real estate company).
Can you share one fact that most people don’t know about the downtown condo market?

Each of the condominium projects are alive. They each have their own personality, strengths, weaknesses, etc… it is very important for a perspective buyer to figure out what is important to them and then learn about the personalities of each of the buildings before making a decision on which building to buy into.
Kevin, thank you again for your time! If you have further questions for Kevin, he can be reached here.

Based on information from the Austin Board of REALTORS ® (alternatively, from ACTRIS) for the period through 4/19/14 6:47 AM PDT. Neither the Board nor ACTRIS guarantees or is in any way responsible for its accuracy. All data is provided “AS IS” and with all faults. Data maintained by the Board or ACTRIS may not reflect all real estate activity in the market.

Information being provided is for consumers’ personal, non-commercial use and may not be used for any purpose other than to identify prospective properties consumers may be interested in purchasing.

This IDX solution is (c) Diverse Solutions 2014.