Charting the rise of one of Austin’s leading luxury agents
Eric Moreland Group’s Eric Moreland; Lake Austin Four Seasons Private Residences; The Austonian (Getty, Eric Moreland Group, Lake Austin Four Seasons, The Austonian)
Bruce Lee wasn’t giving out real estate tips when he said, “be water, my friend.” But one Austin agent certainly took it that way.
Eric Moreland admits he has few hobbies — no golf, no exotic car collection — but he loves anything involving the body of water that has fed him, kept him employed and vaulted him to the top of the city’s luxury pecking order: Lake Austin.
Almost everything about him, from his first job as a used boat salesman to his current gig as Austin’s premier waterfront agent, traces back to the pricey, pristine shores of Lake Austin. The scalding Central Texas sun makes water access a must for any well-to-do homebuyer, and water is only getting harder to come by.
Austin’s luxury market has its own vocabulary, its own rhythms. As yet, outsider mega-agents have been unable to crack it, and God knows they’ve tried, given the stakes: It is America’s fastest-growing city and its residential market has seen prices grow by 50 percent in the last five years, even after recent price declines, according to Redfin
. For the city’s first true titans-of-industry project, the $830 million Four Seasons Lake Austin Private Residences, developer Austin Capital Partners is bringing in the much-vaunted Eklund-Gomes team, but also leaning on Moreland.
“We knew we needed an experienced sales team with in-depth local market knowledge, and for that we looked to Eric Moreland,” said Jonathan Coon, CEO of Austin Capital Partners. “They are the established lakefront luxury experts.”
Eklund-Gomes comes in with a razzle-dazzle sensibility – team principal Fredrik Eklund rode into town
on a white horse boasting about making a $16 million sale – and a rolodex of wealthy buyers from both coasts, but Moreland speaks Texan. Some two-thirds of Moreland’s buyers come from the Lone Star state, he estimates, most of whom spent their glory days on the lake as students at the University of Texas at Austin.
“They all got out here when they were in college, drinking beer on the boat,” Moreland said of the buyer pool. That knowledge results in some homages to the lake in marketing strategy.
The Four Seasons Private Residences had a cabana at the recent Dell Match Play Championship at Austin Country Club, the private lakefront course with a reported 17-year waitlist and $100,000 initiation fee
. As Rory McIlroy and Cameron Young headed to a sudden-death playoff on the third hole, with fans including Gov. Greg Abbott looking on, the Four Seasons cabana looked out over the tee box.
Don’t let the used-boat beginnings fool you – Moreland is very much part of the Austin real estate establishment. His mother, Emily Moreland, started a brokerage in 1986 that has grown into one of the city’s largest. She gave Moreland some of his earliest opportunities — during the Savings and Loan Crisis in the ’80s and ’90s, he helped clean abandoned homes his mother was selling for the Resolution Trust Corporation. When he worked at Oyster Landing marina, he and his mother basically sold luxe-life starter packs: If she sold a home on the lake, Moreland could sell the buyer a boat.
After considering law school, Moreland earned a graduate degree in land economics from Texas Tech University and moved back to Austin, where he joined the family business. In the pre-digital wilderness of the mid-’90s, he stored printouts of every lakefront parcel in a Rubbermaid container next to his desk.
“That’s how we created the mailing list, just hitting every owner on Lake Austin and Lake Travis,” he said.
On occasion, Moreland ventures off the water, like in 2010 when Benchmark Development and Grupo Villar Mir built the Austonian. At the time, the building was the city’s most expensive condo tower, and Moreland and his downtown expert, Trey Phillips, handled sales.
As of late, Moreland has made a niche selling Austin’s most expensive air — as-yet-unbuilt luxury homes. Houston-based Unicus Developments is in the process of building Five, a small project of five houses in Westlake, each asking more than $9 million.
Not far from Five is the site of the Four Seasons Private Residences, one of Moreland’s biggest-ever assignments, which has recently begun trickling out listings
at price levels rarely seen in the city. That expensive air sits along a bend in the Colorado River about 20 minutes west of downtown behind a custom-branded gate and white truck marked “SECURITY.”
Austin’s growth has been supercharged by an influx of highly paid, formerly highly taxed workers from California, New York and Illinois. But even as the city has become an increasingly national market, and the types of homes Moreland sells are less a piece of local markets than a global ultra-high-end sandbox, he still draws much of his business from the Texas rich.
“He’s a good networker. He’s got his core investors and his, you know, good-old-boy type of club,” said Kathryn Scarborough, another lakefront agent who has known Moreland since they attended Westlake High School.
When changes to federal tax law in 2018 capped state and local tax deductions at $10,000, wealthy coastal dwellers gained another reason to come down to Texas, where there is no state income tax. For these buyers, coming from states with permissive open records laws and mandatory sale price disclosure, buying in Texas provides greater privacy — Eklund’s $16 million line ruffled feathers
among local agents. Here, Moreland’s lack of flashiness becomes one of his greatest selling points.
“The big stuff never goes public,” he said.
For the past 15 years, Moreland and his team of nine have captured up to four-fifths of market share on the lake, according to his internal data, but he is not a regular on top broker rankings compiled from public data. It’s not that he is selling fewer homes, he said, but because so many of his deals occur off-market.
“There’s an old saying, it’s not the guy in the Ferrari that has the biggest ranch and the biggest jet. It’s the guy in the old Suburban, but you’ll never know it,” Moreland said.
Unless you’re Eric Moreland.