Living in: Austin, Texas
Barton Springs Pool in Austin, Texas' Zilker Park. (Richard Cummins/LPI)
Austin is a unique city, with hilly, green terrain and academic, creative and high tech sectors that make the Texas capital one of the most desirable places to live – in the state and in the country. The city saw unprecedented growth in the last decade, and the laid back, easygoing traits that made it so attractive still apply. What is not to like about a city whose unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird”?
What is it known for?
The city lives up to its official slogan as well – the “live music capital of the world” – with hundreds of gigs going on a month, playing any and all types of music. Not to mention annual institutions like Austin City Limits and South by Southwest (SXSW), which has morphed from a music festival into a full-fledged film and interactive media event. From Tex Mex to vegan, restaurants are crowded with hipsters, musicians, students, government workers and tech entrepreneurs.
American football games for the University of Texas Longhorns are enjoyed by almost everyone — you’ll see a lot of UT longhorn stickers on car windows as you drive through town — and the 50,000 students make their presence known with a massive campus near the heart of downtown. The local hiking and biking trails, and pools like Barton Springs, plus the generally pleasant climate, make enjoying the outdoors a favourite pastime as well.
Overall, Austin’s reputation as an unconventional, liberal-minded city in the conservative state of Texas entices many people from around the state and the country to move here. Austinites strive to keep their city fun-loving and full of character.
Where do you want to live?
It is very popular to live in downtown Austin near the music venues, bars and restaurants of Sixth Street and there are many apartments and condos in the surrounding area. Plus it is close to the main UT campus.
Just west of downtown, Clarksville is hugely popular for its neighbourhood feel, parks and area amenities. Across Town Lake, the South Congress district, known to realtors as SoCo, has gentrified over the last decade and is now home to a lot of new housing, restaurants and hip boutiques. Just northwest of the downtown core, the affluent Tarrytown neighbourhood attracts government workers and families, drawn to the historic housing stock and parkland on the shores of Lake Austin.
The east side of town, across Highway 35, had traditionally been overlooked, but housing prices and new developments are forcing potential buyers to pay attention. “There was a land rush over there in the past five years,” said Judith Bundschuh, the 2011 chairman of the Austin Board of Realtors. Mueller Austin is a mixed-use urban development built on grounds of the former airport, just across the highway from downtown.
Many of the tech companies are in northwest Austin and the city of Round Rock, so that makes those areas very popular. “Northwest Austin suburbs, such as Cedar Park, are in demand, because you can still get affordable homes and there are great school districts,” Bundschuh said. There is also a light rail from northwest Austin to downtown.
When Austinites tire of waterskiing in Lake Austin or hiking the local hills, they head down to the Gulf Coast towns and beaches of Rockport and Port Aransas, about a three-and-a-half hour drive. Closer to home, Fredericksburg in the Hill Country is a popular getaway for the dozen of wineries and historic B&Bs, as is the San Antonio River Walk, which is just about an hour away.
It is a three-hour drive to Houston, a popular city break for the great modern art museums and restaurants. Or you can fly there for around $100. The airport has frequent flights to Houston and Dallas and non-stop service to destinations such as New York, San Francisco, San Diego and Seattle.
Because of Austin’s unique attributes, from its youthful, well-educated population to its green terrain, it did not suffer the same downturn as the rest of Texas over the past five years. It took a dip, but recently sales have been booming. “Realtors are busier and the city’s fundamentals and job numbers are helping turn it around,” Bundschuh said. “Overall the market is up.”
Buyers should be aware that while Texas has no income tax, property taxes can be high and vary wildly from area to area. Also, the traffic in Austin has become increasingly clogged and there is not an extensive public transport system. “I recommend people drive the route they are going to take before they buy,” Bundschuh advised.
Downtown condo prices can range from $300,000 and up, while single-family homes in Clarksville and South Congress can range from $300,000 to $450,000. Rent in the same areas is around $1,200 a month. Farther into South Austin the lots get bigger and the prices smaller. Overall the median house price for Austin is around $250,000.
Austin Chronicle: alt-weekly with news, reviews, columns and blogs
Austin 360: city guide to events, shows, music, film, restaurants
SXSW: site for the US’ hippest 10-day music, film and interactive festival