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There’s no way around it: Buying a home is difficult. In Texas, they say finding, financing, and finally moving is like trying to solve a greased Rubix cube while riding in the bed of a pickup truck.
They don’t actually say that — but buying a home is hard, especially in a magical city like Austin, with limited housing stock and abundant interested buyers. And while we tip our proverbial 10-gallon hats to the weird and wonderful things that make Austin Austin, like the truly unique non-adherence to conventional neighborhood boundaries, it can make the home shopping experience confusing.
What in tarnation do we mean by that? Well, most large U.S. cities have distinctive neighborhoods — the Savannah Historic District has Spanish moss and Georgian architecture, and Sea Cliff in San Francisco delivers on its promise of both sea and cliffs. But in Austin, a person can easily mosey from one neighborhood to another without knowing they have just crossed an invisible boundary. Suddenly, the property tax is now significantly higher than it was across the street.
In typical HomeLight fashion (this time in cowboy boots!), we’re here to sort through these delightful oddities and to help you find the best neighborhood (or “general area” or “ZIP code”) for you to buy a home in Austin. Saddle up!
What even is a neighborhood in Austin?
We know the Lone Star state shines bright for you, and you’re not reading this article to further your research on the most common trees of Austin, but hear us out: The city’s willy-nilly ways regarding neighborhoods will have a trickle-down effect on the efficacy of the internet research you’ll be able to do on your own (in tandem with your arboreal investigations).
Endlessly rejecting objective categorization, Austin’s neighborhoods are proof of what your great-great-grandma used to say: “Sweetheart, there are two kinds of information. The kind you can Google, and the kind you can’t.”
To find the best neighborhood to buy a home in Austin, you have to close your laptop and find a pro. Relax into some big-picture thinking, and let your real estate agent (with their massive stash of information you can’t Google) guide you. Because here’s the secret: The things you need to know about Austin’s neighborhoods, you ain’t gonna find online.
Austin = hot + weird; Texas = big
With average summer high temperature of around 95 and winter lows in the 60s, Austin is objectively temperate. The sun shines on the city 300 days per year, and wisteria loves to grow there. And of course, we must remember the Alamo (Drafthouse) was founded in 1997 in Austin.
Austin is located in the southeast part of the state, about two hours north of Houston and just over an hour northwest of San Antonio. (For anyone wondering what shape you’d get if you drew a line connecting these three cities, the answer is a doorstop.)
The landscape of Texas gradually flattens as you travel east to west. Proudly expanding over 271 square miles, Austin is the fourth-largest city in Texas and can be scientifically described as “flat-ish.” On its way to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River divides North and South Austin.
Generally speaking, South Austin is hip. North Austin is also cool, but the distinguishing hipness of Austin is the provenance of South Austin.
Austin is not endowed with a good public transit system, but it does possess some rare magic that makes a car commute tolerable. According to Austinite and rockstar agent Dillar Schwartz, the commute from North to South Austin is only about ten minutes by car. (“Whoa!” says the entire San Francisco Bay Area.)
And if you’re one of the people who just said “Whoa!” so hard that you might buy a house, Jaymes Willoughby is another all-star Austinite super-agent (we only bring you the best!). He reminds us that among the top reasons folks love to live in Texas is that the state has no income tax.
Wait, what was that about income tax?
Texas has no state income tax.
We understand you may need a moment to process if this is something you’ve just learned. We’ll pick you back up in the next section when you are ready to talk about another reason so many people are moving to Austin. Hint: it rhymes with “pechnology”
Austin (a.k.a “Silicon Hills”) has been consistently visited by the tech fairy since the ’90s. The city is home to significant outposts of come companies you may have heard of, including Amazon, Apple, Cisco, eBay, Facebook/Meta, Google/Alphabet, IBM, Indeed, Intel, PayPal, and Tesla — just to name the A through P’s, then skip some letters and go to T. (Dell’s global HQ is located just outside of Austin, so it sometimes gets swept up in the naming excitement, too.)
What does this mean for people looking to buy a home in Austin? Does it matter where people live and how they get to work? We’ve learned it’s a short 10-minute drive across town — but still, the answer is complicated.
The pandemic caused a significant disruption in the work-from-work paradigm of tech workers. There is no way to know (yet) what effect this will have on cities in general, specifically for up-and-coming places like Austin (where there is no state income tax!). Want to try to use that TI85 to graph the effect of Texas tech?
Be sure to include this: Austin is a place people are moving even if they don’t work for one of the big companies nearby. Set free from their obligations to work-from-office, Austin is seeing a significant influx of folks who just want to live in a place where there’s no state income tax and endless cool stuff to do.
At this point, I bet the TI85 is overheating. As badly as we want to apply certainty to this complex set of factors, we bet it’ll be 30 years before we understand what happens when you take the cube root of tech + pandemic (-pandemic?) + no income tax + beer gardens + live music divided by the sum of Austin.
It is currently unknown whether specifics like whether the property values near Indeed’s campus will decline, or if schools near eBay (in the 78729, which is how Austin real estate pros pronounce the word “neighborhood”) will be the most desirable.
Agent affinity for ZIP codes over neighborhood names is just another way Austin keeps it weird. We salute you, Austin!
Potential buyers: we salute you too, and we’re here to help!
(*of technology, generally speaking; not the company that made your graphing calculator in high school)
Lay of the land from a local
Schwartz is from South Austin (see above: “cool”), and in addition to being highly knowledgeable, she is very quotable. Here’s a good one:
“The average median price of a home in Austin is between $520,000 and $600,000.”
To quote the entire San Francisco Bay Area again, “Whoa!”
We asked her how a first-time buyer would fare in Austin, and she told us the variables that used to define first-time buyers don’t always apply in this area. It’s common for a tech worker and aspiring Austinite to have a six-figure entry-level salary, so many of these buyers aren’t looking for a humble “starter home.” They are ready to plop down a ton of cash on version one of their dream home.
For buyers who aren’t comparably equipped, Schwartz became “geographically competent.” She’s gotten to know the housing stock in the small towns that surround the city, the towns where tech money hasn’t had the same impact, quite well in recent years.
We managed to get our experts on record with a handful of specific recommendations. The first comes from Schwartz.
Castlewood (South Travis Heights or 78704)
As of 2022, this neighborhood scene is still a bit unknown, but with South Congress as its western border, the restaurant and bar scene is well established.
If your inner child needs drinks and wings and games, Cidercade is the right spot, and if you want something a little less arcade-ish, The Continental Club is a great spot for live music. Flaunting good ratings and reasonable prices, the Mediterranean restaurant Aba is a local favorite. Folks also love the Blunn Creek Greenbelt, a creekside park just north of the expansive Blunn Creek Nature Preserve.
Schwartz reports there are only about 200 homes in this area, so the type of person who would most likely want to buy here (a person sporting rock-solid finances and occasionally a party hat) will also need to be a patient person. While you and your agent wait for the right home to become available, you can still enjoy the look and feel of the wide streets, the live oaks, and the mid-century modern homes on their large lots.
South Austin (sort of, or 78748)
This recommendation also comes from Schwartz, who described the area through the excellent local restaurant, bar, and entertainment scene. This is an area where a person can find a good meal, a craft beer, and live music on a stage by a fire pit almost every night of the week. Her love for Lustre Pearl South, Left Hand Brewing, and Moontower Saloon could make you believe this area is for the party hat crowd, too. However, thanks to Austin’s magic that is not the case. Her recommendation for Armadillo Den, for example, shows that this area is unique in blending its offerings to appeal to families (kids okay until 6 p.m., and doggos always welcome).
Good old 78748 even organizes music festivals for the streets where they live (in their large lot bungalows with a price point around $750,000).
When it’s not a family-friendly festival, Schwartz describes this as a “1980s neighborhood” with “free-range children” with no cell phones — who, when out of sight, can only be assumed to be up to no good, or hidden away in the neighbor’s house, eating Stove Top stuffing.
Cherry Creek (St. Elmo or 78745)
Never have we ever seen a neighborhood delineation map that looks like this. Go home, city planners! You’re drunk.
Despite the genuinely perplexing (but absolutely point-proving about how wild Austin neighborhoods are!) layout, Schwartz describes this area as eclectic and affordable, which are both wonderful words. The housing stock hovers around $600,000 and contains single-family units, live/workspaces, and freestanding condos, and there is easy access to major roads.
The ZIP 78745 is in its sunrise period. Buyers currently won’t find much there, regardless of which of the three areas you focus on, but according to our “South Austin Girl” (Schwartz), developers and house hunters are moving in.
Here’s a little-known but decisive way to assess the vitality of an unassuming neighborhood:
Plus, look how cute their running club is!
This unique and modern planned community is a stand out for Willoughby. According to the website:
“The 700-acre Mueller community, a redevelopment of the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, is an award-winning, master-planned urban village in central east Austin just three miles from downtown Austin. The community is designed to be a transit-oriented and pedestrian-friendly model of new urbanism and sustainability.”
That sounds great! Willoughby says the community sports an “East Austin vibe,” meaning it favors the style of the 1930s-built Craftsman-style homes that East Austin is known for.
The website is cagey about price points, but it does advertise homes for sale, “affordable” homes for sale, and units for rent. We did some Googling, and much of what is currently available is near hovers near the $1,000,000 mark (Okay, fine. It’s the $856,196 mark).
Gino’s Vino is a popular Italian restaurant that also offers live entertainment and celebrity impersonators (think Golden Age Holly). The Thinkery is one of those magical gap-bridging places where kids and adults can get their awe on.
The Austin market is offline
Austin’s housing market has moved offline, so if you want to buy a home in Austin, you should, too. Follow the market to a good local agent.
Willoughby and Schwartz, whose years of experience yield the perspective earned only by witnesses of the “before” and the “after,” were unequivocal in their recommendations:
Release the concept of “neighborhood” from your mind. Get an agent who speaks ZIP code and knows how and where to get granular. Accept that many homes sell before they even appear on the MLS.
Navigating home buying in Austin, Texas, is a science, an art, and a rightful source of pride for anyone who has earned the ability. Best of luck on your Lone Star adventure!
Header Image Source : (Mitchell Kmetz / Unsplash)