Living In Austin

Updated 5/2021

This page was created so that I can share it out to folks who are thinking about moving to Austin, Texas.

City Nature

  • Austin is a progressive city in a conservative state. The unofficial slogan of Austin is “Keep Austin Weird”.
  • Austin is a music city, hosting many events throughout the year: ACL, SxSW, etc. The official motto is “The Live Music Capital of the World.”
  • Austin is growing rapidly, and is considered a hot location to move to. Probably because it is the best Texas city. 😉
  • Austin is the capital of Texas, as well as the home of the University of Texas.
  • Austin (and surrounding cities) have been known as the “Silicon Hills” (as opposed to Silicon Valley in CA).

City Layout & Getting Around

  • The city is divided West/East by the Colorado River. The Colorado is segmented throughout the region by dams and overflows, creating a series of lakes. The lake adjacent to Downtown Austin is know as Lady Bird Lake (in honor of President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, the lake was formerly known as Town Lake).
  • South of the lake is South Austin. North of the Lake is Downtown Austin. Just North of downtown is the University of Texas, and further North is North Austin.
  • There are only two major thoroughfares across the river near downtown (MoPac and I-35). Further out east/west there are two more(360 and 183). Because of this, commuting across the river can encounter major traffic during rush times.
  • The I-35 highway runs through the city North/South. This creates what has been known as East Austin, on the east side of I-35. Traditionally, this was the low-income part of town, but in recent years has been going through large changes. New apartment complexes, upscale groceries, restaurants, etc.
  • On the west side of Austin are the traditional upscale neighborhoods, and remain as such.
  • Austin has an urban rail system, and currently there are two main lines running from North Austin to Downtown Austin. There will be an expansion coming, but not for many years (as of 5/2021), that will be connecting South Austin. There is also an extensive bus system. But as always, a personal vehicle is King in Texas.

Buying or Renting

  • Depending on where you are moving from, renting and housing prices may either shock you, or make you recognize you need to buy immediately.
  • Austin has been experiencing major population increases from other parts of the country. This, coupled with lagging infrastructure and new housing has caused some growing pains. In the 2020 real estate report, the median home price has gone up 30%. Many liken Austin’s current situation as similar to the housing crisis in the Bay Area of California. If you are thinking about buying a house, the adage of “sooner rather than later” applies here! The following are some examples of what you can expect:
    • The closer to downtown/highly desirable areas, the pricier ($500k to $2M+)
    • All cash offers are happening.
    • Houses are receiving many bids, so buyers are offering no contingency, short close cycle, no appraisal contracts.
  • We bought our house in 2018 (3bdrm/3bath, 2k sqft) for $420k. The same model homes in our neighborhood recently sold for $600k (in 2021).
  • One tip to get a house at a “reasonable” price is to find a builder that is developing an area and put earnest money down on a lot, which is what we did. This will lock-in you in and let you have input on the design choices. The downside is there are not many of these locations closer to city center. However, there may be locations near companies further out. Also – while the price may be locked-in, I am hearing that builders have clauses for increasing the price due to material costs rising, and they are doing that now.
  • One trick that developers are using are sub platting a single home lot into two, and building tandem homes. Picture one home on the street, and the driveway extends to the backyard where another free-standing home is built. This may or may not work for you. These are usually denoted by the address being the same except for A and B. (i.e. 2300 Oak Street #A, 2300 Oak Street #B.)
  • As I understand it, rent prices have softened a bit from the 2020 year, but these are still pretty high. Expect ~$1500 for a 1bdrm apartment. Higher closer to the action, lower further out.
  • Many apartment complexes have Google Fiber access. This is how we found our apartment when we first moved to Austin, by using the Google Fiber map.
  • Given the commuting woes if you have to cross the river, gauge where you buy/rent based on where you will be working.

Crime and Safety

  • Caveat: My view of safety is colored by having lived in downtown San Francisco for many years.
  • My understanding on Austin’s crime is that it’s low, and limited to property loss/damage.
  • Austin has a great tool for assessing crime levels:
    • While this is a great tool, it’s hard to assess just how “bad” the results are, when compared to another location for example.
    • This website’s data on Austin surprised me. Without context, this would make me think Austin has a serious crime problem. That’s just not the real world experience for us. Are there issues? Yes. Is it the Wild West? No.
  • Homelessness: Austin’s homeless population has exploded in the last two years. This is not hyperbole – it has skyrocketed. Austin recently passed legislation that will reduce this (banning camping within city limits). It’s a problem here, as it is in every major city. We don’t have an answer, but the city is making efforts at different solutions. However, as bad as the homeless issue is here, it’s not the same character or nature as the population in San Francisco. Texas law enforcement doesn’t tolerate open drug usage or violence. The population is typically contained in concentrated locations and not ubiquitous, making these locations easier to avoid.
  • 2020 social unrest – Austin experienced highway shutdowns and mass protests during the wave of unrest the nation experienced in 2020. The city government is looking at reform of the police department, and have started taking steps to defund the aggressive aspects and fund more de-escalation training and programs.