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  • musketeernumberone musketeernumberone Jul 30, 2011 7:55 AM Flag

    Questions for Texans

    I am looking at the possibility of relocating to Austin in the next 6 months. Maybe some of my Texan friends can share some insight about the following:

    Weather: I know its hot in summer and fairly dry all the time. What is winter like? Does it ever snow in Austin? Are twisters or hurricanes ever a problem?

    Taxes: I understand there are no state income taxes. In the Austin area what is the property tax rate? Is this calculated on assessed value or by some other method?

    Traffic and Commuting: Is traffic a problem as in, say, Los Angeles? How long is the drive time from Lakeway to Downtown? Apart from your car, does one get around by Taxi? Bus? On Foot? Other? The airport seems to have flights to just about anywhere... correct?

    Culture: What are the people like and how do they spend time? What is cultural life like in Austin? My image is bars with live music, but it must be much more than that. Museums and Galleries? Theater? Concert series. Is the University an integral part of the citys cultural life Outdoor activities?

    Neighborhoods: based on my internet search of properties, the following areas look nice: West Hills, Lake Travis, Dripping Springs. Any thoughts or suggestions?

    Real Estate: Seem from afar like the market has tightened a bit. A year ago I could not believe the amazing homes that could be bought for round $300K. Now they are a bit less amazing and there are fewer of them available. Or so it seems. Any thoughts on this? Are short sales and foreclosures keeping a lid on prices, or no impact? Are these a source of good investment opportunity? What is going on the market for single family homes?

    Thanks in advance, guys!

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    • <What is winter like?> Cold but short. You don't have the winter greenery that you see in Florida. You can get by in winters with a leather coat. In the North, you had to have either down or fur.

      <Does it ever snow in Austin?> About once every five years. the bigger problem is ice storms.

      <Are twisters or hurricanes ever a problem?> Twister are but they seem to be worse the further North in Texas you go. Hurricanes are obviously more of a problem in coastal cities, but the moisture and humidity of a strong tropical storm can stretch halfway across the state and encompass Austin.

      <I understand there are no state income taxes. In the Austin area what is the property tax rate?> No income tax, and you should probably figure between 1.5 and 2% on property.

      <Is this calculated on assessed value?> I believe so.

      <Is traffic a problem as in, say, Los Angeles?> Nah, it's not LA. It's pretty tough to beat LA, NYC, or Chicago for traffic. Houston is probably the worst in Texas with Dallas being a close second. I'd put Austin ahead of San Antonio though. It's become pretty popular, but I have noticed a few new toll roads that have been built to help with the congestion.

      Like it is everywhere else thanks to the stimulus, road construction is a problem. We went to New Braunfels to the Schlitterbahn water park last weekend. The commute from Dallas to NB is usually around 4 hours. It took us five or longer on a Sunday to get back because of construction and traffic.

      And Musk, I am not sure if you are into water for the views or water sports. If so than Lake Travis is probably where you want to be. For swimming purposes though, the lakes in Texas get hot and IMO are not a refreshing break from the heat. I like the cooler rivers (like the Guadalupe, Cornal, and Colorado) and spring fed pools like Barton Springs and Deep Eddy.

      <Apart from your car, does one get around by Taxi? Bus? On Foot? Other? The airport seems to have flights to just about anywhere... correct?>

      Some students don't have cars and you can get by on public transportation if you just stayed in the city, but most people have cars. Taxis are a luxury. The airport is new and nice. If you can't get to a place from Austin, you can connect to just about anywhere from Dallas or Houston. Southwest Air only flies to adjacent states from Dallas, but you can go nonstop to a bunch of cities like LA directly from Austin.

      <What are the people like and how do they spend time?> For the most part, they are really down to earth. The most snooty or upscale areas in the state are River Oaks in Houston and Highland Park in Dallas. I was talking to someone who got all dolled up for a night in Austin, and she dressed like she did in Dallas. She was shocked to see dressing up in Austin was wearing your nicest pair of jeans.

      I kind of get the impression people in Austin are more into individual expression than the conformity one sees in Houston and Dallas. Conformity is still there, but the city's slogan is "Keep Austin weird." That is kind of a polite way of flipping the bird at Houston and Dallas IMO.

      Maybe PG could comment on this, but I still think even in Austin that church life dominates the social scene. Probably the hardest adjustment people have had to make moving to Texas is the people. In public, manners are really important and everyone seems nice. In private or with rivalries, that politeness gives way and the truth comes out. Groups are big: A&M versus UT, Baptists versus Methodists ETC. If you want to see Texans as they wish to appear, go to church. If you want to see them as they are, go to a football game.

      I don't know the real estate market well. As for the social scene, this latest trend is as Austin as it gets:

    • Hey Musk, Don't count out San Antonio. You get a lot of bang for the buck in terms of housing, /quality of life. We do have nice cultural amenities as well. Austin does have more musical venues as you might have guessed. San Antonio tops Austin for a BIG way!

      San Antonio:

      Universities/schools: top notch school website is down currently for some reason. great community college with fantastic resources for the money. My favorite radio station! Housed on the campus of Trinity University. A Fantastic organization/foundation! Our version of Carnival! Lot's of fun!

      I could go on and on. Too many things to list.

      Musically, still a great place....lot's of variety and people to hear and play with.


    • Doc,

      "Keep Austin Weird" is the town slogan...and for good reason...hehe

      Why not North Texas (Collin County - Frisco, McKinney; Denton County, Denton; Cooke County - Gainesville and Lake Kiowa) Lake Kiowa is probably the best value in Texas right now for location and value. Look it up. Now, a question for you - what do you think about EOG?

    • I'm sure Rio and Sau Paulo have some high crime rates. Not sure about Buzios. I'm guessing it's safer?

      One thing to consider when moving to Texas. Due to the large number of solicitors(at least in my area)you may want to consider getting a sign like this one for your front door LOL.

    • You will miss the beach Musk !

      Ft Lauderdale Fl. Sunrise has nice areas . Nice value for $ . 20 min from the beach . Airport 20 min to the bahamas ect...

      Trafic is ok.
      Culture.Latina, brazilian , from everywhere.
      Real estate will go up.

      If you want something more "posh"
      Key biscayne is paradise to me. A mini culture outside of Miami. The houses are still all over 1 million, not much to choose from. LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION.
      There is no trafic. Well once a year with the tenis tournament.
      Prices will eventually sky rocket.
      Get a great house insurance!!!

      • 1 Reply to arwen_imaginary
      • Hi Arwen. Hope your powder day was awesome...

        Good advice but cannot afford Key Biscayne.

        Florida is on the list, mostly for the weather and the low price of homes, but I am trying to find a reasonable alternative elsewhere. Home prices in Florida are always on a roller-coaster up or down. Your timing has to be right to make money.

        South Florida was choked with traffic when I used to go frequently around 15 years ago. Culturally, I imagine there is more to do than say, Buzios, but - outside of Miami - not much. If you want a McMansion in a planned community, its great... not my style.

        That said, I have done some research in the Sarasota area... not quite as built up, cheap homes, nice weather.

    • I lived in Austin for 10 years, then relocated to Hawaii 4 years ago. I miss Austin and want to return there. I will probably go back to Austin within the next two years. Giving up Hawaii for Austin, Texas, that tells you something right there.

    • Hi Musk

      As a long-time Austin resident, I'll take a cut at a few of those questions:

      "What is winter like? Does it ever snow in Austin?"
      Winter is nice, it's pretty much a series of cold fronts that make you break out a jacket or light coat, fire up the fireplace, enjoy the cold for 3-4 days and then go back to days in the 60s. It snows maybe once a year, more often icy little pellets than proper snow. About 400 fender benders ensue, because people simply don't know how to handle winter driving.

      Fall is hotter than you'd expect, spring is great, and summer requires proximity to water (happily, not that hard) or the means to get away to someplace not set on "broil".

      Property taxes basically based on assessments (some exceptions for historic stuff, the allowed rate of change, older folks, etc..) and runs somewhere around 2%.

      Regarding traffic.
      This depends on where you live and where you work. I live near downtown, and work at home, so I avoid the daily grind of the that some poor soul commuting up or down I35 experiences.

      The inner city area has a passable bus system and has lots of people on bikes. But make no mistake, the far flung regions of the city are very much centered around cars. There is a little commuter rail line, but it doesn't reach the areas you are considering.

      Culture, while generalizations are difficult, I can give you the perspective of a long time resident of the center city. Religion is not dominant. Active sports, such as running, biking and racquet sports are way more popular than in mainstream USA. The center city is terminally casual, T shirts and shorts are almost a uniform. For many years this was a city you moved to for love of the place, not money. That has changed a bit with the way the tech boom rained money on some folks, but there is still a stubborn streak here that says money ain't that important.

      As for neighborhoods, the city is a bit of a doughnut. The small center city is liberal - lots of yoga classes, live music, PC politics, great cheap Tex Mex joints. There are not many "good" center city 'hoods with nice architecture at reasonable prices, so the young folks are gentrifying the east side in large numbers. I-35 used to cleanly slice the city into racial zones (not really halves, as the West is so much bigger), but that's changing quickly.
      The exterior of the doughnut is more conservative, more religious, more into watching football, more like most people think of Texas. There are a lot of nice home out there, at reasonable prices, and the culture is not uniform, so even if you are not like that generalization, you can find kindred souls there too.

      As for the real estate market, it's off the boom of several years ago, of course, but this isn't Las Vegas, so it never really cratered. The market is moderate, probably improving over time. People from California still think we are cheap, I guess, so it depends on your background.

      If you come for a visit, I can meet you for lunch or some such, maybe answer you questions at greater length. Just post ahead of time and I'll get you an e-mail.

    • Austin is "bike friendly" compared to San Antonio. Bikes lanes etc. People are healthier in Austin no doubt!

      How bout a bit of abstract jazz from Coung Vu 4 tet for a bit of culture!

      Not too many people appreciate this kind of music haha.....I do.

      Reminds of of bits of Glenn Branca. Atonal(127 tones actually!) I love Branca's Symphony no. 3.

    • hey, thanks, very helpful comments. i'll look at these companies you offered up. i'm nearly all in cash and i was getting itchy to get back in the market right before this last downturn...thank goodness i held off on that one...LOL!

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