Austin, the capital of Texas and a college town, was once a typical small city. But for decades the home of the University of Texas--Austin has grown steadily in both population and reputation, becoming a destination for tourism and business through global events like the South by Southwest festival and drawing tech giants and startups to make a permanent home in and around the city.
You may be drawn to Austin for the job opportunities or because it's a vibrant and exciting place to live. But before you uproot yourself to move to Austin, there are a few things you should know.
Should You Move to Austin?
If you're finding yourself swept up in Austin's gravitational pull, you're one of many considering or planning a move to the area. Austin's blessing and its curse is the sheer number of people moving to the area to take advantage of business opportunities and embrace the lifestyle. Between 2013 and 2017, the Austin metro area's population increased by 10% due to net migration alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While the metro area's population is more than 2 million residents, the city of Austin accounts for almost half of that and was home to an estimated 978,908 people in 2019, according to the Census Bureau.
If you're thinking that Austin will be a cheap place to live with ample job opportunities, think again. Austin is certainly a less expensive option than many major U.S. cities, such as New York City, San Francisco and Miami. But its cost of living -- requiring 23.4% of the area median household income, based on data from the U.S. News 2019 Best Places to Live rankings -- is higher than that of both Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, and is on par with Denver. For some, Austin's attractions outweigh the cost of living, but it's not a city that makes it easy to live cheaply.
How to Move to Austin
If you're unsure about where you want to live in the Austin area, you may find that renting is a better option than buying a home since it's temporary. As of February, the average rent in Austin was $1,439, and the average apartment size was 864 square feet, according to rental listing and information site RentCafe.
With a lease, you can spend six months or a year exploring the city and surrounding suburbs, and move to the area where you feel most at home. RentCafe reports that nearly half of households (48%) in Austin are renters.
If you're more inclined to purchase a home and have the means, however, buying can be the right investment even if you're unsure the neighborhood is where you want to stay long term. In a neighborhood seeing growing interest and rapidly rising prices, you may be able to profit off the sale of your home if you've only been there a couple years, says Romeo Manzanilla, president of the Austin Board of Realtors.
"Even if you move into a house and it's not your dream house, strictly from an investment standpoint you're probably going to be OK," Manzanilla says.
Here's what you should know before moving to Austin:
-- The cost of living is rising fast.
-- The suburbs might be for you.
-- Traffic is expected.
-- You won't get bored.
The Cost of Living Is Rising Fast
The plight of being a hot destination for businesses and professionals alike is that the cost of living isn't as low as it once was. The median home price in Austin as of mid-June was $425,000, according to national real estate brokerage Redfin, a 6.3% increase from the same time in 2019.
Many tech professionals moving to the area are relocating from Seattle or San Jose, California, where the cost of living has been notoriously high for a long time. Their salaries allow them to afford a more expensive home and amenities. As a result, new housing being developed often caters to the high end of the market.
The Suburbs Might Be for You
As a result of the rising cost of living, lifelong Austin locals often struggle to afford living in the city, and many transplants who balk at property prices close to downtown are more likely to look at the outer suburbs for a home to buy or rent.
The upside to looking for a home outside the Austin city limits is that you don't necessarily have to sacrifice the entertainment you'll find downtown. Manzanilla explains that the suburbs, and Round Rock in particular, are seeing significant commercial development, bringing music venues, parks and other attractions outside the city center.
"They're not going to miss those options and opportunities by going out to the suburbs," Manzanilla says.
Traffic Is Expected
If you're working in downtown Austin and living in the suburbs, expect a longer commute. The average commute time in the Austin metro area is 26.8 minutes, according to data from the 2019 Best Places to Live ranking. The average Austin commute is longer than the average of the 125 most populous metro areas in the U.S. at 24.8 minutes, but much shorter than commutes in New York City, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Boston, which all have average commutes over 30 minutes.
The city is working to improve transit options beyond privately owned cars. On June 10, Austin City Council and the Capital Metro Board approved a new transit plan called Project Connect. The plan aims to better connect the city and surrounding areas with more than one rail line, a downtown transit tunnel for subway-style commuting and improved bus service, among other features. "This comprehensive transit system will make our city more equitable while helping us fight climate change and ease congestion," said Austin Mayor Steve Adler in a press release following the council approval.
While the Project Connect plan promises transit alternatives to driving that may have you wanting to ditch your car, these plans will likely not be fully implemented for years to come, and there's no planned completion date yet.
You Won't Get Bored
With so many new residents calling Austin home, it's shouldn't be a surprise that there's plenty to do for a wide variety of interests both inside the city and in the surrounding area. Hiking, water sports, hunting and camping are all possible with a short drive out of the city.
Downtown and in certain suburban hot spots, live music is widely available, and a variety of nightlife options make for easy socializing.
Tex-Mex and barbecue are staples in Austin for tourists and residents alike, though you'll probably find yourself opting for more neighborhood haunts than the most popular spots frequented by college students and visitors.
You're also close to annual festivals that draw a national and international crowd. South by Southwest and Austin City Limits Music Festival are two of the most popular events that attract plenty of tourists, but many locals attend as well.
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