Does the bus stop come with the yard?
July 28, 2009 12:41 PM   Subscribe

First time home buyer in Austin, TX. What should I know?

I am looking to take advantage of the 8000 tax credit and buy my first home before the end of this year! However everything I know about real estate I heard from friends or co-workers and I have no idea what/whom I should listen to. What advice would you give a first time home buyer?

I also have no idea what area I should be looking for. I have heard that Westgate is a nice neighborhood and East Austin in general should be avoided due to the crime rate. I am looking for 100k~150k and public transit(UT shuttle/Metro) to downtown is a must! (light rail is out of the question due to its limited schedule) A couple blocks walking distance is fine.

I am currently searching online on websites like Keller William's website) and google real estate. Any advice or suggestion is much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by jstarlee to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How long are you planning to live in the house?

What are the prospects for Austin's economy?

How secure is your job?

How liquid are your finances, both prior to making a downpayment and after?

How large a down payment are you planning to make?

What kind of interest rate can you get on the loan?

Can you build a loan amortization table for the mortgage and fully parse all the terms and conditions of the loan you will be getting?

What are the alternative uses to which you could put your money, and would any of those alternatives earn a greater return than that on real estate in Austin over your holding period?

These are all questions I would expect any first time home buyer to have extensive answers for.
posted by dfriedman at 12:59 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: Are you using a buyer's agent?
I think you should absolutely look at East Austin, especially if you are concerned about public transit to downtown. I would also recommend the area around west of Lamar, north of 183 (I'm sure others will warn you about crime as well, but in your price range you won't be in Hyde Park). For home searches (besides using a buyer's agent), you should look at and
posted by mattbucher at 1:02 PM on July 28, 2009

Also, how big a space do you need? Do you need a yard? A garage? What about a condo or a townhouse, are those possibilities?
posted by restless_nomad at 1:13 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: Honey, is this you? Did you register for a MeFi account finally? We're in the market for at least a 2/1 and we're willing to spend $100k-150k.

The link mattbucher mentioned is essential. We'd be lost without it. We're able to send several listings we're interested in to our realtor, and he'll research them and schedule times for us to take a look. We looked at about 6 homes yesterday around the MLK & 183 area.

I live East now (we're renting from a friend), around Cesar Chavez and Chicon. I don't think the area is particularly crime ridden. I have seen some sketchy neighborhoods not too far from me though (as well as some real gems that are just out of my price range). At $110k you're either going to be in something tiny and secure or something big and sketchy (or something in between that needs a lot of work). Or you'll be way the fuck out in Manor/Elgin/Pflugerville,etc. When we bumped our price limit to $150k we've found A LOT more nice houses. That extra $40k seems to make a big difference.

I don't know what we'll end up with. We have a kid that's almost 4, and being close to a playground and around other families is a priority for us. I feel like we're giving up some security, though, and by October I'll probably be posting an AskMe to find the best shotgun for home defense.

My wife has been doing all of the work on this search (you rock sweetheart), and when she gets home I'll pick her brain for more answers. We've got a great agent that's bending over backwards for us, knowing that we might end up renting instead of buying. We found him randomly, and if you'd like a reference MeFiMail me.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:25 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: We owned a house in North Austin (in the area between 183, McNeil Dr & W. Parmer Ln.) from 2000-2004. Not exactly a close commute, but there are express buses that go from the Pavilion Park & Ride (which was 5 min from our house across 183) to UT/downtown. On a good day with absolutely zero traffic we could maybe drive from our house to UT in about 20 minutes, but if I recall the bus trip was more like 35-45 minutes (or occasionally longer during heavy traffic during the school year).

I would characterize our neighborhood as safe, but boring. Most of the houses in that area were in your price range when we sold in 2004. Many are mid-1980s 1-story ranch types. We were close to shopping (HEB, Whole Foods, Arboretum, etc.)--the whole area of N. Austin is very suburban-feeling IMO, which was not what we really liked, but it was what we could afford.

What we did, as first-time homebuyers, was get a buyers agent. I cannot recommend that enough. Even though much of the MLS info is available online, out agent was very helpful with identifying neighborhoods, helping identify problem issues with houses we looked at, and all kinds of other things.

Feel free to memail me for specifics on who we used. I was 110% happy with our agent.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:27 PM on July 28, 2009

Quick search online shows that houses in our old neighborhood are now going for the upper-end of your range. Woof--there's the housing market for you!
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:35 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: I live on the east side. It's not particularly crime-ridden. Crime is more of a problem within a block or two of I-35. There are also some neighborhoods on the east side that have a sketchy history but are changing so quickly that if you buy in them, you may feel like the cat who ate the canary in a few years.

My recommendation. Pick a neighborhood, go there on your bike, and ride around. Take in as many streets as you can to get a feel for the place. If you go on a Sunday you'll be able visit open houses and get a better sense of the housing stock in that neighborhood. Sit down with a map and figure out how you'll get from that neighborhood to places you want/need to go. Then figure out whether there are any places in that neighborhood in your price range, and what compromises you're willing to make. Repeat this as many times as you can stand.

A buyer's agent is a good idea, especially if you're a first-time buyer, but it won't replace this getting-acquainted process.

There are a lot of crappy houses in Austin that have been bought by speculators who minimally renovate them and try to flip them. The problem with this is that you're paying for improvements that you'll wind up replacing soon, if not immediately. You'll do better if you find the crappy house pre-renovation and fix it up yourself (or pay for the contractor yourself). Being able to look at a fixer-upper and see a diamond in the rough takes a little practice, but after you've done enough walk-throughs, you'll get the hang of it.
posted by adamrice at 1:42 PM on July 28, 2009

I used to live on william cannon near westgate and used public transportation. the 103 bus was very convenient for getting downtown (or to UT) fast (except when there is a lot of traffic on lamar)
posted by ursonate at 2:36 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: I am very jealous of the solar programs available in Austin (one link); if you're planning to stay in the house for a while, why not take advantage? Lowering your utility bills and it'll make your house more attractive when you next sell it, methinks...
posted by at 4:00 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: I live in part of the area Mattbucher mentions. North of 183 between Lamar and Burnet. I would recommend it heartily, with a couple of reservations.

First off, it's cheap. Our (nice but not super nice) house with a pretty big yard ran just over 100,000 maybe 5 years ago. There are good looking properties nearby at well under 150. It's mostly very nice but extremely not hip. There are no nice coffee shops or bars, nor will there be any time soon. It's essentially a giant middle to lower middle class set of tract houses built in 1973. The bulk of the area is nice, but sprinkled in are some fairly sketchy areas.

It's fairly close in. I live south of Braker, really just north of 183, and it feels disproportionately closer than up by Parmer or McNeil or Wells Branch. It's REALLY easy to get on 183 or 35, or MoPac, OR Burnet or Lamar. I work downtown and ride the bus every day. It takes maybe 25 minutes including the 2 minutes to walk to the bus stop. There are a bunch of routes that serve the area, including the Night Owl, which goes from downtown to here until something like 3 am.

Granted, it'd be nicer to live in Crestview or Hyde Park, or Clarksville or whatever, but you'll pay literally 2 or 3 times as much for half the house.

The drawbacks are largely the same as there are for any 100 - 150 K houses - it's not particularly charming and there is more crime than in more expensive neighborhoods. But I would not say it is, uh, crimey. My neighbors have both been here for years and years (the lady across the street bought her house new in 1973) and have no horror stories to tell.

The HEB up here is terrible, but it is a short trip to the better one, and there is a Whole Foods and a Randalls nearby, if that's your thing. Actually, the Domain is right nearby, and there is a big new Whole Foods going in there, along with a whole bunch of stuff. Again, if that's your thing. I'm glad to have it nearby, but it's probably not the half billion dollar development I would've built.

Really, the stigma of living in North Austin is probably the worst thing about it. It's a good, easy place to live and your money goes far.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:44 PM on July 28, 2009

Oh, and, spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints, it seems like you have your neighborhood decided, but there are a ton of young families up here, mine included, and several good playgrounds in easy walking distance.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:52 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: Westgate is nice but expensive. A friend of mine couldn't find anything he liked there for $210K, and even if you're not picky at all I'm not sure if it's possible to find anything there for $150K. My friend ended up in Round Rock, which seemed like an excessive commute to me and clearly isn't an option for you.

Lamar north of 183 was, when I checked it out for a friend renting there ~6 years ago, one of the highest crime areas in the city. But crime varies by a shocking amount from neighborhood to nearby neighborhood (apparently burglary doesn't pay well enough to fund car travel to more profitable places to burgle?), and the crime rate in Austin overall isn't too bad, so I'm not exactly expecting dirtdirt to be knifed by muggers soon.

We ended up buying a house in Harris Branch, a neighborhood near Manor. Sounds too far for mass transit, but there's an express bus (the 990) that leaves Harris Branch at 6:05 or 7:18am, then gets to Congress & 6th half an hour later. Return trips at 4:30 or 6:20pm. We bought here because we wanted new construction and to pick out our own floorplan/design, though, which can't apply to you at this point - if you want to get the full tax credit, IIRC you need to close by Nov. 31, and that's much too soon to start building. The inventory home selection here is limited (nothing under $180K near me right now) but there might be someone selling a 1 story in the area in your price range.

If you're serious about buying soon, I'd second the recommendation to get an agent. Their commission comes out of the sale price (and would go to the seller's agent if you don't have a buyer's) so it won't cost you any more. My wife is an agent (not able to take new clients right now; it's hard to get out and show houses with a new baby in tow) and I'd have felt lost in this whole process without her help.
posted by roystgnr at 6:45 AM on July 29, 2009

Best answer: the City of Austin's interactive crime maps are down right now, but here is an interesting one. My neighborhood is listed as Metric and Rutland, and it is not as stabby as other nearby neighborhoods.

To be clear though, right on Lamar is probably not going to be a good place to buy a house, but get inside one of the actual neighborhoods nearby, and there are nice places.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:49 AM on July 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the time and effort you put into your really gave me a much better and clearer perspective. Obviously there is a lot of information to go through and I just want to say THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH!

I will look into talking to a buyer's agent definitely and may mefimail a few of you for reference.
Wish me luck!

(and thank you again)
posted by jstarlee at 12:54 PM on July 29, 2009

I lived in the same neighborhood area as dirtdirt (78758, 9628 Chukar Circle to be specific) from 1999-2005. From recent visits to Austin and driving by the old house, that area has gone *way* downhill in the past four years. Not that it was too far up the hill to begin with...

Of course, I had some bad experiences, with people from the apartment complex behind my house running their vehicles through my backyard fence three times in three years. Of course, every time it happened nobody saw anything or didn't speak English.
posted by mrbill at 11:39 PM on July 29, 2009

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