Alarming Austin Apartments
June 22, 2010 8:57 PM   Subscribe

How scared should we be of bad apartment complex reviews when looking in Austin?

My boyfriend and I are going to be moving to Austin in a little over a month (he got a job at UT). We were planning to find an apartment using a locator service. However, all the apartment complexes our locators have been sending us information about get very bad reviews online. It seems like there are various issues with break-ins, animals/vermin, rude or even dangerous neighbors, etc. In fact, it's hard for us to find any places in our price range that don't have these kinds of reviews.

We were hoping to find a 1 or 2 bedroom for somewhere around 725 a month, and we're not too picky about area (though we've heard that we should avoid the East side). We're looking for recommendations for where to consider - apartment complexes that are safe, clean, and not too far away. Do we need to up our price range? Should we take the recommendations with a grain of salt? We would prefer not to live more than 30 minutes away from UT.

(We're moving from upstate NY. We like nature/the outdoors and quiet surroundings.)
posted by fugitivefromchaingang to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Keep in mind that if people are happy with something, they don't post reviews. A good resource for this sort of thing is austincommunity on LiveJournal. There's an archive of apartment questions there and you can always ask if yours isn't already listed.

Most of the East Side is fine...there are Non White people there, but it's nothing scary. Is there any reason you're looking at complexes instead of individual landlords via CL or just driving around?
posted by youcancallmeal at 9:03 PM on June 22, 2010

I would be really hesitant to rent an apartment without seeing it. I got burned pretty badly doing that. (in my case, the website looked good and the (few) reviews were ok, plus I even knew someone who had given it an ok review, and the apartment and complex were definitely not ok . )
posted by leahwrenn at 9:06 PM on June 22, 2010

For whatever it's worth, my friend's brother had an Austin apartment, in some kind of really big complex, and it was a never-ending nightmare of parking garage vandalism and theft (really dangerous for a woman alone) and all sorts of creepy stuff happening on the premises. Choose wisely...
posted by zeek321 at 9:10 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

This isn't specific to Austin, but I've looked at the reviews of the apartment complex that I used to to live in, and the bad reviews were completely spot on.

I do tend to agree with youcancallmeal though, in wondering why you're looking at complexes. For our first apartment, I insisted, much to my husband's dismay, that we live in a complex, and it was awful, just like he said it would be. Renting from an individual landlord was both less expensive and a much more pleasant experience.
posted by Ruki at 9:10 PM on June 22, 2010

The one time I did rent a place that had online reviews, I found they were pretty accurate. Maybe slightly negatively biased, but the content of the reviews was more or less true.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:11 PM on June 22, 2010

Response by poster: Just an addition to my question, based on the comments here: it seems like upwards of 95% of the postings online for available apartments ARE for complexes. How can we find individual landlords renting individual apartments?
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 9:24 PM on June 22, 2010

For individual landlords, you just kind of have to pick through CL or the Statesman ads. I don't really have a better way of doing it if you're not in town. Another option might be to sublet a place and then do some driving and looking for "for rent" signs once you're in Austin and have a better idea of what areas you'd like.
posted by youcancallmeal at 9:27 PM on June 22, 2010

In that price range, you can probably rule out Hyde Park (just north of campus), downtown, Travis Heights (just south of downtown). You could probably get some studenty shanty in West campus, but you don't want to deal with the loud drunken fools who would be your neighbors. The further south you go, the cheaper the rents, but you might end up pretty far from campus, and the drive up 35 is a mess in the mornings.
In general, the E. side is ok if you stay away from the NE area (Cameron to Rundberg), and stay away from the PJs around the 11th and 12th st. corridors. Don't get me wrong, people over there are weird, but they are generally harmless. My suggestions would be to look around Dellwood/Cherrywood (just east of 35 and already pretty gentrified), Crestview (W of 35, E or Mo-Pac, from about Koenig to about Medical Arts along Burnet), and perhaps even Northwest Hills (there are lots of students living off Far West, and there's even a campus bus to avoid the parking nightmare that is UT). I live in a 2/2 that's in your price range, so it can be done. If you like, you can meMail me, and I'll tell you where I am. There are several other apts in the neighborhood, and they might also be leasing. Best of luck! (on preview, I'm only talking about complexes here. Not sure about individual apts. or condos, etc.)
posted by Gilbert at 9:28 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

My experience with online apartment ratings is that the glowing reviews that praise the apartments in all ways are written by shills of the management, and negative reviews that point out specific problems are written by tenants and former tenants who are telling the truth.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:42 PM on June 22, 2010

I lived in Austin apartments for years and never read a review that I found to be relevant. And I LOVE the East side. People who tell you to avoid it are just afraid of anyone a shade of brown.

I lived East of 35 for years with never even a tiny problem with crime or feeling unsafe etc. and your money will go much farther over there.
posted by Saminal at 10:31 PM on June 22, 2010

You can also try to look at Yelp Austin for possibly better commentary.
posted by bitterkitten at 11:18 PM on June 22, 2010

I recommend finding an apartment that is served by a bus route that will get you to the university without transfers. UT employees have to pay for parking or find it on the street (hah). Generally I agree with Gilbert's advice about location. There are less safe areas on both sides of I-35. I would avoid the area between Lamar and I-35 north of 183.
posted by scatter gather at 12:46 AM on June 23, 2010

Seconding the LiveJournal recommendation for posting to AustinCommunity - we're pretty helpful there, and we have a pretty interesting community. Yelp might not be bad either.

775 is low for a 2BR, you probably need to go up a bit.

I'm a landlord of a 2BR 1Ba duplex, and my property management company lists my property through MLS, which you can access via Click "find a property" then click 'lease'. (MeMail me if interested) You'll find lots of homes/duplexes there that are not big apt complexes.

Seconding scatter gather as well that you'll probably want a bus line available property - there are some farther north on lamar, above the Rundberg/Rutland area that are pretty nice, and in fact, Archstone is building a nice new place on Yager lane which has good access to the buses. If you do wind up driving in, Lamar makes a better drive than 35 for morning commute to campus. If you're working at the PRC, even better.
posted by TuffAustin at 5:44 AM on June 23, 2010

Since you also asked for specific recommendations I always recommend my first place when I moved to town - Brentwood Townhomes. It's in a great location (about a 20 min bike ride from campus) and was quite affordable. The one bed I rented a few years ago was 725 and the two beds were 850 - I think I saw that that may have gone down though, economy and all.

I never had any horrible issues - there was one round of car break-ins around Christmas, and I saw a few bugs, but they were good about spraying for those regularly. Folks complained that the mgmt wasn't onsite, but they were very responsive to calls about anything broken, etc. People there are pretty friendly, and there are little mini yards where for each unit, though I got one w/o a lawn :(

Biggest downside for me was no in-unit laundry, just a comunal laundry room. But the location couldn't be beat and I liked having an upstairs and a huge ass closet. Oh, and close to a couple bus lines, too, though I never used the bus :-/
posted by theRussian at 5:47 AM on June 23, 2010

A few points:

1. If you can possibly swing it, do your own searching after you get here. I always recommend that people trying to rent pick a neighborhood, get on their bikes, and ride every street of the neighborhood. Then repeat with another neighborhood. If you absolutely must arrange a rental before you get here, Google Street View is your friend. Drive the neighborhood virtually.

2. Consider renting a house. There are a lot of rent houses around Austin; they're more likely to be rented by individual landlords, and IMO are more livable than the apartments here.

3. $775 is low (especially if you're renting a house).

4. There are a few isolated pockets of the east side that are sketchy. The 12th & Chicon intersection is what I call crackhead corner; anything within a block or two of I-35 is prone to property theft.
posted by adamrice at 8:50 AM on June 23, 2010

I am now living in my 5th Austin apartment complex and every single complex I've lived in has gotten horrible reviews online (the best was I think 40% positive) but I have yet to have a problem with any of the complexes.

The only complex I steered clear of was the one where most of the reviews talked about rats.

I love my locator if you want a recommendation. Good Luck! Welcome to Austin!
posted by magnetsphere at 9:14 AM on June 23, 2010

And I should say that I am in the Far West neighborhood right now and take that shuttle to UT every day. It really could not be more convenient. During the summer they run about every 15 minutes, during the school year I believe it is every 7/9 minutes. I think it would be difficult to convince me to move away from Far West at this point (as long as I'm going to UT).

We pay $850 for a 2 bed/2 bath (but we got a deal) and when I was looking for a 1 bedroom about a year ago in far west they were going for $550-$750.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:26 AM on June 23, 2010

One thing that was really useful to me when looking for an apartment far away from home was to ask people that I was going to be working with for suggestions. People who have been in the area for a longer amount of time are going to know more about individual landlords as opposed to complexes.

My wife and I have lived in complexes and in a place rented by an individual, and our complex days are but a distant, horrible memory. YMMV, but I've found individuals much more pleasant to work with, and your husbands future colleagues can help you find them.

Good luck!
posted by elder18 at 9:55 AM on June 23, 2010

For your price etc I don't think you're going to find a 2br, or a 1br with w/d. Without trying to be too dramatic, apartment hunting here is pretty terrible. Since it's a college town that a lot of people want to live in, it has the highest rental occupancy % in Texas, even beating out Houston and Dallas. The following is just my opinion, others above have already posted conflicting ones:

Don't live on the east side. Living south of the river nearly guarantees 30min and higher commutes. There are endless scammers (meaning: apartment hunters) posting false listings. The placement companies are terrible and will probably waste your time on listings that get them the most money. If you are looking for a 6mo lease for around $800 I was told by one that he'd get a $40 commission, and I wasn't really worth his time. The closer you are to campus the less parking is included and the more it costs. Don't expect to 'just park on the street' anywhere near campus, or be prepared to walk from your free spot. My personal requirements were a NICE place, w/d in unit, maximum 30min commute. After trying a few other places so far the best one has been north around Parmer and Metric, along Metric there are a million complexes and I could get a 1br w/ w/d at about a 30min commute on the dot ranging from $585 for the one with rat holes in the pantry to $700 for the newer complex with new appliances. Sure there could be a gem on the east or south side, but I'm only going to look at so many apartments before I throw up my hands in defeat, and I'd rather wade through 10 in a good area to have a few contenders than hope for a passable one looking through 10 listings from east or south. As far as south goes, there are decent places there it's just the commute. My experience seeing and staying in non-corporate rental listings by private owners is that they're all terrible absentee landlords. If you want nature you might have luck west which is hilly and more sparse, but there is the traffic brick wall that is 360 and everything west of it. Far West close to mopac is something of a student ghetto, but inside 360 to the west of the area and south towards 2222 has some nice places for not much more than you're looking at.

Yes, I am a cynical person.
posted by BurnMage at 10:02 AM on June 23, 2010

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