Moving to Austin. What next?
October 9, 2012 8:06 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I plan to move to Austin, Texas, in January. We’re looking for recommendations about neighborhoods, information about the housing market, or any other useful information.

Traits of our ideal area, in no particular order:
* Bicycle friendly.
* Close to transit lines.
* Funky and weird.
* Inexpensive.
* In the city limits.
* Mix of people, such as different ages.
* Relatively cohesive neighborhood.
* Relatively quiet (I am hypersensitive with sounds).
* Has stuff within walking distance … for instance, grocery store, pool, park, library and restaurants within about a mile.

About us:
Early 50s women. No kids. Three cats and a dog. We have a variety of interests, but not spectator sports. Two cars, but we’d like to use them less. No jobs lined up yet. I might work in journalism or government, but am also interested in coworking.

About housing:
Looking for two or three bedrooms at a moderate price. Expect to live there the rest of our lives. Plan to buy a home but might rent for about six months first. Open to different types of housing (such as condos, townhouses, mobile homes, cohousing) but probably not apartments.
We live in a small town in a house with 1,700 square feet. It has three bedrooms and 1.75 baths. The house was bought for $140K six or seven years ago. Last year, it was appraised at $180K. We hope to sell it for $160K to $175K.

Our questions:
* Are there any areas you recommend?
* Are there any areas we should avoid?
* How does the housing market compare?
* Where is the “gay ghetto”?
* Are there any neighborhood newspapers?
* Is there anything else we should know?
posted by maurreen to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
South Austin (78704) is the classical weird Austin. It's very nice, but too expensive. East Austin is the up and coming (up and came?) arty/hip gentrification center of Austin. Also very nice, and getting more and more expensive, depending on how close in you are. Central Austin (Brentwood, North Loop, Crestview) is more and more like a sort of a laid back version of South Austin, but less venerable, and more diluted with sprawl. It's more affordable but I wouldn't call it affordable. West Austin and Downtown are very expensive.

In the price range you are talking about you are probably somewhat limited. My neighborhood (it doesn't have a 'name' but on maps it is called "North Austin Civic Association") fits your bill in every way except funkyness. It's a big early 70's urban/suburban development, north of the good enighborhoods, but still well within the city limits. Some bright spots and lots of different kinds of people. It's near the train and the bus, there are bicycle paths around (including on my street). It's fairly quiet (where I live) and there is stuff in walking distance, depending on where within the neighborhood you live, with more good stuff coming in all the time. It's your basic big lower middle neighborhood being slowly (sloooowly!) metastasized by culture and money, and all the trappings. It is not nearly as far along that path as the areas just to the south, but it is happening.

It's sort of a hard neighborhood to heartily recommend though. I am sure someone else will come along and put it in the 'areas to avoid' column. There are some bad parts in it, and it borders some of the most notoriously bad parts of Austin, in terms of crime. It is also bordered by one of the weirdest (in the perplexing sense, patently NOT in the funky sense) and biggest developments in Austin - the Domain. It's a huge plot of land that they are trying, ostensibly, to make into a second downtown. It's maybe not the billion dollar development that I would make, but it is a big BIG deal, and it rapidly changing the area, arguably for the better. The new big Whole Foods there will be very welcome when it opens this spring.
posted by dirtdirt at 8:57 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like dirtdirt says, Austin real estate is expensive. The Crestview/Brentwood neighborhood fits most of your criteria, but it's hard to find anything there at all under $300K. I think you will have to prioritize your needs and focus those - quiet & cheap? Not going to be funky. Funky and cool neighborhood? Not quiet or cheap. When we moved to Austin, we rented a place on a 6 month lease and spent that time figuring out what we wanted/liked & what we could afford. Maybe even rent in a couple of different neighborhoods over the course of the year to get a feel for the town. Austin is very spread out & there are probably hundreds of neighborhoods in total. Here are some listings to browse.
posted by mattbucher at 9:14 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Welcome to Austin! It will be challenging to get everything you want and stay below $175k. One place to start looking for funky, inexpensive houses near bike paths and bus routes is in Far South Austin (Not sure what the official name is). It's the area bordered on the north by Ben White (Highway 71), on the west by Mopac (Loop 1), on the east by I-35, and on the south by Slaughter Lane. South of Slaughter the bike/bus/walk meter drops to near zero.

Use the intersection of West Gate and William Cannon as a starting point, then search outward from there. You've got grocery stores and restaurants at the William Cannon/Brodie, William Cannon/Manchaca, and William Cannon/Mopac intersections. There's a library at 5500 Manchaca. The usual big box stores (Target, Bed Bath & Beyond) are at Brodie/71 and Mopac/71.

Here's some links. Also, don't forget that you can turn on bike paths and bike-friendly roads in Google Maps.
posted by alienzero at 9:20 AM on October 9, 2012

Rent first, shop around. You're not going to get three bedrooms at your price unless you go way north or way south (or you're willing to do major renovation yourself) and that means giving up everything else on your list. You will end up in a better place if you can sacrifice on the square footage- 1500 sq ft and only one bath is probably the limit of your budget. I would say begin your search on the east side and Crestview/Allendale.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:23 AM on October 9, 2012

Other (possibly negative) information I'd like to provide:

It's hot here. Most of the time. Hot. While not entirely true, as an original NY'er, I like to say Austin has 10 months of summer, and NY has 10 months of winter. This year we've had pretty stellar weather, with actual spring-y and fall-like weather at the appropriate times. I'm ok with that. : )

Allergies are the worst. You'd think in a place that often has drought this would not be the case, but it is. Not just cedar (juniper) season in Dec-Feb, which is probably the most offending airborne allergen, but all year. Mine are actually the worst in the winter! There are no seasons in Austin where you get a reprieve. I only live here by the grace of immunotherapy (allergy shots. : ) If you don't have allergies or never had them, that's fine, but anywhere you live, the longer you live there, the higher your chance of becoming sensitive to the allergens in the air. Since we have them all year... YMMV.

Rush hour traffic is getting crappier all the time as people move here in droves and we keep having no better mass transit. If you hate sitting in rush hour traffic, live near wherever you work (if you work) or do not travel during rush hour. On the plus side (unlike NY), there's still actual rush hour(s) before and after which you can get places pretty darn quick by car.
posted by bitterkitten at 9:52 AM on October 9, 2012

There is honestly not really a "gay ghetto" in Austin. A lot of neighborhoods are gay-friendly, but none has seemed to hit critical mass and become The Place To Be.

If living in a gay neighborhood is important to you, you'd probably be happier in Dallas. If you're just looking for someplace that's likely to be gay-friendly, or trying to end up reasonably close to other lesbian couples you can hang out with, I'd say your other criteria will take care of it for you: you'll be equally welcome, and equally likely to meet other gay folks, in any reasonably-walkable reasonably-"funky" part of town.

Though also it would be good if you could clarify what you mean by "funky and weird." You want to live near... nice art galleries? old crappy warehouses that artists actually work in? ordinary families who have funky sculptures on their lawn? food trucks? people-who-own-food-trucks? good cheap coffeeshops? bookstores? record stores? working musicians? music venues? liberals? anarchists? libertarians? apolitical weirdos of some sort? All of those are possible, but they point to different parts of town.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:31 AM on October 9, 2012

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