How do you find a great place in Austin, TX?
December 20, 2012 6:22 PM   Subscribe

We need some advice on the logistics of finding a place to rent in Austin, TX.

My boyfriend has just accepted a job in Austin and we'll be moving down there in the next month. We have a good idea of what features we want our rental place to have and we also have some ideas on where we're interested in living.

What we really want to know is how do we go about finding these places other than Padmapper and Craigslist? Where we currently live there are apartment finders who are paid by the landlord. Is this a "thing" in Austin?

We would actually prefer to rent a house if we can find one that meets our needs. Based on our Padmapper/CL research so far, this will be a little harder than finding an apartment but not impossible. The high end of our budget is $2000/month, though we'd prefer to be around $1600 or less. We do have some resources available to pay for help. Maybe this opens up options with real estate agents?

Those who have moved to/within Austin, do you have any advice? Are there any agencies or resources that you've worked with that are helpful? Is there anything else we need to know about renting in Austin, ie tenant's rights issues we should keep an eye out for?

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by lamechopz to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Just as a datapoint: in my fairly decent neighborhood about 15 minutes out of downtown, a 3/2 duplex rents for between $800-$1200/mo. Depending on how far out you want to live, your money may go a lot further than you think it will. On the other hand, if you're really committed to living in a walkable neighborhood close to downtown, it'll cost you a lot more.

I've never used any of the apartment finders here in town, and the duplex/rent house owners I know don't bother with them. Usually they'll put a sign in the yard or a posting on Craigslist if they're not seeing enough action from that.

Can you give us an idea of the neighborhoods you're thinking of? That may affect the answers people have for where to start looking.
posted by katemonster at 6:33 PM on December 20, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, katemonster, your answer is really helpful (and encouraging!). My boyfriend's job will be up north near the North Austin Civic Association. The location of my job is TBD. We're open to a lot of parts of town and are casting a pretty wide net.

We're looking at South Austin between the lake and Highway 71, North Austin in the Hyde Park/Brentwood/Crestview area, and the near east side. Basically, anything within a 5-7 mile radius of downtown that isn't going to be a 6th street-super-busy-nightlife area or an area with lots of students and football traffic. We also don't want the other extreme of a quiet subdivision with a lot of families. Something that's a happy medium with a few walkable things like a grocery store and a few bars and restaurants would be just right for us.
posted by lamechopz at 7:44 PM on December 20, 2012

I've used the apartment locating service Habitat Hunters several times, and recommended them to friends. Katemonster is right that they won't have access to some of the individually-rented homes, but you can supplement their search with your own as well. You don't commit to renting anything through them, and the landlord pays the locating fee, not you.
posted by a red so deep at 7:48 PM on December 20, 2012

Welcome to Austin! Apartment finders are a "thing" here in Austin. You can also use a realtor (and some have searchable databases on their sites - memail me for an example - when I had a house to rent, I listed it with a realtor). (also i would not live south of the river if you are going to work that far north)
posted by nightwood at 8:28 PM on December 20, 2012

If he's working in North Austin and had a typical 9-5, I would strongly suggest that you don't live in South Austin. I-35 is a hellish commute (ever seen Office Space? that opening sequence was filmed in Austin). Mopac (Loop 1) is a similar situation. I would keep looking at the Hyde Park area as that's probably the best combination of what you're looking for.

(PS. I just looked at where the North Austin Civic Association is, and yeah, you don't want to do that commute from South Austin every day. By contrast, lots of people live in Round Rock and work is Austin, so if you are heading north out of Hyde Park in the morning and south to there in the evening you should be opposite traffic.)
posted by raccoon409 at 4:54 AM on December 21, 2012

Best answer: i did this a few months ago and i felt like padmapper and craigslist were total wastes of time... every posting in the neighborhoods we were looking at (hyde park, french place) were rented out almost instantly. i used an MLS search to find some promising properties and then contacted a realtor for help setting up appointments with property owners. i feel like without him, no one ever would have called us back. we ended up in a lovely house in the price range we wanted in the neighborhood we wanted. memail me if you'd like his contact information.
posted by marshmallow peep at 6:20 AM on December 21, 2012

oh, and we never paid the realtor a fee. i'm guessing he got a commission or was paid by the property owners or something.
posted by marshmallow peep at 6:22 AM on December 21, 2012

Best answer: I used Padmapper/Craigslist to find my last 3 rentals, 2 of which were houses in 78704. I've used rental locators but they were pretty awful; they kept showing me apartments way above my budget or shitty duplexes. I don't use them anymore. I moved this last summer so I know a fairly current state of the market. Renting in Austin has gotten a lot more competitive in the last couple of years, but your $1600-$2000 budget will get you in a good neighborhood with a nice place. My friend had a 3 bedroom for $1600 and she could walk to downtown. Our last rental house was in 78704 with beautiful with original hardwood floors and a porch; rent was $1300. The only reason we moved was because our landlord decided to sell the house; this has happened to me twice now, so be aware of that possibility when you rent a house. We live in an apartment in 78704 now; it was a sublease that we found via craigslist; we're on a full lease now.

It took a couple of weeks of checking Padmapper/Craigslist a few times a day to find anything good.

Also, don't wait too long to submit an application for a rental; someone will swoop in and get it. A few years ago, I found an awesome house to rent, but I had to wait for my boyfriend to see it. When we got there that evening, ready to submit an application, a couple had beaten us by 10 minutes.
posted by hotelechozulu at 7:14 AM on December 21, 2012

I used an apartment hunter here in Austin a few year ago. Unlike some cities, I think the convention here is for the landlord to pay a commission to the hunter and no fees are charged to the renter. I don't know the details of this arrangement but I got the feeling that only some places agree to pay a hunter and those are the only places they will show you. So I ended up not being shown many good apartments that acquaintances later told me about. It's free, so you can give them a shot, but now that I know Austin better I would not use one myself.
posted by Durin's Bane at 1:51 PM on December 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the good advice! We ended up finding a 3 bed/1 bath house in South Austin/78704 at the upper end of our budget, but we're very happy with the place. It's about two miles from downtown (my boyfriend actually ended up taking a different job and his office will be downtown) and it's close to all the SoCo/SoLa/SoFi food trucks, shops, and bars.

To share my experience for anyone finding this thread in the future, I would highly recommend working with a real estate agent. Almost all of the nicer places were listed with agents and if you called the owners from a Craigslist ad they would usually refer you to their leasing agent anyway. So I would suggest hooking up with a leasing agent of your own. It's free for you as the tenant and I'd be happy to share the name of the person we worked with via MeMail.

I thought a real estate agent would take our preferences and help us wade through all the junk with their familiarity of the current listings. Not so. They seem to be basically glorified and licensed doormen. They'll set you up with access to the MLS database and once you've identified places you want to see, they'll use their access to the lockboxes to get you inside. With a leasing agent you could go see 7-10 places in one appointment, though, rather than having to schedule 7-10 individual appointments with landlords.

For a lot of reasons your search will be a lot easier if you have a very narrow area you're searching within. Even narrowing it down to north, east, or south will make things easier. As you can tell from my earlier comment, we had no real clue. We just stumbled on the South Austin house and now that we know a little more about the town we realize it's pretty much the perfect area for us.

One reason having a narrow area to look in is helpful is that you can drive around the neighborhood looking for FOR LEASE signs. While we were waiting to hear back about whether our application was approved, we did a lot of driving around South Austin looking for signs. We ended up finding 2 or 3 pretty neat places that weren't on Craigslist or the MLS.

Also, be prepared to move quickly when you see a place that you like. We planned to visit 10 places with our realtor on a Saturday morning. Over Friday night and Saturday morning 3 of those places went off the market. The expectation down there is that you'll not only pay a non-refundable application fee, but that you'll also put down an "application deposit" that will act as a security deposit if your application is accepted. Be aware, though, that once you put the application deposit down it's not refundable unless your rental application is denied. You can't back out unless they take more than a week to let you know that you've been approved.

So, to sum it up, I would recommend doing the following:
1) Connect with a real estate agent.
2) Search the MLS istings you can find on your own so you have a list of what you want your realtor to take you to see. has a very nice search system that is so much easier to use than what else is out there.
3) Continue to search Craigslist and Padmapper and contact landlords.
4) Drive around your target area and look for FOR RENT signs.
posted by lamechopz at 7:38 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

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