How best to find a place to live in Austin?
June 2, 2008 10:50 AM   Subscribe

MovingFilter: My girlfriend and I have a trip to Austin planned next week to find an apartment for our upcoming move there. Do you think it would be possible to find a place in the 4 days we'll be there, or is that a pipe dream?

The skinny: moving (hopefully) in mid-July to Austin, TX. I'll be a grad student at UT and she's looking for a graphic design job. We've been looking for a while for a good apartment, and it's proven almost impossible to find anything really useful over the internet. Most of the places that have websites are way too expensive for us, and if not then they're really far away from town.

So while we've been trying to do research, it hasn't proven too fruitful. Is it unreasonable, then, to try to just have a few places in mind and other than that sort of look around for "For Rent" signs? (keeping in mind that we have a relatively short time frame)

Obviously, this is our first major move. Any advice would be appreciated!
posted by malthas to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You could try using an apartment locator service. There's no cost to you (they get paid by the apartment complexes). You can give them your specific needs as far as space, cost, location, etc., and they'll track down everything that's available within your parameters. For a lot of people, it's a huge time-saver.
posted by amyms at 10:56 AM on June 2, 2008

Here's an apartment locator service in Austin.
posted by amyms at 10:57 AM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

We used a location service when moving to our current city. The agent was really nice, very helpful, and spent quite a bit of time getting to know what was important to us before matching us to specific neighborhoods. We ended up in a great spot, it didn't cost us a thing, and we couldn't be happier with the experience.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:07 AM on June 2, 2008

If you like renting from individuals, you can always look at craigslist or this awesome mashup site that lets you look at craigslist ads on a google map so you can focus on specific neighborhoods.
posted by lockle at 11:09 AM on June 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've had luck with locator services as well. Just make sure to lowball your price range, because they'll push it.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:18 AM on June 2, 2008

I helped someone move to Austin, TX (he was going to be a grad student there, too!). We went in the middle of August, so it'll probably be slightly different for you, but I can give some general information, I guess.

We saw a lot of places that didn't have any openings. This was a shock for us, because we're from a place where apartment complexes are just dying for tenants. Not so, in Austin. Make sure you have a good, long list of places you want to look at. Most of the places that didn't have any openings had some sister complexes they could send us to, but many of those were either also full or out of my friend's price range. The first three days were really depressing, painful, and hectic for us. But we ended up finding a place within four days (due note, though, that the place we found wasn't ready until the next week. My friend couldn't just move straight in). Since you're looking in June, it'll probably be easier for you... But, I would definitely do more research than it appears you have. If anything else, just get some information about the areas where there are apartment complexes you like -- usually, there are several complexes all within a neighborhood, so you won't have trouble finding more places to look at.

Also remember that Austin has a -very- nice public transportation system, especially to and from UT. My friend ended up in an apartment that was about 20 miles away from campus, but he had a bus stop right at the corner. It was a plush bus (the fancy kind with comfortable seats) that was free for students and took him right to campus. So... Keep that in mind.

The last note I can think of is that there are a lot of differences in neighborhoods in Austin. The first few complexes we looked at were in a really run-down neighborhood, and made my friend and I both feel completely depressed about what options were available. It gave us a really soured view of Austin in general. It took us a day and a half just to find an area that would be palatable to live in! (Sadly, I don't remember enough of the geography to give better advice about where you may want to look... But, hopefully, this helps.) Make sure you check out several different areas around Austin.

(As for apartment locators... My friend actually was going to use one, but there were weird complications that kept the locator from meeting with us. It was weird. But I'm sure that could help you out substantially.)
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:20 AM on June 2, 2008

Yeah, those buses exist, but they skip people a lot, get full a lot, etc. Not 100% reliable, and not knowns as "very nice" by most standards. 20 miles from campus? Where did they live, Pflugerville? Kyle? There are not UT shuttles that go that far, and that would be a long CapMetro ride.

I'm a native Austinite, and UT alum (graduated last year), and I would recommend a combo of Craigslist and an apartment finder. Some of the finders are really good, but remember that they get paid by the complex you end up living in. Some complexes pay better than others, so it's in their best interest to get you into one of the places that will pay them well.

For a grad student, I would really recommend North Campus. It's the area north of campus. It's basically the area between 27th and 38th street and Red River and Guadalupe St. It's a mix of undergrads and grad students and is pretty chill. You can get some good places out there. It is within biking distance and even walking distance if you give yourself enough time, and there are UT shuttles and city buses that take you to campus. I would probably not recommend living in West Campus, which is the area west of Guadalupe St if you're a grad student. A lot of parties, really loud, lots of frats, no parking, etc.

If you want to live farther out, Far West has nice apartments for a more affordable price than areas near campus. It can be a long shuttle ride to campus during traffic, or rain (up to 45 mins), and sometimes the shuttles fill up fast, and there's less of a neighborhood feel. There are less fun things within walking or bike distance to do.

If you have any more questions, feel free to send me a message.
posted by fructose at 11:39 AM on June 2, 2008

Oh, and there's also the East Side, which is becoming more heavily student-filled recently and has more houses and duplexes for rent. The area north of North Campus is also good and you can ask an apt finder about Crestview or Allandale and they'll know what you mean.
posted by fructose at 11:41 AM on June 2, 2008

Ugh, another comment, sorry. The East Side is the area east from campus on the other side of I-35. Just thought I'd clarify.
posted by fructose at 11:41 AM on June 2, 2008

I just moved to Austin and took a two-day weekend to find a place, which I did. It depends a lot on where you're looking and what you want. My new place is north of campus and fairly convenient. It's a real apartment building, but nice enough and dirt cheap. I'll buy my own place as soon as I know the areas a little better - I figured that I could stand a year (at most) anywhere. But my neighbors are cool and I actually don't mind where I'm living at all. I've got a one bedroom for $600.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:59 AM on June 2, 2008

What do you consider to be "really far away from town?" Will you have a car? You can definitely find a place in two days (we did), but it will be significantly harder if you limit yourself to a small geographic area.
posted by mattbucher at 12:09 PM on June 2, 2008

If you have four days to look, I'd do a combo: set up a meeting with an apartment locator for when you get here (you can get their names from Craigslist postings or from ads in The Austin Chronicle). The locator will show you apartments in big complexes, that are guaranteed to have vacancies (they should call ahead of time to be sure there is an apartment available) and that will pay the locator a commission. After you get a feel for what might be available, you can also just drive around North Campus, Hyde Park (38th St to 45th St, from Guadalupe to Duval) and look for For Rent signs. You definitely want to find something near a UT shuttle line.
posted by donajo at 12:21 PM on June 2, 2008

I have had several success stories through craigslist, especially in the form of its smart RSS feed: you can have your RSS reader pick up only on apartments in a supplied price range.

That said, finding a good apartment in four days is a challenge. It took a month or two of active searching before I found a cheap apartment close to downtown run by human beings. You may want to make friends with
posted by spamguy at 12:22 PM on June 2, 2008

You could get very lucky (my wife did, when she moved to Austin something-something years ago). Or you could have very relaxed standards. It'll take one or the other to find a place you like in four days—the last time I was looking for a place to rent, I spent several hours a day searching for about a month before I found a place I wanted. Admittedly, that was a long time ago.

I would suggest trying to find a place that will do a month-to-month lease, so you can suss out where you really want to live once you're on the ground here.
posted by adamrice at 12:26 PM on June 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses so far.

Before this thread I had sort of been on the fence about using a locator service, but because of all of the positive comments about them, I applied online for the locator service amyms mentioned at the top of the thread. Someone got back to me less than 15 minutes later. I've now got an appointment set, which is awesome.

That doesn't mean I'm going to stop looking on Craigslist, though, with lockle's awesome mashup site. Sweet!

I have an idea of the area I want to live in, too. When I was recruited by UT, they flew me down and I spent the weekend asking people where were good places to live (and then driving around those places). I really liked the area north of campus and SoCo (which seems to generally be out of my price range).

mattbucher: What do you consider to be "really far away from town?" Will you have a car?

Yeah, we're planning on renting a car. But I consider "really far away from town" any of the places way up to the North or way down South, where the city starts to change to suburban subdivisions and cul-de-sacs. Having lived in the suburban hell that is Northern Virginia for most of my life, I'd much rather live in the city.

Thanks again! Keep 'em coming.
posted by malthas at 12:28 PM on June 2, 2008

Yeah, those buses exist, but they skip people a lot, get full a lot, etc. Not 100% reliable, and not knowns as "very nice" by most standards. (...) There are not UT shuttles that go that far, and that would be a long CapMetro ride

All Cap Metro buses are free for UT students. The express buses make extremely limited stops (so they are fairly quick), and are super cushy. Some of them even have free WiFi. I think they would be considered "very nice" by most standards.

I don't ride the express buses, but I ride the regular bus daily and I have never been skipped, or seen anyone skipped. I've missed the bus because I cut it close a few times, and I've had to stand a few times. The regular buses are not luxurious or anything (no WiFi, heh), they are just regular city buses, but they are nicer, newer, and better maintained than the city buses in Boston or New York.

I'm not saying you should get a place in Leander or anything, I agree with the suggestions (North Campus, etc) above. Closer in is nearly certainly better. But don't let rumours of a miserable bus system scare you off. They are largely unfounded or outdated.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:38 PM on June 2, 2008

Far West as a neighbourhood is definitely cool (speaking as an Anderson HS grad) but friends tell me the student apartments aren't so hot. YMMV naturally, but nice student-geared apartments allowed to decay is often standard fare. That's why I recommend any student (or, like me, any person living in student-type apartments) make sure the management are good people and not ghetto owners in disguise.

And for gosh sakes, stay away from the complexes on Lake Austin Blvd.!
posted by spamguy at 1:09 PM on June 2, 2008

I really liked the area north of campus and SoCo (which seems to generally be out of my price range).

North of campus is where it's at for grad students.

I'm not sure what the area between 31st Street and 35th is called ... I usually referred to it as "North Campus." There are some nice properties there; it is a quiet neighborhood, and a lot of families and grad students live there. (The one place we lived in North Campus was managed by Lakequest Enterprises, and it was awful. Stay away from any property managed by Lakequest.)

The area between 35th street and 45th streets is Hyde Park, which is my favorite neighborhood in Austin. I lived for a couple of years in a guest house on Duval and it was great. There are a number of good apartment complexes there; it's very quiet; and it has (at 42nd and Duval) a little cluster of locally owned restaurants (I liked Hyde Park Grill and Mother's), a bakery/coffee shop (Quack's), and a coffee bar/gelato place (Dolce Vita), all of which are quite nice to be able to walk to.

I wouldn't advise living in West Campus. It's too loud, too many parties, and it's generally overrun with obnoxious undergrads.

I definitely wouldn't live in the South Congress area if I were in grad school, as much as I like the area. In my opinion it's too far from campus to be convenient. Plus, it seems to be becoming too "hot" of an area --- maybe not as quiet as it used to be.
posted by jayder at 2:39 PM on June 2, 2008

I live in South Austin (more Lamar than Congress) and it's lovely, but not all that convenient to campus. Can't speak to the bus routes though, as I've always had a car.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:46 PM on June 2, 2008

To address the crowded buses issue -- I'm a grad student at UT and took the bus regularly from 2004-2007. I have been on buses that have simply passed by students waiting at stops for the simple reason that the buses were already packed beyond comfort. However, this has ONLY happened in the early morning.

On the Far West Shuttle Route, this was when you tried to catch a bus around 7:30am and at the last stop before the bus got on MoPac. There are a large number of apartment complexes packed into that small area and the buses would fill up at the first few stops and there wouldn't be enough space by the time it got to the last stop.

Similarly, I have been on the CapMetro 1M/1L heading south around the same time of day -- it usually filled up around 51st street and just got worse as you got closer to campus. The drivers do their best to cram as many people as they can in there, but there is a limit.

Note: passing over passengers was more of an exception than the rule, in my experience. It can make for an incredibly uncomfortable ride, though, to have people crammed up against you during rush hour. The best way to avoid the problem is to (a) take classes that don't start at 8 and/or (b) use some other form of transportation.
posted by puritycontrol at 3:48 PM on June 2, 2008

This might be obvious, but you might consider finding a place to sublease from mid-July till August or so--there are always a metric crapton of summer sublets in the North Campus area as students move home for the summer. You could then search for a more permanent spot at your leisure.

I got lucky with my current place & found it on Craigslist, but most of the really sweet deals around here come through word of mouth. If I was in your shoes I'd try to find a spot for a few months and use that time to find the perfect hookup.
posted by kelseyq at 4:09 PM on June 2, 2008

I don't think Hyde Park stops at 45th street, I think extends to at least 51st street. I live right at 46th street, on the same block as the Walgreens (and across the street is a quickie mart with an excellent booze selection, including an extensive collection of wine). I live directly on the UT bus line (but I am not a student so I can't speak to how full or convenient they are).

There are some nice complexes in this area, but some of them have very tiny / overpriced apartments. I am very pleased with what I have now, about 600+ sf one-bedroom for $585/mo, ground floor with excellent parking (10-20 ft from my door) and a nice pool. There are 2br apartments in the same complex. The management company is sane and responsive.

For what it's worth, at the cluster of restaurants etc at 43rd and Duval there is also a small grocery store. For something larger, Central Market is at around... 40th(?) and Lamar, which has lots of gourmet / earthy-crunchy food if that is something you are into. If you are really into the earthy-crunchy scene, Wheatsville Co-Op is at around 32nd and Guadalupe.

Good luck, I hope you find something you really like!
posted by marble at 5:07 PM on June 2, 2008

There are also a lot of great carriage-house/garage apartments in the neighborhood just north of campus, from the Duval/San Jacinto intersection all the way up through Hyde Park. When I was in grad school at UT, I lived right around 30th and Duval, in an awesome little one-bedroom cottage behind a much bigger house. While you're in town, make sure you drive through the area with a sharp eye and a cell phone--I think a lot of those places just get rented with a sign in the yard. Good luck!
posted by paleography at 8:00 PM on June 2, 2008

Habitat Hunters specializes in leasing cool garage apartments in the north campus area. Several years ago I had car trouble the day that I was supposed to look for apartments with them. The owner of the company drove me to the properties that I wanted to see. They went above and beyond in many ways throughout the process. It was probably the best customer service experience that I have ever had.
posted by colt45 at 9:32 AM on June 3, 2008

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