Luckily, Austin is a renter’s paradise with 55% of its inhabitants living by lease. As the city continues to boom, developers continue to build. New apartments are springing up - literally - because the City wants builders to reach into the cloudless Texan sky rather than sprawl across the earth. If you like living downtown, we hope you like heights. Whatever your housing choices, though, the local rental market will not disappoint. Looking for a turn-of-the-century cottage? A McMansion? A 1970s ranch house? A studio complete with an aging hippie who resists eviction? Austin will come through for you. Wherever you choose to lay down your guitar (or briefcase, or homemade shoes) here are a few questions you should ask:
How many mosquitos do you have? Austin’s mosquitos are so tough that they will suck your blood through your jeans and they won’t send a thank-you note afterwards. From spring till fall, these little monsters create misery for those unlucky enough to live near them. If you’re the kind of person who finds that a cloud of mosquitos in your nostrils ruins the taste of your real Texan ale, then make sure that your home has a screened-in porch or is nowhere near a creek.
Have you ever seen the rain? A good side of Austin is that it has many creeks and rivers. A bad side is that it's prone to flash-flooding. Like much of the hill country, Austin is home to violent rainstorms, and the ground-cover is so thin in parts that water could rush straight into your living room. Austin’s flood-plain records are out of date so be sure to find out whether the home of your dreams hasn’t been deluged in the past five years.
When did you last see a cockroach? We’re sure you’ll agree that there’s nothing more likely to ruin your morning shower than coming face-to-feeler with a cockroach. Yes, this is Texas where everything is bigger, roaches not excluded. They live in the trees and in the nooks and crannies of old houses, and are very difficult to get rid of. If you are moving into an older tree-filled neighborhood, negotiate a pest-control clause (claws?) into your contract.
A sneeze for all seasons? Austin is notorious for being the allergy center of America, and sadly, it is very hard to find a neighborhood that is protected from pollen. However, the four biggest sneeze criminals are cedar, oak, summer grasses and ragweed. If you’re an allergic type of guy, then make sure that your new apartment is not slap bang in the center of a ragweed field.
You paid how much for air conditioning? This being Texas, it can get hot in the summer. Blazingly, hellishly hot. Before you sign up to the charming apartment with the charming old air conditioning unit, find out how much you can expect to pay on climate control. Believe us. The cost of keeping cool in Austin is enough to put you in a cold sweat.
How quickly can you say pre-lease? If you’re a University of Texas student wanting to live near campus, then you need to pre-lease an apartment yesterday. Finding a pad close to campus is so competitive that many places open their lists in March and have a waiting list 15 heads deep by the fall. If you know where you want to live, be prepared to fight for it. Come early, come strong, come hook ‘em homes before the others do.
Austin is bisected by the Colorado River - a waterway that has seven man-made lakes ballooning out like a string of beads. The specific flavor of your Austin life will be determined by whether you are north or south of the river, and whether you have a view of the lakes. It won’t surprise you to hear that lakeside views command top dollar while homes sloping to the eastern edges are less demanding of your pennies.
The neighborhoods can be roughly delineated as follows:
West - this is where Austin residents live in their large homes on tree-filled lots. Neighborhoods like Westlake are set in the hills and have glorious winding roads that offer you glimpses of the lakes.
Northwest - neighborhoods like Lakeway, Arboretum and Northwest Hills are coveted for their large homes and big lots. The homes are newer builds and attract a more conservative, professional class of resident than some of the funkier neighborhoods in other parts of Austin. Downtown - Austin is investing in the development of the downtown area, so every day, construction noise hammers against the sky. High-rise condos and lofts are in high demand, and demand high rents, because they are at the epicenter of the live music capital of the world.
Central - a good rule of thumb is that the closer to downtown you are, the higher the rental rates. Central Austin includes large, expensive homes with landscaped yards, poky student dorms, 1950s cottages and turn-of-the-century family houses. Some of the highlights include Hyde Park, home to university faculty, students and young professionals; Tarrytown for the moneyed, sophisticated but quirky set; Clarksville for small, lovingly preserved homes built by Austin’s first settlers; West Campus, Riverside and North University for anyone in a Hook ‘Em Horns T-shirt; and Allandale and Rosedale for family bungalows built in the 1950s-70‘s.
South - neighborhoods south of the river are attracting artistic souls and gentrifying bohemians at such a pace that old-school Austinites are being priced out of the market. Apartments and single-family homes in SoCo command high rents because they are just south of the river; areas such as Bouldin Creek and Travis Heights boast funky houses at less-than-funky prices; while Barton Hills has 1960s ranch homes and is close to Zilker Park. South Austin immediately becomes more affordable when you leave the 78704 zipcode behind you.
Southwest - areas such as Bee Cave, Circle C, Rollingwood and Oak Hill are solidly conservative, middle income areas with 1970s subdivisions and the promise of the suburban life within spitting distance of downtown.
East - there is always an up-and-coming area in a city and for Austin, the East is it. Places like Cherrywood and French Place offer affordable old homes on tree-lined avenues; further south you’ll find condos, lofts, artists and enough community tension between old and new to keep things interesting.
Southeast - areas like East Riverside, Oltorf, Onion Creek and Willow Creek offer plenty of rental apartments at an affordable price. Not surprisingly, this is where you will find most of those UT students who’ve out-grown their campus dorms.
Outer suburbs - neighborhoods like Round Rock, Pflugerville, Cedar Park, Georgetown, Hutto and Leander are not strictly part of Austin but they cast such an influence on newbies that they are worth a mention. These outer suburbs are planned communities with new homes, plenty of outdoor parks and enough big-box retail stores to keep you busy on a Saturday. Your commute time into Austin may undo the good work you’ve done by saving on rent, so check the distances before going the distance.
The Atlantic recently voted Austin one of America’s most walkable cities. This fact makes many locals roar with mirth. While there is a decent public transport system offering buses, a light rail and a downtown trolley, Austin could not be accused of being the best place to travel by foot. The main reason is that continuous sidewalks, especially in residential neighborhoods, are rare and inconsistent treats. Also, during the summer months, it is often too hot to walk. As the locals say, why do Bikram yoga when you can just walk to the store and sweat for free? Given this, most people in Austin drive. The city is served by two parallel highways (the MoPac and the I-35) but driving these, or crossing the Colorado River at rush hour, is hell. Pure hell. The average commute time is 24 minutes but folks living in the outer suburbs, or growing old on the I-35 at sunset, will commute for longer. Austin is doing its best though. The city is working to improve cycling options, a new car-sharing service is booming and you can catch a pedicab (driven, one presumes, by out-of-work musicians) anywhere downtown. You can even zip around the downtown streets on segways, but we’re not sure that you should ever be that desperate to get to your destination.
As the locals like to say: “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could”. While you are packing for your move to Austin, don’t forget your swimsuit (doing back-flips into one of our spring-fed pools is a favorite activity), your dog (we love animals, sometimes a little more than we love you), and your tattoo (what? you don’t have any skin art? we’ll change that). Oh, and don’t worry. You don’t have to love Stevie Ray Vaughan to love it here. Austin has something for everyone. Even if you aren’t that weird.