Buying a home for the first time can be a deeply personal, even emotional experience. Aside from being the biggest financial decision most people will ever make, it anchors one's life in a way that renting does not. And while dealing with yard maintenance or the occasional plumbing issue can be a drag, there is an indescribable feeling that comes from knowing that one owns a piece of Austin.
This year, our best neighborhoods for first-time homebuyers story looks a bit different because holy moly is Austin real estate in a tizzy. In interviews with real estate experts for this story, the words "crazy," "perfect storm," and "astronomical" were used to describe what's happening in the housing market. The bottom line is the past 12 months have been unprecedented, a trend likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
In January 2021, the median price inside the Austin city limits hit $475,000, up from $395,000 in January 2020. These best neighborhoods for first-time homebuyers represent areas where it is still feasible to get in around that $400,000-$500,000 threshold, a number we concede isn't "affordable" for everyone, but it's the reality of the Austin market right now.
"Six to seven years ago, a first-time homebuyer could buy [for] $150,000 to $250,000 and what we consider an entry price today at $400,000 to $500,000 would have been considered astronomical," says Mary Daniels, a Realtor with Jewel Realty Group and Keller Williams. "Every year, we have continued to move the needle on the baseline of a first-time homebuyer in Austin. This is why we are seeing more people move further outside of the city, such as Buda, Kyle, Manor, Taylor, Elgin, Bastrop."
Though one of those Central Texas towns "further outside the city" does make it onto this year's list, the majority of our 2021 picks are inside the city limits and blend Austin's coveted way of life with a good return on investment.
St. Elmo — South Austin
St. Elmo is technically a road the runs between South First Street and South Congress Avenue, but it's become a catchall term for this neighborhood south of 71/Ben White Boulevard and west of I-35. Homes in this area typically sell for between $400,000-$500,000, often far less than their neighbors located just a few blocks to the north. "Generally, first-time homebuyers can find success just south of Ben White," says Lesley Taylor, a Realtor with Towers Realty.
Though surrounded by major thoroughfares and industrial parks, St. Elmo offers sought-after amenities like breweries, access to South Congress, and the promise of the anticipated St. Elmo Public Market, which is turning it into one of the city's hottest 'hoods. "If I was looking for the Austin experience as a first-time homebuyer for less than $500,000, I would run to St. Elmo," says Daniels.
Wooten/Georgian Acres/Quail Creek — North Austin
Combined, these three neighborhoods are (very roughly) situated between Anderson Lane to the south, Kramer Lane to the north, I-35 to the east, with 183 and Rundberg cutting through at various intervals.
Though there are new builds in all three neighborhoods — tempting for new home owners looking for fewer projects — Taylor suggests keeping an eye out for the 1950s and '60s single-family homes original to the area, which can more often be found between $400,000 and $500,000.
"Yes, there are new builds popping up all over the city, as well as resales of homes that have already been renovated, but those price tags are already north — sometimes way north — of $500,000," Taylor says.
Rattan Creek/Milwood — North Austin
Running along the southwest-ish side of Parmer Lane, Rattan Creek and Milwood are close to the attractions of the Domain, but offer family-friendly amenities. "[Rattan Creek is] one of my favorite North Austin neighborhoods for young families: good schools, close to major employers, a few miles from the Domain, and the entire community is anchored by Rattan Creek Park, which offers swimming, tennis, and every outdoor activity imaginable," says Shay Millheiser, a Realtor and Global Real Estate Advisor for Kuper Sotheby's International Realty. "[It's] perfect for buyers who want a urban community with an emphasis on outdoor living."
Prices in both neighborhoods are currently hovering in the high $300,000s to $500,000 range, but with Apple's $1 billion campus underway nearby and North Austin's rapid growth, don't expect those to stay below half a million for much longer, Daniels warns. "With more California tech companies moving to Austin, the expansion of the Domain, and the new soccer stadium, these prices won't last for long."
East MLK/Springdale — East Austin
This neighborhood, bordered by East Martin Luther King, Jr. Street on the north, Springdale Road to the west, and 183 to the east, boasts bikeability to downtown, trendy east side bars and restaurants, and the Mueller development, while also offering an easy commute to the airport and Tesla's new Williamson County factory. It's already been discovered by developers, evident by the A/B units popping up between the single-story cottages original to the area, but first-time buyers can still find properties under $400,000.
East MLK/Springdale also offers flexibility in its zoning, something that can be difficult to find in the urban core. "Not only is this one of the most quickly appreciating ZIP codes in Austin," says Millheiser, "but there are minimal restrictions on the lots, which affords first-time homebuyers to get in and expand over time."
Manor — Far East Austin
Though some buyers may be put off by the change of address, Manor represents a sort of golden ticket in residential real estate: affordable now, but with a major return on investment on the horizon. "I'm very bullish on the growth of the Manor area, particularly since our light-rail system is planned to have a stop out there, and now is a great time for buyers to affordably enter," Millheiser says.
Homes in Manor typically hover around $200,000-$300,000, similar to Austin about a decade ago. The town also offers a range of options, including renovated midcentury ranches to new builds in master-planned communities like Whisper Valley, an environmentally forward neighborhood where the homes use integrated technology for energy efficiency while also offering a host of outdoor amenities.
Parten Ranch — Southwest Austin
For those looking for more bang for their buck, Parten Ranch is a master-planned community on Ranch Road 1826, just south of Nutty Brown Road, near Driftwood. Homes here are on large lots (65-, 75-, and 85-foot lots) and range in price from the $400s to the $700s, depending on the size.
It also feeds into the desirable Dripping Springs ISD while being close to restaurants, parks, and numerous wineries and breweries on burgeoning Fitzhugh Road. "It offers a lot to young families when it comes to country life with city amenities," says Millheiser. "This is the best place to get a million dollar home for a sub-million dollar price tag.