Caldwell County — home to the lowest home prices in the Austin area — could be the region’s next frontier for first-time homebuyers, just as Hays and Williamson counties once were.
In 2019, the county saw construction start on 36 new homes, according to housing data provider Zonda. That number climbed to 58 in 2020, representing a rise of more than 60 percent versus the previous year. Especially noteworthy is that, unlike the region’s other counties, all of those new homes in Caldwell County have been priced at $201,000 to $299,000, Zonda says.
While Caldwell County isn’t experiencing a large-scale homebuilding boom, Vaike O’Grady, Austin regional director of Zonda, says she’s hearing about “substantial interest” in the county on the part of homebuilders.
For the time being, Caldwell County remains the cheapest place within the Austin-Round Rock metro area to buy a new or existing home.
In 2020, the median price of a home rose 7.1 percent compared with the previous year, landing at $212,500, according to the Austin Board of Realtors. By comparison, the median home price in Travis and Williamson counties exceeded $300,000 last year; inside the city of Austin, it surpassed $400,000.
Some folks appear to be getting the memo about the low home prices in Caldwell County. From 2019 to 2020, home sales jumped 15.7 percent, causing the home inventory to further shrink, the Austin Board of Realtors says.
With the population of Caldwell County projected to increase nearly 8 percent from 2020 to 2025, home prices likely will increase as well. During the same period, the average home value in Caldwell County is expected to surge from $202,466 to $226,163, a difference of 11.7 percent.
Aside from attractive home prices, Caldwell County stands to capitalize on the recent widening of State Highway 130, according to O’Grady. The toll road cuts through Lockhart, the biggest city in Caldwell County. SH 130 is “a blank slate for development,” a report from the Northern Caldwell County Coalition says, and has already seen a boon of Austin artists, creatives, and restaurateurs relocating to the quaint town.
Also, Caldwell County benefits from its proximity to fast-growing San Marcos, which is in Hays County. Lockhart (with a population of more than 13,600) and San Marcos are about 30 minutes apart by car. Furthermore, Lockhart sits roughly 30 miles from Austin and 70 miles from San Antonio.
It’s anticipated that all of those pluses will help push Caldwell County’s population from 46,270 in 2020 and 49,769 in 2025 to 103,815 by 2045. If that scenario comes true, the county’s population would skyrocket by almost 125 percent in 25 years.
The county says it’s “poised for major growth.”
“We’re growing like crazy. I have been telling people we’re going to explode in 10 years, and I’m finally right,” Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden said in 2019.
A new 75-acre industrial park in Lockhart, well known for its barbecue joints, is seen as helping drive that growth. The city is trying to attract businesses in sectors like auto parts manufacturing, food and beverage processing, e-commerce distribution, and pharmaceutical manufacturing.
“This industrial park is an important investment in Lockhart’s growth,” Mayor Lew White says. “The types of companies Lockhart will be able to accommodate with a large industrial park will have the ability to create jobs, increase and diversify the city’s property tax base, and provide us with more partners who will give back to our community.”