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Designing & Building A Home in Austin: Location, Location, Location

Illustration by Lindsay Mound


While there may be disagreement on whether investing more in the kitchen or the bathroom will result in a higher rate of return, there is no disputing that picking the right location for your home can have the greatest impact on your investment and your quality of life.

After spending most of my adult life away, my return to Texas had me feeling a mixture of anticipation and angst. When I moved here many years ago to attend university, the most important factors in my decision of where to live were cost, proximity to student life, and easy access to campus. When I returned to Austin as an adult, I found a city in transition, which was fitting, as my list of priorities for a home had also transformed since my days here as a student. The first step I took in making this decision, began the same way I make most important decisions, with a list. As we all know, life rarely if ever gives you everything you want, but I find writing down lists always gets me at least what I need. I started with my must haves, which of course included everything under the sun. Once I got that out of my system and returned to reality, I whittled my list down to my truly must haves: After living all of my adult life in large metropolitan cities, I craved nature, so a little outdoor space with access to good light at least part of the day, was a must. While living in Austin without a car is damn near impossible, I wanted to live in a neighborhood within walking or biking distance to restaurants, bars, shopping, public space, and proximity to some form of public transportation. My final item will make any native Austinite laugh, but I wanted to live in an affordable neighborhood in central Austin! Next I listed things that would be nice to have, but that I could live without: Lots of trees, interesting and friendly (not overly friendly) neighbors, easy access to the airport, and an easy commute to work.

With my list of priorities in hand, I moved on to research. I wanted to find out the property values in different Austin neighborhoods so I could determine where I could realistically afford to live. Deciding where to find information on areas in Austin can seem a little daunting, luckily there are several good sources, many of them free. The first and most obvious place to start is a real estate agent, I mean these are professionals who’s job is to sell homes, right. The best ones come referred, so ask your friends and family for recommendations.

While popular sites, like zillow and redfin are good sources for learning what’s out there, ultimately the realtors’ MLS website maintains the most quality and accurate listings. A good realtor will either set you up with access, or send you daily listings based on your criteria. Last, but not least, talk to locals. No one knows the city better than it’s residents and we found that Austinites are more than happy to give you the good, bad, and ugly on this ever changing real estate market. Finally, two often overlooked sources for statistics and data like demographics, schools, and property tax rates, are the city of Austin website and the Austin chamber of commerce website.

Once I completed this research, I had my top 5 list of hoods I wanted to live in. Next I had to decide between buying a newly constructed walk in ready home, renovating, or buying a tear down and building my own. Having never built anything, initially I looked for the walk in ready. After a quick look at what was available, it didn’t take long to figure out that nothing quite met my design wish list, so I decided to look for renovations or tear downs. Going this route required I start researching the cost of construction, which quite honestly, kind of scared me (this story will be told in a future post in this series.)

Then like a hungry momma cheetah on the hunt for a kill to feed her cubs, I actively watched and waited. I relentlessly stalked every real estate source I had, checking them daily. I also received email listings from real estate sites that I had set up informing me of every new listing that met my pre-set criteria. Then of course, I spent many weekends with my real estate agent viewing property, after property, after property. After two years of searching through what seemed like hundreds of listings, visiting dozens of properties, and losing multiple bidding wars, I found it. I was actually out of the country for work productively using my jet lag to what else, search property listings on line. Nearing my whits end with this entire ordeal, I was just about to call it quits for the day, or night, I can’t recall which it was, when I found a small old house built some time around 1947. I couldn’t tell from the photos if it was liveable, or a tear down,  but what I could see in the listing, was what mattered most to me, the asking price was in my budget, and the zip code was at the top of my neighborhood list. After too many losses, I wasn’t going to miss out on this one. I emailed my offer right then and there.

You will read these words often in my posts in this series, be patient and thorough, and don’t give up your must haves, because after all this is your home, and for most of us, this is the most important and largest investment we will ever make.

On the next post in this series I’ll give you my thoughts on when and how to select an architect.

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