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As Austin's home prices soar, here's where you can still buy for less in the city

Like many house hunters in Austin, tattoo artist Justin Brooks, 36, who works at Resurrection Tattoo in East Austin, is finding it challenging to get a home that fits his budget in a market where prices are rising rapidly.
Shonda Novak Lori Hawkins
Austin American-Statesman

When Justin Brooks started looking for a home to purchase in Austin, a handful of houses would pop up within reach of his budget, which was about $250,000 to $300,000.

Just six months later, Brooks said, he's finding that comparable homes in the areas he's looking are mostly priced at the upper end of that range — while homes listed below that amount "are fast disappearing."

"Everyone is buying. It's been nuts," said Brooks, 36, who works at Resurrection Tattoo in East Austin. "I don't like to overpay for things, and especially not for the largest purchase of my life. I don't want to be house poor. I know what I can afford. I can't get into a bidding match."

More:How hot is Austin's housing market? Homes regularly selling for $100K or more above asking

Brooks' experience is not uncommon. With housing demand still far outpacing supply and construction costs at elevated levels, home prices have skyrocketed in Central Texas, housing industry experts say.

In May, the median sales price within Austin's city limits — meaning half the houses sold for more than that amount and half sold for less — was $566,500, according to the Austin Board of Realtors. That's a jump of $105,000 just since December.

Those kinds of prices have left many would-be buyers dismayed and wondering if they have been completely priced out of the Austin market.

"I think it’s safe to say that the new entry-level home in the city of Austin is at least $300,000. It’s getting harder and harder to offer anything below that," said Vaike O'Grady, regional director in Austin for Zonda, a company that tracks the housing market locally and nationally.

While "affordability" is a subjective term and varies from buyer to buyer, local real estate experts say that if buyers are willing to adjust their expectations, there are still neighborhoods within Austin's city limits where you can find homes well below the median sales price and more in that range of what a typical homebuyer can afford. 

More:As Austin's home prices soar, housing experts don't fear bubble

There are a number of areas where houses and condos are priced in the $300,000s and $400,000s, local real estate agents say.

"There is hope — you can still find a house within the Austin city limits for far below the median price," said Gay Puckett, a broker associate with JB Goodwin Realtors.

From interviews with Austin real estate agents, here are some of the neighborhoods and developments that fit that criterion:

  • Wells Branch and Milwood, both in North Austin.
  • Emerald Forest and Searight Village, both in South Austin.
  • Prado in East Austin.
  • Edgewick in Southeast Austin.
  • Pioneer Hill and Pioneer Crossing East, both in Northeast Austin.

These neighborhoods and condominium communities all have homes listed for sale below the city's median price. They are scattered across different areas of the city and probably would appeal to different demographic groups, from single professionals to young families to empty nesters and retirees. Some are in established neighborhoods and might need upgrades, while others are recently completed projects touting the latest finishes.

Here's a more in-depth look at those neighborhoods:

'Amazing little pocket'

For the past two decades, Harry Deitz has sold houses all over Austin. As he watches prospective buyers struggle to stay within their budget, he points to Wells Branch.

Just west of Interstate 35 at Wells Branch Parkway, the subdivision was developed in the 1980s.

A for sale sign sits in the yard of a house on Ploverville Lane in North Austin's Wells Branch neighborhood. With a median list price of $383,000, real estate agents say that homes in Wells Branch potentially are within reach of buyers looking for a house priced below Austin's median, which was $566,500 in May.

"It was an outlying neighborhood just a handful of years ago," said Deitz, of Fathom Realty. "Today, it's an amazing little pocket that's really right near everything. You're close to the Domain, Q2 (Stadium) and many major employers such as Apple."

The median list price in Wells Branch is $383,000.

"Those were $85,000 houses in the ’80s," Deitz said. "It's a little discouraging the kind of money you now have to spend today to get a house there. But this shows you don't have to go to Circle C or an Avery Ranch (popular subdivisions in Southwest and Northwest Austin, respectively) to get an incredible community. You can get it at Wells Branch for an awful lot less money."

Andreea Nica bought her house in Wells Branch in December 2019, for just under $300,000. She estimates if she sold her house in the current market, less than two years after buying, it could go for $400,000 to $450,000.

"There have been houses going for nearly $500,000 now, or the high $400,000s," Nica said.

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Alan Vela, middle right, takes a shot toward goalie Braeden Ripple while playing soccer with other members of the World Mission Society of God on one of the grass fields at Katherine Fleischer Park in Austin's Wells Branch neighborhood. Wells Branch is among the areas where real estate agents say buyers can find a house for below Austin's median sales price.

Nica, a sociologist in her mid-30s, moved to Austin from Portland, Ore., and now lives in Wells Branch with her family.

She said she was attracted to Austin for several reasons, including its "vibrant social and cultural scene." She was drawn to Wells Branch for its social and demographic diversity, she said, as well as its greenbelt, its trails, Mills Pond, community events and Katherine Fleischer Park. The large park has amenities including a pool, a shaded playground, a soccer field, a gazebo and a community center, along with a sand volleyball court, tennis and basketball courts, and a multiuse baseball field.

Homes and yards in the neighborhood are well maintained, Nica said, and "I feel safe here." She also likes its accessibility to such major roads as Texas 45, MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and Interstate 35.

"Even to downtown, it takes me 20 minutes if it's not rush hour," Nica said.

Another plus, she said: "Wells Branch is close to the Arboretum, which I visit and enjoy as well. There are a lot of specialty shops and restaurants that host a beautiful view of Austin."

Jay Shaffer pushes his son Mack on a swing at Katherine Fleischer Park in the Wells Branch area of Austin last month. Wells Branch is an area some real estate agents say is still within reach of first-time homebuyers.

Regarding the neighborhood overall, "It's a little more modern — not so cookie cutter" as some other suburban Austin neighborhoods, she said. "Everyone's really friendly."

Wells Branch at a glance:

  • Location: West of Interstate 35 at Wells Branch Parkway.
  • Description: Developed in the early 1980s with one- and two-story, single-family homes on landscaped lots.
  • Appeal: Close to everything you need. Easy access I-35 and MoPac, close to major employers — Apple, Dell and others. Minutes to the Domain, retail, shopping, nightlife and medical services, including St. David's North Austin Medical Center.  Neighborhood includes a public library, a pool, a community center and walking trails.
  • Median price (year-to-date): $383,000 list price.
  • Comment: "Wells Branch has come into its own, just northeast of the Domain, major employers and the new Q2 Stadium. This neighborhood has lots to offer, miles of hike-and-bike trails, swimming pool and a public library. Easy access to major employers." —Harry Deitz, Fathom Realty

'Gem on the east side'

Danielle Hritsko, a real estate agent with Moreland Properties in Austin, moved into the Prado subdivision in East Austin three years ago with her partner, Evan Sonderman, and their dog, a Brussels griffon named Sprout.  

Danielle Hritsko, right, and her partner, Evan Sonderman, walk their dog Sprout in the Prado neighborhood in East Austin. Because of rapidly inflating home values, their home has more than doubled in value in the three years since they bought it.

With a dog park, pool and tree-shaded playscape area, the new-home community is just north of the Colorado River off Texas 71, about a mile from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Hritsko and Sonderman bought their home — a two-story with 1,500 square feet, three bedrooms and 2½ bathrooms — in 2018 for $230,000. Now their floor plan is selling for around $450,000, Hritsko said.

“Prado is a gem on the east side of Austin," Hritsko said. "We are so close to downtown that you can see the skyline from the entrance to our neighborhood. We are 10 miles from downtown, and with the U.S. 183 toll road open, we can get anywhere in the city in 25 minutes or less.”

The Prado neighborhood in East Austin is among the areas where buyers can find homes for less than the city's median home price.

Prado at a glance:

  • Location: East of U.S. 183, off of Texas 71, one exit after Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
  • Description: New development by Taylor Morrison homes, launched in 2017. Contemporary style with open floor plans.
  • Appeal: Close to the airport and the new Tesla factory under construction. Accessible to U.S. 183 and Texas 71; 15 minutes to downtown. Access to the Colorado River, less than a mile away. 
  • Price: lower $400,000s to upper $400,000s, depending on size.
  • Comment: “Tesla building its Gigafactory was the best thing that ever happened to our neighborhood. Now, we just need the (future) H-E-B grocery store (planned for the southeast corner of FM 973 and Texas 71) to break ground, and we are good as gold." — Danielle Hritsko, Moreland Properties

'Lock and leave lifestyle'

If the price of a single-family home is out of the question, Puckett and other agents suggest buyers consider a condominium.

It's a way to build equity, they say, which could allow buyers to trade up several years down the road. 

"Not everybody needs a house with a big yard," Puckett said. "The best place to start for a lot of people is to buy a condo — there are many newer developments that feel like single-family homes."

Searight Village, on West Slaughter Lane between Menchaca Road and South First Street, fits that description.

The project, which broke ground in 2014, features separated condos with open floor plans and small fenced backyards in the upper $300,000 to $440,000 range. 

The location — close to South Park Meadows, the burgeoning South Menchaca entertainment district and Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park's 300 acres of hike-and-bike trails — is appealing to young professionals as well as families and empty nesters, said Sal Silva with Realty Austin.

Searight Village in South Austin features condos that are selling below Austin's median price. This 1,285-square-foot home recently went on the market for $395,000.

The average price at the beginning of the year was $375,000 and is now $448,071. Homeowner association fees are $125 a month and include front and back yard maintenance, exterior water, trash and recycling.

"We sell it as a 'lock and leave' lifestyle," Silva said. "For a lot of tech people who travel or work a lot, that's a really huge thing, not to have to worry about a yard. And they're still a tad bit cheaper than single-family homes because they're on smaller lots."

Searight Village at a glance:

  • Location: West Slaughter Lane between Menchaca Road and South First Street.
  • Description: Detached condo homes with private yards.
  • Appeal: Located minutes from South Park Meadows, the South Menchaca entertainment district, the new Slaughter/I-35 H-E-B, and many new South Austin restaurants. Also near South Austin’s Mary Moore Searight Metropolitan Park with more than 300 acres of hike-and-bike trails, a disc golf course, a playground and sports courts. 
  • Median price (year-to-date): Within Searight Village, the average price was $375,000 at the beginning of the year and is now $448,071.
  • Comment: "I've sold homes in this community and surrounding area for five-plus years. A lot of my clients who've purchased and sold here are in tech and enjoy the 'lock and leave' lifestyle." — Sal Silva, Realty Austin

More options 

Local real estate experts pointed to four other areas in Austin where buyers can still purchase a home for below the city's median sales price. These neighborhoods and condo projects, in various locations around town, each have their own appeal. 

Milwood, for instance, is an older neighborhood, with homes mainly built in the 1970s and 1980s. Many have been remodeled with upgrades including new paint, flooring and kitchen features. A 1,335-square-foot house — built in 1984 in Milwood and updated with a light wood vinyl plank flooring, a mosaic tile fireplace and fresh paint — recently went on the market for $425,000. It received multiple offers and was under contract in three days.

For those preferring to live close to Central Austin, a newer project, Edgewick, offers detached condos with contemporary designs, with a garage for every unit. Edgewick is in Southeast Austin not far from downtown, I-35 and South Congress Avenue, with its shops and restaurants, music venues and other draws. 

The gated community has a pool and barbecue area. Exterior home maintenance and yard upkeep is handled by the homeowners' association, so the project might appeal to those preferring a maintenance-free lifestyle. 

A 1,220-square-foot unit built in 2015 and recently on the market at Edgewick was listed for $369,999.

Here's a more detailed look at Milwood, Edgewick, and the Pioneer Hill and Emerald Forest neighborhoods:

Milwood at a glance

  • Location:  West of MoPac Boulevard, north of Duval Road, east of U.S. 183 North, south of Parmer Lane.
  • Description: 1970s and 1980s starter homes averaging 1,600 square feet, many fully remodeled and updated.
  • Appeal: Close to the Domain, Q2 Stadium, shops, TopGolf, the Apple campus and other major employers.
  • Median (year-to-date): $469,646 list price. Current listings start at $299,000, with a number of offerings in the mid-$300,000 to $400,000 range.
  • Comment: "Great schools tracking through Anderson High School or Westwood High School, and easy access in all directions to both downtown Austin, or up to Round Rock via Loop 1 toll and 45 make this an ideal affordable option in Central/North Austin." — Gay Puckett, JB Goodwin Realtors
This condominium in Searight Village, on West Slaughter Lane between Menchaca Road and South First Street, recently went on the market for $400,000.

Emerald Forest at a glance

  • Location: Off South First Street, just north of Stassney Lane.
  • Description: Emerald Forest homes for sale are typically classic one-story ranch-style homes built in the 1970s. Homes range from 1,000 square feet to 1,800 square feet with generous lot sizes. 
  • Appeal: This is a well-established community in the 78745 ZIP code that offers proximity to the Williamson Creek greenbelt and Garrison Park, as well as trendy restaurants and shops along South First and South Lamar Boulevard.  
  • Median list price (year-to-date): $439,500.
  • Comment: "78745 is the hot ZIP code right now, and you can still find a house in Emerald Forest in the $400,000s. Many houses have been remodeled, but you can find one at a lower price and do your own small updates like some paint and new garage doors as you build equity." — Nick Liedtke, eXp Realty

Edgewick condominiums at a glance

  • Location: East of I-35, near Parker Lane, in the 78741 ZIP code. 
  • Description: Contemporary free-standing condos in a gated community.
  • Appeal: Near Oracle's new campus in Southeast Austin; close to downtown.
  • Median price: $420,000.
  • Comment: "I love the modern feel of these (newly built) condos. — Gay Puckett, JB Goodwin Realtors

Pioneer Hill at a glance

  • Location: Dessau Road, east of I-35 and south of Braker Lane.
  • Description: A close-in, newer D.R. Horton community of more moderately priced homes.
  • Appeal: Newer homes and still under construction homes, close to the Domain and near Samsung, at more moderate price points.  Access to major employers, shopping, dining and entertainment options.
  • Median list price: $452,000.
  • Comment: "The community pool complex is a nice added feature. Being close in can be appealing to many who work in Central and downtown Austin." — Gay Puckett, JB Goodwin Realtors