Where can you still afford the ‘American dream’ in Austin?


New cottage-style homes priced from the low $200,000s to the $280,000s in Northeast Austin.

Just-finished contemporary duplexes starting at $247,990, just 8 miles southeast of downtown Austin.

Older homes with brick or stone facades priced below $300,000 in an established Northwest Austin neighborhood and near major tech employers, including Apple Inc.

Prospective buyers on the hunt for a starter home might find it hard to believe those prices are real, given the significant surge in Austin-area home prices the past few years — a trend that shows no sign of stopping.

But, believe it or not, you can find a single-family home, duplex or condominium at or near the $300,000 mark — which local real estate agents say falls within the entry-level range by Austin standards — without heading to suburbs like Buda, Round Rock or Cedar Park.

PHOTOS: Neighborhoods where the ‘American Dream’ is still somewhat affordable in Austin

“The 300,000 price point gives an opportunity for many individuals to purchase their first home,” said Glen Ross, owner of Glen Ross Realty in Austin. “When the price dips into the $200,000 to $250,000 price range, many investors swoop in and pay cash, leaving the first-time homebuyer shut out.”

In the Austin-Round Rock metro area — which stretches from Georgetown to San Marcos — half the homes that sold from January through April went for $300,559 and half sold for less, for a 2 percent increase in the median sales price over the same period last year, according to the Austin Board of Realtors. Within Austin’s city limits, the median home sales price was even higher at $372,000, the board said.

A number of variables factor into what income a borrower would need to afford a $300,000 home, including credit scores, debt-to-income ratios and the down payment the buyer plans to make.

With a 5 percent down payment, an individual or couple would need to make upwards of $67,000 a year to qualify on a conventional loan, said Joe Thweatt, branch manager and senior mortgage adviser with Axia Home Loans in Austin.

To purchase a $300,000 home with a 3.5 percent down payment, the annual income to qualify for a FHA loan would be about $65,000-plus, Thweatt said.

As of April 2017, the median family income in Travis County for one person was $57,000 and $65,100 for a two-person household.

With the Austin metro area’s median single-family house price of about $300,000, about 70 percent of households cannot afford the median single-family home price, said real estate developer Terry Mitchell, co-developer of the Goodnight Ranch, a mixed-use project that includes moderately priced housing in Southeast Austin. And that 70 percent figure is only climbing, he said.

Nationwide, with a median single-family home price of about $245,000, about 62 percent of the nation’s households cannot afford the median single-family home price, Mitchell said.

“Apartments and condos, by virtue of them typically being smaller and denser, will become the more affordable solution for the majority of the population,” Mitchell said in a Facebook post. “It’s just math.”

Eldon Rude, a longtime Austin-area housing market expert, said the benchmark for what is considered entry-level housing continues to increase sharply, due to the “huge disparity in supply and demand for housing in Austin created by years of strong job and population growth.”

“While as recently as 2013 over 55 percent of all home sales in the Austin region were priced below $200,000, last year only 14 percent of all sales were in this price segment,” said Rude, principal of 360 Real Estate Analytics, a local real estate consulting firm.

Gay Puckett, a broker associate in Austin with JB Goodwin Realtors, sees the affordability issue first-hand.

“The question many people are asking is: ‘Can I afford to get out of renting and buy in Austin?’” Puckett said. “It might be a couple with two jobs and have paid off a college loan or a car. Rather than paying $1,500 a month in rent, they could pay $1,700 and buy. They want their little piece of the American dream.”

And while Austin’s market conditions have made that dream more difficult to obtain, it’s not impossible, Puckett and other local real estate experts say.

You just have to know where to look.

‘Pockets that are affordable’

Multiple interviews and conversations with local real estate experts have turned up a handful of Austin neighborhoods where you can find houses priced from about the mid-$200,000s into the lower $300,000s.

These include:

• Milwood, which is between Anderson Mill Road, Amherst Drive, West Parmer Lane and U.S. 183.

• Goodnight Ranch, which is off East Slaughter Lane, south of Onion Creek Metropolitan Park.

• Easton Park, which is at William Cannon Drive and McKinney Falls Parkway.

• Pioneer Hill, which is off Dessau Road east of Interstate 35 and north of Rundberg Lane.

• Searight Village, which is on West Slaughter Lane, between Manchaca Road and South First Street.

• Brentwood Villas, which is off West Slaughter Lane, between South First Street and Manchaca Road.

• Vista Point, which is off William Cannon Drive, between Pleasant Valley Road and McKinney Falls Parkway.

• Anderson Mill, roughly between RM 620, Anderson Mill Road and U.S. 183.

“There are still pockets that are affordable,” Puckett said. “You won’t be in the core, and you won’t get everything you want. But you’re not looking for your forever home. You’re looking for a home that makes sense financially and you can build up equity.”

Puckett points to Pioneer Hill, a new housing project in Northeast Austin where starter home prices begin at $244,000. In Southeast Austin, similarly priced homes can be found in a number of expansive new subdivisions, she said.

People buying a home for about $300,000 in an older neighborhood might need to be prepared to use some elbow grease, local agents say.

“Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place beautiful,” Ross said. “Don’t be afraid of a little sweat equity. It’s your house — make it a home.”

Newer options, farther out

In contrast, the new homes in subdivisions springing up farther out from the central city offer move-in ready houses. Some — like the duplexes AVI Homes is building in the Goodnight Ranch subdivision — come with standard features that include granite counters, ceramic tile backsplash, stainless steel appliances, 9-foot ceilings and custom cabinets with crown molding.

Benchmark Development, along with members of the Goodnight family, are developing the master-planned Goodnight Ranch off Slaughter Lane east of Interstate 35 in Southeast Austin.

Over the next decade, the mixed-use development will transform 700 acres in Southeast Austin into a walkable, tree-lined neighborhood with more than 3,500 single-family homes, condominiums, townhouses and duplexes.

Home prices in Goodnight Ranch currently range from the $230,000s to the $320,000s, with the median sold price year-to-date at $285,000.

“We’ve seen huge demand for homes in our neighborhood since our grand opening last spring,” said Myra Goepp, vice president of Benchmark Development. “One of the things we’ve prioritized is housing variety, which provides a range of different buyers with options that work for their particular lifestyle or price point — from first time homebuyers, to young families, to empty nesters.”

Mitch Platt is one of about 100 residents who currently call Goodnight Ranch home. He bought his house a month ago, getting in for under $300,000 as one of the homebuilders closed out its first phase.

Platt said he liked the design of the homes, some of which resemble those in the Mueller neighborhood, the large master-planned community that was built on the site of Austin’s former airport in Northeast Austin.

“It’s a cool neighborhood,” Platt said as he walked his dog on a recent weekday at Goodnight Ranch. He said it is near the existing Southpark Meadows shopping center, and eventually will have its own town center with neighborhood services and retail across Slaughter Lane.

Life in Easton Park

A short drive from Goodnight Ranch, the Easton Park master-planned community is reshaping the landscape of another part of Southeast Austin.

Easton Park is ultimately slated for 6,000 homes, along with commercial development. Although the retail has yet to follow the rooftops, “as more and more residents call Easton Park and Southeast Austin home, we’ll start to see that aspect of the project take flight,” said Ariadyn Hansen, a spokeswoman for Easton Park developer Brookfield Residential Texas.

Like Goodnight Ranch, Easton Park has a variety of homebuilders and designs from which to choose, with current prices starting in the mid-$200,000s for single-family homes.

“Austin continues to be a desirable place for homebuyers, and as the demand remains high, it’s up to homebuilders and developers to find ways to keep homes affordable,” said Dirk Gosda, president of Brookfield Residential Texas, the developer of Easton Park. “It’s our goal … to provide potential buyers with a range of homes to fit their needs, and that includes homes priced for entry-level homebuyers, like ours in Easton Park.”

After visiting Easton Park during their home search, Austin school teacher Tania Tasneem and her husband, Philip Schaefer, a carpenter, found their money would go further than expected.

“In this real estate market, we knew finding a house in our price range wouldn’t be easy,” Tasneem said.

In January, they purchased a new, custom-built 1,600-square-foot house that includes three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a game room for $270,000. Amenities included granite countertops, stainless steel dishwasher, microwave and range. The yard is fenced with a sealed and stained patio.

“The master plan is exactly what I was looking for,” said Tasneem, a science teacher at Kealing Middle School. “There are places we can walk, there’s a hike-and-bike trail, and it’s right across from McKinney Falls. My commute isn’t that far either.”

Since home construction in the area is still underway, an expected wave of new retailers, restaurants and bars has not yet arrived.

But as Easton Park and other nearby developments continue to add housing, Tasneem said she believes it’s only a matter of time.

“I think,” she said, “it’s going to be a cross between Mueller and Southpark Meadows.”



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