Austin rents have surpassed pre-pandemic levels after a temporary slump that was a rare boon to tenants. The most in-demand submarkets right now are:
This ranking is based on a combination of factors, including the average rent, rental rate growth and absorption, which measures how many units were leased against how many were vacated, according to a market report from ApartmentData.com.
1. Cedar Park / Leander / Four Points
Trail Oaks apartments in Leander. (Apartment List)
The top-ranked submarket has an average rental rate of $1.42 per square foot per month. The average size of an Austin apartment is 875 square feet, which would put a unit in this area at $1,242.50 a month, slightly less than the overall Austin average of $1,335.
Demand in suburban areas was growing pre-pandemic as renters were priced out of the urban core and only accelerated over the past year. "The pandemic really opened the eyes of Austin residents that there's a beautiful city outside of the urban core," said Cindi Reed, vice president of sales and development at ApartmentData.com.
Like the other suburban submarkets on this list, Cedar Park / Leander / Four Points offers a relatively affordable, family-friendly experience in beautiful the Hill Country only a short drive away from central Austin.
2. Downtown / South Congress / Barton Springs
The downtown rental submarket has rebounded after a pandemic-fueled migration into more suburban areas. (Emma Freer/Austonia)
The second-place submarket has an average rental rate of $2.57, which would put an average unit at $2,248.75.
Although the pandemic led residents to migrate out of downtown areas all over the country, demand is picking up as restrictions ease and urban amenities—bars, restaurants and crowds—regain their appeal. "Now that we're opening back up, you're seeing everything go right back to where it was," Reed said.
3. UT / Mueller
West Campus and the Mueller development came in third. (Mueller Austin)
The average rental rate in this submarket is $1.94, which would put an average unit at $1,697.50.
The return of students has helped buoy the rebound in West Campus, Reed said. The Mueller development similarly offers a central location and walkability. It also includes a diverse mix of Austin favorites such as Kerbey Lane Cafe, Torchy's and Alamo Drafthouse; plenty of green space; and fewer house parties.
4. Round Rock / Georgetown
Suburban markets, including Round Rock / Georgetown, are attractive to those renters who are priced out of more urban areas or want more space. (Bexley Round Rock)
The average rental rate in this suburban submarket is $1.36, which would put an average unit at $1,190—or $145 less than the greater Austin average.
Fast-growing Round Rock and Georgetown offer family friendliness, affordability and a small town vibe thanks to beloved institutions such as Round Rock Donuts. But they also benefit from being part of a major metro, with big-time employers such as Dell and Kalahari in Round Rock and AirBorn and St. David's Hospital in Georgetown.
5. Pflugerville / Tech Ridge / Wells Branch
Similar to Round Rock / Georgetown and Cedar Park / Leander / Four Points, the average rental rate in this suburban submarket is $1.37, which would put the average unit at $1,198.75 a month.
These northeastern suburbs also offer small-town charm—the first season of Friday Nights Light was filmed in Pflugerville—and affordability as well as relatively quick access to downtown Austin.
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Austin homebuyers have been through the wringer in the past year—tales of offers well over asking price, sales in under an hour, and months-long supply chain shortages have become commonplace in the city's cutthroat housing market. So it's perhaps no surprise that many homebuyers are looking for greener pastures as they stake out large empty lots along the city's outskirts.
After casually searching for a home for years, Austin influencer and blogger Jane Ko experienced the pandemic housing surge firsthand when she found an empty lot near the airport in the summer of 2020. Stretched thin by high demand and limited supply, Austin's median home prices had already reached a then-record of $435,000 in August of that year, while new inventory grew by just 0.1% in that month.
Due to seemingly ever-increasing demand, Austin's homebuilding market has been busy—if not strained. New listings were up 6% in November 2021, while median home prices had cooled ever-so-slightly to $470,000. The area was ranked the fifth-busiest metro in the country for single-family homebuilding permits in August 2021, according to a National Association of Homebuilders report.
Austin influencer Jane Ko build a semi-custom home on an empty lot near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"I think for those of us that have been here, we've seen prices rise in the last five years and I kind of figured if I don't buy now, then I probably won't be able to," Ko said. "I kind of stumbled upon it and I think for a lot of people that's been really the only way to find real estate since the market is so hot."
Austin's inventory has remained somewhat low, especially in the center of town, leading some to believe that homebuyers are being "priced out" by the city's limited options. Area suburbs are reflecting that—the Kyle-Buda-San Marcos region saw 2,900 new home starts from September 2020-21, more than any other Austin submarket.
But with new developments working to keep pace with demand, 2021 Austin Board of Realtors President Susan Horton told Austonia the trend just reflects customer desires.
"I don't think that folks are being pushed by any means," Horton said. "Folks that want to buy out in the rural areas are buying for personal reasons and they're buying because they want the land and privacy. Folks really, truly want to be out. If you want a big lot, it's there."
Like many homebuyers during the pandemic, Ko was happy to scrap Austin's downtown for more space. Because she works from home, she said she and many of her friends are looking for bigger homes and bigger lots in hot areas like Dripping Springs.
Ko had the option of moving into already-built homes within the neighborhood but opted for a custom-built home instead—something that Horton said is another draw for prospective homebuyers.
Austin influencer Jane Ko remodeled her kitchen after building her semi-custom home. (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
Ko's kitchen remodel took months due to supply chain delays/ (Jane Ko/A Taste of Koko)
"The desire to be away from the person next door is really most of the time the deciding factor," Horton said. "And then there are those that want to have a house simply because they want to design it themselves, and so those are the aspects that make buying that raw land and building a house really important."
But building a custom home has its drawbacks. Horton said construction loans, land surveying, zoning restrictions and road access are all hoops that can be jumped through with an experienced realtor.
But even through the tedious and stalled homebuilding process, Ko said it's been worth it to create a home made just for her.
"This is a place that I'm hopefully going to stay in for a very long time," Ko said. "And I think because I do a lot of entertaining at home and shoot photos at home, it's really important that my space looks the way I want it to."
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In earlier phases of the pandemic, people took it as the perfect moment to uproot their lives to the newest boomtown. Many, particularly Californians, found a fit with Austin, enjoying the Texas weather and lower cost of living. But for some, it may only be a pitstop.
Melaku Mihret, who works remotely in Austin for a Meta office in the Bay Area, thinks some of the Californians who have moved to Texas in the pandemic may just move here temporarily, save money and then head back. Others have also speculated a possible reverse migration, but it may be too early to tell.
According to the Kinder Institute at Rice University, Texan migration to California has remained steady for years. And when it comes to Californians leaving, the institute says it's less about a pull into Texas and more of a push out of California driven by home prices.
But they're not all staying in Austin. U-Haul data shows departures from Austin were up 18% even as one-way arrivals were up 22% in 2021.
Melaku Mihret, a remote worker a Meta office in the Bay Area, is now living in Austin. (Andrea Guzman)
For Mihret, the biggest driver behind his move was the squeeze of costs in Northern California. If the cost of living wasn’t an issue, Mihret said he’d live in the Bay Area. So if Austin continues to become less and less affordable, would Californians go back?
For Mihret, not many places come close to what California offers. He points to the nature, such as the mountains and lakes, in California and the massive tech hub it is. Austin is “not even nearly close to California,” Mihret said, after acknowledging Austin's growth as an emerging tech hub.
Meanwhile others like Ian Davies, who grew up in Austin and left in 2011 when he was in high school, much prefer living in Austin.
His family had moved to Philadelphia, years passed and he eventually landed a job in financial operations at NBC Universal in Los Angeles, California. When the option of remote work during the pandemic came around, he longed to return home.
“I couldn’t wait to move back to Austin,” Davies said. “Not that I didn’t enjoy my time in LA. But LA is just a whole other beast than Austin.”
Ian Davies does remote work for NBC Universal in Downtown Austin in early January. (Andrea Guzman)
But a downside he says is it's become more expensive in the past year and half since he returned. The Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown metro area had the 12th highest change in a recent study on cost of living increases across the country. And among the nation’s top 10 tech hubs, Austin saw the largest year-over-year increase in average rent this past September, with an average of $1,647.
It's a cost of a growing city. Davies sees a positive in all the growth, as he enjoys living in a city with a diverse population, like when he was in LA.
“There’s a group of Austinites who are very against people moving here, and I’m definitely not part of that crowd. I want to share this city with other people. I think it’s awesome.”
He says he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I hope that Austin can keep its soul and keep its weirdness. Like blues and rock and live music,” Davies said. “I haven’t seen much of that change. I hope people that move here can adapt the spirit of the past and carry that.”
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