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PROFILE: A native Austinite takes on Austin’s brutal housing market as a first-time buyer

Civil engineer Mark Debs bought a house in Austin after weeks of bidding wars. (Mark Debs)

Last month, native Austinite Mark Debs completed a rite of passage synonymous with the American dream: buying his first home.

But for the 32-year-old civil engineer, it wasn't just a joyful culmination of years of hard work. Instead, Debs said the moment was bittersweet after a grueling and time-consuming search for affordable housing in a metro that has seen a 22% increase in the median home price in just a year.

"I was thinking, 'I'm a civil engineer, and I can barely even afford a home,'" Debs said. "It's insane."

Debs and other first-time homebuyers are entering the Austin market as home prices soar and bidding wars ensue across the metro. Debs said living inside "Austin's City Limits" has become little more than a music festival title for many first-time homebuyers and soon found himself home shopping outside of the city's center.

"Probably the biggest upset was (realizing) if I really want to buy a house, I have to go to the outskirts," Debs said. "So my expectations of that got dashed out pretty quick, but it was a little discouraging."

Debs then embarked on a jam-packed journey for his dream home and was surprised to see dozens of bidders doing the same, often offering up to $100,000 over asking price. Downtrodden and left with a chip on his shoulder, Debs finally won out on a three-bedroom home in Del Valle near Tesla's new headquarters.

Debs bought the two-story townhome in Del Valle near Tesla's new headquarters. (Mark Debs)

But Debs said the stress didn't end there.

"No one really tells you this before, but you have all this paperwork you have to process, all this money you have to put upfront," Debs said. "It's a rollercoaster."

The process was enough for Debs to consider uprooting and leaving his hometown for good.

"I was telling (my friends), 'I think I may have to move to San Antonio,'" Debs said. "It's personal to me because I was born and raised here, and I was thinking I couldn't even find a home to stay in my city... so I did have that tipping point, but then funny enough, five days later I won a bid on the house."

If median home prices continue to rise, Debs said he thinks many native Austinites may be forced to reach that tipping point as well.

"A lot of locals can't afford to live here anymore... I think it's going to start pushing more people out," Debs said. "(And) the longer you wait, the more expensive things are getting."

Still, Debs is grateful he didn't pack his bags for San Antonio. And no matter the changes in home prices or newcomers, Debs said he likes the distinct quirks of his hometown as he continues to build the city he was raised in.

"I would definitely do it again," Debs said. "It's a city where I feel a good vibe and a good energy... Even though we get a lot of new people moving in, change is good."


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