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Looking at you, Leander: Austin suburb one of the fastest-growing cities in the US

Leander, Texas has seen more growth than any other U.S. city in recent years. (Leander, Texas/Facebook)

From 2019-2020, a higher percentage of people moved to one Central Texas city than any other in the nation—and it wasn't the tech hub of Austin, Texas.

Instead, it was a former sleepy suburb tucked away in the nearby Hill Country. Leander, Texas, situated just north of fellow northwest Austin suburb Cedar Park, had the highest growth rate in the nation for two years in a row, swelling from just 26,000 residents in 2010 to nearly 60,000 in the latest U.S. Census.

Some may start to scratch their heads at those who choose to move to the lesser-known suburb when "boomtown" Austin is just around the corner. But while the Texas capital has priced or crowded out many prospective buyers and renters, Leander offers relatively cheaper real estate alongside a small-town feel.

The result has been explosive growth—something Thrive realtor and former Leander City Council Member Shanan Shepard has seen firsthand.

"I'm very well aware of what (growth) felt like all the way back to probably 2012," Shepherd said. "The city has wanted to grow, (and) over time, there's been a strong effort by the city to encourage development here."

Once a town of fewer than 10,000, Leander now boasts two of the fastest-growing residential neighborhoods in the Austin metro, and its county, Williamson County, saw 32.3% growth in home sales in February (Austin, meanwhile, saw home sales increase 2.5%). Swaths of new businesses and developments, including a $715 million, mixed-use shopping and dining "town center" development, have planted roots in the hilly countryside, and a new Cap Metro rail line is in the works to help bring commuters into Austin's city hub.

Shepherd, who formerly worked on the city's Economic Development Committee, said this is no accident.

"(It's) wanted to see development, wanted restaurants and retail and just commercial opportunities for two reasons: to diversify the tax base so that all of the tax burden didn't fall on homeowners... (and) for people to live here, to go to dinner or go shop and get your car washed," Shepherd said. "There's a higher education level generally and more disposable income in households, so all those things make it attractive for commercial development."

Leander's not alone: Austin suburbs from Round Rock to Buda have been eyed as some of the fastest-growing suburbs in recent years, thanks in part to rising Austin prices, new tech jobs and the desire for quieter lives amid the pandemic. But Shepherd said a few things still set Leander atop the list.

"I don't know that it's exclusive anymore," Shepherd said. "It used to be, and a lot of it was just affordability that it's pretty. There are a lot of trees and rolling hills and some of those other areas don't have as much of that. So it was a combination of those things, and 183 makes it an easy commute into Austin."

But even those far north Austin suburbs aren't immune to Austin's new housing prices. Williamson County's median home price is inching up to Travis County's at $479,000 in February, up 32.7% from the year before.

That's reflected in Shepherd's customer base, which increasingly includes investors and may indicate a new kind of growth coming to the area.

"We don't see a whole lot of young buyers anymore because, frankly, they've been priced out," Shepherd said. "Most of the people here are actually investors. There's a lot of people looking to invest here because of the growth."


A mortgage banker walks us through the math on purchasing a 'mid-price' Austin home

So you want to buy a house?

To anyone trying to get on the "housing ladder," it's been a discouraging couple of years as prices skyrocketed in a market crowded with buyers bidding against each other for just about any available home.

Things may be calming down, with the Austin Board of REALTORS reporting fewer sales and more available homes this summer.

Mortgage rates have more than doubled in the last year, from around 3% to well over 6% on a 30-year fixed rate loan, getting even more of a bump this week after the Federal Reserve raised bank rates on Wednesday.

So how affordable are homes right now? That, of course, depends on what you want and how much you're able or willing to pay, but here are some rough estimates of what a typical buyer would pay to buy a $650,000 home, which would be considered "mid-price" in today's market.

Mortgage banker Chris Holland (NMLS 211033) of Austin's Sente Mortgage ran some numbers for Austonia to illustrate a typical purchase.

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