With its "boomtown" label reaching national news and swaths of tech companies migrating to the Texas capital, Austin's housing market is steamrolling ahead.
Austonia reached out to Austin Board of Realtors President Susan Horton to learn which neighborhoods are the most in-demand for incoming buyers, here is what she said.
Austin's Mueller neighborhood promotes live-work-play principles with its mixed-use lots and extensive greenspaces. (Mueller Austin/Facebook)
Austin's downtown hub is often elusive for homebuyers, but Mueller, built on the city's closed Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, is drawing in droves of residents looking to live near the action.
- Affordability: The only mixed-use neighborhood on the list, Mueller provides diversity in housing from large properties to apartments, and a commitment to affordable housing is part of its mission statement.
- Proximity: Located just north of The University of Texas at Austin and just east of I-35 with Hyde Park as its westerly neighbor, the neighborhood is prime real estate for those who work downtown.
- Walkability: With its own retail, including a large H-E-B, various businesses and schools in the area and plenty of mixed-use spaces, it's easy to get around the neighborhood by foot or public transit.
- Thinking green: The neighborhood has three parks and plenty of green space to give residents a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. Homes at Mueller are constructed with recyclable and non-toxic materials and are designed to save energy and increase affordability. The neighborhood has an onsite power plant through Austin Energy that provides clean energy as well.
- Supply: Due to its location near the heart of Austin, there isn't much new construction happening in the neighborhood. Those looking to make the move to Mueller need to stay posted on available listings if they want to move into the area.
Said: "It is so rich, just right almost in the heart of our city," Horton said. "It's an extremely desirable neighborhood because it's close to everything... so as soon as something comes on the market, it's gone."
2. Whisper Valley
Renewable geothermal energy to heat and cool your home, solar to power it. Zero-energy-capable living starts from the mid $200s-$400s in Whisper Valley.https://t.co/Jrh1nidw8J pic.twitter.com/qm1wxbpRQZ— Whisper Valley (@whisper_valley) January 15, 2021
Whisper Valley, the master planned community tucked in far east Austin that offers a wide range of prices for homes equipped with clean energy resources. The neighborhood claims to be Austin's first zero-energy capable community, with innovations that can both save money and the environment.
- Cleaner, cheaper energy: Whisper Valley's homes claim to be 75-80% more efficient than most homes, according to the Home Energy Rating System, or HERS. They can also serve as their own power plant: with solar and geothermal energy, these homes can generate as much energy as they consume, creating a sustainable cycle.
- Amenities: Perfect for families looking for an idyllic lifestyle and nature as a backyard, the neighborhood comes with a fitness center, a discovery center, trails and community gardens.
- Range of prices: Starting at $200,000, these homes are more affordable than much of Austin amid the skyrocketing housing market.
- Proximity to tech: It may be out of the city center, but Whisper Valley is a 10-minute drive from the new Tesla Gigafactory, Samsung and Dell corporate campuses and the airport. It's also close to Pflugerville, where tech jobs are plentiful.
- Location: Located in East Austin, just outside Manor, Whisper Valley is great for those looking for an out-of-city lifestyle but not as great for commuters or city lovers.
- No "work" in Live, Work, Play: This master planned community will have schools, but with little-to-no employment in the neighborhood, there's no "city-within-a-city" aspect to Whisper Valley.
- Availability: This could be a pro or a con. While the neighborhood is currently sold out, a second phase of lots are going up for sale later this year.
3. Easton Park
Located in Southeast Austin, Horton said Easton Park will eventually be a "city within a city." The master planned neighborhood includes several different homebuilders to fit everyone's tastes, and it'll have commercial lots as well as multifamily units sprinkled into the neighborhood's single-family homes.
- Proximity to airport: It may be far from downtown, but Easton Parks' closeness to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is sure to ease the burden for those who need to travel often.
- City-within-a-city: Once completed, Easton Hills will feel like its own city—think exceptional live-work-play with schools, employment, businesses and community centers.
- Affordability: Homes start at $300,000, lower than the median home price in Austin.
- Variety of choices: Easton Hills will have different neighborhoods within itself with their own unique setups—while one may have a fitness center and pool, another has a shared front area for community living. Seven home builders are available to build houses in their own styles.
- Far from downtown: It's not as far as some other options, but Easton Hills is still much further southeast from the city's center. It isn't too far from Tesla's upcoming Gigafactory, however.
- Patience, patience, patience: Horton says it could take 10 years before the neighborhood is complete, so it may be a while before you get that community feel. Think of it as a long-term investment.
4. Santa Rita Ranch
(Santa Rita Ranch/Facebook)
Located on the opposite side of Austin to the northwest, Santa Rita Ranch is an up-and-coming community in Liberty Hill that will soon be larger than all previously mentioned neighborhoods, Horton said. Marketed as a "staycation," Santa Rita Ranch was rated the No. 1 Selling Master Planned Community by resident real estate industry experts, according to its website.
- Large, self-sufficient community: Santa Rita Ranch will encompass both sides of Ronald Reagan Blvd., according to Horton, and it's already created two new schools and its own fire department. Eventually, this will be an almost entirely self-sufficient neighborhood, and its size will allow residents to embody the live-work-play ideal.
- Events and entertainment: From crawfish boils to water slides, there's always something going on in the neighborhood. Churches, schools and businesses are already in the community as well.
- Affordability: Prices start at $250,000 and go up to $600,000, so the community will have plenty of diverse living choices.
- Plenty of space: Because of its immense size, Santa Rita Ranch has extensive green spaces, including parks and hiking trails. The neighborhood offers a more peaceful, slow-paced lifestyle rich in nature and the outdoors.
- Not-so commuter-friendly: located 40 minutes from downtown, this community may be more beneficial to those working remotely or within Liberty Hill itself. Luckily, there will eventually be plenty of employment within the community.
- No small community feel: Because of its size, Santa Rita Ranch won't be quite as cozy as some other neighborhoods.
Said: "The transformation that's going to happen out there by Santa Rita Ranch is going to be huge," Horton said. "Because the development plans are so massive, it will be its own little city within a city."
5. Up and coming—Kyle and Buda
When looking to the future, Horton said that Austin could resemble a metro like DFW or Houston. With supply going dry, Horton said the city will grow out rather than up. Kyle and Buda, both located a few miles south of Austin, are more their own communities themselves than Austin suburbs, but they're close enough for commuters to take a liking to each city.
- Community: Get away from the busy highways and know your neighbors. The small-town feel is perfect for anyone that wants quieter surroundings. And you can always drive 20 minutes to Austin on the weekend.
- Affordability: While these two towns are known for being more affordable at around $325,000 for a home, prices are rising quickly as they gain in popularity.
- Location: It's definitely a longer commute if you work in Austin, but it's not uncommon to sacrifice commute time for a smaller town feel.
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Heading to Q2 Stadium? Four months ago, it would've been tough to do so without dropping a pretty penny, but by mid-September, season ticket holders were clamoring to sell their seats for as little as a $10 beer.
While Austin FC continues to sell-out crowds—their most recent match was at capacity despite their record and scheduling conflict with a Texas Longhorns game—demand has dipped as new factors continue to pull down prices.
Austin FC's rocky season has been met with unbridled fan support, but it's also lost that honeymoon-phase traction as they fell to the bottom of the standings, faced a third COVID surge and were met with school, work and good ol' Texas football.
On Sept. 15, Austin FC fan Tanis Olvedo was willing to strike a deal: two beers for a ticket.
Austin FC went from $200+ tickets to this 😪 we down bad pic.twitter.com/Q3yOr7UBiC
— Darth Concha (@davidhidalgo44) September 15, 2021
Although he later sold at cost to another season ticket holder, many fans have seen the value of their season tickets take a serious dip. By Wednesday, Sept. 15, tickets that were once no lower than $36 had dropped to as little as $14.
Austin Anthem member Phil Stanch used his accounting skills to map out the dip in his ticket sales prices.
Phil Stanch found that the predicted value of his season tickets (in orange) will continue to trend downward. (Phil Stanch)
Here are the main reasons why fans say Austin FC's ticket prices have taken a tumble:
Austin FC's first home game on June 19 seemed like perfect timing—by June 16, 51% of Travis County residents were fully vaccinated. Mid-May saw Austin lift its risk-based guidelines to Stage 2 for the first time since the pandemic's onset just in time for the brand-new Q2 Stadium to open at 100% capacity.
But with the third surge sending Austin back into Stage 5 and hospitalizations skyrocketing in late summer, some diehard fans reluctantly began opting for the couch over a 20,738-capacity stadium.
That safety-consciousness comes tenfold for parents of young children who are still ineligible to get vaccinated, at-risk fans and the older population.
School starting and unvaccinated kids. That’s why we haven’t gone in a while. We are season ticket holders, so we have just given ours away to friends and coworkers that can go.— jae (@jae98342926) September 23, 2021
Austin has stuck to capacity and hasn't added any masking or testing requirements, garnering some criticism from fans.
I stopped going because of the COVID surge. I tried to sell my tickets a couple of times and they didn’t move. Then I decided to eat them to make space. Not happy the club didn’t create a mask or vaccination requirement.— Ruben Cavazos (@rcavazos) September 24, 2021
Just as the surge reached its peak in mid-August, schools across Austin once again opened in-person, leaving many families unable to go to late-night games on weeknights. Ten of the club's 17 home games have been on Wednesdays, Thursdays or Sundays—days that have quickly transformed into "school nights."
With 9-5ers unable to justify 8:30 p.m. weeknight games and kids tucked in bed by 10, fewer fans have been able to make their way to the games.
And with school comes another conflict of interest- tried-and-true Texas football is fully underway, and though Sept. 18 saw a sold-out crowd, a few Verde seats were left empty as the two teams played at home at the same time for the first time.
A combo of a number of things:— Tom H (@hallockitup) September 23, 2021
- Wednesday or Sunday games that end around 10pm are not appealing to people with jobs or kids.
- Being in last place hurts, no matter how passionate people are about the team. Nothing on the line.
- This is still Texas, and it’s football season.
While COVID and fall responsibilities have played a factor, Austin FC is also dealing with the unfortunate reality of being a last-place team.
Season ticket holder Doug Mayo was one of the 4% of season ticket holders who didn't renew his deal with the team. Once confident that he would easily sell the coveted tickets for their original price, the team's record plummeted alongside his own ticket prices. Mayo said that the team's 5-4-16 record caused their honeymoon phase to end prematurely.
"The newness wore off fast," Mayo said. "Nobody wants to go to a sporting event when it's 99% certain the team they support will lose."
For Mayo, it'll take a better record and more passionate play on the field to get him back in the 20,000-member season ticket waitlist.
"Mainly (I want) them to start acting more like a professional team," Mayo said. "We were so excited to have something to look forward to throughout COVID and it's just been a disappointment."
I've been a big supporter in general, I went to 4 games in the first half of the season, but no amount of "fan camaraderie" makes me want to spend $30-40 to see a team that plays without heart. And that's bc the last game I saw we actually won (albeit Houston was down a man).— Brown and in Austin (@DisraelTV) September 23, 2021
Still other reasons abound: some fans say it's those $10 beers themselves that cause prices to dip, while others say tickets were overpriced in the first place. Although Austin FC says 96% of season ticket holders decided to renew for 2022, many did so with a grain of salt, including longtime fan Shawn Collins.
"I have tickets in 110 (the Lexus Club) and even when the demand was crazy high I couldn't get face for my tickets because they were so high to begin with," Collins said. "When I got them I figured I'd make back what I paid on games I couldn't attend."
Austin FC's dip in ticket sales may be more of an MLS problem than a unique issue: gameday employee and University of Texas sports business student Ben Patterson said that prices shot up due to pre-season excitement and are now at more normal levels.
"The initial hype of finally having a pro sports team is likely what drove up season ticket prices at the start of the year," Patterson said. "Now that excitement has cooled off, ticket prices have dropped in value steeply."
But while five straight losses are enough to drive at least some fans away, plenty are committed to staying Verde through thick and thin.
It might not be easy being green, but thousands of fans are now enjoying the benefits of $20 tickets as they continue to pack Q2.
Let's not question why tickets are NOT expensive.
Let's just keep buying tickets at $20. Whaddaya say? https://t.co/HkhOjczzZJ
— AC (@Arc34_) September 24, 2021
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more races in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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