Austin is an everyman’s city, serving up a Southern helping of good old Texas hospitality with a dash of the eclectic. One of its many mottos proudly declares: Keep Austin Weird.
An amalgamation of mankind, the Texas capitol is cerebral and intellectual (thanks to the University of Texas campus and a growing number of tech companies), stimulating and laid-back, all rolled into a city of under 1 million souls set to music. The self-proclaimed Musical Capital of the World—and home to the long-running "Austin City Limits," the PBS show and live music festival—its soundtrack is introduced in the airport and along downtown sidewalks
Here, downtown’s dammed lake is considered a "river," life comes to a standstill on Saturdays when the Longhorns take the field, and home-based Whole Foods tests its latest dishes on an appreciative public. It’s also one of the best places for: entrepreneurs under 30, IT startups, golf and lifestyle. Austin is also youthful, due in large part to UT graduates who stay. Kay Keesee, a realtor with Amelia Bullock Realtor, sees it all the time. Herself included.
"People come to school here and they don’t want to leave," she says. "They start a company instead of taking a job someplace else. It’s fun, diverse and not a big city. You can get from one end to the other in 30 minutes if it’s not rush hour."
Homes and neighborhoods benefit from Austin’s location along the eastern edge of the Texas Hill Country, with a multitude of lakes and centuries-old live oaks that provide a canopy of year-round greenness.
"Everybody is surprised by our hilly environment. Almost every little neighborhood has a vista to it," says Keesee, noting that a current company listing, on the market for $1.7 million, enjoys a bluff-top perch overlooking Zilker Park, home to the famed Austin City Limits.
Lakes and golf courses provide recreational opportunities, almost year round.
"Austin is a very outdoor-oriented town," says Laura Gottesman, owner of Gottesman Residential Real Estate. "Seasonal residents have summer lakehouses they use for boating and fishing. We have a lot of celebrities and professional athletes who retire here."
Real estate prices in Austin haven’t taken quite the hit they did elsewhere, and prices are on the rise. Buyers will find second-home worthy options in country club communities and downtown condo pied-à-terres, where they can walk to independently owned restaurants and shops, performing arts venues and artists’ studios that host weekly open houses.
"It’s a great environment to be working in," says Eric Rauser, a builder and architect who relocated to Austin seven years ago from San Francisco. "Austin is incredibly design savvy."
And more newcomers are expected to discover Austin this November when the city hosts its inaugural Formula 1 race. "It’s going to introduce a whole new crowd of people to Austin," says Keesee.
MEDIAN AGE: 31
RANGE OF LUXURY: Austin’s eclecticism is evident in its architecture, an array of styles ranging from Tuscan and French provincial to historic and contemporary. Among Amelia Bullock’s recent listings was a $995,000 neo-modern four-bedroom design with floor-to-ceiling windows and lots of linear elements in Travis Heights, a neighborhood popular with younger buyers, and a $2.29 million six-bedroom Texas-style home on nearly three acres in West Lake Hills.
COST OF LIVING INDEX: 97 (U.S. average, 100)
WHO YOUR NEIGHBORS ARE: Austin is a young city of artists, entrepreneurs and musicians but is also home to the “old guard,” long-time families in the Old West Austin Historic District.
AN IDEAL DAY: Tailgating and tickets to a Texas Longhorns game tend to top the list of things to do during the fall; boating or golf during the off season. Residents also take in ballet and live theater downtown and enjoy Fonda San Miguel’s spin on Mexican cuisine.
THE DREAM HOME: A Gottesman-listed property on the shores of Lake Austin boasts more than 21,000 square feet and has a five-bedroom main home with five living areas on 6.7 acres of gated property. The $12 million home also has two covered boat slips, an indoor pool, caretaker’s house and a boathouse.