Moving to Austin: What it's Like to Live There

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Austin is routinely lauded as one of the best places to live in the U.S., thanks to its warm weather, affordable housing and bustling cultural scene. And if you're considering moving to Austin, you'll have lots of different options for places to live, from family-friendly suburbs to densely packed urban areas. Here's what you should consider before making the move.


What Is It Like to Live in Austin?

Living in Austin graphic

Besides being the actual state capital of Texas, Austin is also the cultural capital of the state. It's home to the University of Texas at Austin, and it's as well-known for live music as it is for Tex-Mex cuisine. The South by Southwest (also known as SXSW), and Austin City Limits (ACL) music festivals take over the city each spring and fall, for better or for worse. They each provide unique opportunities to experience some of the best touring musical acts in the world, but they also bring hundreds of thousands of guests into the city, making everyday life that much more challenging for everyday residents.

Austin's key culinary exports are Tex-Mex items like queso and breakfast tacos, as well as Texas-style barbecue and locally brewed beer. But like any hip city, there is a huge variety of cuisines and price points, so you'll be able to find foods that suit your taste, whether from an inventive food truck or a high-end sushi restaurant.

How Expensive Is Living in Austin?

Austin is a moderately expensive place to live, but it also has comparably high wages to offset the cost of living. The median home in Austin costs $347,000, which is far higher than the median in Texas ($185,000) or the U.S. overall ($238,000). This is somewhat balanced by high wages: The median house costs about 4.8 times the median household wage of $71,100. This is higher than peer city Nashville, Tennessee (4.2x), but far less than New York City (8.1x) and about comparable with Chicago (4.6x).

Renting, by comparison, is more affordable. The median rent in Austin is $1,800, which works out to be 30.4% of the monthly median income in Austin. That's almost exactly the same as in Texas overall (30.6%), and less than the average in Nashville (31.6%) and the U.S. as a whole (34.4%).

Median salaryMedian home costHome cost ratioMedian monthly rentRent ratio
Austin$71,000$347,0004.9x$1,800$30.4%
Texas$56,565$185,0003.3x$1,445$30.7%
US$57,617$238,0004.1x$1,650$34.4%
Nashville, Tennessee$60,030$255,0004.2x$1,582$31.6%
New York City$71,897$582,0008.1x$2,358$39.4%
Home cost ratio is calculated as the median home cost divided by the median salary. A higher home cost ratio means that homes in that area are more expensive relative to local wages. Rent ratio is calculated as median income divided by median annual rent. A higher percentage means that rent is higher relative to local wages.

The Cost of Getting Around in Austin

Austin is a fairly spread-out city, with a population density of around 3,400 people per square mile. The majority of people in Austin commute by car, with about 83% of people driving alone or carpooling to get to work. The next most common option is to work from home at 8%, with public transit, walking, bicycling and all others making up just 9%.

Since most people in Austin commute by car, the primary costs of getting around in Austin come from car payments, gasoline, insurance and maintenance. The average gasoline price is cheaper in Austin than throughout the U.S. and slightly less expensive than the average price in Texas. Over the last six months, per-gallon gas prices have averaged $2.49 in Austin, $2.53 in Texas and $2.76 throughout the U.S.

Commute Times in Austin

map showing commute times in Austin

Car insurance in is slightly less expensive in Austin than other cities in Texas—it is the 28th least expensive city in the state for car insurance out of 79. That puts it at 6% less than the state mean, at an average of $2,191 per year.

Of course, car insurance costs vary widely person to person. It shifts based on lots of factors including your demographic information, what kind of car you drive and your driving history, so always check with multiple insurers to find the best deal. It's worth noting that among insurers we surveyed, Texas Farm Bureau offered the best rates to our sample drivers, with an annual premium of just $1,044 for a 30-year-old with a clean driving history.

Alternatives to Car Ownership

Unfortunately, those looking to live a car-free lifestyle in Austin may find it difficult to do so. Transit options are sparse compared to other major cities: a restricted bus service throughout the city and a light rail service to North Austin are the best options. You'll likely need a car for errands and other trips, even if you can commute to work via public transit. People living near the center of the city in Downtown East Austin or near the UT-Austin campus may be able to make do without an automobile, as there are more options to walk, bike and take transit than other areas.

The good news is public transit is very affordable: Single fares are only $1.25, and $2.50 will get you around for an entire day. Additionally, competition between ride-sharing companies and local ride-share app Ride Austin have made ride-sharing fares low as well.

Working in Austin

Austin has long been a software and technology industry hotbed, having been dubbed "Silicon Hills" as far back as the 1990s. Top employers include Dell Computer and Apple, among other big-name tech companies. High-tech manufacturing is also prevalent, as are video game production and space technology.

Wages in Austin are fairly high, with a median household income of $71,100. The city also boasts an unemployment rate of 2.9%, which beats out both the state of Texas (4.0%) and the U.S. as a whole (4.1%), suggesting Austin is a great place to find a job, especially if you work in a high-tech industry.

Climate of Austin

The climate of Austin, like most of Texas, is very hot during the summer and mild during the winter. Summer highs typically reach into the 90s, with several days each year exceeding 100° F. Winters are mild, with temperatures ranging from 40°F to 60°F between December and February.

Austin and central Texas are notable for their variable humidity. When the wind blows in from the desert to the west, the air is very dry; when it blows from the Gulf of Mexico to the East, the air is much more humid.


Where Should I Live in Austin?

Living in Austin graphic

At an area of 271 square miles, the city of Austin is sprawling and has lots of different neighborhoods to choose from. They range from tightly packed urban areas with plenty of shops, restaurants and bars to quiet family-friendly suburbs. Generally, the closer to the center of the city your are, the more you'll pay.

Take some time to consider where you will work (or are likely to work) before you pick where you'd like to live. Austin's traffic is notoriously awful, so if you can live close to your new workplace, you'll limit the amount of time you'll spend stuck in a car each day and give yourself more time to enjoy the city.

Median Rental Prices

Median Home Purchase Prices

Downtown

Unsurprisingly, Downtown is the most central, dense and expensive part of the city. It's home to a large portion of Austin's restaurants, bars, venues and other points of interest. If you want to live in the middle of everything (and have the income to afford it), Downtown is the place to be. Downtown is also the most concentrated location for people to work, although not by as big a margin as other cities.

University of Texas

The area around the University of Texas, just north of Downtown, is home to lots of young college student and recent graduates, with the activities and amenities to match: You'll find inexpensive restaurants, cool shops and bars full of young people in the area. However, the UT area is not as cheap to live here as you might expect for an area popular with college students.

South Austin

South Austin, especially the 78704 ZIP code, is the centerpoint of "Weird Austin" and full of unusual people and places to go (although the area is not as out-there as it once was). As you go farther south, the area becomes more residential and eventually more working-class.

East Side

Historically, the East Side of Austin has primarily housed the city's Mexican and Latino population, and it has plenty of Mexican grocery stores and taco trucks to serve them (though in truth, taco trucks are just about everywhere). More recently, the area has been a popular choice for artists.

North Central/Northwest Austin

North Central and Northwest Austin are among the most historic (and most expensive) neighborhoods to live in Austin. They have beautiful old homes, which tend to be on the smaller side, as well as breweries, small cafés and upscale shops.

Greater Austin

More than half of the people who live and work in the Austin area live outside of the city of Austin, and many people commute into Austin to work. If you are looking for a little more space for a little less money, and you can handle a longer commute, consider looking beyond Austin's city line for a place to live. Some of the area's major employers are outside of Austin proper, too, so your commute could actually be shorter if you move to the suburbs.


How to Move to Austin

Living in Austin graphic

Austin is in the midst of a population boom, with more than 150 people moving to the city each day—it's the ninth-fastest growing city in the nation. As a result, the housing market is very competitive, and you'll need to be prepared when you actually start looking for your new home.

Housing Options in Austin

Like all cities, there are some common benefits and options to consider when choosing a place to live in Austin. Here are some common ones, so you can decide which are must-haves and which you can live without.

  • House versus apartment: It's possible to rent either an apartment or a freestanding house in the Austin area. A house will give you more space, but an apartment is more likely to be located in a lively neighborhood. For a given area, an apartment will generally be less expensive. But some of the priciest neighborhoods, like Downtown, are more apartment-heavy.
  • Clothes washer and dryer: Many homes include a washer and dryer, or they have hookups so you can rent or buy your own. If a home doesn't have either, make sure there's a laundromat nearby, as hauling tons of laundry in the Austin heat is very unpleasant.
  • Air conditioning: Most homes have central air conditioning in Austin. When you're looking around, ask about how new the AC is. Newer AC units are more efficient than old ones and will lead to a significantly reduced utility bill, since your AC will be on essentially all summer.
  • Appliances: Your new place will come with a stove and refrigerator. Consider whether it's worth it to pay more for a place with nicer models or additional appliances like a built-in microwave.

Finding a Place and Submitting an Application

Austin has licensed leasing agents who know the Austin landscape and can help you find a place that suits your needs in your price range. They're all licensed by the state, and their fees are paid by landlords, not tenants, so they won't pressure you into too expensive an apartment, nor will you have to pay for their services.

Gather all your necessary personal information before you start looking. This way, when you find a place you like, you can submit an application right away. If you spend the night to think about it or need a few days to gather your old paystubs, you might find that someone else has scooped up your dream home.

You should bring:

  • Checkbook to pay the deposit
  • Photo ID
  • Proof of employment or paystubs
  • References
  • Credit score

Rental management companies are required to post rental application requirements publicly, so you'll usually know in advance if you meet the criteria to move into a specific place. After you're approved, you'll typically need to pay a month's deposit in order to move in.

Renters Insurance in Austin

Renters insurance is an essential investment for renters in Austin. It only costs a few dollars per month, but it protects all your belongings if they're ever damaged or stolen. Austin renters insurance is 10% cheaper than the average in Texas, with a typical renter paying about $32 per month for a generous $300,000 of coverage.

But the cheapest renters insurance company we found, State Farm, offered the same coverage for only $24 per month. We encourage people shopping for renters insurance to check with multiple companies for the best price.

Comments and Questions

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.