Growing Upward and Outward: Austin Real Estate 2014 Year in Review

The Austin area had another year of vigorous growth in 2014 that fueled a continued population boom and a red hot real estate market.

The city’s prosperity captured national attention, and it cranked up the volume of Austin’s continued debate over housing affordability and growth patterns.

Of course, these stories aren’t all that new. Austin’s rapid growth and fast-climbing real estate prices have been a hot story for a few years (OK, decades, if you dig into the history).

So what thematic changes can we corral into the 2014 calendar year?

Well, the question of affordability grew from a quiet conversation to the center of the debate in Austin. Keeping the city affordable for long-time residents and newcomers alike dominated the historic mayoral and city council elections this year.

Debates about property tax reductions, public transportation and relaxed building codes to allow secondary dwellings on residential lots all centered on the cost of living in a rapidly expanding city.

And, although that public conversation was largely political, newly-elected city leaders are poised to take action on property tax relief and secondary dwelling laws, perhaps before spring arrives.

Downtown Grows Skyward

Someone, somewhere probably has a time-lapse video camera trained on downtown Austin. And, if we were to watch that film during 2014 and 2015, it would probably take our breath away.

For nearly a decade, Austin’s downtown has been going through a transformation from a relatively calm mid-sized city skyline to one filled with new skyscrapers offering luxurious views of Central Texas.

Here’s a look at a few projects that are likely to be complete within a few years.

— 5th and West: Austin’s Riverside Resources made plans to construct a 37-story tall building with about 160 condominium units.

— Seaholm on West Cesar Chavez: Located at 222 West Avenue, the 30-story Seaholm Residences are slated to open sometime this summer (2015). The tower is expected to have about 280 condos.

— Austin Energy Control Center: This 50-plus-story skyscraper would be the city’s second tallest building, and it’s expected to have about 400 condo units. Construction is slated to start late 2015. It’s at 3rd and West.

Suburbs Expand

Austin’s real estate boom has been felt virtually everywhere — just ask the folks in East Austin, an area once thought to be declining and now seen as a big investment opportunity for hundreds of developers. In fact, by some measures, Austin was the nation’s best real estate market.

But the growth in housing and home values is perhaps most notable in the neighborhoods and suburbs near the city limits.

Places such as Cedar Park, Round Rock, Crystal Falls, Georgetown and San Marcos all have seen explosive growth that is fueling fast real estate sales and climbing values.

And the growth is only accelerating. Some key developments include:

— A new 1,200-home development in Round Rock will include about 450 homes for people 55 years old and up, The Austin Business Journal reported. Taylor Morrison Home Corp., which has retirement communities in Houston, says homes in the master-planned Viscaya community will start in the mid-$200,000s.

— Major project in Pflugerville: Developers have unveiled a plan to transform Pflugerville with a huge mixed-use project at SH130 and Pflugerville Parkway, according to Community Impact News. The ambitious Sunshine Village project would include restaurants, office buildings, hotels, retail shops, park space and a town hall, the newspaper reporter. But that may hinge on some city tax incentives.

Georgetown real estate is hot, and it’s getting hotter. A massive residential development could sprout there in 2015, The Austin American Statesman reported. The master-planned 2,000 home project got a wave of preliminary approvals, paving the way for Texas-based Hillwood Communities to break ground next year on the 755 acre development just east of I-35 on Texas 29. Homes are expected to range from $200,000 to $550,000.

— Housing starts are climbing, at least in some areas: A new study showed that new residential housing starts increased by 9 percent in the 12 months that ended in September, according to a story in the Austin American-Statesman. But some builders, especially those in higher price ranges, say they’ve noticed the market cooling off.