Texas has a reputation for many things: namely for being big, cheap and friendly. In fact, these widely-held beliefs are, in part, the reason why Texas’s major metros are the fastest growing cities in the U.S. The Lone Star State is one of the few places where the financial crisis of 2008 seemed to graze over, so it’s hardly surprising that young professionals are flocking south. Not to mention the cost of living in a Texan city like Dallas puts other major cities to shame. (Have you seen the gorgeous townhomes for rent in Dallas and their insanely low rents?) But is Texas currently flooding with young families, as the Internet would have us believe? And precisely how cheap is “cheap”? The answers might surprise you. Here are five myths about living in Texas you probably believe.
Myth #1: Texas is cheap.
This one is a bit of a double-edged sword because while true in many senses, it’s Texas’s famed “more bang for your buck” lifestyle that could ultimately be driving up prices. Let’s walk through the specifics.
Cost of Living
To put this into perspective, the cost of living in Austin is 51 percent cheaper than in San Francisco, and 40 percent cheaper than in New York City, aka the country’s two most expensive housing markets. And while dinner won’t cost you an arm and a leg, residents say other areas are taking a hit.
“Anecdotal experience and cost of living data will show that this price increase is almost exclusively in rent,” says Luke Orlando, a lifelong Texan, and a senior at The University of Texas at Austin majoring in finance and government.
You might start packing your bags immediately after you hear this: Texas is one of seven states that don’t charge an income tax. Depending on where you stand in your tax brackets, it could be putting a lot of extra pennies in your pocket. Sounds amazing, right? Well, not so fast. It turns out that Texas’s property taxes are pretty hefty. In fact, Texas comes in sixth place for the highest property tax in the country. For renters (a growing population, according to a recent report), who often shoulder their landlord’s burdens, this means higher rent. Which brings us to the main point:
Wondering just how fast rents are rising in Texas? Enough to land both Austin and Houston on the list of top 10 metropolitan areas that had the highest rent increases last year. Not too far down the list of cities with rising rents: San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth. And at least for the capital city, experts suspect residents will suffer through another spike in 2016, by as much as 5 to 6 percent. It’s unsurprisingly unsettling for both new and current residents.
“Relative to the rest of the U.S., Texas is still fairly cheap to live in,” says longtime Texan and Austinite Emily Ergas. “But rent in Austin is rising significantly every year, and many of my friends have had to move once their leases were up due to a rise in prices. And gentrification is clearly happening in parts of town [contributing to the higher cost of living].”
In summary: Texas is “cheap” comparatively, but the recent influx of newcomers is creating a demand for more housing. Still, there’s one thing that Texas offers many young professionals that cities like NYC and SF simply don’t, points out Orlando.
“People moving here have driven up the cost of rent, making it comparable to other large cities, but the opportunities for savings absolutely still exist in Texas metros and will for the foreseeable future.”
Myth #2: It’s a place to “settle down.”
Texas is currently leading the nation in population growth, so it’s clear those looking for greener pastures (maybe literally) are headed down south. And while the big open spaces slower paced lifestyles are a draw for families and baby boomers, they’re not the only ones with the Texas Bug. San Antonio saw the largest growth in millennial population among America’s largest metros, with a 9.2 increase between 2010 and 2013. Houston’s millennial population grew by 6.2 percent during this time; Dallas-Fort Worth’s by 4.7 percent; and Austin’s by 4.2 percent. All four metros were in the top 25 of the list. Texas, you could say, is very much “in.”
“The mild winters and robust job markets are huge draws for Austin,” says Orlando. “I love our lack of congestion, incredible food options, and the palpable sense of Texan exceptionalism.”
Myth #3: Texas is old-fashioned and politically monochromatic.
There’s a reason why some are calling Austin the new San Francisco. The recent swell of tech startups in Texas’s capital have contributed immensely to the city’s well known love for diversity. (Are you really surprised when the city’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird”?) It’s particularly the mix of old and new, Texans say, that make life here so great.
“You’re just as likely to find a chic new coffee shop or tech startup as you are a taco truck or panaderia even in lower-income areas in east Austin,” says Orlando.
And the Southern stereotypes don’t fit every Texan any more than they fit every Southerner. So while it may be a largely red state, not every Texan is made the same.
“I lived abroad in Chile and Spain for two years, and the most common questions were: ‘Do you ride a horse to school? Do you own a gun? Do you love George Bush?’ No on all accounts actually,” says Ergas, exasperated.
And the newcomers can be just as bad, she adds.
“They expect Southern accents, guns, cowboys and Republicans, so people are generally surprised when they don’t find that. People eventually realize that the major cities in Texas are fairly liberal, and that accents and cowboys aren’t the norm.”
Myth #4: Texas is big.
Alright, so this isn’t a myth, but “big” doesn’t cut it, so it bears explaining. Texas is massive. Like, huge. Big enough to have once been a country (something Texans still celebrate today, by the way).
“People from other states and countries always underestimate the size of Texas,” Ergos says. “It still shocks people that I attended a university in-state, but it was a five-hour drive home.”
Why is this important for renters? There’s plenty of room to grow for everyone flocking here, of course. According to Orlando, the urban sprawl is one of the things newcomers have to get used to.
“Chicago is about 234 sq. miles and has several hundred thousand more people than Houston, which is 600 sq. miles,” he points out.
Myth #5: Texans ride a horse to school.
No. Just….no. Please, for the sake of every Texan out there, don’t ask anyone if this is true! It’s not.
So get while the gettin’s good.
There you have it. While rent might be increasing in Texas, the cost certainly beats out many other major cities; there’s plenty of room to spread out, and with the boom in jobs in the state, it’s the perfect place for young professionals to start their careers. So what are you waiting for?