Whether you’re a recent transplant to Texas or a lifelong Austinite, you’re almost certainly aware that it’s one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country. And if you haven’t yet jumped into the world of homeownership, you’re better off buying a home sooner rather than later. With a median home price of $262,182, Austin real estate is cheap compared to major hubs for tech and business elsewhere in the country, like San Francisco, Seattle and New York City. But that likely won’t last.

Austin certainly isn’t the only city in the U.S. currently experiencing a tight seller’s market in which sellers have the upper hand with more buyers than houses for sale. But Austin's median home price and expectations that the metro area could double in population over the next 10 years means buying a house or condo now could be a smart investment in the long run.

You don’t want to buy just any house that’s available for sale, though. You want your first home to meet your needs, be affordable enough to live comfortably and serve as a solid investment, increasing in value for a profit when you decide to sell. But with a hot housing market, you'll want to do ample prep work so you're ready to move quickly when you start checking out listings.

Narrow your search by neighborhood, type of home and features you’ll need to be comfortable. But before you begin anything, determine the number of bedrooms and bathrooms your house should have and how much living space you’ll need. You'll also want to determine what areas of the city are a good fit for you based on proximity to work, school and other activities you're regularly involved in, as Austin's average commute of 26.2 minutes is higher than most other U.S. major metro areas.

As you begin the house hunting process, the best course of action as a first-time homebuyer is to reach out to real estate agents and speak with a few who may be able to represent you throughout the homebuying process and real estate transaction. Organizations like the Austin Board of Realtors or an individual realty firm's website can help you get started with background to assist you in finding the right professional to represent you.

[Read: 6 Questions to Ask Your Real Estate Agent Before Buying a Home in Austin.]

Be selective, and only hire a real estate agent you feel will have your best interests in mind as you tour houses, place a bid and negotiate with the seller on price. The right agent will have a thorough knowledge of the neighborhoods you're considering. For example, an agent specializing in Tarrytown or Old West Austin might not be the same person you'd want to work with if you're more focused on suburbs outside the city limits, such as Pflugerville, Round Rock and Cedar Park.

[Read: 5 Signs You’ve Found the Right Austin Real Estate Agent.]

Especially in a housing market where available real estate is limited, it’s important to keep an open mind about the type of home you’ll purchase – whether that’s an older home that may need renovations, a condominium that's low-maintenance or a single-family home that’s part of a master-planned community. The more willing you are to consider a wide variety of housing styles, the more likely you’ll be to find a home to purchase within your budget.

Housing type aside, the location of the home you purchase is imperative to both your happiness in the home and whether you’ll be able to afford it. As you consider neighborhoods in Austin, keep in mind your preferences for commute time to work and school, access to recreational activities and the type of community you want to live in. Some want to be within walking distance of a weekend farmers market, while others find more convenience in having a major shopping center nearby.

In addition to your preferences, keep your expected return on investment in mind when considering a home. While continued property value growth can’t be guaranteed forever, your ability to make a profit when you decide to sell your home in Austin can mean the difference between moving to the house of your dreams and having to settle for something less desirable.

Tags: real estate, housing market, housing, home prices, new home sales, existing home sales, pending home sales, Austin


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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