A Retiree’s Guide to Austin, Texas
By Doug Lytton
Every day ten thousand Americans are turning age sixty-five. The question most aging investors ask themselves is will I have enough money to maintain my standard of living? How much money is enough? Here’s a retiree’s guide to Austin, Texas.
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Every day ten thousand Americans are turning age sixty-five.
The question most aging investors ask themselves is will I have enough money to maintain my standard of living? How much money is enough? These are the questions my wife and I were asking ourselves last year as the reality of voluntarily leaving the workplace was at hand. Where will we live? What about Medicare and some sort of supplemental plan? Taxes?
The SoCal Life
Living in California, although beautiful, also meant higher and higher taxes and a rising cost of living, only outpaced by New York. Our employer had transferred us from Dallas to The Golden State thirteen years earlier. We lived in a small town in North County of San Diego.
Time to Retire
We were both retiring in 2014, and had planned to stay in California.
However, just as our retirement separation paperwork was ready to process, we learned that our youngest daughter and her family were relocating to Austin, Texas.
Being firmly ensconced in SoCal, the thought of moving back to Texas, although enticing (the grandkids and all), was not an easy decision. After twelve years of continuous work our beach cottage was finally remodeled to our satisfaction. But we had fond memories of Austin too and those beautiful granddaughters were the ultimate magnates that pulled us back to Texas.
Out with the Old…
Lots of things had to be accomplished in order to make a smooth transition. First, we decided to sell the cottage.
Ducks in a Row
The California real estate market in 2013-14 was red hot along the coastal area of San Diego.
Once we listed the house and hung the For Sale sign, the very first couple who walked through the door made a full price offer. Naturally, we took the deal. We held three garage sales and sold off all furniture, appliances, artwork, garden tools - everything.
A new home in Texas and a fresh motif excited our creative juices.
No matter how fast we wanted to make the transition though, it simply took a few months longer to wind out of all our California commitments. One of my long-time buddies from school rented one of his La Jolla condos to us on a month-to-month basis, which afforded us the time to wrap up our affairs.
We also stayed at our daughter's new home in the Rollingwood—Westlake Hills area, not far from downtown and Town Lake.
Welcome to Austin
Austin is surrounded by water. People really use the parks and lake year-round.
We looked at some beautiful condos around Zilker Park very near the kids and lake where the Austin City Limits venue is held each year in October, but realized that such a highly trafficked, partying area was no longer as appealing as it would have been if we were still in our thirties. And not so different from San Diego, condos for sale on or near the water are very pricy.
Austin’s Downtown Skyline
Obviously, we loved being close to the kids - just not too close, if you know what I mean. So as a result, we drove north of the city to Georgetown, a quaint suburb about thirty miles north of downtown.
A Place to Call Home
Georgetown was settled in the 1840s and the town square has been completely restored.
The courthouse, shops and tree-lined streets are what one imagines as the perfect American small town. We drove to Georgetown not intending to live in the small town but instead to visit Del Webb's Sun City, which is about five miles from the town square.
The visit to Sun City was most rewarding. We found the perfect lot on a beautiful creek with tall Cedar Elm and Live Oak trees. Deer were frolicking near the creek as we walked the lot. We also learned that price-wise we could afford to purchase the property and build.
A Bit of Perspective
We arrived in the new house with a folding card table and two folding chairs.
You can imagine the fun as well as the agony of working with contractors, painters, furniture stores, flooring - on and on. It took six months to complete and decorate the house. Daunting as this phase was, designing and getting approval for our landscaping was a harder challenge. The project took over six months to complete.
So now having the perspective of time and grappling in the trenches - literally- I feel confident that I am qualified to introduce the reader to Austin, Texas.
I've been storing impressions and would like to share my thoughts.
First, when one thinks of Texas, it's usually distorted by images of Cadillacs with long steer horns on the hood, or blonde cheerleaders in western outfits. That's really more a Fort Worth thing than one finds in Austin or the Hill Country.
In fact, as far as appearances go, I'd say that the locals (the high tech guys working in downtown) look more like the nerdy computer types than Willie Nelson, another famous Austinite who certainly does represent an older, fading segment of what makes up this place.
Five Types of People
In fact, there are at least five distinct types of people who live in the greater Austin area:
First you have the university students from all over the world; next you have the suits (mostly state employees and lawyers), as Austin is the capital of Texas; and then you have the musicians and all that goes with it - i.e., bar flies, wannabes, afficienados, actual stars - you get the picture; and then you have a large retirement community in Georgetown-Sun City, and finally, young families wanting a safe community in which to raise a family.
Find a Beat
To the outside world Austin is best known for South By Southwest, great restaurants, wineries, and live music. What truly differentiates the greater Austin Metro Area from just about anywhere else is the diverse music scene. One can walk down any number of streets - Congress, 6th Street, Lamar, Barton Springs - and walk into a bar and enjoy kick-ass Blues, Retro Rock, Cutting Edge Urban, Blue Grass, Western, Classical, Jazz - you name, it's here in abundance.
As one travels out of the city to little towns like Wimberley, Boerne (pronounced Burnie), Marble Falls, Taylor -
there's a sense of comfortable Texas chic that isn't 'hick' but obviously leans toward what a coastal person would observe as Country. Still these towns offer beautiful scenery, great food and a history rich in Texana.
Weekend trips to places like Fredericksburg or Johnson City are worth it on so many levels - historic, aesthetic and pure adventure. Believe it or not, there are some really good vineyards in and around Fredericksburg. It's an eye opener to get out to places removed from the urban, high tech lives we all live these days and rub shoulders with plain folk.
In Gruene (pronounced Green), you can find the oldest Beer Hall anywhere in these parts and learn how to do the Texas Two Step. Thirty minutes east of downtown is Taylor, where you can find BBQ so superior that you just might make up your mind that 'Y'all er movin' to the Hill Country'!
New Home in Sun City
Austin has been considered "cool" for many years, but lately with the boom in the high tech industry, and several venture capital firms locating here, Austin has now been given it's new name: Silicon Hills.
The University of Texas, much like Stanford in Palo Alto, being closely affiliated with the venture capital community has helped spawn the growing electronics and entrepreneurial business environment in Austin and for that matter, throughout the nation. One-third of all new jobs being created in the US, have been created in Texas.
Although not widely reported, Texas now leads California in the number of new business start-ups. In fact Apple is building its new headquarters in Austin and that should tell you something.
In Good Company
So the point is, you sort of have a 'peaceable kingdom' of stumbling street groupies, pin striped suits, golf cart driving grannies as well as Docker-clad techies with a corporate logo on their Polo shirt, something like "Upchuck Data" -
all bumping into one another in a rather polyglot stew of tolerance and peaceful co-existence. Austin also happens to be extremely liberal. Often referred to by the likes of Sean Hannity as "The People's Republic of Austin". All this in the heart of Texas - who knew? East and West Coast transplants feel very much at home in Austin.
Keeping the Green
As my wife and I continue to settle into the Austin vibe, our thoughts have turned to Gardening and Landscaping.
Sun City HOA is very picky. We came from draught ridden California to draught ridden Texas. Xeriscape has been part of our gardening belief system for more than a decade.
The Texas draught finally broke in May, when Texas was drenched for thirty-five days of rain. Eighty-one trillion gallons of water fell on Texas - enough water to cover the entire state with eight inches of water! The green lawns that most people want are anathema to us. We have planted natives and succulents and beautiful Crepe Myrtle trees.
You Get What You Pay For
The annual Sun City HOA fee is $1,200.
If you multiply that number times 7,500 homes, you'll quickly realize that the capital reserves and monthly cash-flow provide quite nicely for the maintenance and upkeep of the manicured common spaces, golf courses, club houses, restaurants and shops on-site. It also explains why there are very strict rules for owner's landscaping. We see this as a good thing. I for one certainly enjoy driving through neighborhoods that are beautifully maintained.
Keeping It Cool
Another reason we chose Georgetown-Sun City is the Baylor-Scott & White Hospital medical plan.
Many people have selected Scott & White with Medicare. Scott & White is very highly regarded and has a beautiful clinic right on-site. When you reach age sixty-five, Medicare is an inescapable reality. In Texas, the major medical providers are M.D. Anderson and Baylor-Scott & White.
The Baylor-Scott & White's headquarters is located in Temple, Texas, a very short drive from Sun City.
Glad to be Home
A few of the appealing things about Austin and the metro area are:
cost of living, (Sun City) living in a resort retirement community (like going on a cruise without leaving port), proximity to a thriving city with great restaurants, live music, the arts - just a few of the reasons we chose to move to this part of Texas.
The main reason, of course, is because our youngest daughter and family have moved to Austin, with the GRANDCHILDREN!!
But I digress…
Make no mistake, we're not old retired stick-in-the-mud geezers. We love hanging out with the kids and grandkids, getting with a bunch of neighbors and going into Austin to 'kick up our heels'—sharing moments with family and new friends.