DRIPPING SPRINGS, TEXAS. Things change. When my wife and I returned to Texas in 2009, things were not looking good. The real estate crash was in full swing. The stock market had fallen massively. Unemployment was rising.
The giddy world of using our houses as ATMs had crashed. It was difficult to sell a house anywhere, including Santa Fe (where we had been living). Unsold houses were piling up around the country. Even in Texas Hill Country.
The little subdivision we moved to had several houses for sale. Some remained on the market for quite a while. But that was then.
Today, if you read the Wall Street Journal, you’d think no one owned a house worth less than $1 million in all of Hays County and everywhere west of Dripping Springs to Fredericksburg. In June, the Journal described Hill Country as “a land rush for the rich.”
I hope you’ll consider me a qualified venter about this.
For one thing, I’m tired of reading about rich people. Honk if you agree. I’d really like it if the 1 percent got only 1 percent of the news instead of the excessive coverage they receive. If only they would live like Philadelphia gentlemen, mentioned in print only at marriage and death.
More important, the boom here is not a migration of the rich. It’s a broad migration for work and opportunity. The big story is the suburbanization of Austin, a city rich in new jobs and bursting with entrepreneurial action. The people who work those jobs want to create a good life for themselves and the children they have or intend to have.
The migration is that simple. It’s part of the whole thing that I called “DalAntonio” years ago.
Many drive toward Hill Country. They drive toward quieter, country living. They drive toward better schools. They drive to “the wedding capital of Texas”---Dripping Springs, with a multitude of amazing nuptual venues. They drive to see horses and enormous open fields, as city dwellers have done since the invention of the automobile.
They “drive to qualify,” hoping to trade additional drive time for a lower mortgage payment, on a house they can afford. At the current level of Dripping Springs home prices, many will have to drive a lot farther. A new development of patio homes, “the Retreat,” offers new homes in the $300s. Other developments start in the $400s, but often deliver in the $500s. But these are paycheck homes, not portfolio homes.
A few new houses in the mid-$200s can be found, but the operative word is “few.” And to get below $200,000 you’ll need to buy land, drill a well, and haul in a manufactured home.
Beyond price, much of the move here is about worldview. That’s why you’ll see lots of cars with bumper stickers that read “Just West of Weird,” a reference to the more conservative point of view here and to Austinites who hope, with their T-shirts, to “Keep Austin Weird.”
The vehicle of choice out here is a Ford F-150 pickup truck, not a status-seeking Mercedes or a tree-hugging Prius. If a church calls for volunteers to clear some land, you’re likely to see dozens of crazed men swinging chainsaws.
Food here is pretty basic, too. You’ve got all the fundamental food groups: Dairy Queen, Domino’s, McDonald’s, Schlotsky’s, Sonic, Subway and What-a-Burger. Not to mention Railyard Bar-B-Q or the legendary Salt Lick for your brisket. One new restaurant entry, Epicure, offers a more upscale menu, with hints of Sonoma’s Willi’s Wine Bar in the wine and cheese selections.
Other than the recently built HEB supermarket (not to be confused with “Gucci-B,” as a larger, somewhat uppity HEB closer to Austin is nicknamed), the big retail venues are Home Depot and Tractor Supply. More than a few people get most of their clothing from Tractor Supply, when they can’t get it from the busy Goodwill store.
Growth, however, has consequences. Traffic is heavy these days, but nothing compared to the gridlock of downtown Austin or Dallas, let alone the horrors of Boston, Los Angeles or Washington.
And, yes, the wide-open spaces are disappearing. When we bought our house, we had a beautiful view over miles of undeveloped ranch land. Now, the first of 200 houses are going up on a 100-acre parcel immediately behind us.
Some would grind their teeth about this. I don’t. It’s a small price to pay for abundance and shared opportunity. I’m just hoping we can keep all those tacky rich people out.