Austin Affordability: The High Cost of Living Apart

Big Family Austin

In an increasingly “unaffordable” Austin, it occurs to me that many of us could live way cheaper if we could just get along and live in extended family groups or roommate groups. I’ll use my own family as an example to explore this CRAZY idea for curing Austin’s affordability problem.

Sylvia and I live in a home in SW Austin with a $3,000/mo mortgage. Our utilities average $250/mo for everything, plus yard care of $80 per month, and of course repairs and maintenance as needed. We intentionally downsized to this home from Westlake, because we want to live more “affordably” and we no longer needed to live in Westlake Eanes ISD after our girls graduated high school.

My mom, in her 70’s, lives three blocks away in a home I purchased as investment (but for her to live in). I charge her $1,200/mo rent (market rent would be $2,000, my payment/cost is $1,800/mo), and her utility bills average about $180/mo, plus lawn care. I cover the repairs and maintenance.

Sylvia’s brother lives in an efficiency apartment in Hyde Park, which is $1,000/mo, plus about $100/mo utilities.

My oldest daughter graduated college this year, has a salary job, and is living at home still for now, but plans to get her own place after the new year (and after saving some money first – smart move). A modest place would cost her $1,000/mo to live alone, or $800 if she pairs up with a roommate or two. But let’s call it $1,000/mo for a 1/1 to keep the math simple, plus $100 utilities.

My youngest daughter is a freshman in college, and I’m paying for a dorm room, so she doesn’t necessarily count in the equation, except for the fact that I’m paying for two places for her currently – her college dorm and her room at home for visits and during summer. So I’ll ignore the dorm costs and count her as living at home still.

So, in summary, we have mine and Sylvia’s 3 bedroom house, my mom’s 3 bedroom house, my brother-in-law’s no-bedroom efficiency apartment, my older daughter’s future 1 bedroom apartment.

That’s a total of 8 sleeping spaces, 6 bathrooms, 4 kitchens, 4 utility bills for 6 people and 5 cars. Total monthly outlay for mortgages + rents is $6,800, utilities $630, yard care $150, plus repairs and maintenance for two separate houses. Grand total $7,580/mo for 6 people with 5 cars. More about vehicle expenses later.

What if I just bought a 5 bedroom 3 bath house and we all lived together?

A search for a 5+ bedroom, 3+ bath house in SW Austin shows 7 matches. The cheapest is a 5/3/2 with 3,200 sqft home in Legend Oaks for $420K, with a master bedroom (for me and sylvia) AND guest room with full bath (for my mom) both downstairs. And 3 more bedrooms and a full bath upstairs. That gives everyone their own room, and three of us private baths.

But if that’s not enough breathing room, there is also a 4,000+ sqft home with 4 FULL baths in a gated Circle C golf section for $575K, which is still less than the total market value of mine and my mom’s houses.

With either example, you now have just one roof, one kitchen, one yard, shared utilities, etc. In other words, the cost of living and overhead, per person, drops a lot.

Assuming the $575K home, with 25% down, 3.75% interest on a 15 year loan, the PITI is about $4,300/mo. to split between everyone, compared to $6,800 rent+mortgages for the 4 separate places.

Now let’s talk about cars. Would 5 or 6 cars be needed for this gaggle of roomies? No. Three or four shared vehicles would suffice. And there could be a communal Uber card, to use in a pinch, paid for out of the savings achieved by pooling vehicles. I’m not going to try to calculate an exact savings for car reduction, but it would be several hundred per month at least, if not more, because you now have the synergy of ride sharing, fewer grocery store trips, carpool “drop offs” with Uber return, etc. That in itself would be an interesting separate cost study.

Even using conservative loose math, I’m over $3,000 in monthly combined savings all totaled for the group. I’m sure if a batch of roommates, especially a batch of 6 currently living alone in 1 bedroom apartments, were to “merge” into a communal dwelling unit, the savings would be even more per person. Plus, with shared cooking and cleaning chores, more free time, less grocery expense, and lower stress for everyone. Oh yeah, I didn’t factor in the shared WiFi/Cable in 1 place instead of 4. That’s probably another $300/mo itself.

But Could Everyone Get Along?
Ok, now the kicker. Could I handle living full time with my wife, 2 daughters, mom and a brother in law? Could my mom handle living with all of us? Could my brother in law give up his solitude and independence? Could we all share a kitchen, cooking duties and cars?

My first thought? … Probably not. 🙁

But what if we used some of the $3,000 in monthly savings to pay for a family therapist and a vacation home at Port A? Then when we get on each other’s nerves, we just go to counseling, or take turns escaping for a weekend to the beach condo! I mean, when there is that much money to put to alternate uses, we can get creative can’t we?

I don’t know. It’s crazy to think about, but I seriously am thinking about it and asking “why not”? Seriously.


Posted by Steve
a couple of years ago

Steve is a Real Estate Blogger, UT Austin Grad, Real Estate Broker and owner of Crossland Team and Crossland Real Estate in Austin TX.

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Maggie - a couple of years ago

We met you almost two years ago hunting for a house in Austin on a VA loan – we ended up finding a great place in Crestview that went on the market at the same time as several other houses in the area. This was the one that didn’t sell, so we made a low offer and the seller accepted. It’s a 3 bedroom at the top of our price range, but we rent out two of three rooms (ours is nicely isolated), so our $2300/mo. mortgage only costs us $1200/mo. We save on utilities too; there were some growing pains living with roommates again, but we’ve found a nice equilibrium now. And we were able to remodel the kitchen with the money we saved. We plan to keep renting out the two bedrooms until our last year in Austin, and then stop renting at least one out and invite family and friends to visit.

Steve - a couple of years ago

Hi Maggie,

Glad your finding a way to make it work! Crestview is an awesome neighborhood.

Chris E - a couple of years ago

Steve, I think you’re question is intriguing. Living together in small groups is how we humans have done it since time immemorial. I’ve been reading a book about intentional communities by the longtime editor of a national magazine on the subject. She stresses the need to develop a vision with the group early on. If you could agree on a vision and decision criteria for important decisions, you might be on your way. I imagine the experience would have some of the characteristics of having children; that is to say: highly difficult with big ups and downs and in the end potentially very rewarding.

Katherine Cranston - a couple of years ago

Alas, this just isn’t the American lifestyle. Living in family groups/roommate groups in your adult years is less and less popular here than it is in most other countries. It’s just not cool. 😉

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