Affluent buyers looking for luxury rural getaways are flocking to the Texas Hill Country, says Wall Street Journal contributor Alina Dizik. The Hill Country spans about 17 counties near Austin and San Antonio and is known for gnarly live oaks, spring-fed streams and rocky hills. The remote rural landscape is attracting retirees who want to get away from bigger cities and cash in on a lower cost of living.
There aren't many luxury properties for sale, so buyers are adding on to existing homes or building entirely new "recreational" ranches for hunting, fishing, and horseback riding.
In the past three to four years, “we’re seeing an increase in absentee landowners,” said Katherine Romans, interim president of the Hill Country Alliance, a local economic and tourism organization. Many of them are buying vast swaths of land and leaving much of it undeveloped as conservation easements. The purchases ensure the area’s rugged rural feel, while entitling the landowners to property-tax breaks.
Building in these areas can be pricey. Those who buy land and build can expect to spend $100,000 to $150,000 in improvements to prepare a septic system, roads, water wells and electrical hookups for the home, and construction costs can range from $150 to $450 per square foot, says Paul Sumrall, a custom home builder based in Johnson City, Texas.
But Texas has also seen its wave of weather problems, which could impact the home building scene. This spring, some Hill Country areas have had record-setting floods, cutting off accessibility to roads. Rural areas tend to have poor flood-mapping records, so builders increasingly rely on engineers to predict flood-stage water levels, Mr. Sumrall said. The area is also having more frequent droughts, which may lower property values if buyers purchase land during years when nearby rivers and streams are dry, he added.