Houston is a big city in a big state, so there’s a lot to consider when relocating to this diverse and booming metropolis. From its vibrant food scene to melting-pot neighborhoods, its affordable housing options to mosquito-boosting humidity — here are some key things to know about living in Houston before making your move.
Before we dive into the facts, you might enjoy taking this virtual tour of Houston, focusing on the downtown and midtown areas:
Houston At a Glance
- The largest and most populous city in both Texas and the southern U.S., Houston teems with over 2.3 million residents across a sprawling 637 square miles.
- Houston makes up the southeast corner of the Texas Triangle, or “Texaplex” — a mega-region that includes the state’s four largest cities of Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas-Fort Worth.
- Houstonians are young. Houston’s median age of 34.9 is the lowest of the nation’s major metros, based on the 2019 U.S. Census.
1. The cost of living in Houston is below the U.S. average
If you’re moving from another urban area, you may find it’s cheaper to live in Houston:
- Compared to the nation’s 20 most populous metro areas, Houston has the second lowest overall cost of living, with costs 4.2% below the average for all 277 urban areas in the survey by the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER).
- Housing costs are 11.5% below the national average and a whopping 51% lower than the average of the 20 most populous U.S. metros, according to the C2ER.
This video from HAR gives you a quick look at Houston’s housing market:
2. Houston homes are still affordable, but prices are on the rise
If you’re looking to buy a home in Houston, prices are still attainable, even though they increased from 2019 to 2020, according to the Houston Association of REALTORS (HAR):
- The median sales price (the figure at which half of the homes sold for more and half sold for less) was $260,000 in 2020, up 6.1% from 2019.
- The average home sales price was $324,000 in 2020, up 5.9% from 2019.
3. You’ll find a diverse mix of rental apartments in all price ranges
The median rent for 2-bedroom apartments in Houston is about $1,200, which is slightly higher than the national average. But that doesn’t tell the whole picture. Due to the city’s size and complexity, Houston offers a diverse rental market with cheap, midrange, and luxury apartment options across a wide variety of neighborhoods. According to RentCafe:
- The most affordable Houston rentals can be found in South Park and the Greater Fifth Ward, where average rent goes for $600 to $700 a month.
- The most expensive apartments are in Midtown, Neartown, and Downtown, with average rents in the $1700 to $1900 range.
- The most popular areas for rentals in Houston are Uptown and Eldridge West Oaks, where average rents hover around $1,200.
Map of Houston: 610 Loop
4. When looking for the best Houston neighborhoods, think inside and outside the “Loop”
As you can see from the map of Houston TX above, the city’s central urban center is enclosed by the square-ish Interstate 610 — what locals refer to as “the Loop.” As you explore Houston neighborhoods, you’ll notice big distinctions inside and outside this stretch of major highway, with both offering advantages, depending on what you’re looking for in a home.
Living inside the Loop comes with all the perks of city life: an easier commute, an elevated bar and restaurant scene, and a high concentration of museums and cultural events. Here’s a quick look at some top Houston neighborhoods inside the Loop, plus one that’s right on the border:
- Houston Heights: Located northwest of downtown, The Heights is one of Houston’s most walkable communities, with a vibrant dining and antique scene unlike anywhere else in the city. Newly constructed Victorian and Charleston-style cottages blend well with updated historic homes, with a median home value of $520,000.
- River Oaks: Just three miles west of downtown, one of Houston’s oldest and most affluent neighborhoods, this historic community is protected by strict architectural standards and building restrictions, a distinction in a city with little or no zoning. Mansions dating from the 1920s line the streets of River Oaks, where the median home value in River Oaks is over $2.35 million.
- West University: Home to Rice University, West U (as locals call it) is consistently rated as one of the best places to live in Houston. The neighborhood’s park system, baseball fields, recreation center, library, and Rice Village Shopping Center are a major draw, pushing the median home price to over $1 million, with new construction selling for over $2 million.
- Hobby Area: Though technically outside the Loop, the Hobby area is so close to the border that the convenience factor is still strong, just 10 miles southeast of Downtown Houston. especially considering its proximity to Hobby Airport. With a median home price of $207,000, the area is a place where first-time home buyers can invest in remodeling a fixer-upper and build home equity. Home to Hobby Airport, the community’s accessibility, top-rated schools, and affordability are attracting new interest in the area.
Areas outside the Loop have a more low-key and suburban feel, with the best Houston suburbs typically offering homes in the $300k to $500k range. They feature family-friendly neighborhoods and top-rated public school districts, but there’s also plenty of urban sprawl to contend with. Here’s a quick overview of some of the best suburbs outside the Loop:
- Clear Lake: Adjacent to the Johnson Space Center about 22 miles southeast of downtown Houston, this area is also close to major aerospace headquarters, like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. While the median home value at $285,000, there’s a good mix of both single-family older neighborhoods, luxury townhomes in gated communities, and condos, with prices ranging from $100,000 to more than $1 million.
- Sugar Land: About 20 miles southwest of downtown Houston, Sugar Land is one of the fastest growing cities in Texas, with a median home value of $330,000. A collection of master-planned communities with golf courses, lakes, high-rated schools, and convenient dining and shopping make this a popular place for families to settle.
- The Woodlands: About 28 miles northwest of downtown Houston, The Woodlands is an award-winning master-planned community that balances nature with community. About 8,000 acres of forest and open space has been preserved amid nine residential villages and commercial centers. The median home value here is $411,000.
|Relocating in or out of Texas? We’re here to help with our big-picture guide to moving in the Lone Star State.|
5. Commuting here is no cakewalk
Commuters in Houston spend more time on the road than most Americans, averaging an hour or more each day, based on government traffic studies. Although there’s a light rail system with three lines covering about 22 miles, the car culture runs strong in Houston, with workers choosing public transit at less than half the national rate.
That said, efforts are underway to improve the city’s transportation infrastructure, including continued expansion of the city’s bike routes, underground walkways, and the METRORail system. And like any other major city, some neighborhoods are more commutable than others. For example, more people now live in or near downtown Houston, with 65,000 living within a two-mile radius, and a survey of downtown workers shows 32% use public transit — much higher than the rest of the region.
6. Houston’s diversity may surprise you
According to the U.S. Census, Houston is the most ethnically diverse large city in the U.S., as no single racial or ethnic group represents a majority. Houston is home to several international communities and cultural enclaves, including the burgeoning Museum and Theater Districts, a vibrant dining and nightlife scene, and a packed roster of festivals and trade shows. Visitors from all over the world travel annually to attend the city’s large scale industry and cultural events, including the Bayou City Art Festival, Houston Auto Show, Houston Fashion Week, Houston Gay Pride Parade, and of course the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
7. You can call it “Space City,” the “Bayou City,” or choose from a bunch of other nicknames
Houston has so many nicknames, there’s a Wikipedia page just to help you keep them straight. But the two most popular are “Space City,” because it’s home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and “Bayou City,” for the 10 meandering waterways that wind through the area.
8. The Bayou City has a lot of superlatives
Maybe it’s the “Don’t Mess with Texas” effect, but Houston is really good at being first and setting records. Here are just a few:
- Texas Medical Center in Houston is the largest in the world.
- The largest shopping mall in Texas, the Galleria, is located in Houston.
- Houston is home to the first domed stadium, the Astrodome.
- The U.S.’s first traditional Hindu Mandir temple was built in Houston.
- Houston has the highest total park acreage of any U.S. city with over 1 million residents.
- The Houston Grand Opera is the only opera company in the world that has won all three Grammy, Tony, and Emmy awards.
- Houston is Beyoncé’s hometown. Consider that a triumph in itself!
9. K-12 parents look to the suburbs while Higher-ed students love living in Houston proper
Here’s why Houston parents with school-age children tend to prefer the suburbs, while college students flock to the city:
- Most top-performing and top-rated schools in Houston are located in Friendswood, Tomball, Katy, and Barbers Hill — all surrounding suburbs located outside of Houston’s Loop.
- The greater Houston area has 14 major institutions of higher learning, including the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and Rice University.
- The Texas Medical Center contains the world’s largest concentration of healthcare and research institutions, including a vast range of medical, nursing, dentistry, and pharmacy programs.
10. Most don’t like the weather in Houston, but a few relish it
If you like heat, you’ll love Houston. The city has a hot and humid subtropical climate, with low temperatures around 40°F in January and highs around 95°F in August. The city experiences plenty of rainfall over the year, some dry spells in summer, and occasional bouts of severe weather blowing in from the Atlantic. Besides the heat and humidity, here are two important factors to keep in mind if you’re moving to Houston:
- The risk of flooding is increasing in Houston, not only from hurricanes like Harvey, which pounded the city in 2017, but also from other weather events. Before choosing a home, check this guide to avoiding areas prone to flooding.
- If you have respiratory issues, you may have trouble with Houston’s air quality. Pollution from heavy chemical industries, high temperatures, and long runs of rain and humidity combine to create difficult conditions for residents with asthma, allergies, and lung problems, according to multiple studies, including the Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research.
11. The crime rate is high, but there are plenty of ways to be safe
If you’re worried about crime, be aware that Houston’s crime rate is ranked higher than most U.S. cities. Residents have a 1 in 18 chance of being the victim of violent or property crime — one of the worst metrics in the country. Contributing factors to crime in the area include gang activity, illicit drug trade, and economic hardship. Houston’s leaders have announced a coordinated effort aimed at reducing crime in the city, with a focus on these problem areas: Westside, South Gessner, Southeast Houston, North Belt, South Central, and Midwest. Residents are also encouraged to take precautions to lower their risk of being targeted, with tips in this personal safety guide.
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12. The job market will have winners and losers
Houston’s economy is huge — with 3.1 million jobs counted in the Houston Metro area in 2020, based on government data. In fact, Houston’s city limits contain the second-highest number of Fortune 500 headquarters of any U.S. municipality, after New York City. Houston’s top industries include energy and oilfield equipment, healthcare, aeronautics, manufacturing, tourism, and transportation.
Like the entire U.S., Houston’s economy was hit hard by the coronavirus, but the city also suffered setbacks related to low oil prices. Still, the region is poised for a steady recovery, depending on the success of the vaccine rollout and funding for economic stimulus projects by the federal government. The Greater Houston Partnership forecast for 2021 predicts job growth in every sector except energy and retail. Top industries in Houston include healthcare, sales, computers, banking and financial services, tourism, and administrative and office work. The fact that Texas is one of nine U.S. states with zero state income tax helps residents’ budgets and creates growth-driven venture opportunities, but in turn cuts into government-led funding and initiatives.
13. “Houston” was the first word spoken from the moon
Ok, ok, the first words were actually “contact light,” but any proud Houstonian will tell you astronaut Neil Armstrong clearly said: “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.”
As you likely know from your favorite astronaut flicks, Houston has a long history with NASA and space exploration. Since breaking ground in 1962, the Johnson Space Center (originally named the Manned Spacecraft Center) has been mission control for an astronomical (pun intended!) range of space research and development programs — from the Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab projects of the 20th century to the International Space Station and other programs operating today.
14. The Houston dining scene is a foodie’s paradise
With more than 10,000 restaurants representing over 70 countries and American regions to choose from, it’s no wonder that Houstonians dine out more times a week than any other city’s residents in the U.S. The city’s recent James Beard winners include:
- The Blind Goat (Best New Restaurant)
- Justin Yu of the restaurant Theodore Rex (Outstanding Chef)
- Hugo’s (Outstanding Hospitality)
15. These are the top 10 things to do in Houston
If you’re new to the Bayou City and want to start living like a local, check off these tried-and-true Houstonian hits:
- Attend rotating exhibits and performances in the Museum and Theater Districts.
- Take a dozen or so distillery tours; you won’t run out anytime soon.
- Wander Houston’s rave-worthy Chinatown.
- Buy season tickets for the Houston Astros.
- Check out the year-round exhibitions at the NASA Space Center.
- Escape to Hermann Park and Buffalo Bayou for greenspace.
- Explore nearby parks and nature sites, including Houston Arboretum and Nature Center (10 miles west of downtown Houston), Big Thicket National Reserve (1.5-hour drive), and Padre Island National Seashore (4-hour drive).
- Stroll around the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park on hot summer days.
- Shop Houston’s world-class farmer’s markets for fresh produce on weekends.
- Test out hundreds of authentic BBQ and seafood spots around the city.
Whatever brings you to southeast Texas, living in Houston is sure to be an adventure. The city is filled with some of the friendliest people in the country, so getting to know its diverse cultural landscape may be one of the most fun and rewarding experiences in your lifetime. We hope you send us your best Tex-Mex and BBQ recommendations while you’re at it!