2021 Insider's Guide to the Best Places to Live in Houston

In this article:

A strong job market, sunny weather, and diverse culture have transformed Bayou City into a sprawling metro area. Our guide is here to help you decide where to call home. And for those completely new to the area, we also included answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about living in Houston. 

To evaluate neighborhoods and suburbs, we looked at housing affordability, nearby jobs, quality of schools, and neighborhood amenities. We also asked our local real estate agents to weigh in. Long-time Houstonians, they get this question all the time and have helped many clients find their next place. Read on to discover the right neighborhood for you.

Best neighborhoods inside the Loop

Photo of Minute Maid Park in East Downtown (EaDo)

Why live inside the Loop: You value walkability, proximity to restaurants and nightlife, and want to be at the center of Houston's art and culture scene.

East Downtown (EaDo)

Average home value: $375k

EaDo is one of Houston's most vibrant up-and-coming neighborhoods. Originally known as "old Chinatown," this neighborhood has experienced a surge of residential and commercial development that has attracted young professionals to the area. Here you'll enjoy all the perks of living downtown - access to public transit, proximity to restaurants, plenty of nightlife and entertainment, plus relatively affordable housing. You'll find townhomes, condos, and single-family homes that appeal to a first-time homebuyer.

What to do in EaDo: watch an Astros ball game at Minute Maid Park, catch a show at Warehouse Live, or admire the murals at Graffiti Park

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The Heights (Houston Heights)

Average home value: $600k

If you're looking for local breweries, artsy neighbors, and cozy homes, Houston Heights may be for you. Locals often describe The Heights as Houston's mini-Austin, which is fitting given its diversity and access to great food and music. If you're looking for a home with character, The Heights is a great place to start your search. The majority of homes here were built between 1940 and 1950, are bungalow or craftsman-style, and tend to be under 2000 square feet. Though in recent years, the area has seen increased new home construction due to strong buyer demand. Quieter than other downtown neighborhoods, we recommend The Heights for both young families and professionals looking for a walkable neighborhood with a slightly suburban feel.

What to do in The Heights: walk along historic 19th street, bike along the Heights Bike Trail, or attend a concert at White Oak Music Hall

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Museum District

Average home value: $600k

The Museum District is one of Houston's most iconic neighborhoods and the heart of the city's cultural scene. With over 19 museums and nearby Hermann Park, you will find something to do at every corner. Townhouses and upscale condos are more common in this neighborhood than single-family homes, but you may also come across a few striking Georgian-style homes. For families, the schools in the community are part of the Houston Independent School District and many offer the highly-regarded International Baccalaureate program. While real estate is more expensive in the Museum District, if you want to be at the center of arts and culture, this neighborhood is unbeatable. 

What to do in the Museum District: take the family to the Children's Museum of Houston, admire over 70,000 pieces of art at the Museum of Fine Arts, or visit Stan the Tyrannosaurus rex at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

View homes for sale in the Museum District

Bellaire

Average home value: $860k

An enclave city, Bellaire straddles the 610 Loop and is a 15-minute drive from downtown Houston. Known for its strong Jewish community, Bellaire has small-town vibes with plenty of local coffee shops, restaurants, and parks. Most of the homes are older but are quickly being renovated or rebuilt. Bellaire is also one of Houston's fastest appreciating neighborhoods, so expect home values to continue increasing. If you're home shopping here, you should know that Bellaire is highly susceptible to flooding so most houses here are elevated. Also pay close attention to school zoning maps, as that's another factor that strongly affects a home's value in Bellaire.

What to do in Bellaire: picnic at Evelyn's Park Conservatory, go shopping at the Galleria, or enjoy Spanish-French fusion food at Costa Brava Bistro

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Best neighborhoods just outside the Loop

Photo of Memorial Park in Houston Texas

Why live just outside the Loop: These neighborhoods are close to downtown Houston but offer more space without sacrificing charm.

Spring Branch

Average home value: $350k

Originally a German settlement in the 1830s, Spring Branch is now one of Houston's most diverse neighborhoods. It is conveniently located west of Downtown Houston and east of the Energy Corridor, home to many of Houston's oil and energy employers. Families love Spring Branch for its picturesque oak-lined streets, easy commute to the Energy Corridor, and high-quality schools. Most of the homes are zoned to schools within the highly-rated Spring Branch Independent School District. In recent years, Spring Branch has become very popular for people looking to renovate the neighborhood's older mid-century modern homes.

What to do in Spring Branch: grab tacos at Tacos del Julio, take the family out for dinner at City Centre, or shop at Memorial City Mall

View homes for sale in Spring Branch

Energy Corridor

Average home value: $345k

West of downtown Houston, the Energy Corridor is a newer neighborhood and home to several Fortune 500 companies, including many of Houston's largest oil and energy corporations, like BP, Citgo, and Exxon Mobil. If you're an employee at a nearby company, the Energy Corridor checks many boxes: painless commute, top schools, and nearby dining and entertainment. Homes here are zoned to one of three school districts, the Spring Branch Independent School District, the Katy Independent School District, and the Houston Independent School District. Housing here is varied, with many newer apartment complexes, townhomes, and single-family homes. We recommend this neighborhood for both young professionals and families.

What to do in the Energy Corridor: jog around George Bush Park or enjoy a round of golf with the family at Top Golf

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Memorial

Average home value: $575k

Memorial Village comprises five independent cities and includes some of Bayou City’s wealthiest communities. The neighborhood is popular for its proximity to downtown and the Energy Corridor. Homes here are varied and include newer townhomes, older and recently-renovated ranch-style homes, and elegant estates. The area is zoned to two highly-regarded school districts - Spring Branch Independent School District and Katy Independent School District. Though pricey, living in Memorial will give you access to great schools, beautiful tree-lined communities, larger home lots, and plenty of upscale shopping and restaurants.   

What to do in Memorial: take the kids to Memorial Park, stroll through the gardens at Bayou Bend, or go shopping at Memorial City Mall

 View homes for sale in Memorial

Best suburbs in Houston

Why live in the suburbs: Though further from downtown, Houston suburbs offer more affordable homes, excellent schools, and family-friendly communities.

Tip: As you read through our guide, many of the suburbs will start to sound very similar, so keep your job's location in mind. Many homebuyers choose a suburb based on how close it is to work. 

The Woodlands

Average home value: $380k

A master-planned community, The Woodlands is located about 30 miles north of Houston and has over 7,000 acres of nature preserves, parks, and hiking trails. We love this neighborhood for families because it offers plenty of green space, is zoned to top public and private schools, and is close to major corporate job centers. Our local Home Advisors describe it as the quintessential suburb. The major downside is that everyone knows The Woodlands is a great place to live, so be ready to pay a premium if you're buying a home. We think it's worth the cost, but if you want to stretch your housing budget further, Katy is a great alternative that offers a similar quality of life at a lower cost of living. Plus, if you're working in the Energy Corridor, you'll also save on commuting time.

If your job is located in The Woodlands, but you don't want to pay the area's above-average housing costs, consider Conroe or Spring. These two suburbs are more affordable and are within a 15-minute drive.

What to do in The Woodlands: kayak at the Woodlands Waterway, check out the sculptures at Town Green Park, or attend a concert at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

View homes for sale in The Woodlands

Kingwood

Average home value: $260k

Known as the "Livable Forest," Kingwood is about 23 miles northeast of Houston. Because of its mature trees, hiking and biking trails, and parks, people often compare Kingwood to The Woodlands, but Kingwood is a few years older. We recommend this suburb for families who want the great outdoors in their backyards. In fact, it's not uncommon for homes to have a gate in the backyard that leads to nature pathways and bike trails. You'll also find a strong sense of community within each of Kingwood's 25 residential villages. Each village typically has its own playground, swimming pool, and seasonal events. The Humble Independent School District serves this area.

What to do in Kingwood: picnic at Mercer Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, practice your swing at Kingwood Clubhouse, or go for a bike ride at East End Park

View homes for sale in Kingwood

Pearland

Average home value: $285k

Located south of Houston and nestled between Highway 288 and Highway 35, Pearland is one of America's fastest growing cities. From the 90s onwards, developers have quickly filled Pearland's former rice fields with vast rows of new homes. Home values are rapidly increasing as families are drawn to its small-town feel and high-quality schools. Most of the houses are zoned to schools in the Pearland Independent School District, which has some of the best schools in the Houston metro area. The city is also close to major employers like the Johnson Space Center, Lonza, and Mitsubishi, making it a great place to live for professionals with families. 

What to do in Pearland: take a stroll along the Shadow Creek Ranch Nature Trail, shop at Pearland Town Center, or see the SpaceX Falcon 9 at the Space Center

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Sugar Land

Average home value: $380k

Named for its sugar plantations and refineries, Sugar Land is an affluent, rapidly growing suburb southwest of Houston. Similar to Katy, we recommend Sugar Land to families working nearby for its top-ranked schools and proximity to major employers. The Sugar Land Business Park is home to several large companies like Tramontina and Minute Maid. Homes here are zoned to the top-rated Fort Bend Independent School District. We highly recommend Sugar Land if you're looking for a quiet, family-friendly town. 

What to do in Sugar Land: catch a Sugar Land Skeeters game, learn about the suburb's history as a sugarcane plantation at the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation, or go shopping at the First Colony Mall

View homes for sale in Sugar Land

Katy

Average home value: $280k

Katy started as a wide-open prairie in the late 1800s known as "Cane Island" and has now become one of Houston's most popular suburbs for families - and for good reason. It's a 15-minute drive from the Energy Corridor, has excellent schools, and remains a relatively affordable place to live. The top-rated Katy Independent School District serves most of the homes in Katy. Most homes here are single-family, and you'll find a ton of new construction options. 

What to do in Katy: snag a deal at Katy Mills Outlet Mall or take the kids to Mary Jo Peckham Park for mini-golf and fishing

View homes for sale in Katy

Cypress

Average home value: $280k

Located about 25 miles northwest of downtown Houston, Cypress is one of Houston's newer suburbs. Developers have transformed its flat, rural lands into dozens of neatly-manicured, family-friendly subdivisions. Homes here are zoned to the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, which includes some of Houston's best schools. We're recommending the suburb for its affordable housing and excellent schools. 

What to do in Cypress: hike through Little Cypress Creek Preserve, go shopping at Houston Premium Outlet Mall, or golf at Blackhorse Golf Club

View homes for sale in Cypress

A local perspective: what makes Houston a good place to live?

To give you a sense of what it's like to live here, we asked Houstonians to share what they love about the city and what places to check out in various neighborhoods.

"There is such a diverse group of people who all bring their own cooking styles and flavors. It's hard not to eat out every day somewhere new. I recommend Big Z's Pizza and Brew in Katy, a local pizza hotspot owned by two brothers from Chicago who brought the true Chicago-style deep dish pizza to us" - Jonathan H.

"There's always something to do! Walk around Hermann Park and eat at our amazing restaurants!" - Mahssa C.

Panoramic view of Hermann Park, a popular place to go in the Museum District
Hermann Park, Museum District

"Because Houston is so diverse, there are many cultural events year-round. It's hard to pick just one, but if I had to choose, it would be the Dia de Los Muertos celebrations in November!" - Dina F.

"The weather...most of the time. Growing up in Buffalo, NY, the warm weather year-round was a great change! If you're visiting, check out the Space Center or if in the downtown area, explore the 7.5 miles of underground tunnels!" - Matthew S.

A photo of the Space Shuttle replica at Space Center Houston, a must-do attraction in Houston
Space Center Houston

"I love Houston's blue-collar, hard-working mentality - and the food! I'd advise first-time visitors to come during rodeo season. See the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo - best in the world!" - Jeremiah J.

What are the pros and cons of living in Houston?

As you can see above, the diversity in food, culture, and events make Houston a vibrant place to live. But the city doesn’t come without drawbacks. We summarize both the pros and cons for you: 

Pros of living in Houston

  • Job opportunities in oil and gas, aerospace, manufacturing, and healthcare
  • The most ethnically diverse city in the U.S.
  • Professional and college sports
  • Moderate winters
  • No income or state tax
  • Lower cost of living

Cons of living in Houston

  • Heavy traffic to and from the city
  • Underdeveloped public transportation system
  • Risk of hurricanes and flooding
  • Sticky, humid summers
  • High property taxes
  • Low walkability
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Living inside the Loop versus outside the Loop

The "Loop" refers to the circular Interstate 610 highway that divides the city into two geographical zones. If you're new to Houston, one of the first decisions we suggest you make is deciding whether you want to live in the "Inner Loop" or the "Outer Loop." 

Located in the heart of Houston, the Inner Loop contains many of the city's museums, sporting venues, and landmarks. Keep in mind that it's more challenging to find affordable single-family homes inside the Loop as townhomes and apartments are more common. On the other hand, the price per square foot of a home is lower in the Outer Loop neighborhoods, which means your housing budget goes further. If you have children, you can find top schools in both areas, but the neighborhoods outside the Loop tend to have a more family-friendly, suburban feel. 

One tip from our team is to start browsing homes online to get a sense of how far your budget goes in your desired neighborhoods.

What should you know before buying a home in Houston?

There are four things you should know about before buying a home in Houston or even settling on a neighborhood: 

1. Risk of flooding: Parts of Houston were built on top of a swamp, and as a result, are more prone to flooding. You may come across the term 100-year floodplain, a flood event with a 1 in 100 chance of happening in any given year. According to the Harris County Engineering Department, if a home is located on a 100-year floodplain, it has a 26% chance of getting flooded over a 30-year mortgage period. 

Before you make an offer on a home, check to see if it's in a flood zone by using Harris County's Flood Mapping tool. Your lender may require you to purchase a flood insurance plan if the home is on a floodplain. Even if not required, more Houstonians are now purchasing flood insurance after Hurricane Harvey flooded over 150,000 homes flooded, 75% of which were located outside the floodplain.

2. Impact of oil prices: Though Houston's job market has diversified, oil and energy companies continue to be some of Houston's largest employers. As a result, experts say declining oil prices could lead to lower demand for housing

3. High property taxes: If you're moving from outside the state, you may be surprised to hear that Texas has some of the highest property taxes in the United States. According to SmartWallet, the average effective property tax in Houston and its surrounding suburbs is 2.03% versus a national average of 1.07%. 

Wondering how much you'll have to pay? According to the Harris County Appraisal District, the three factors that determine your property taxes in Houston are the home's appraised value, eligible exemptions, and the tax rates set by the local governing bodies. If you own a $300,000 house, you can estimate paying about $6,000 in property taxes. The upside is that you will not have to pay state or income taxes. 

4. No zoning laws: Houston is the largest U.S. city without zoning. Instead, it relies on deed covenants, city ordinances, and other land-use rules to regulate new construction. You can request a copy of your deed's restrictions from the Harris County Records, or if you're working with an agent to buy a particular property, they can request it from the home's HOA.

Keeping these 4 factors in mind should help you prepare to buy a home in Houston.

How to decide where to buy a home

Every neighborhood in this guide has its perks, so where to buy largely depends on what's important to you. Consider proximity to work, schools, neighborhood feel, and budget.

We also have three resources to help you find your next place:

  • Orchard's Move First service helps you find a home and move in without waiting on your existing home to sell (read: no showings or timing nightmares).
  • Offer Boost lets you make an all-cash offer so you don’t lose out on a home you want (important if you're shopping in any of these neighborhoods).
  • Use our Home Match to find listings that meet all your requirements, from ideal commute time to specific home features.

If you're interested in working with us, get started here by sharing more about your home buying and selling needs.

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