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In today’s red-hot housing market, fewer states are hotter than Texas. The state’s biggest and brightest cities are seeing an influx of new residents from all over the country. Texas as a whole was the nation’s third-fastest growing state over the last decade, according to the most recent census — gaining nearly 4 million residents.
With the market as competitive as it is, it’s hard to buy a house in Texas that has everything you want for the right price. If you’re moving to the Lone Star State (or looking to leave the state’s most popular areas while the getting is good) you may want to find Texas’ hidden gems.
Orchard analyzed a list of Texas’ biggest cities and came up with a list of 15 best under-the-radar cities to live in. Under-the-radar cities are cities where the quality of life is high, the home prices are relatively low, and the market for home buying isn't as competitive as in other parts of the state — giving homebuyers more options and leverage.
Top takeaways from the rankings
- Life is cheaper along the border: The U.S.-Mexico border is often in the news, but what we don’t often hear is how inexpensive housing can be there. Our top three cities on this list are border cities, where median home prices and prices per square foot are well below the state average. Every border city to make this list also has public school ratings that are above average for Texas.
- Several options among metro areas: Another common theme on this list is that some of the top cities are grouped together in the same metropolitan area. Do the homes in McAllen not strike your fancy? Check out Edinburg or Mission. Looking to live in Houston, but not in Houston? Pearland and Sugar Land are both nearby.
- Suburbs of major hubs also rank highly: You may not find the deals you’re looking for in cities like Austin or Dallas. But look just outside some of Texas’ other major cities, like San Antonio or Houston, to find gems, such as New Braunfels or Conroe.
The top 15 under-the-radar cities in Texas
1. Edinburg, TX
Kicking off our list is the city of Edinburg, which is near the U.S.-Mexico border and helps make up a larger metropolitan area that includes other cities on this list.
What makes Edinburg such a great under-the-radar city? Edinburg’s housing stock is well-priced, as the median home price is just $217,433 (compared to the statewide median price of $329,452) and a price per square foot of $117 — good for 9th-lowest in Texas. Edinburg also has good public schools, with a public school rating of 3.24, compared to just 3.00 for the state.
And while some cities in Texas are seeing their available housing stock snapped up in a matter of days, the average number of days on market for homes in Edinburg is 62, which means the word isn’t out yet on the deals you can find here. Homebuyers may prefer cities with a higher DOM — it means the market is less competitive, and they’ll have more leverage.
Edinburg isn’t just a good place for housing deals — it’s a city with lots of outdoor options (including the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands), museums, and restaurants serving everything from Mexican to Mongolian.
2. Mission, TX
It’s a short drive from the top spot on our list to number two, Mission. It doesn’t get much further south in the U.S. than Mission, with a median housing price of $192,583 and price per square foot of $115.
Schools in Mission are above-average for Texas, and while the city’s population is growing, it isn’t seeing quite as much growth as nearby McAllen (2.6% population increase over five years, compared to 3.3% for McAllen). This allows residents to enjoy many of the same perks as McAllen residents while remaining firmly under the radar — the city’s DOM of 87 days is the second-highest of all the cities we analyzed.
3. Laredo, TX
Further along the U.S.-Mexico border lies the city of Laredo, which maintains a strong relationship with its Mexican counterpart, Nuevo Laredo. A top-15 school rating on our list, a median home price of just $193,833, and a decent average number of days on the market (56) helped buoy Laredo into the top three.
4. Pearland, TX
Just south of Houston, the fast-growing city of Pearland is home to many master-planned communities, an outstanding public school system, and a better bang-for-buck than other Houston-area cities, thanks to its median price per square foot of $120.
The only drawback to Pearland might be the traffic: The self-reported commute time of Pearland residents topped 32 minutes, giving them the longest commute of any of the 50 cities we analyzed.
5. College Station, TX
One of Texas’ premier college towns, College Station (home to Texas A&M University) is also known for its museums, parks, and galleries. College Station’s median home price is $262,100, and the average DOM for the city is 99 — the highest of any city we analyzed. If you choose to move to College Station, you’ll likely have plenty of options
Life is easier in College Station: Schools are good, and the average commute time is a stunningly low 16 minutes.
6. Conroe, TX
Located along the shores of Lake Conroe, the city of Conroe is a standout among suburban cities on the outskirts of Houston.
Home prices are beginning to climb a bit here — the median home price in Conroe is $311,792 — but price per square foot is still well below the state median at $125. And despite explosive population growth (23.6% over the past five years), average DOM is above average at 55 days.
7. New Braunfels, TX
Moving further inland, number seven on our list is New Braunfels, which is a suburban city near San Antonio that boasts a unique German heritage. New Braunfels has the Comal and Guadalupe rivers, which pass through leafy parks and make for excellent tubing and strolling.
Home prices start to climb a bit here — the median home price is $384,817 and the price per square foot is $153, which are both a bit above the Texas averages. That said, New Braunfels has a great school rating, and with an average DOM of 61 days, aspiring residents should have many housing options to choose from. (Note that New Braunfels’ DOM has dropped quite a bit in 2021 — which means word is getting out about this San Antonio suburb.)
8. McAllen, TX
McAllen, also called the City of Palms, is similar in many ways to other cities on this list in its metropolitan area (Edinburg and Mission). With a median home price of $225,917 and a price per square foot of $115, McAllen is a safe and prosperous border city with lots of housing deals.
Though listings in McAllen only last an average of 30 days on the market, excellent schools (its school rating ranks in the top-10 of all cities we measured) and a reported commute time under 20 minutes makes this a highly livable city in Texas.
9. Brownsville, TX
Brownsville is a historic city located on the Gulf Coast with an eye towards environmentalism — the city became one of the first in the country to require stores to charge for single-use plastic shopping bags.
Home prices are low in Brownsville: It has the second-lowest median home price of all the cities we analyzed ($167,750) and the fifth-lowest price per square foot ($114). It also has a top-15 public school score (3.25).
Brownsville still manages to fly below the radar, though its average DOM is 39, which means the scene is a bit more competitive than the other cities in our top 10.
10. El Paso, TX
Out in western Texas, El Paso has some of the lowest home prices on our list, which is notable considering it’s one of the biggest cities in the state. The median price per square foot is $120, and a median home price of $195,300. Both of those numbers are in the top 10 in their categories, and are markedly lower than prices in Texas’ other major cities.
Schools in El Paso are on par with the state average. It’s also an excellent city in which to experience the outdoors — the “Sun City” gets over 300 days of sunshine a year and is very close to the Rio Grande, a great place for rafting, canoeing, and fishing.
11. Sugar Land, TX
The sweetly named Sugar Land is another Houston-area city to make our list. This city has the highest median home price on our top-15 ($422,368) but it makes up for it with below-median prices per square foot ($127) and a top-three school rating.
If you’re looking for the benefits of big city living in Houston but want both better schools and better bang-for-your-buck, check out life in one of Sugar Land’s close-knit communities.
12. Longview, TX
The eastern Texas hub city of Longview was one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation during the 2010s, though that surge has slowed of late. Now, Longview has plenty of housing options for prospective residents, with a median home price of $211,200 and a price per square foot of $113.
Longview has dozens of public parks, and a cultural district that is home to a variety of museums, restaurants, theaters, and historic buildings. Only a school rating of 2.81 keeps Longview from being among the very best under-the-radar cities in the state.
13. League City
Within the Greater Houston metropolitan area, League City is an outstanding option for people looking for quality schools: A school rating of 3.41 puts it on par with the state’s best.
The market in League City is competitive — its average DOM is just 33, which is less than in Houston and Dallas — but prices are reasonable ($129 per square foot). Though the city has traffic problems, the area’s historic district and waterfront access make it easy to enjoy things locally.
14. Wichita Falls, TX
Way up in North Texas lies Wichita Falls, which leaps into the top-15 thanks to its median price per square foot of just $95, and median home price of $144,900 — the lowest of any city on this list by nearly $20,000.
What holds Wichita Falls back? Its public school grade is below the Texas state average. If you’re thinking of moving here, do your research carefully about the best schools to send your kids to. For families without kids, Wichita Falls may be a better bet.
15. Corpus Christi, TX
To round out our list, head back to the Gulf of Mexico. Life in Corpus Christi is cheap: The median home price is just $235,600, and the median price per square foot is about on par with the state at $141.
Though Corpus Christi is one of the 10 most populous cities in Texas, it doesn’t get the same shine as places like Austin and Houston. That’s okay — you can enjoy sub-20 minute commutes and schools near the state average on the beach instead.
Orchard is a real estate brokerage that helps simplify the process of buying and selling homes. We operate in markets throughout Texas (and around the country), and as such we have a front-row seat to the high level of activity we’re seeing in Texas at the moment.
To find cities that fit the description of under-the-radar, we created a proprietary score that combines a variety of home sale data and quality of life factors. We applied these factors to Texas’ 50 biggest cities by population.
These are the factors that we used to create our rankings:
- Median home price (10% of score): Data for median home prices comes from January-March 2021 home sale data. The lower the median home price, the better the city’s score.
- Median price per square foot (20% of score): Data for median price per square foot comes from January-March 2021 home sale data.The lower the price per square foot, the better the city’s score.
- Average days on market (20% of score): Data for average days on market comes from January-March 2021 home sale data. Also known as DOM, average days on market is the number of days that homes in a given market remain unsold. For home sellers, a higher DOM is typically a sign that your home will take longer to sell, but for buyers, it means the market is less competitive. Therefore, in our report, the higher the DOM, the better the city’s score.
- Public school rating (35% of score): Data for public school ratings are via Home Junction and are on a 4-point scale. We used public school rating as a quality of life factor as well as a key consideration for families. The better the school rating, the better the city’s score.
- Population growth (10% of score): Data for population growth for each city comes from the U.S. Census. The lower the population growth, the better the city’s score.
- Commute time (5% of score): Data for commute time comes from the U.S. Census and is self-reported. The lower the commute time, the better the city’s score.
The bottom line
Texas is an increasingly popular place to live. With home prices around the state skyrocketing — and the competition for those same homes heating up — Texas residents and newcomers alike will no doubt need to find livable, affordable cities outside of Austin and Dallas. The cities above might be good places to start your search.