Thinking of buying a home in or around Houston? The suburbs – and especially exurbs – may result in a longer work commute (and the higher costs associated with it). Photo By: Patrick Feller via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Where to Buy in Houston: City, Suburb, or Exurb?

If you’ve been for a recent drive on the city’s outskirts, you might have been surprised by how much more developed places like Spring and Richmond-Rosenberg seem. During the housing boom, home value increases in Houston’s distant suburbs and exurbs surpassed those in the city center and inner-ring suburbs, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency; which might explain why, according to the Fort Bend Economic Council, much of the growth in the greater Houston Metro area has come from places like the suburban and exurban districts of Fort Bend County.

Of course, making the choice of whether to call urban, suburban or exurban Houston home is a highly personal decision that takes a variety of factors into account, including your budget and commute, and the local schools and crime. Real estate professionals, such Adriana Reagan, a Senior Property Manager with Venterra Realty in Houston, recommend home-seekers start by prioritizing their wish list.

“It’s fine to want it all, but unless you’ve got a huge budget, it’s probably not realistic,” Reagan says. “Some clients need good public schools for their kids, and may buy a smaller home to be in a good school district. For others, a manageable commute is more important.”

Comparing Costs

The possibility of lower home costs in outlying areas can compel many home-seekers to seriously consider ditching city living. After all, says Reagan, it is still generally true that the farther away you get from the city center, the more square footage your money buys you.

But remember that the suburbs – and especially exurbs – may result in a longer work commute (and the higher costs associated with it). Plus, says Reagan, not every exurb is necessarily cheaper than living in the city.

“Exurbs like the Woodlands or even Conroe can be more expensive than suburbs closer to the city, such as Sugar Land,” she says. “Even some nice neighborhoods in Houston proper can offer good deals. Don’t assume it’s always cheaper farther away.”

A look at real estate website reveals the most expensive Houston-area neighborhoods, such as River Oaks (where average home listing prices topped $2M for the week ending Nov. 27), tend to cluster near the city’s core. But other pricey addresses are actually in far-flung suburbs, such as parts of Kingwood and Clear Lake.

Other Factors

Factors such as school quality, crime and proximity to cultural, entertainment and employment resources also weigh heavily in housing decisions.

In terms of lifestyle, however, there’s not as much variance. Residential areas in the far reaches of the Houston metro area can offer some of the same conveniences as the city. That’s due in part to Houston’s lack of zoning laws, Reagan says.

“More and more, we’re seeing office and shopping developments near where people live,” she explains.

Photo By: M Glasgow via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
School quality can be a major factor in deciding where to call home. Photo By: M Glasgow via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Crime, on the other hand, does vary from area to area, with higher-priced communities generally faring better and those nearer the city center worse, according to Houston Police Department data. In this regard, suburbs and exurbs may have the upper hand, although there’s no hard and fast rule. A look at the HPD’s crime beat maps can help you assess your target neighborhood’s crime profile.

Finally, school quality also varies dramatically across the area, but many of the area’s top schools (public or private) are actually in urban areas, according to Plus, Reagan says, top public magnet schools tend to be located in the Houston Independent School District, requiring a City of Houston address for attendance.

“This, alone, is often reason for parents to choose an urban address,” says Reagan. “There are some very good schools in suburbs and exurbs, but the City of Houston has the highest concentration of top private and public schools.”

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