Welcome To Houston: Your Guide To Buying A Home In Space City

Poised to overtake Chicago as the third-largest city in the United States by 2025, Houston’s reputation as a cultural hotspot is growing as fast as its population. With over 10,000 restaurants, a vibrant arts scene, frequent sporting events, and year-round access to outdoor activities thanks to its favorable climate, buying a house in Houston seems like a no-brainer.

However, in a city of this size (655 square miles!), where do you start? That’s why we dug into local pricing and neighborhood data and spoke with Houston native and local real estate agent with 20 years of experience, Johnna Little, to give you the inside track. Stick with us and you’ll learn about the tricky property tax situation, whether you should invest in flood insurance, and the latest trends you’ll see in Houston housing.

Paperwork used to buy a house in Houston
Source: (Kelly Sikkema/ Unsplash)

How much will it cost to buy a home in Houston?

As of June 2019, the median price of a single-family home in Houston is just under $250,000, according to the Houston Association of Realtors as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Per the same sources, the average rent of a single-family Houston home is about $1,875 a month. Your individual wish list will differ in terms of ideal location, square-footage, and budget, but whether you’re working with $100,000 or $1,000,000, there’s likely to be a home waiting for you in Space City.

“Houston prices are never really over-inflated,” says Little.

“We’ve got people flocking here from California and other areas just because our housing is so affordable. I just had a relocation closing on Monday; she got a three-bedroom, two-bath, renovated house with a pool for $191,500. She was very, very happy.”

Between the Johnson Space Center, more than 70 foreign consulates, and 22 Fortune 500 companies, Houston is a remarkably international city that attracts residents from all around the globe. According to data reviewed by the Greater Houston Partnership, the population is expected to surpass 7.1 million by 2020, but despite the city’s rapid growth, Houston’s housing market remains optimal for buyers with an average home price that sits 21% below the 2018 national average.

Buyer beware of Houston property taxes

Though housing prices themselves are favorable, buyers must look beyond list price and be aware of Houston’s property taxes. Texas does not have a state income tax but homeowners in Harris County can expect to pay local property taxes.

Property tax rates in Houston vary by area and appraised value of the home, which means a monthly mortgage payment could vary by hundreds of dollars.

“Whenever I work with buyers, I drive that point home with them,” says Little. “I say, ‘Look, you might not be able to find the perfect home [at a low tax rate], but we’re going to try.’”

As of 2019, the average tax collected on a home’s assessed market value in Harris County is 2.31% (compare that to a national average of 1.08%, ouch!)

There are three factors that contribute to determining the annual tax rate on a Houston property, according to the Harris County Appraisal District:

  • The annual appraised value of a home as of January 1
  • The exemptions to which a house may be entitled (i.e.; the homestead exemption for owner-occupied homes)
  • The tax rates as set forth by governing bodies with jurisdiction over the home’s location

In short, Houston’s property taxes are highly specific to each property. Your real estate agent can help you identify potential pain points during the search process, and you can use the HCAD’s property search tool to look up an individual address.

A pool in a Houston house.
Source: (Artazum/ Shutterstock)

Where will you find your perfect Houston home?

Despite the city’s vast size, neighborhoods are well-connected via Houston METRO rail and bus services, and with over 52,000 acres of green space, this is a city where you’ll find balance between modern conveniences and outdoor access no matter which area you call home.

The Heights

Those who prioritize walkability are likely to enjoy Houston Heights. 

“The Heights is a great area. Houston is so spread out, but the Heights is a very close community,” Little says, citing residents who enjoy leisurely activities like walking their dogs to nearby restaurants. Heights residents can expect to find boutique shops, cafes, and an arts market on the first Saturday of each month.

Galleria

Fashion-forward homebuyers are sure to love the Galleria, Houston’s premier shopping district and a vibrant place to call home. While the Galleria offers hundreds of retailers and dining options within just two square miles, the upscale Uptown Park district is just a short stroll away, adding further entertainment options for Houstonians who thrive on being out and about.

Midtown and Downtown

“Houston Midtown has really been coming alive — there’s tons of shopping and restaurants, and that’s probably only been within the last 15 years. There’s a lot of great living in the Midtown area,” Little tells us, speaking fondly of her city’s rapid growth.

Midtown is also popular with homebuyers thanks to its great proximity to bustling Downtown Houston. Home of the Rockets, the Astros, and the Houston Theater District, there’s always something to do here.

The Woodlands

If you don’t mind a commute into the heart of the city, The Woodlands is another Houston neighborhood favorite. Aptly named for its woodsy surroundings, The Woodlands is a master-planned community with a growing culinary scene, excellent shopping, and an open-air amphitheater.

The Bay Area

Clear Lake (also referred to as Houston’s Bay Area) is a waterfront district with great proximity to the Space Center and an active boating community. This is a popular area for tourism as well, with out-of-town visitors enjoying the fresh seafood, watersports, and museums.

Far Northeast

According to data collected by AreaVibes, the Houston neighborhood with the highest Livability Score is Far Northeast, which means you can expect great schools, a low crime rate, and an array of amenities like groceries and restaurants, shopping and entertainment options, and access to public transportation.

Source: (Kelly Sikkema/ Unsplash)

What to watch out for when buying a house in Houston?

Between the welcoming prices, engaging communities, and dynamic way of life, buying a house in Houston almost sounds like it might be too good to be true. Happily, the Houston housing market is not a hoax, and aside from the aforementioned need for property tax awareness, there’s not much cause for concern here.

Houston homes often sell in move-in ready condition, as most sellers are motivated by lifestyle change, says Little. Perhaps they’re sizing up or down, or they may be leaving the city due to a job relocation. “As a whole, people don’t put houses on the market here unless it’s ready,” she confirms. Personal aesthetic preferences aside, this can mean paying more upfront but saving thousands of dollars over the cost of updates and renovations over time.

Given Houston’s largely agreeable climate, homes aren’t subjected to drastic temperature swings each year as the seasons change, which means that you’re also unlikely to find a thread of common problems when it comes to home inspections in Harris County.

Should you be concerned about flooding in Houston?

With the exception of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, resulting in what the Washington Post referred to as a “1,000-year flood event,” weather conditions in Houston tend to be stable.

That said, erring on the side of caution is better than throwing it to the wind when you’re living near water, so we suggest consulting the Harris County Flood Education Mapping Tool to assess the flood risk of your potential property. Further, the Harris County Flood Control District recommends that everyone purchase flood insurance, regardless of whether your home is in a higher-risk floodplain or not.

Visit the National Flood Insurance Program to learn more about how to purchase or renew flood insurance.

Houston home inspections

Experienced buyers are likely familiar with the comprehensive home inspection process, but first-time buyers may find an inspection report quite daunting. A home inspection report can be dozens of pages long, depending upon the size of the house and its condition. Filled with photos, notes, and illustrations, a thorough report can seem like the inspector was deliberately trying to find fault with the property.

In reality, no home in Houston (or anywhere!) is going to be perfect — not even a brand new one. The key is to focus on major components. A knowledgeable agent will guide you through the process and help you to keep perspective on which aspects of a house will be the most costly to repair or maintain. Expect to closely review the following:

  • Roof
  • Foundation
  • Electric system
  • Plumbing
  • Water heater
  • HVAC system

The American Society of Home Inspectors recommends also taking a close look at the yard, if your prospective home has one. Drainage systems should slope away from the building and there shouldn’t be any patches that are especially soggy.

A calendar used to buy a house in Houston.
Source: (Maddi Bazzocco/ Unsplash)

When is the best time to buy a house in Houston?

This is a question with a great answer for homebuyers, because nearly year-round is a good time to buy in Houston. Again, thanks to the city’s booming growth and mild climate, life doesn’t come to a screeching halt during the winter season.

“Consumer mindset is always that spring and summer is best, because people assume a lot of folks will be moving for school and while that does happen, I’m in my 21st year of doing this and December is usually my biggest and most busy month — believe it or not,” says Little.

If you want to be strategic at all, HomeLight data indicates that January may offer a slight purchasing edge, allowing buyers to save approximately eight percent on the yearly average sales price in Houston.

A kitchen in a Houston house.
Source: (Mark McCammon/ Pexels)

What can you expect to see in Houston homes today?

Interior design trends come and go through the years like anything else, but here’s what’s hot in homes on the Houston market right now:

  • Quartz countertops.
    This durable material appears to be an increasingly preferred countertop in Houston homes, even beating out popular granite surfaces.It’s no wonder, though, because quartz is both beautiful and long-lasting. “The other advantage of quartz is that it is a non-porous material, its texture does not allow bacteria to grow and resists against stains, protecting your family and making kitchen clean-up easy,” according to Silestone by Cosentino, a worldwide leader in natural stone and quartz architectural surfaces.
  • Wood-look ceramic tile.
    Becoming popular in Houston homes for its durability, tile has an easy-to-clean factor that wood just can’t match. Spilled drinks, muddy shoe prints, and other hazards (pets or children, anyone?) are no match for this sleek material that retains the cozy feel of a wood finish.
  • Wood-look vinyl flooring.
    Similar to the aforementioned tile, vinyl flooring with a wooden look offers the visual warmth without compromising durability. Vinyl flooring is easy to install and maintain and is generally more affordable than real hardwood flooring. But don’t fret, vinyl flooring quality has come a long way in recent years; it’s no longer just a low-budget option.
  • Neutral colors with a pop.
    Yep, the Scandi-chic design trend of crisp, neutral colors has made it to Houston as well; but a burst of bright, complementary colors can add interest and is growing in popularity around Houston, according to RD Marble, local specialists in bathroom and kitchen design. Whether you love or hate a color scheme, the good news is that interior paint is an easy fix.

Find the perfect agent for buying a home in Houston

Another thing that is always in season when it comes to buying a house in Houston? Working with a great local real estate agent. You’ll definitely want a knowledgeable partner during your search for the perfect Houston home, and a top agent in Houston can not only advise you on the ways of neighborhood amenities and property tax strategy, they can also save you money.

According to our data, an average Houston agent can help you close on a home at 93.5% of the list price, while a top agent can slide in at 86.4%. HomeLight top real estate agents have the local expertise, negotiation skills, and the awareness of what is most important to help you find a property that meets your needs and budget.

While it’s true that Houston’s housing market is fantastic, that doesn’t make getting into desirable properties any less competitive, and a good agent will be able to help you find those houses and guide you smoothly through the entire process once you’ve found the one.

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