Updated July 30, 2018: Welcome to Expensive Cities, a new series designed to help renters find affordable apartments in the nation’s most unaffordable metros.
Trivia question: What U.S. city is the busiest destination for U-Haul moving trucks? Answer: Houston, Texas.
Houston has actually been U-Haul’s No. 1 destination for nine years running. Home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Rice University and 2,500 miles of bayous, H-town has seen a massive influx of newcomers. People relocate to enjoy its comfortable lifestyle and plentiful employment options. If you’re moving from an expensive large metro, you’ll likely find Houston rents to be relatively reasonable — though booming growth is causing apartment prices to trend up.
How much does renting cost in Houston?
Median rent for a one-bedroom in Houston rose sharply to $1,260 as of May, an increase of 15.6% over the previous year, according to apartment-listing site Zumper. Renters insurance in Houston costs between $7 and $33 a month.
In the Museum District, a wealthy area with tree-lined boulevards, asking prices for one-bedroom apartments average $2,087 a month. In Downtown, which is the city’s largest employment center and where tax rebates have encouraged the construction of luxury high-rises, the average rent is $2,000, according to Apartments.com.
Why is renting in Houston so expensive?
Fast-growing Houston is vying to surpass Chicago as the third-largest U.S. city. The population of the metro area rose to 6.8 million in 2017, up more than 16% from 2010, with job-seekers from aerospace, oil, manufacturing and other industries driving up housing demand.
Rents also rose in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last August, as many displaced homeowners sought apartments. (We profiled the trend of housing prices rising in disaster areas earlier this year.)
Though some residents have returned to their homes, average rent in Houston is still forecasted to grow 2.5% by the fourth quarter of 2018, according to Justin Boyar, a market analyst for CoStar Group, the parent of Apartments.com.
How to find affordable rent in Houston
When apartment-hunting in Houston, ask about any bells and whistles included in the rent.
“Houston has a ton more amenities than almost any other market,” says Boyar. “Most, if not all, Houston properties have large pools, which many apartments in other cities — like New York City, Salt Lake or San Francisco — do not.”
Extras may include gyms, on-site convenience stores, car washes, dog wash stations, coffee bars and more.
Boyar recommends these three up-and-coming neighborhoods as the best places to find apartments with a lot of perks at a good value.
1. Northside Village
Also known as Near Northside, this eclectic area with tree-lined streets is close to the Heights and Downtown Houston.
“Northside Village provides residents with recreational opportunities via Moody Park, which sits right beside the Little White Oak Bayou on Fulton Street, and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership on the south side of the neighborhood,” says Boyar. It is convenient to the Red Line as well as Interstate 45 and Highway 59.
Average rents were up 5% in the past year, but still affordable at $688 for a one-bedroom. The neighborhood has many older apartment buildings and some new affordable housing communities developed by Avenue, a HUD-certified agency. Prices may trend higher as a large high-end development Residences at Hardy Yards opens July 2018.
The area offers plenty of entertainment options. "The multi-stage, indoor-outdoor White Oak Music Hall opened its doors in the neighborhood in 2016, followed by acclaimed foodie gastropub Edison and Patton, and later Sideout Volleybar," Boyar says.
For renters with upscale aspirations and limited budgets, Uptown Houston may be right for you. Nestled between wealthy neighborhoods River Oaks, Memorial and Tanglewood, Uptown is a retail mecca with Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, two Whole Foods and Houston’s only five-star hotel the Post Oak.
Yet rents in Uptown are relatively modest.
“Perhaps owing to its age and large mix of apartments (in terms of quality), the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,198, which is a noticeable discount to all of the hottest multifamily submarkets in Houston,” says Boyar.
One-bedroom units near The Galleria, the largest shopping mall in Texas, recently listed for $710 to $835 in a complex with six pools and a 2,500-square-foot fitness center.
“This is a neighborhood to watch in the near future as it is re-envisioned,” says Boyar. There are plans to develop high-speed bus lanes on Post Oak Boulevard and plant 1,000 live oak trees.
The priciest of our three recommendations, Midtown still represents a good value for a professional couple or someone who works in nearby Downtown or the Texas Medical Center.
“Rents here are a bargain compared to neighboring Downtown, Museum District and Neartown-Montrose, which are all within walking distance,” says Boyar.
The average asking rent is $1,433 for a one-bedroom. There are plentiful two-bedrooms priced below $2,000 that could be a good value for two roommates.
Midtown has a Walk Score of 86, the highest of any Houston metro neighborhood. The area has an array of restaurants and bars and will get a Whole Foods next year.
Bonus tip for out-of-towners
Don’t be surprised when you find yourself looping around four to six stories of a parking structure to get to your parking spot. While Houston has burgeoning pockets of urban walkability, it’s still mostly a car city, says Boyar. For that reason, it will also make your life easier if you search for an apartment close to your workplace.
Considering different cities? We've got 13 tips for finding an apartment anywhere for less.