Is Houston a wonderful city to live in?

What, you’re asking us? Of course it is. That’s not the question. The question is, where within this vast expanse of wonderfulness should you live? No, wait, that’s not it either. 

Where should you live now? That’s the question. In a town where red-hot neighborhoods can powder and die without warning, and long-dormant enclaves spring to life with head-spinning suddenness, advice on real estate is ever crucial and ever suspect. If you really want to know the neighborhoods of the moment you’ll need to visit with countless residents and agents in dozens of locales, and pore over reams of data on everything from school performance to crime. Or just let us do it for you.

Family-Oriented: West University

West University Place: the city-within-a-city that inspires pride & devotion from its residents.

Image: Jill Hunter

It may feel like a small town, but don’t be fooled: West University Place is nothing less than an upscale city within a city. Consider its Little League, one of the nation’s largest. There’s an all-American, down-home quality to the ballpark, certainly, right down to the concession stand, which offers hot dogs, Cracker Jacks and the like. But it also sells Collina’s pizza, Thai spring rolls, and Skeeter’s fajitas. That’s West U in a nutshell: family-oriented and old-fashioned, but marked by a taste for the finer things in life.

Video: Newsfix

Why (and how) did we choose our top 25 neighborhoods?

Why (and how) did we choose our top 25 neighborhoods? We go behind the scenes with our partners at Newsfix.

Is there any neighborhood that elicits as much fanatical devotion as West University Place and sister enclave city Southside Place? Each equipped with their own courts and police force and lavishly appointed pools, ball fields, sports leagues, and parks, West U and Southside offer unparalleled opportunities for family frolic. 

Zoning, which West U has and Houston lacks, is another draw, especially for well-heeled transplants, says Judy Thompson, an exclusive buyers’ agent for West U Real Estate LLC. “They move to Houston, and they aren’t accustomed to the way it looks,” she says. “They are looking for the single-family-home–type neighborhood West U brings.” 

Another thing they’re attached to: the location. While adjacent to the shopping, dining, and partying options in Rice Village, West U types are also a hop-and-skip from the Galleria, the Med Center, Montrose, and downtown. People love the schools: West University Elementary was touted the fifth-best in the city by Children at Risk in 2012, and Lamar High School has an International Baccalaureate program. At present, homes on the market start at $725K for a smallish–by–West U–standards original house on busy Buffalo Speedway and average around $1.5 million for newer homes on less-traveled streets. 

Not far away, the Museum District, Old Braeswood, and Southampton offer a slightly more historic, urban spin on the West U experience, while Braeswood Place is rapidly catching up to its Bellaire Blvd. neighbor in upscale homes, if not parks and pools.

The Weekend Worshipper: Beachtown

At first blush, everything about Beachtown flies in the face of conventional thinking. There’s the architecture, for starters—replicas straight out of Galveston’s Gilded Age—and the emphasis on pedestrianism and sustainability, both of which, while wonderful things, aren’t usually high on the list of beach house needs. Then there’s the location, smack-dab on the sand, on a narrow spit at Galveston Island’s extreme eastern edge. Um, would people really want to buy million-dollar homes there? 

Apparently they would. Those who doubted Beachtown developer Tofigh Shirazi and his Seaside, Florida–inspired New Urbanist development would work here are eating their words: after breaking ground in 2005, the first 160-home phase of the planned 260-acre, billion-dollar development quickly sold out. What’s left? As of now, you can buy a condo for $725K or choose between two beach palaces: one for $1.4 million and another for well over double that.

Galveston realtor Kelly Kelley says that most Beachtowners are Fortune 500 execs purchasing second homes, drawn to the development’s ambience, as well as other Galveston attractions, such as the Strand and the piers, which Beachtown is clearly emulating. There’s a little town center—home to a cafe, community pool, ice cream shop, and bike rental business, all with lofts above—and it’s thriving. “They also like it that the beach is accreting there and not eroding,” Kelley says. (This is true nowhere else on the island, according to Galveston-based NOAA scientist Kristopher Benson.)

And Shirazi’s insistence on building well beyond FEMA requirements paid off when Beachtown’s homes—with primary living areas at least 14 feet off the ground, able to withstand 150 mph winds—stood high and dry after Hurricane Ike in 2008, which destroyed much of the rest of the island. 

The Single Scenester: Midtown

Drawn by its bars, restaurants, and walkability, Midtown is booming.

Image: Jill Hunter

Midtown is touted as Houston’s walkable urban core, but at certain times it’s better known for its residents stumbling from bar to abode. And those residents love this bustling neighborhood that never really sleeps: even though real estate agents report more middle-aged homebuyers are moving to Midtown to join the young professional set, both groups are drawn by the same bars, restaurants, dog parks, retail, green space, and people-watching—both day and night.

All this mingling is expected to intensify as the neighborhood increases in density, says Matt Thibodeaux, executive director of the Midtown Redevelopment Authority, especially when the Superblock—a six-acre, mixed-use development sandwiched between Travis and Main streets that will contain 8,500 square feet of retail space and a three-acre public park—is finally completed over the next couple of years. In the same timeframe, he estimates that the neighborhood will see another 1,000 apartments filled. 

“The last five years have brought a lot of changes to Midtown,” says Thibodeaux, noting that Midtown Park, at Gray and Bagby, is getting a new performance stage and dog park. “And of course, we’re still in the heart of Houston with easy access to downtown, the Museum District, Montrose, and every big roadway.” So how much is a new townhome going to cost you? On the east side of Midtown, they start off in the mid-$200s and increase as you move west, before topping off around $700,000 in Midtown proper. “They’re coming for the walkability and the 100-year-old oak trees,” says midtown expert Heather Hatfield of John Daugherty Realtors. “To get those trees in other neighborhoods you’d have to spend millions of dollars, but not here.”

The International and Neighborly: Telfair

More so than the other suburbs, Sugar Land is a mini-Houston. Not only does it have its own baseball team in the Skeeters (admittedly minor league), it’s incredibly cosmopolitan. Stephen Klineberg, co-director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University, recently speculated that Fort Bend County is likely the most diverse in the world. Peruse a list of the 10 most-Yelped restaurants in Sugar Land and you’ll find Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Afghan, and Italian eateries, along with steakhouses from North and South America. 

Sugar Land also has its own campus of the University of Houston, and its own branch of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, housed in a Greek Revival edifice once known as “Two Camp,” a segregated dormitory of Sugar Land’s defunct Central Prison. In 2005, the prison grounds—where convicts chopped cotton and cut cane for many decades—were converted to a subdivision called Telfair, possibly the most diverse neighborhood in that most diverse of counties. Homes there start in the low $300s although some crack the $2 million mark.

Yogi Goyal, the host of KPFT’s GenerAsian Radio, has lived in Telfair for several years and loves Sugar Land’s great schools and 70 acres of lakes (open to canoes and kayaks), as well as taking his daughter to Telfair’s two pools, one with a splash pad and a waterslide. Bike trails streak the area, and Goyal loves the easy access to Highway 59. Perhaps as soon as two years from now, his family will have access to something else, too: Telfair’s latest and greatest amenity, a 6,500-seat concert venue, slated to begin construction this year. From the renderings, it promises to look a lot like Jones Hall.   

The Retro-Active: Glenbrook Valley

Glenbrook Valley has retained a Mad Men-era feel along with its many original mid-century homes.

Image: Jill Hunter

In the 1950s, when its homes were built, this neighborhood off the Gulf Freeway just south of Sims Bayou was considered so stylishly mod it was called “Little River Oaks.” Even now there’s a Tomorrowland quality to Glenbrook Valley, and not only because the noise of jets from nearby Hobby Airport adds to an overall Jetsons effect. Last year, Glenbrook Valley was named one of the nation’s 10 Best Old-House Neighborhoods by no less an authority than This Old House. It was the only neighborhood in Texas to make the cut, with the magazine noting: “The word swanky comes to mind when you survey the daring roof lines and sweeping lawns of Glenbrook Valley, a neighborhood that would have tempted Mad Men’s Don Draper had he landed a Big Oil account.”

The neighborhood’s impeccably preserved mid-century–modern houses (thanks, deed restrictions!) have been remarkably affordable over the past few years, and while the secret is now out, the market has yet to reflect it: median home prices have remained around $100,000. Recently, a low-slung ranch with custom landscaping, original mod hardware in the kitchen, updated appliances throughout, beautifully refurbished hardwood floors, and chic vintage tile in the bathrooms was offered at a vintage price: $105,000. A home featured in the original Glenbrook Valley ads was also recently on sale for just over twice that price, complete with flagstone walls, wood paneling, Ming Green tile in the bathrooms, and a majorly mod fireplace anchoring one end of a sprawling den that was clearly designed for Mad Men–style mingling and entertaining.

The Night Owl: Downtown

Downtown Houston is booming for the first time in years.

Image: Jill Hunter

Even longtime real estate expert Terry Stanfield of Heritage Texas Properties —who’s lived and worked downtown for 14 years and long knew it was going to grow—is surprised by the area’s recent metamorphosis over the past few years. “What I see on nights and weekends amazes me,” he says. “There are pedestrians all over Market Square coming and going from restaurants, bars, and work. It’s a destination for all age groups for the first time in years.”

Some of those pedestrians are new residents. “Discovery Green and Market Square Park continue to be urban destinations,” says Angie Bertinot of the Downtown District, noting that the city’s goal is to have 20,000 residents downtown by 2025. There are currently 1,210 housing units under construction downtown, with another 1,952 planned. Those underway include SkyHouse, a 24-story apartment complex at 1625 Main Street expected to open shortly; Block 334, a mid-rise right across the street, arriving in the spring of next year; and 500 Crawford, a seven-story complex next to Minute Maid Park slated for summer 2015.

Meanwhile, downtown’s Historic District had 10 new restaurant and bar openings in 2013 alone, many of them along the 300 block of Main St., which has taken a turn for the trendy with the arrival of Goro & Gun, Little Dipper, The Pastry War, Clutch City Squire, and Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar. 

As for Stanfield, he’s also been impressed by the diversity of the new downtown. “The demographics are quite varied,” he says. “Of the five I’ve put under contract in the last week, I had an older professor, a second-home buyer, a young professional, and a pair of empty-nesters looking for a neighborhood to play in on the weekends.”

The Boomtown Cat: Baytown

When you think of neighborhoods on the rise, Baytown probably doesn’t come to mind. But thanks to the opening of new Chevron and Exxon plants in recent years, there’s been much new housing activity in this city 26 miles east of Houston, which is to say that an oil boom is begetting a real estate one. “A lot of people are moving up and buying larger homes, and we’re expecting an explosion of growth as more jobs open up,” says Sherril Bates of Bates-Brinkley Realty. “You can get into a home for as little as $150,000, and from there the prices go up past $1 million, especially if you’re on the water.”

 

What you get for the $$$

2912 University Blvd.
West University

This brand-new home is massive—5,487 square feet, on a 7,500-square-foot lot—and comes packed with all the amenities. MLS# 6513945

$1,885,000

Courtesy of John Daugherty, Realtors

In addition to the area’s affordable real estate and plentiful jobs, prospective Baytowners are lured by its small-town ambiance, solid Goose Creek ISD schools, and access to over 1,000 acres of parkland. The lifestyle is quiet but the community active and tightly knit, Bates says, adding that the town has raised more money for the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life” than any other community in Texas for 12 years running. Furthermore: “We’re right in the middle of everything. We’re close to Houston and all its cultural offerings, we’ve got Kemah on the other side and Lake Charles right down the road from us. We’ve also got Galveston and Trinity Bay for great fishing and recreation right nearby.” 

The Naturalist: Bridgeland

A few decades from now, Houstonians could very well be talking about Bridgeland and The Woodlands in the same breath—after all, both master-planned communities are run by the Howard Hughes Corporation, both emphasize living in harmony with nature, and both have ample green space for their residents. In fact, no home in this Cypress development just off Highway 290 is more than a quarter-mile away from a park, and all residents have access to recreational equipment like canoes and kayaks to use on the community’s many lakes. The neighborhood, whose median home price is $283,000, even hosts a well-attended annual Nature Fest and the Bridgeland Triathlon, the latter sanctioned by the sport’s national governing body. 

Eventually, the development will house an estimated 65,000 people in 20,000 homes on its 11,000 acres, with future plans that include an 900-acre Town Center at the future intersection of the Grand Parkway and Central Creek Corridor (both currently under construction) and a variety of homes at many different price levels. For now, Bridgeland kids are zoned to Cy-Fair ISD schools, but down the road parents will be able to choose their children’s school district—including Katy ISD and Waller ISD—depending on where they purchase a home in the vast community, which sprawls across the three school districts. 

The Location, Location, Location Lover: Bellaire

Median home values have more than doubled over the last decade or so in Bellaire—from $234,000 in 2000 to just over $620,000 in 2013—and they show no signs of slowing down. “When it comes to Bellaire, it’s location, location, location,” says Jared Lofton of Bellaire-based Lofton Realty. “Everybody wants easy access to downtown, and in Bellaire you have that, as well as access to the Galleria, West U, and the Medical Center. It’s one of the best bangs for your buck in Houston.”

 

What you get for the $$$

4807 Pine St.
Bellaire

This four-bedroom home in the heart of town features an open-concept living area as well as a grotto-style pool and spa. MLS# 52259599

$1,398,000

Courtesy of John Daugherty, Realtors

There’s been a wave of new development here as new builders move in and residents tear down existing homes, buy bigger and better ones, or cash out altogether, riding the Bellaire boom straight into West U. Those who stay will benefit from award-winning public schools, high-quality city services, lush parkland, and an unlimited variety of home styles to choose from. Older properties start at just under $200,000, and newer construction starts in the mid-$400s and soars past the million dollar mark. “Driving around Bellaire you’ll notice that there’s a bleed over from West U these days,” says Lofton. 

The Savvy Commuter: Pearland

In many ways, Pearland offers the best of all possible worlds in bustling Brazoria County. It’s equally welcome to collars both white and blue, surrounds its tolerant populace with a small-town vibe, and offers easy access to both Houston and the coast (think of the time they save driving to the beach!).

Given that, it’s not surprising that Pearland is the second-fastest–growing city in Texas, as well as the 15th-fastest–growing in the country. The city is actively encouraging that growth with developments such as Pearland Town Center and Shadow Creek Ranch Town Center—and there’s a burgeoning restaurant scene too, with spots such as Killen’s BBQ, Killen’s Steakhouse, and King’s Biergarten drawing crowds daily. Commuting into downtown or the Medical Center is a breeze on Highway 288, and Hobby Airport is only a short drive away, as are NASA and other major employers.

There are excellent schools to be had too—Pearland ISD has been rated exemplary by the Texas Education Agency, 5-A Pearland High School boasts one of the state’s best football teams (the recent state championship game between Pearland and Allen High School at AT&T Stadium in Dallas set a record as the most attended high school football game in Texas history as 54,347 fans turned out to support their teams)—and yet the property taxes are low. The mortgages are too. Whether it’s a beautiful mid-century rancher with an updated kitchen and sparkling new pool for $165K, or a $750K sprawler overlooking the golf course in Green Tee Terrace, in Pearland, there’s something for everybody.

The Cultured Suburbanite: Champion Forest

Champion Forest provides a traditional stability, even as commercial development booms around it.

Image: Jill Hunter

Remember Ronald Reagan? Champion Forest does. This stately suburb sprang to life in the early ’80s, and the neighborhood is filled with pristine housing stock from the oil boom days, which is to say two-story brick monuments to the nuclear family and a booming economy. Champion Forest’s home prices have never declined during its nearly 40 years—current median price: $230,000—and the pine trees have grown thick around them, even as the nearby Hwy 249 and FM 1960 areas have experienced massive commercial development. 

In other words, there’s a lot more to champion these days, from the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts (a joint venture with the MFAH) and the Barbara Bush Library, to an Alamo Drafthouse outpost running indie movies and the 180-acre Meyer Park. And along Veterans Memorial, just a short drive away, you’ll find one of the richest ethnic dining corridors outside Chinatown. The area also lies only a short distance from Bush Intercontinental Airport and Greenspoint, both just down the Beltway. Kids have plenty of culture and recreation at their fingertips, too: the highly regarded Klein High School boasts state champions in everything from chess and orchestra to tennis and soccer.

The Backyardigan: Rustling Pines

Winding through the wooded streets of Rustling Pines, it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a busy city—and only a few blocks away from Beltway 8. This highly desirable neighborhood, which straddles Memorial and the Energy Corridor, is bordered on one side by the Edith Moore Nature Sanctuary and, on another, Terry Hershey Park, where both hiking trails and Buffalo Bayou run along many residents’ backyards.

In addition to its prime location just across from CityCentre, with easy freeway access, Rustling Pines boasts some of the best schools in the city: Rummel Creek Elementary, Spring Forest Middle School, and Stratford High School. And tucked into the back of the neighborhood are a luxurious swimming pool and tennis courts, both set so far in the trees, your kids will think they’re at Camp Champions.

With amenities like that, Rustling Pines—with its median home price of $535,000—is far from a bargain anymore. Those sprawling 1960s-era houses on gracious lots are now going for 40 percent more than they did 10 years ago, and competition for them can be fierce. It doesn’t help matters that kids who grow up in Rustling Pines often want to return once they have families of their own, their memories of childhoods spent swinging across bayous and adventuring through the woods being too strong to resist. 

The Coupon Clipper: Katy Creek Ranch

There was a time in the not so distant past when Katy was, as a whole, considered a bargain. That time, according to longtime Katy resident and local real estate agent Cherin Cox, has come and gone. “We’re over $100 per square foot in most Katy subdivisions,” she says. “The demand is growing because of the high-quality schools and the proximity to the Energy Corridor, hospitals, and emerging businesses like the new Geico headquarters.”

 

What you get for the $$$

201 Westmoreland St.
Montrose

The gorgeous 1905 Waldo Mansion, where part of Terms of Endearment was shot, has a wraparound front porch, original woodwork, 15-foot ceilings, even a goldfish pond. MLS# 44040594

$3,500,000

Courtesy of John Daugherty, Realtors

Thankfully, there are still a few deals to be had in this rapidly growing metropolis west of Houston. At Katy Creek Ranch, the latest development from Legend Homes, prices start in the $190s. Located within Cinco Ranch, KCR offers residents a clubhouse and a community pool, as well as nearby shopping and a newish Whole Foods, and all just a stone’s throw from Westpark Tollway and I-10. 

Some residents say that the neighborhood offers many of the benefits of splashier Cinco Ranch at a fraction of the price. Homes are of the standard affordable-new-construction variety—plain brick, two-car garage, white sidewalks, and few trees—but residents who settle here do so for the lifestyle more than the look. “It’s great for entry-level homebuyers or relocated, younger families who are looking for great schools and affordability,” Cox says. “In surrounding subdivisions the entry-level price point goes up dramatically, to between $300,000 and $400,000.”

The Lite Socialite: Afton Oaks

Like Braeswood Place on the other side of West U, with which it shares a Truman-era feel, Afton Oaks has been mansionizing madly in recent years. “Talk about gangbusters,” says Martha Turner/Sotheby’s realtor Kiki Wilson. “The prices in Afton right now are really impressive.”

Twelve years ago, $250,000 bought you a seat at Afton’s bounteous table in the form of an original 1950s rancher in need of a little TLC. Today, $450,000 is the minimum for one of those same homes, even one facing busy Richmond Ave. Many of the original ranch houses have been scrapped, replaced by vast mansions covering most of the 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot lots. New constructions (mainly two- and three-story French- and/or Italian-inspired villas) and even some of the remodeled ranchers are now commanding anywhere from $1 to $2.5 million.

It’s easy to see why. Perhaps no area in central Houston is as well situated to as many high-end amenities, schools, and employment centers as Afton Oaks, whose oaks are just southwest of River Oaks. If you work in the Galleria area or Greenway, you’re minutes from your desk; downtown and the Med Center aren’t much farther. Residents can walk the majestic tree-lined backstreets to dozens of luxe boutiques in Highland Village, yet nearby there’s also a Costco, as well as Central Market, an Edwards movie theater, and more.

River Oaks may get all the pub, but Afton offers fun at a fraction of the price, albeit a fraction of a River Oaks price. “It’s a really good place to get a nice new house on a good-sized lot for under $2 million,” Wilson says. “And it’s very family-oriented, too.”  

The Sentimental Journeyer: Creekside Park

The Woodlands, with a population the size of Waco—not to mention nearly 2,000 businesses employing another 51,000 people—has in some ways outgrown its small-town label. Nevertheless, small-town charm survives in spots.

Take Creekside Park, the town’s newest development. Homebuyers, including an expected influx of relocated Exxon employees, will find walkable streets, plentiful parks (including connections to The Woodlands’s trail system and proximity to its nature preserve), and the potential, at least, for everybody to know your name: the front porches on the neighborhood’s Craftsman-style homes—which range in price from the high $200s to more than $900,000—encourage socializing. 

As well, the houses are all within walking distance of the neighborhood’s centerpiece: Creekside Village Green, a communal, tree-lined green space scheduled for completion this fall, which will offer water features such as splash pads for the kids and a 4,500-square-foot, glass-walled restaurant. The Green will be the hub of Village Center, which will include retail and office space, restaurants, and townhomes in the $270,000s, with a large H-E-B and a Walgreens anchoring the development, all of which promise to give this small town some big city amenities. 

The Dockside Devotee: Seabrook

Seabrook is the moment’s best choice for saltwater living in a Houston area code.

Image: Jill Hunter

Quaint and off the beaten path, with shrimp boats, a historic waterfront, and cute B&Bs, Seabrook—less touristy than Kemah but more polished than San Leon or Bacliff—stands as this moment’s best choice for saltwater living in a Houston area code. “It’s small but not too small, and because we are on the right side of the lake, it’s an easy commute to Houston,” says Joyce Adamiak, an area resident and real estate broker with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Gary Greene. “It’s pretty private and tucked away, and a lot of people like that.”

Adamiak says Seabrook offers a full range of houses for almost any income level—from tract homes starting in the $200s to opulent waterfront palaces going for more than $2 million. Storms are always a concern given the proximity to the Gulf, although Adamiak reports that only one section of Seabrook was destroyed by Ike, and that those homes were replaced by more upscale models hewing closer to FEMA standards. For property values, Ike was a boon to Seabrook: sales are booming as never before. But thanks to its far-flung location, the sleepy town isn’t going as gangbusters as, say, Pearland. Nope, it’s taking things slow and steady. “And a lot of people find that really appealing,” says Adamiak. 

The DIYer: Pecan Park/Simms Woods

Okay, so you want to live in a cute, East End bungalow but can’t afford a $500,000 home. Where do you go? Not Eastwood or Idylwood. They’ve both hit their saturation points. No, you keep walking, to two up-and-coming neighborhoods just down the street.

 

What you get for the $$$

5438 Candlewood Dr.
Tanglewood

This brand-new, 9,717-square-foot French country home will feature a stone façade, slate roof, and amenity-packed interior. MLS# 46692434

$5,195,000

Courtesy of John Daugherty, Realtors

In Pecan Park, you’ll need a vision, some elbow grease, and considerable sweat equity, but not much money. There, a 1940s-era charmer between Griggs Road and Loop 610 can be had—believe it or not—for around $60,000 in Pecan Park. But hurry, prices are on the rise, having increased 60 percent over the last two decades. That’s because although the area has been depressed in past years, crime—once high—is on the steady decline, and schools such as Seguin Elementary and Cornelius Elementary are drawing in families thanks to their TEA “exemplary” ratings.

Looking for a neighborhood that’s slightly more developed? Simms Woods is just on the other side of Forest Park Cemetery, making it that much closer to downtown—though the homes are a bit more expensive. You’ll get what you pay for, however, as the mid-century real estate in this sleepy neighborhood is—by and large—perfectly preserved (and a bit larger to boot). A three-bedroom brick abode on a tidy corner lot with plenty of modern updates recently went for $260,000. Bonus: in the evenings, Simms Woods comes alive as its residents take nightly strolls and catch up in each others’ front yards. You can’t put a price on that kind of community.

The Close-In Connoisseur: Northside Village

With gentrification now having leapt beyond the Heights and into Lindale Park and Brooke Smith, the next play for urban pioneers is Northside Village, a newish name for what used to be called the Near North Side. Bounded by I-45 on the west, Highway 59 on the east, Cavalcade on the north, and Buffalo Bayou on the south, Northside Village is home to one of Houston’s strongest and deepest barrio cultures. Outstanding taquerias abound along streets like Fulton and Irvington, and the area also birthed the Fiesta supermarket chain. Thanks to the taquerias and shaded, walkable streets, some locals call the area “Tampico Heights.”

A mere stone’s throw from downtown, Northside Village linked up to Houston’s light rail system at the end of last year, and if what happened in Midtown after the trains came is any predictor, the area is set to boom. “The rail is a big deal,” says Penny Smith Jones, a consultant and former in-house copywriter for Martha Turner/Sotheby’s. “The kind of folks who will buy into that neighborhood will use the rail.” And the housing stock is not dissimilar from the bungalows in the Heights. “You are right next to UH-Downtown…. Lots of interesting things are going on up there.”

To be sure, Northside Village still has its issues, from crime to a shortage of retail, but the area’s downtown-convenient location means that residents can take advantage of the revival in progress there. And to the valiant go the spoils: two- and three-bedroom houses minutes from the heart of Houston for under $200,000.

The New Bohemian: Cherryhurst

Living in Cherryhurst means being able to walk the best Montrose has to offer.

Image: Jill Hunter

Is there a neighborhood that’s the essence of Montrose? We think so—and we think it’s Cherryhurst. Anchored by its eponymous park offering everything from lighted tennis courts to Tiny Tots programs in its community center, tree-shaded Cherryhurst is a mishmash of quirky ’30s bungalows, ’80s-era condos, and imposing, ivy-covered ’40s English Revival homes that somehow works. 

Living here means being able to walk to the best Montrose has to offer, whether it’s dinner at Hugo’s or drinks at Anvil, pastries at La Guadalupana Bakery or antiquing along Westheimer, coffee at Agora or boutique shopping at Space. It also means enjoying the outsized personalities of your neighbors, who are doing everything from growing grapes to raising hens. The aesthetic here can be eccentric, too, by which we mean the Craftsman bungalow painted a vivid lime green with aqua trim, or a tiny charmer festooned with giant dog bones as lawn art, or the house with a cupcake truck perpetually parked outside. And come December, there’s one of the best and brightest Christmas light displays in town at the corner of Yupon and Missouri.

That it works so hard to maintain the character that much of the rest of Montrose has lost is no small part of Cherryhurst’s appeal. Prices have increased over 40 percent in the last decade, but the median of $315,000 is hardly astronomical, especially given the prime location.

The Smart Shopper: Meyerland

Like the supermarket branded pain reliever that appears suspiciously similar to the Advil that’s adjacent to it, Meyerland manages to be a few bucks cheaper while still getting the job done. This southwest Houston neighborhood offers all of the geographic and cultural benefits of neighboring Bellaire at a fraction of the cost. “People are finding that they can have a bigger home with a bigger yard in Meyerland than they can in Bellaire,” says Jan Pappert of John Daugherty Realtors, who specializes in both areas. “It’s pretty safe to say that the land value out here is great.”

Less expensive homes and bigger lots, Pappert adds, have led to an influx of construction as new homebuyers tear down the neighborhood’s original 1960s dwellings and start fresh. The housing stock is varied—including everything from mid-century-modern ranch-style homes to contemporary double-deckers—and the prices are, too, ranging from the mid-$300s beyond $1 million. 

The neighborhood’s a big draw for its proximity to Loop 610—which makes for quick commutes to the Uptown area, the Medical Center, Rice, the University of Houston, and downtown—as well as families looking for great schools (most of Meyerland is zoned to Bellaire High School). “We’re seeing that people are seeking Meyerland because of Meyerland,” says Pappert. “They’re basing that choice on what they can get in a home and a neighborhood for a lot less money.”

The Urban Pioneer: Riverside Terrace

Riverside Terrace, once the Jewish and then the African-American River Oaks, is filled with historic homes.

Image: Jill Hunter

Want to buy a River Oaks–style home with River Oaks–style history but without the River Oaks price tag—or a River Oaks location? Riverside Terrace traces its roots to the 1930s, when it was settled by Houston’s most prominent Jewish families: the Weingartens, the Fingers, the McGregors. They and others called the naturally hilly enclave home and built stunning mansions overlooking Brays Bayou. In the early 1960s, part of the neighborhood was torn up to make way for Highway 288 while desegregation brought a demographic shift to the area, which became home to prominent and affluent African Americans.

Today, Riverside Terrace—which sits just on the other side of 288 from Hermann Park, the Museum District, and the Medical Center—contains large homes in various stages of repair and disrepair. A completely updated, “meticulously maintained” 75-year-old mansion on a sunny two-and-a-half acres was recently selling for $2.6 million. Meanwhile, a dignified 1940s manor overlooking the bayou was on the market for $650,000, waiting for an urban pioneer to take a chance and refurbish its original oak floors, fireplace, circular staircase, garage apartment, and other period amenities.

Crime can still be an issue in the area, which has kept home prices down, but Riverside Terrace will only continue to improve as more people move back into the scenic neighborhood and make contributions of their own to this storied burg. 

The Empty Nester: Oakhurst

Among the last few villages left to be completed in Kingwood is Oakhurst—and it’s already brimming with brand-new patio homes perfect for empty nesters who want to get away from the city while maintaining close contact with the kids. Downtown Houston is a short commute away on Hwy 59 (which is rarely congested, unlike I-45); Intercontinental Airport is only 15 minutes away. Even closer: Lake Houston, the thriving Kings Harbor waterside district with wine bars and steakhouses overlooking the lake, and plenty of recreational activities.

Kingwood, like its master-planned counterpart The Woodlands, has managed to maintain a balance between nature and development, boasting over 75 miles of greenbelt, and hike-and-bike trails that wind through pine forests, connecting the community’s many parks, shopping centers, and even Lake Houston. Homes in various Oakhurst subdivisions range from $160,000 patio houses to mini-mansions in the $800,000 range overlooking the challenging 18-hole Oakhurst golf course.

The Active Urbanist: Tanglewood

According to most accounts, this neighborhood and its sprawling one-story homes didn’t take off until after a big storm hit Houston in the early 1950s, flooding much of the rest of the city but leaving Tanglewood high and dry. John Daugherty, as in John Daugherty Realtors, remembers the area’s ascent differently, however. “When I was a young boy in the mid-to-late ’50s,” he says, “the newspaper came out with a story saying that if you lived in a two-story house, going up and down … stairs could give you a heart attack.”

 

What you get for the $$$

5051 Cedar Creek Dr.
Tanglewood

This five-bedroom Mediterranean features hardwoods, a paneled study, a large dining room with a wine vault, and a fountain on the patio. MLS# 57751458

$2,100,000

Courtesy of John Daugherty, Realtors

A chill went through many a River Oaks mansion. Some homeowners, Daugherty’s parents among them, planted “For Sale” signs in the yards of their two-story homes and relocated to new, air-conditioned, flood-resistant, allegedly-heart-healthy Tanglewood a few miles away. In 1957, the elite Kinkaid School moved to nearby Piney Point Village, the Houston Country Club moved to Tanglewood proper, et voilá: all the comforts of River Oaks and none of the lifespan-shortening stairs. 

It was a bald prairie at founding, but each resident was given two oaks at move-in, and the Tanglewood Corporation planted three more on every street corner. Today there are 5,000 trees in the neighborhood, and Tanglewood Blvd. has one of the city’s most glorious canopies shading its wildly popular jogging trail. “It’s a big exercise community,” says Martha Turner/Sotheby’s realtor Kiki Wilson of the neighborhood’s still health-conscious residents. “You always see people running up and down Tanglewood Blvd., and there’s a big community aspect to that.” A recent search brought up homes in the $3 to $6 million range.

New ideas in the field of architecture—not to mention the field of cardiology—put Tanglewood out of fashion for a while, and many of the rambling ranches were supplanted by English-style manor homes and stucco Mediterranean mini-palazzi. The good news? The lots are large enough to accommodate such gargantuan ambitions. “What’s so nice about Tanglewood is … the new houses look proportionally correct,” says Daugherty. “And you are right next to the Galleria. You can’t improve on the location.”

The Inner Gardener: Timbergrove

Timbergrove’s classic ranch houses appeal to young families and empty-nesters alike.

Image: Jill Hunter

The Inner Loop’s northwest corner has retained much of its original post-war character even as it has played a part in Houston’s latest real estate boom. “A lot of people who grew up in this town still really relate to a one-story ranch-style house in a great location,” says Mike Tersigne of John Daugherty Realtors, a Timbergrove resident who lives in a 1950s home built by the subdivision’s founder. “These homes appeal to a wide cross-section of people, from young couples to retirees.” That may explain why the area is seeing more remodels than teardowns, Tersigne says, as current residents look to save money through reconfiguring old floor plans instead of starting from scratch. Tersigne expects this to change as property values rise, wealthier homebuyers move in, and large, 1960s-era lots like the ones in Timbergrove—perfect for building big new homes—become increasingly rare in town.

With many original buyers hanging onto their homes for decades, the area has flown under the radar until recently. But real estate experts like Tersigne expect its popularity to grow, courtesy its proximity to the Heights, Uptown, and downtown. In coming years expect more commercial development in the area around 18th St., just north of Timbergrove, as well as more young families, who are coming despite the challenge presented by area schools, which have a mixed reputation. Homes start in the mid-200s and top off around $1 million, with an average selling price between $300,000 to $550,000. 

There’s something else about Timbergrove non-residents always seem to overlook: the timber and the groves. “We talk about growth in this part of Houston, but we fail to mention how green the entire area is,” says Tersigne. “We have multiple parks, bike trails, and access to the bayou, where you’ll always find people enjoying the outdoors.”

The Value Villager: Brykerwoods

As Spring Branch residents will happily inform you, German immigrant Karl Kolbe came to town and built a log cabin here near Buffalo Bayou in 1830, six years ahead of the Allen Brothers. But that’s just one source of local pride in Brykerwoods, directly east of Hilshire Village on the north side of the Katy Freeway. “It’s quite a desirable part of the city,” says Kevin Vader, owner of Texas Top Realty. “You get all that suburbia would offer you—a large home, a decent-sized yard, and good schools—but you’re within a short commute to job centers around the city and really in the middle of everything.”

As Vader points out, those Spring Branch ISD schools—students are zoned to Hunter Creek Elementary School, Spring Branch Middle School, and Memorial High School—allow many residents to invest in their homes what they might otherwise have to spend on private education. Indeed, there’s a large number of remodels and teardowns among the housing stock, which dates to the 1950s and ’60s but is now a solid mix of old, new, and in-between. And those homes don’t come cheap. “You’re looking at a starting price of $400,000 to $500,000, and it escalates quickly,” Vader says, adding that sales top off just past $1 million. 

Not surprisingly, the neighborhood is full of families, and there’s a real sense of community, with special events throughout the year including Easter egg hunts, an ice cream social, and a pumpkin-carving contest all popular among residents. If you want in on the fun, it’s best to move fast. “Houses don’t come on the market that often,” says Vader. “It’s a popular place, and once people buy they tend to stay, because there’s no reason to leave.”

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