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With spots like Colonial Park on offer, it doesn’t get much more kid-friendly than West U.

Image: Troy Fields

West U

For families | Average home value: $1.35 million

Incorporated since 1924, this Inner Loop enclave next door to Rice isn’t technically a neighborhood, although it certainly feels like one. If you can afford it, there are few better places in the city to raise children than this community of stately houses and well-manicured lawns, whose literary street names were bestowed upon it by a Rice English major back in the ’20s.

This is a place where neighbors stop to chat and kids’ playdates rule the calendar. The elementary school consistently tops Children at Risk’s list of best schools in the state, and area restaurants like Little Matt’s, with its wall of candy and menu of burgers and fries, cater specifically to kids. On top of that, residents don’t just come home and go inside at the end of the day. The area is full of young families, and it’s totally normal to see crews of parents and kids out on the oak-shaded streets at twilight, pulling toddlers in wagons while kids on bikes spin by. 

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The Second Ward will only get better once this stretch of Buffalo Bayou is revamped.

Image: Troy Fields

Second Ward

For DINKS | Average home value: $340,000

Nestled against Buffalo Bayou on the East End, the historically Hispanic neighborhood has seen a wave of home renovations and new builds that have proven attractive to DINK—dual income, no kids—Houstonians who appreciate its location right in the heart of the city.

The area has gone through some gentrification in recent years. Many of the older houses have been replaced with seemingly endless rows of love-’em-or-hate-’em townhomes; meanwhile, the next phase of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership’s bayou-redevelopment project—a 20-year plan that will add parks and trails to the section along the Second Ward’s north boundary—is guaranteed to increase the number of people flocking here.

It’s hard to blame them. Residents enjoy easy access to the METRO light rail, the Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, and the weekly East End Farmer’s Market, in addition to an entire new crop of EaDo restaurants and bars, all a blink of an eye from downtown. 

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Clear Lake, a place where parents of grown kids can finally take up sailing.

Image: Troy Fields

Clear Lake

For empty-nesters | Average home value: $403,000

Created as an enclave for Johnson Space Center employees in the early ’60s, this master-planned suburb 20 miles southeast of downtown Houston has grown up with its residents. Since the ’90s and early 2000s, it’s been a hub for young parents drawn by good schools and an easy commute to NASA as well as nearby chemical refineries.

Today, the near-coastal area—the actual Clear Lake empties into Galveston Bay—is also a tight-knit community for empty-nesters. “There are a lot of people our age here that raised their kids in this area,” says Susan Smith, a teacher in Clear Creek ISD and mother of three adult daughters. “We have a really good group of friends that we really like hanging out with.” Easy access to Kemah—land of sun, surf, and fresh seafood—is another perk, adds Smith’s husband, Norm. “It’s easy to have a change of pace,” he says. 

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The Houston Museum of Natural Science has a Sugar Land branch.

Sugar Land

For cultured suburbanites | Average home value: $549,000

Actually its own city, this busy, rapidly growing hive of nearly 90,000 people in southwest Houston dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, when it was mostly sugar plantations. The community incorporated in 1959 and quickly began to transform itself into a prime location for both the wealthy and those looking to raise their kids outside of Houston’s hustle and bustle—there are ritzy subdivisions here, but also plenty of homes that won’t break the bank.

City officials have been doing a lot of work to raise the town’s profile from “Houston suburb” to a destination in its own right. The Sugar Land Town Square hosts family-friendly events year-round; the Houston Museum of Natural Science has an outpost here; and the new Smart Financial Centre, a real-deal concert venue that pulls in big-name acts, gives residents the chance to see top performers only minutes away from home.

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Cade and Nicole Radley moved to Spring Branch from Upper Kirby and never looked back.

Image: Troy Fields

Spring Branch

For millennials | Average home value: $490,000

Young homebuyers who want the conveniences of city life, but with more square-footage and yards for future children (and current pets), will find lots to love in this west-side neighborhood, whose mid-century ranch-style homes and new builds are more affordable than their Inner Loop counterparts.

First settled by German immigrants in the 1800s, Spring Branch was steadily developed after World War II; during the ’80s, it saw a demographic shift after an influx of residents from Central America and Korea. The resulting community is perfect for those who want to buy, but don’t want to give up the diversity of city life. 

Cade and Nicole Radley, recent first-time buyers in their mid-twenties, don’t feel they’ve sacrificed anything by swapping out a rental in Upper Kirby for a new home in Spring Branch. “It’s far enough outside of town, but not too far,” Nicole says.

The couple appreciates both the neighborhood’s proximity to Memorial City Mall and CityCentre, and its mix of ’50s-era mom-and-pop storefronts, busy taquerias, and noodle shops. “I like the mindset here. Some of the neighbors have been in the neighborhood since it was built,” Cade says. “It speaks volumes for the area.”

Garden Oaks/Oak Forest

For seekers of suburbia-in-the-city | Average home value: $500,000

Located just outside of the 610 Loop in northwest Houston, the GOOF is perfect for those craving the joys of suburban living without having to actually move to the edges of the city. Garden Oaks, established in the late 1930s, features bungalows, ranch-style homes, and stately brick residences on mostly massive lots, while Oak Forest offers similar homes on slightly smaller tracts of land.

Many of these houses were originally bought by WWII veterans who were thrilled to set up housekeeping with their families in what was once actual post-war suburbia, before Houston expanded and grew in around it. The community started seeing revitalization in the mid 1990s, when young families began snapping up homes. Today, it’s downright trendy to be a GOOF resident, but there are still some deals to be had on wonderful homes here, particularly in Oak Forest. And the area’s fairly high elevation, by Houston standards, is yet another reason these houses will continue to go like hotcakes. 

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Image: Troy Fields

Hobby Area

For first-time buyers | Average home value: $179,000

The neighborhoods clustered around Hobby Airport on the southeast side of town, a treasure trove of elegantly designed vintage showpiece homes, have long been overlooked. But now, as original owners are moving on, savvy buyers who aren’t afraid to put in a little TLC should consider Glenbrook Valley, Meadowbrook, or Garden Villas, where many homes are available for the first time since the ’50s, for a fraction of what similar residences are selling for in Garden Oaks/Oak Forest and the Heights.

The Hobby area’s neighborhoods were in vogue in the ’60s, back before developers started focusing on the west side of the city. Today, many of its sleek-lined mid-century ranches still feature mint-colored bathroom tiles, exposed brick, wood-paneled walls, and original mod light fixtures, not to mention mature pecan trees and—in some spots—a flock of wild peacocks roaming the streets.

“It has much of the character and the vibe that has been sterilized out of the Inner Loop,” says Robert Searcy, a realtor and former Glenbrook resident. “People can get houses that they are excited about owning, which you can’t always do when you live close in and you have a budget.” Add to that the beautification of Broadway Boulevard, the rehabilitation of dilapidated airport-area properties, and a new management district, and you get a revitalized area that’s breaking the stigma that Searcy calls “southeast-side vertigo.”

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Image: Google Maps

Renting in Montrose

For the character | Average rent: $1,590 for a one-bedroom apartment

Walk into any Montrose dive bar, and it won’t be long until someone launches into a rant about how the neighborhood isn’t as quirky, artistic, or gay as it used to be. They’re not entirely wrong—LGBT nightlife mainstays like Chances and Mary’s have given way to a beer hall and a coffee shop, respectively, and Montrose isn’t the only spot in the city where the artistically inclined reside these days.

But the neighborhood still has character to spare, and people still flock here, drawn by the famed Menil Collection, the slew of noted art galleries, and beloved dining and drinking establishments such as Uchi, Anvil, One Fifth, and Common Bond.

The housing stock is equally varied, with the classic Montrose garage apartment remaining a solid (if increasingly elusive) option, although there are plentiful historic duplexes and fourplexes scattered amid the encroaching townhouses and McMansions. If you’re willing to welcome a yuppie or two into the mosaic, the neighborhood is arguably more eclectic than ever.

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Josh Dierschke and Waffles enjoy the dog park next to the Alexan on Yale Street in the Heights.

Image: Troy Fields

Renting in the Heights

For the dogs | Average rent: $1,422 for a one-bedroom apartment

The bungalows, turn-of-the-century mansions, and Craftsman homes along the stately, tree-lined streets and boulevards of this, one of the first planned communities in Texas, are now complemented by an insurgent wave of mid-rise apartments and townhomes. Dog lovers tell us they appreciate the Heights as a place where renters can afford a backyard inside the Loop, or an apartment close to plenty of running trails and bayou-hugging paths to wear out even the most energetic canine.

Unique developments such as Heights Mercantile offer quaint, walkable shopping and dining experiences away from the kitschy charm of 19th Street, too, with board game cafés and bagel joints adding to the retail mix every day.

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Renting in Midtown

For the convenience | Average rent: $1,589 for a one-bedroom apartment

Over the past 20 years, this shape-shifting neighborhood tucked against the pointy topography of downtown has morphed into a bustling mixed-use district packed with apartments, restaurants, and bars. This is one of Houston’s few truly walkable areas, complete with easy access to light rail (reverse commuters can still pick their highway poison from the bordering I-45, US-59, and Highway 288).

Sure, all the bars and nightclubs mark Midtown as a playground for postgrad bacchanalia, but there’s also a thriving dining scene and plenty of spots catering to more refined (grown-up) sensibilities. “For me, there’s so much more than the just-out-of-college bar scene,” says Kaelee Nader, a 26-year-old chemical engineer who happily parks the car after her epic commute to Lake Jackson each workday. And if the most important renter’s criteria is “updated,” Nader assures us that in Midtown, “old” typically means “built in 1999.”

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