Two must-knows for Houston apartment hunting concern the seasonal implications of 30 degrees latitude.
Garage Parking: Summers in Houston are consistently scorching. (This is Big Sky country, after all.) Regardless of what your car seats are made of—leather, cloth, old basketballs signed by Hakeem Olajuwon and the 1995 Rockets—you don’t want to traverse the gates of hell every time you need to drive somewhere. Seeking out that apartment complex with garage parking may save you this minor discomfort and only cost a $50/month more. However, if you can't get garage parking a lot of communities also offer covered parking for no additional charge.
Budgeting for A/C: Some landlords will offer “all bills paid” contracts. These complexes are usually built before 1973 and can offer either air conditioning for each apartment (i.e., a thermostat in your apartment—the best option) or a centralized thermostat. Check up on what the situation is before you leap for one of these deals. If you’re not lucky enough to find an all bills paid apartment (there aren’t as many as there used to be…), expect to spend about $150/month in the hottest summer months for a/c.
The Pool Scene: Houston is HOT, HOT, HOT. But don't worry, many of the apartments have invested in ways to help their residents stay cool or at least have fun in the heat. Pools at these apartments look more like resort pools than your local YMCA. You'll find many that have invested in infinity pools and pools with built in lounge chairs (in the water!) or zero entry edges. Make sure to grab your towel and flip-flops.
Houstonians who live inside the 610 Loop (“ITL” for your keyword searching convenience), which forms the inner web of commerce including Downtown, the Heights, the area around Rice University, and other such historic neighborhoods, can be notoriously arrogant. In a city where most of the population owns a personal vehicle, this provincialism can seem ridiculous. OTLers (those “outside the Loop”) consistently doubt the existence of good reasons to travel inside 610, claiming their lives are less stressful and just as exciting as ITLers. But there are good reasons to consider living ITL. Namely:
- Proximity to Downtown, accessible from most points ITL via the newly constructed METRORail.
- Memorial Park, the largest urban greenspace in the Houston Metro area, containing a golf course, tennis courts, an aquatics center, and miles of running trails.
- H.E.B. Central Market on Westheimer is the Mecca for Houston foodies. Sample new cheeses, pick out a specialty wine, and gain access to some of the best local produce at this Midtown gem.
- Pet Friendliness, access to the outdoors in side the loop is a little more limited than outside the loop. The savvy apartment communities know renters love their pets and have invested in dog parks and even in building dog washes to attract the pet friendly apartment searcher.
Downtown: Downtown Houston feels extremely corporate and business-like. If you aren’t comfortable seeing oil tycoons in suits hobnob it at Starbucks all day, then this might not be the district for you. Downtown also shuts down around 10pm—there aren’t too many late night or 24-hour spots for you party animals. If you want nightlife, you’ll have to head west to Midtown or Washington. That said, the area affectionately known as EaDo (“East Downtown”) has some wonderful surprises, including some of the best Chinese buffets in town… $550/month for an historic one-bedroom in EaDo. Compare that with studio lofts in the CBD: upwards of $1000/month!
The Eastern Wards: Residential development originally sprawled westward out from Downtown, the originally professional class settling in the Fourth Ward and leaving points east to industrial and shipping uses. That’s not to say there aren’t some decent neighborhoods: University of Houston sits smack in the middle of the Third Ward, which ensures some measure of stability. Don’t pay much over $600/month (utilities included) for a modest-sized two-bedroom condo near U of H. Checking out the Orange Show on Munger St. is a must.
Midtown: Running west out from Downtown, this is the “it” area for young, artsy, professionals. Seedy Montrose is LGBT-friendly, West Alabama has the historic Angelika Theatre, and Washington Ave. is the new (moneyed) hipster location. This neighborhood still has that urban, commercial feel, but it’s that of a smaller city. Most folks who live here rarely find it necessary to head east of the Gulf Freeway. Seriously, all the culture and amenities one needs can be found on Westheimer St. Don’t go too far past Shepherd or you’ll land in River Oaks, one of the oldest in richest communities in the U.S. (Translation: “apartments” in this neighborhood are where the au pairs live.) Luxury apartments and lofts on Washington go for around $1000/month and typically come with hardwood floors and in-unit washer and dryers, two bedrooms start at $1500/month. Head south for more reasonable rates: $700-$800/month for one-bedrooms (Jacuzzi included?!) off Montrose.
The Heights: A wonderfully diverse and historic neighborhood (master-planned in 1891, it features Victorian mansions alongside quaint single-family homes), the Heights enjoys great access to major freeways: I-10, which will take you into the CBD or west to Katy; and I-45, which will take you north to the airport or the Woodlands. Professional folks who can’t afford to live in Midtown plus young families give the Heights a laid-back feel. Nicer one-bedroom apartments will top out at $1000/month. Look for a two- or three-bedroom Victorian and you’ll save $200-$300/month per head.
West University: Named for Rice University’s majestic presence, this area boasts an impressive number of museums (concentrated in the aptly named “Museum District”), Hermann Park (the only real rival to Memorial Park), and the Houston Zoo. The driftwood-framed Ginger Man in Rice Village shopping center is arguably the best beer bar in town. Two-bedroom apartments with hardwood floors run $1300/month and up; a little more than half that for only one bedroom. Expect covered parking in this neighborhood. (But if not, don’t fret: there are so many trees you’ll be fine on the street.)
Between 610 and the Beltway: The graphically tubular zone between the Loop and Beltway 8 (also called the Sam Houston Tollway) is the first legitimately “suburban” area after one leaves central Houston. These communities are oftentimes still historic—picture wide, oak-lined streets and large porches—but more spread out. The sacrifice one makes in moving OTL is that city feel: there are definitely highly-trafficked commercial districts (the Galleria in Woodway is a prime example), but they’re more likely to be massive malls amidst a moat of parking possibilities than ye olde main street. Here are a few neighborhoods OTL you’d best be acquainted with.
Bellaire: Just outside the southwest corner of the Loop, Bellaire lives up to its California namesake. The Galleria shopping center (poodles, Versace, etc.) perches just north of Hwy. 59, South Rice Ave. linking it to Bellaire Blvd. (Wait, what??!)$700-$800/month for one-bedrooms, higher if you’d like to be closer to the Medical Center in case of an emergency.
Memorial: As you travel west along I-10, the communities on either side of the freeway are broken up into independent incorporated “villages”: Bunker Hill, Piney Point, Hunter’s Creek, Hedwig. The Houston Country Club imparts an appropriate aura to this region. It’s where the “good ol’ boys” reside. $450-$600/month for efficiency one-bedrooms, higher for luxury apartments closer to the Galleria.
Aldine: A good choice if you’re going to be spending most of your weekends (or weekdays, for that matter) at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, which stretches north of the Beltway but is easily accessed from Aldine. This very inexpensive area (you get what you pay for, remember) offers one-bedrooms for $500/month max. Add $100/month for another room.
Hating on Houston was so 2005. Tell all your poser friends to get real and leave Austin for the Bayou City next weekend—cause you’re about to land one heck of a Houston habitat.