Moving to Houston, eh!
March 16, 2008 9:10 AM   Subscribe

So after 5 years of swimming in the cold waters of Norway, the arcticseals are migrating to the warmer zones of Houston. Which brings us to the obvious question that all newcomers ask: Where should we live?

I've been in Houston a few times before on courses etc. with work and I do have colleagues whose brains I've been picking, but would dearly love to hear what the hive mind have to offer. I've searched AskMeFi for previous questions, but most seem to be over 2 years old and I'm looking for more up to date information.

There's the 2 of us, married, mid-30s, Canadian/British, Asian/Caucasian, liberal outlook, arriving in mid-April. I'll be likely working near Dairy Ashford, and have gotten used to a 15 minute commute in Norway, so we'd prefer not to live in the suburbs.

Areas we're looking at (so far) are Mid-town, West University, Montrose, Bellaire and Sugar Land. We're looking for quiet & safe neighbourhoods, with walking access to shops, prefer to be close to the arts, movies, parks and generally cultural hangouts.

Type of place we're looking for is a condo, apartment or townhouse, with the intention to rent short term and then buy, budget TBC but in the range of $250-400k, need to look at finances first. Credit should be ok as I'll likely be getting the mortgage through the company credit union, so initial worries about credit rating should not be a big concern.

Recommendations on areas, good realtors, good building inspectors, places to go, things to see, the good and the bad deals on phone, cable, internet, things to look out for and tips on things to do. We're also planning on getting a dog since we'll finally have our own place, so pet friendly is a must.

Will also need to buy a couple of cars, so recommendations on good car dealers also appreciated.

I apologize for the brain dump, it's going to be a busy couple of months! Feel free to MeFi mail me with any questions.
posted by arcticseal to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Montrose sounds like it will fit the bill the best. Lots of individual landlords (as opposed to corporate) that will likely be more flexible about rent, lease period, and pets. Tons of shops and mostly walkable for domestic errands and diversions. It's a funky part of town -- at least for the white folks. The train system might, in fact, make things much more pedestrian friendly in the future. Easy enough to find out when the new line comes online. Probably not going to help with your work commute, though.

West U. - lots of soccer moms and Banana Republic. Bo-ring, but still pretty accessible. Rice campus is beautiful and keeps some young folks around. Can be pricey.

Bellaire - mostly like west U. except designed more around cars. Not really walkable for anything in my opinion. You can bike to the Bayou easy enough and get easily to West U. and downtown if you're out for the day.

Mid-town: might be fun for your temporary intitial move. Downtown can be fun and the mixed use areas are getting busy. Pretty walkable for daily stuff and getting to Montrose and museum district is easy by long walk or bike. The new train system should improve pedestrian mobility soon.

Unfortunately, Dairy Ashford is not close -- at least by your current standards, I'm sure. In fact, I'd call it the suburbs. If you have or can get a sense of car traffic in Houston you'll be much better off.

I don't know much about buying real estate in Houston, save there's tons of new construction in town. Inner Houston has been somewhat insulated from housing downturns, but Houston real estate can be dramatic.

I'll bet you'll get lots of passionate and mixed reviews of Houston here. I'll gladly glow in PM. Good luck!
posted by GPF at 9:56 AM on March 16, 2008

The commute from all the areas you mention to the Energy Corridor (I'm assuming that's your work area -- Interstate 10 and Dairy Ashford) are all more than 15 minutes. Such is the nature of Houston. You will find Midtown, West U, and Montrose to be closer to bars, nightlife, and museums, with Bellaire and Sugar Land more suburban with parks and biking trails. All are nice options, and many people choose to live in the suburbs because driving and commuting are just a part of living in Houston (because our city is so very spread out). If you decide on more suburban living (which also has more stable housing prices), you might also consider living in Cinco Ranch. If you work in the Energy industry, you'll find that many of your coworkers live in Cinco Ranch as well. Commute from Cinco Ranch to the Energy Corridor during main traffic times can be 20-30 minutes door-to-door (which is a short commute).

Many companies will offer to let you stay in corporate housing (furnished apartments) at their cost for several months while you decide where to live. If your company offers this, I'd recommend doing that while you get a feel for the city. They usually also offer help finding a realtor or apartment-finder. Did they offer this to you?

I'm sure you know about our weather - no need to ship any of your heavy winter clothes. Right now it is 73 Fahrenheit (23 Celsius). I wore a coat twice this last winter (it is Spring for us now).

I'm smiling at your statement that you have a liberal outlook - Yes! Now it won't be just me! Houston is pretty conservative, and you'll run into surprises at our politics (especially social policies) versus what you've enjoyed in Norway. However, everyone is very friendly, and it will be something you will get used to (being the liberal in the midst of conservatives).

Cable TV and Internet is in "protective territories"; that is, you will only have one choice for a vendor, depending on where you live. To get an idea of cost, mine is Comcast, which just recently purchased Time Warner in our area.

I'd also like to urge caution if you are working in the Energy industry. I've always worked in this industry, and it is an up-and-down business. Right now, business is booming, but be careful about establishing much debt right away. If you get a mortgage and a few cars, and then you lose your job... be sure you can still handle your obligations. Since most of the large oil and gas companies are here, when the industry falters a LOT of people are looking for jobs at the same time (like Stavanger). Texas is an at-will state, which means that regardless of contracts you can lose your job at any time, for any reason (I think, not like Stavanger).

If you can tell us more about the specific things you like to do, maybe I can point you to some places you'd like to see, things you'd like to do, etc. I'm a native Houstonian. Welcome to Texas!
posted by Houstonian at 11:49 AM on March 16, 2008

(And, feel free to send me a Mefi email if you wish.)
posted by Houstonian at 11:55 AM on March 16, 2008

I wouldn't rule out the Houston Heights either. It is close to I-10. It is not the Burbs. It is close to Montrose and Mid-town. Not far from West U. And is Arty in it own quaint way.
posted by nimsey lou at 3:50 PM on March 16, 2008

If you don't mind living a little further from downtown Houston, I know several people who work in the Energy Corridor who drive in from Katy. The houses I've visited there are nice (and it has a nice suburban feel, if you're down for that type of thing.)
posted by conradjones at 7:06 AM on March 17, 2008

I know a few people who work in the Energy Corridor who live in the Heights, so I'd agree with nimsey lou that maybe you should check that area out. But your budget is going to get you a decent amount of house almost anywhere in town.
posted by Cyrano at 9:51 AM on March 30, 2008

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