Expats looking for accommodation in Houston will find they have many varied, but affordable, options. Despite being one of the USA's largest cities, Houston's housing market doesn’t mirror the astronomical prices found in places like New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.
Housing availability isn't an issue either. Demand for rentals has increased over the past few years, but there are enough apartments and houses in Houston to ensure new arrivals should be able to find something that suits them.
Although expats can both buy and rent property in Houston, most new arrivals rent while they get acquainted with the Bayou City's many neighbourhoods.
Each area of Houston has its own pros and cons, and many are associated with specific styles of housing. Proximity to the workplace and schools in Houston should also be considered when choosing a place to put down roots. Rush-hour traffic can be treacherous and students attend public schools based on catchment zones, so parents often look in the areas around good schools.
Finding rental properties in Houston
After picking an area to live in, finding a rental property in Houston is a matter of looking through listings, attending viewings and applying for tenancy. With its robust rental market, many realtors in Houston have departments that cater to the letting population. Expats can consult one of these professionals or choose to look for a place on their own.
Many locals insist that newspapers are still the best place to find rentals. It’s also worth looking at online listings since they’re updated regularly.
Expats shouldn’t count out driving through an area either, since 'for sale' and 'to rent' signs constantly materialise on front lawns and in front of apartment buildings. This is often the best way to find a property which hasn’t yet made it onto formal listings.
Renting property in Houston
With countless apartments, gated communities and near-town bungalows, expats have ample opportunity to find a property to rent in Houston that suits their budget and priorities. They can also save money by looking for sub-letting options and negotiating leases for larger family homes.
Furnished or unfurnished
Furnished and unfurnished accommodation is available. In both cases, basic fittings like light fixtures, blinds and some white-label appliances (such as a stove, refrigerator or washing machine) are often included.
The rental process
Most estate agents will require house hunters to sign a rental application providing certain information about themselves. This application form will be used to determine a person’s eligibility. The rental application acts as a contract between the potential tenant and the property owner.
A nonrefundable application fee, administrative fee and an application deposit are all typical expenses one can expect. Once prospective tenants have been approved, they will go on to negotiating and signing the rental lease.
References and background checks
Credit history, employment history, rental history and criminal history may all be checked, depending on the landlord or letting agent.
As with elsewhere in the USA, leases in Houston are typically for 12 months.
Tenant should be careful when breaking their lease. Renters should always ensure the rules set out by the rental contract are followed and that they give proper notice when moving out early.
According to Texas regulations, tenants are liable for any expenses that the landlord incurs when a lease is broken. This means tenants can incur way more expenses than just losing their deposit.
Deposits are generally required but vary in amount. Expats moving with a pet should note that landlords can charge a pet deposit on top of the security deposit to cover potential damages caused by their pet.
Landlords in Houston have 30 days from the day their tenant moves out to refund the security deposit. If the landlord retains the security deposit, they need to send the tenant an itemised list and explanations for all deductions and costs.
New arrivals are advised to photograph each part of the property when they move into their rental and also on the day they move out. This will prevent losing their deposit unfairly and will act as proof to fight unfair fees.
New arrivals in Houston may be surprised at how many different ways there are to handle their utilities. It's important to ask the landlord or real estate agent upfront how each property will handle utilities. There are four common ways in which utilities are paid for in Houston:
- All utilities included – This simply means that the landlord pays for all utilities. This may make a tenant’s life easier, however, it usually also means higher rent and the inability to shop around between service providers.
- Master-metered utilities – This usually applies to apartment complexes. Here, the complex receives one bill then divides the cost among the apartments. This can apply to all utilities or only some (like electricity or water).
- Sub-metered utilities – This is similar to the previous option. However, here a sub-meter is installed to regulate each apartment’s exact usage. So, tenants still won’t be able to choose their own service providers, but they can keep their bills low by conserving energy and water.
- Tenant is responsible for utilities – This is usually the case for services like internet, phone and cable television. Tenants will have to choose their own provider. The city of Houston provides water service, and natural gas is serviced by Center Point Energy. However, there are multiple providers to choose from when it comes to electricity, internet, television and telephone services.
Tenants should check with their realtor, landlord or property manager regarding refuse removal services. Many neighbourhoods in Houston have contracts with private garbage pick-up services to service homes under specific jurisdictions.
However, many cities and towns within the Houston Metro area work with their local city or town’s garbage pick-up. If one’s garbage pick-up is serviced by the city of Houston, the service can be set up when setting up a water and sewer account.