7 Best Small Towns to Enjoy Living in Texas

7 Best Small Towns to Enjoy Living in Texas

To understand and enjoy the great state of Texas, you cannot limit yourself to large cities like Dallas and Houston. The heart of Texas often lies in vibrant smaller communities. I know this for a fact, having lived in the state for close to 25 years.

Texas’s smaller cities and towns — whether they are located close to a large metropolitan area or out in the countryside — are known for their warmth and hospitality. Unique frontier history and culture make them attractive places not only to visit, but to live in, especially if you are looking to get away from urban crowds while maintaining your lifestyle.

In Part I of this series, we discussed the 5 largest cities in the state by population. Here in Part II, we present 7 smaller cities that are great for professionals, retirees and families with children. Incidentally, they also happen to be places that I have enjoyed visiting with family and friends over the decades.

Some Common Factors

All of the communities described here have certain characteristics in common. Here are a few:

    • Taxes. Texas has no state income tax (whereas the national average state income tax is 4.6%). The state and local sales tax combined rate ranges from 6.25% to 8.25%, above the national average of 6.2%.
    • Climate. Most of Texas is hot and humid during the summer months, but winters are relatively mild and dry. We will mention any climatic anomalies for specific areas if they exist.
    • Proximity to Larger Metro Areas. Each of the cities described below happens to be contiguous to a large city or metro area. As such, many amenities common to larger metros are available within a short driving distance for residents in these suburbs and satellite cities. We have pointed out which large metros are in the vicinity of each city.
    • Healthcare and Safety. Smaller satellite cities and towns tend to lack large local health care facilities, so residents may rely on nearby large cities or community health centers.
    • Also, none of the cities mentioned here has an unusually high crime rate, and 6 out of the 7 cities show crime rates below U.S. national levels. So, safety concerns do not diminish the quality of life.

For each community below, we assign a HOMEiA Score, which provides an overall assessment of its safety and appeal as a place to call home.

I. Dallas-Fort Worth Metro Area

The first four cities are located in north-central Texas and are part of the greater Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) metropolitan area. As such, residents in these areas have access to more amenities than those in typical small cities.

The DFW area is one of the best places to live (ranked #24) and to retire (ranked #17) within the U.S., according to U.S. News and World Report. Below, we will compare each community to its more famous neighbor.

The descriptions below focus on the specific cities or towns themselves. Refer to Part I to learn about the many amenities of Dallas and Fort Worth proper.

1. Frisco

HOMEiA Score: 95/100

  • Population: 200,490 | Rank Last Year: #1
  • Cost of Living: 22% of local residents are housing cost burdened (significantly below the national rate of 30.2%), meaning that they spend more than 30% of monthly income on housing costs.
  • Home price to income ratio: $395,900/$127,055 = 3.12 (buying homes is affordable)
  • Income to rent ratio: $127,055/$18,060 = 7.04 (renting homes is affordable)

Frisco is about 27 miles due north of Dallas. The nearest major airports are DFW International Airport and Dallas Love Field.

a. Size and Population

Frisco has a population of 200,490 (2019 estimate) and an area just under 70 square miles. The population density is 2,921 per square mile (2019 estimate).

The population in Frisco grew by 71.1% from April 2010 through July 2019 (source: U.S. Census Quick Facts), which far exceeds the overall U.S. rate of 6.3% and the rate in Dallas (12.2%).

b. Median Income, Cost of Living and Housing Market Characteristics

The numbers below show the median income, cost of living and the annual spending on housing for owned and rented properties in Frisco.

FRISCO MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME (2019): $127,055

Frisco Cost of Living

      • 20% Above the U.S. National Average
      • 36% Lower than New York City, New York

Frisco Housing Costs

Median
Home Value
Annual Spend for Homeowners Percent Housing Cost Burdened Annual Spend
(Rent & Utilities)
$395,900 $26,400 22% $18,060

Frisco shows a home P/E (home price to income) ratio of 3.12, based on a median home value of $395,900 and a median household income of $127,055. The U.S. average is 4.0. Therefore, it is affordable to buy homes in the area.

Frisco shows an income to rent ratio of 7.04, based on a median household income of $127,055 and an annual spend of $18,060. Therefore, it is also affordable to rent properties.

Twenty-two percent of owners in Frisco are housing cost burdened, which is significantly below the U.S. nationwide rate of 30.2%. This shows housing is affordable for significantly more residents of Frisco than in the U.S. overall.

In Frisco, 75.6% of residents own their homes. The median home has 2.8 bedrooms.

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Top Neighborhoods in Frisco

The best neighborhoods to live in often depend on commute times and school districts, but in general, the following neighborhoods stand out within Frisco:

    • Starwood (Home Value Range: $750,000 to $4.5 million)
    • One of the original Frisco neighborhoods, Starwood is a gated community with high-end homes and excellent schools, including Frisco High School. It is also known for local retail and restaurants.
    • Chapel Creek (Home Value Range: $500,000 to $4 million)
    • Also part of the Frisco High School District, Chapel Creek is another community with expensive and custom-built homes.
    • Stonebriar (Home Value Range: $450,000 to $4 million)
    • Another neighborhood covered by Frisco high school, Stonebriar is organized around its namesake golf club and has homes that are among the most expensive in the Frisco area.
    • Newman Village (Home Value Range: $250,000 to $1.5+ million)
    1. A gated community on the west side of the North Dallas Tollway in Denton County, Newman Village opened in 2010 and features a tight community feeling and high-end homes. The best public high school in the area is Lone Star High School.

c. Employment Prospects

The unemployment rate in Frisco is 5.1%. By comparison, the national average was 3.7% in 2019, but had risen to 14.3% by mid-2020 (largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The poverty rate, at 4%, is significantly below the national average of 9.2% in 2019.

While many residents commute to work, local employment opportunities are anchored by strong retail presences, Frisco Square (a large mixed-use development), the corporate headquarters for the Dallas Cowboys and the activities commissioned by the Frisco Economic Development Corporation (FEDC).

Frisco residents have an average commute time of 21 minutes.

d. Unique Attributes and Lifestyle

Frisco is known for:

    • Art and Culture. Frisco is home to the Museum of the American Railroad, the Frisco Heritage Museum, and the National Videogame Museum.
    • Sports Venues. Frisco has a major league soccer team, FC Dallas. The area is also known for NCAA and minor league events.

e. Education

The best-known university in Frisco is the University of Dallas. There are also MBA programs run by UT Arlington and the University of North Texas.

The Frisco Independent School District was ranked #60 among Niche’s 2018 Best School Districts in North America. Frisco has 66 private schools and 86 public ones, according to GreatSchools.org

Overall, Frisco has a good educational infrastructure, on par with or better than similarly sized metro areas.

The population is highly educated, with 96% having graduated high school and 65% having graduated college.

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2. Plano

HOMEiA Score: 89/100

  • Population: 287,677 | Rank Last Year: #3
  • Cost of Living: 23% of residents are housing cost burdened (below the national rate of 30.2%), meaning that they spend more than 30% of monthly income on housing costs.
  • Home price to income ratio: $320,100/$95,602 = 3.35 (buying homes is affordable)
  • Income to rent ratio: $95,602/$17,016 = 5.62 (renting homes is affordable)

Plano is 20 miles to the north and slightly east of Dallas, along US-75S. The nearest major airport is the DFW International Airport.

a. Size and Population

Plano has a population of 287,677 (2019 estimate) and an area just over 72 square miles. The population density is 4,103 per square mile (2019 estimate).

The population in Plano grew by 10.7% from April 2010 through July 2019 (source: U.S. Census Quick Facts), which is above the overall U.S. rate of 6.3% but below the rate in Dallas (12.2%).

b. Median Income, Cost of Living and Housing Market Characteristics

The numbers below show the median income, cost of living and the annual spending on housing for owned and rented properties in Plano.

PLANO MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME (2019): $95,602

Plano Cost of Living

    • 9% Above the U.S. National Average
    • 8% Higher than Dallas, Texas
    • 42% Lower than New York City, New York
    • 2% Higher than Chicago, Illinois

Plano Housing Costs

Median Home Value Annual Spend for Homeowners Percent Housing Cost Burdened Annual Spend
(Rent & Utilities)
$320,100 $25,740 23% $17,016

Plano shows a home P/E (home price to income) ratio of 3.35, based on a median home value of $320,100 and a median household income of $95,602. The U.S. average is 4.0. Therefore, it is affordable to buy homes in the area.

Plano shows an income to rent ratio of 5.62, based on a median household income of $95,602 and an annual spend of $13,356. Therefore, it is also affordable to rent properties.

Twenty-three percent of owners in Plano are housing cost burdened, which is below the U.S. nationwide rate of 30.2%. This shows housing is affordable for more residents of Plano than in the U.S. overall.

In Plano, 59.1% of residents own their homes. The median home has 3.1 bedrooms.

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Top Neighborhoods in Plano

The best neighborhoods to live in often depend on commute times and school districts, but in general, the following neighborhoods stand out within Plano:

    • Willowbend (Home Value Range: $400,000 to $3.5 million)
    1. Willowbend is a master-planned and gated community with a broad array of homes, starting from relatively modest prices to single family homes standing on larger lots exceeding 3 acres.
    • Kings Gate (Home Value Range: $2 million to $2.6 million)
    1. This is one of the most exclusive luxury home communities in Plano, gated and with homes sitting on lots with a minimum size of 0.7 acres. The larger homes sit on 3 acres.
    • Lakeside on Preston (Home Value Range: $450,000 to $1.8 million)
    1. This is a luxury home neighborhood with more than 500 homes, standing on lot sizes between 0.15 acres and 0.7 acres.
    • White Rock Creek (Home Value Range: $900,000 to $1.5 million)
    1. This neighborhood consists of around 50 luxury homes with an average age of 25 years, on lots sized between a half-acre to an acre.
    • Gleneagles (Home Value Range: $550,000 to $1.2 million)
    1. This is a master-planned community with more than 300 luxury homes, organized in several neighborhoods. Lot sizes vary from 0.2 to 0.65 acres in size.
    • Avignon (Home Value Range: $500,000 to $1.2 million)
    1. Avignon is an upscale community with over 225 single homes sitting on lots that are between an eighth and a quarter of an acre.
    • Shoal Creek (Home Value Range: $400,000 to $1.1 million)
    1. Designed as a luxury home development with 300+ homes, Shoal Creek offers lot sizes that top off at half an acre.
    • Kings Ridge (Home Value Range: $350,000 to $1.1 million)
    1. Kings Ridge is a master-planned community with around 280 homes.

c. Employment Prospects

The unemployment rate in Plano is 6%. By comparison, the national average was 3.7% in 2019, but had risen to 14.3% by mid-2020 (largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The poverty rate, at 8%, was below the national average of 9.2%.

There are several Fortune 1000 corporations with global or regional headquarters in the area. They include Cinemark Theaters, Rent-A-Center, Frito Lay, Toyota Motor North America, NTT Data Services, Liberty Mutual, JP Morgan Chase and Fannie Mae.

Plano residents have an average commute time of 25 minutes.

d. Unique Attributes and Lifestyle

Plano is known for:

    • History and Culture. Plano is home to the Texas Heritage Museum as well as the Plano Station of the Texas Electric Railway, both of which are more than 100 years old.
    • Parks and Recreation. Plano is known for its parks and open space reserves, including Arbor Hills Nature Preserve, which stretches over 200 acres, and Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve, which is four times that size. The latter is connected by bike trail to Bob Woodruff Park, creating a green area larger than New York’s Central Park. There are also 5 major recreation centers.

e. Education

Plano is home to two Collin College campuses and Dallas Baptist University North.

There are 79 public schools and 180 private schools in the Plano area, some of which are nationally ranked, according to GreatSchools.org

Overall, Plano has a good educational infrastructure, on par with or better than similarly sized metro areas.

The population is more educated than the U.S. average, with 93% having graduated high school and 61% having graduated college.

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3. McKinney

McKinney

HOMEiA Score: 87/100

  • Population: 199,177 | Rank Last Year: #5
  • Cost of Living: 26% of local residents are housing cost burdened (below the national rate of 30.2%), meaning that they spend more than 30% of monthly income on housing costs.
  • Home price to income ratio: $309,200/$93,354 = 3.31 (buying homes is affordable)
  • Income to rent ratio: $93,354/$16,728 = 5.58 (renting homes is affordable)

McKinney is 31 miles northeast of Dallas, along US-75S and I-635W. The nearest major airport is the DFW International Airport. It is 52 miles to the east-northeast of Fort Worth.

a. Size and Population

McKinney has a population of 199,177 (2019 estimate) and an area just under 68 square miles. The population density is 2,974 per square mile (2019 estimate).

The population in McKinney grew by 51.9% from April 2010 through July 2019 (source: U.S. Census Quick Facts), which far exceeds the overall U.S. rate of 6.3% and the rate in Dallas (12.2%).

b. Median Income, Cost of Living and Housing Market Characteristics

The numbers below show the median income, cost of living and the annual spending on housing for owned and rented properties in McKinney.

 

MCKINNEY MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME (2019): $93,354

McKinney Cost of Living

    • 8% Above the U.S. National Average
    • 6% Higher than Dallas, Texas
    • 42% Lower than New York City, New York
    • 1% Higher than Chicago, Illinois

McKinney Housing Costs

Median Home Value Annual Spend for Homeowners Percent Housing Cost Burdened Annual Spend
(Rent & Utilities)
$309,200 $25,920 26% $16,728

McKinney shows a home P/E (home price to income) ratio of 3.31, based on a median home value of $309,200 and a median household income of $93,354. The U.S. average is 4.0. Therefore, it is affordable to buy homes in the area.

McKinney shows an income to rent ratio of 5.58, based on a median household income of $93,354 and an annual spend of $16,728. Therefore, it is affordable to rent properties.

Twenty-six percent of owners in McKinney are housing cost burdened, which is below the U.S. nationwide rate of 30.2%. This shows housing is affordable for more residents of McKinney than in the U.S. overall.

In McKinney, 65.8% of residents own their homes. The median home has 3.1 bedrooms.

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Top Neighborhoods in McKinney

The best neighborhoods to live in often depend on commute times and school districts, but in general, the following neighborhoods stand out within McKinney:

    • Stonebridge Estates and Isleworth (Home Value Range: $250,000 to $3+ million)
    1. Both communities are part of the Stonebridge Ranch planned community. Stonebridge Estates provides large home sizes with a rustic feel, set among greenery, water and a sandy beach. Isleworth is an adjacent gated community that shares many amenities with Stonebridge. The communities share access to a country club and golf course.
    • Hardin Lake (Home Value Range: $350,000 to $500,000)
    1. Built on a hillside abutting a large lake on the southern side, every home has a beautiful view.
    • Serenity (Home Value Range: $225,000 to $3 million)
    1. This community was carved out of land on which the original country club in McKinney sat. The development features large (5,100 square feet on average) homes built in traditional style. The verdant community is next to the 600-acre Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary.
    • Adriatica Village (Home Value Range: $250,000 to $2 million)
    1. A unique community of villas and townhomes among other mixed-use features, Adriatica Village is designed to emulate a village on the isle of Brac, off the coast of Croatia.
    • Tucker Hills (Home Value Range: $200,000 to $1+ million)
    1. A front-porch community à la Norman Rockwell, Tucker Hills features brownstone homes between 1,800 and 5,000 square feet in size.
    • Mallard Lakes (Home Value Range: $225,000 to $1 million)
    1. A beautiful and unique neighborhood, Mallard Lakes gives you the feeling of stepping into a different time and age with its majestic homes sitting on large lots, surrounded by mature trees.

c. Employment Prospects

The unemployment rate in McKinney is 4.2%. By comparison, the national average was 3.7% in 2019, but had risen to 14.3% by mid-2020 (largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The poverty rate, at 9%, is around the national average of 9.2% in 2019.

Large employers in McKinney include Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, Collin College, Medical Center of McKinney and the McKinney Independent School District.

The McKinney area has an average commute time of 29 minutes.

d. Unique Attributes and Lifestyle

McKinney is known for:

    • Art and Culture. McKinney has several historic and cultural spots, including the downtown area, Chestnut Square Historic Village, McKinney Performing Arts Center, the Collin County History Museum, the McKinney Repertory Theater and the Heard-Craig Center for the Arts.
    • Vineyards, Nature Walks and Recreation Areas. McKinney is home to vineyards, nature trails, sanctuaries, parks and recreation areas. Some of the better-known spots include Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary, Mitas Hill Vineyard, Towne Lake Recreation Area, Erwin Park Hike and Bike Trail, the Myers Park and Event Center and the Wales Manor Vineyard and Winery.

e. Education

The best-known university in McKinney is the Central Park Campus of Collin College, which offers a wide array of programs in partnership with Texas A&M-Commerce, Texas Women’s University, UT Dallas and the University of North Texas.

Five of the seven school districts serving McKinney have ranked in the top 5% among the Niche U.S. School Districts, according to Niche. The McKinney School District serves the largest number.

McKinney has 60 private schools and 44 public ones, according to GreatSchools.org

Overall, McKinney has a good educational infrastructure, better than similarly sized metro areas.

The population is educated, with 92% having graduated high school and 55% having graduated college.

4. Arlington

HOMEiA Score: 78/100

  • Population: 398,854 | Rank Last Year: #7
  • Cost of Living: 25% of residents are housing cost burdened (below the national rate of 30.2%), meaning that they spend more than 30% of monthly income on housing costs.
  • Home price to income ratio: $170,700/$60,571 = 2.82 (buying homes is affordable)
  • Income to rent ratio: $60,571/$12,660 = 4.78 (renting homes is affordable)

Arlington sits squarely between two large neighbors — approximately 12 miles east of Fort Worth and 20 miles west of Dallas. Two east/west freeways, I-20 and I-30, run through Arlington. The nearest major airport is the DFW International Airport, though Arlington Municipal Airport also serves the area.

a. Size and Population

Arlington is the seventh most populous city in Texas, with a population of 398,854 (2019 estimate). It occupies an area just under 100 square miles. The population density is 4,161 per square mile (2019 estimate).

The population in Arlington grew by 9.2% from April 2010 through July 2019 (source: U.S. Census Quick Facts), which is above the overall U.S. rate of 6.3% but below the rate in Dallas (12.2%).

b Median Income, Cost of Living and Housing Market Characteristics

The numbers below show the median income, cost of living and the annual spending on housing for owned and rented properties in Arlington.

 

ARLINGTON MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME (2019): $60,571

Arlington Cost of Living

    • 0.6% Above the U.S. National Average
    • 1% Lower than Dallas, Texas
    • 46% Lower than New York City, New York
    • 6% Lower than Chicago, Illinois

Arlington Housing Costs

Median Home Value Annual Spend for Homeowners Percent Housing Cost Burdened Annual Spend for Renters
(Rent & Utilities)
$170,700 $18,204 25% $12,660

Arlington shows a home P/E (home price to income) ratio of 2.82, based on a median home value of $170,700 and a median household income of $60,571. The U.S. average is 4.0. Therefore, it is very affordable to buy homes in the area.

Arlington shows an income to rent ratio of 4.78, based on a median household income of $60,571 and an annual spend of $12,660. Therefore, it is affordable to rent properties.

Twenty-five percent of owners in Arlington are housing cost burdened, which is below the U.S. nationwide rate of 30.2%. This shows housing is affordable for more residents of Arlington than in the U.S. overall.

In Arlington, 55.2% of residents own their homes. The median home has 3.8 bedrooms.

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Top Neighborhoods in Arlington

The best neighborhoods to live in often depend on commute times and school districts, but in general, the following neighborhoods stand out within Arlington:

    • Dalworthington Gardens and West Arlington (Home Value Range: $200,000 to $2.5 million)
    1. This neighborhood features many homes with a value in excess of $1 million.
    • Southwest Arlington (Home Value Range: $150,000 to $1.1 million)
    1. This is a more sparsely populated area, with two large park areas, but the median home value is actually higher than even West Arlington.
    • North Arlington (Home Value Range: $150,000 to $3+ million)
    1. This community offers a mix of amenities that include culture (e.g., Spiritweave Galleries) and Sports (Chester W. Ditto Golf Course) arranged with Lake Viridian in the center.

Employment Prospects

The unemployment rate in Arlington is 9.2%. By comparison, the national average was 3.7% in 2019, but it had risen to 14.3% by mid-2020 (largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The poverty level in Arlington, at 17%, was above the national average of 9.2% in 2019.

D.R. Horton has its headquarters in Arlington. Other major employers in the area include the Arlington Independent School District, University of Texas Arlington (or UT Arlington), General Motors and Texas Health Resources.

The Arlington area has an average commute time of 26 minutes.

d. Unique Attributes and Lifestyle

Arlington is known for:

    • Art and Culture. Arlington is home to the International Bowling Museum and the International Bowling Hall of Fame, the Arlington Museum of Art and the Gallery at UT Arlington. The city has a vibrant history of community theater, centered on Theater Arlington and the Mainstage Theater at UT Arlington.
    • Music and Entertainment. There are plenty of musical venues, starting with the Levitt Pavilion in downtown Arlington. Eateries abound, especially around venues in Arlington Highlands and Lincoln Square. Shopping at the Parks Mall is a treat for many.
    • Family Entertainment. Arlington is home to the popular Six Flags over Texas family theme park. Children are also keenly interested in the Planetarium Dome Theater at UT Arlington.
    • Professional Sports. The Texas Rangers (MLB), the Dallas Cowboys (NFL) and the Dallas Wings (WNBA) all play in Arlington.

e. Education

The best-known university in Arlington is the University of Texas at Arlington, and residents also have access to national and regionally ranked schools in the DFW area.

There are 105 public schools and 138 private schools in the Arlington area, based on data from GreatSchools.org.

Overall, Arlington has a good educational infrastructure, on par with or better than similarly sized metro areas.

II. Houston Metro Area

The next city we will introduce is a part of the greater Houston metropolitan area. As such, residents have access to the many amenities in Houston.

The descriptions below refer to the city of Sugar Land, TX. Refer to Part I to learn about the attractions of Houston itself.

5. Sugar Land

HOMEiA Score: 93/100

  • Population: 78,817 | Rank Last Year: #2
  • Cost of Living: 27% of local residents are housing cost burdened (below the national rate of 30.2%), meaning that they spend more than 30% of monthly income on housing costs.
  • Home price to income ratio: $323,200/$121,274 = 2.67 (buying homes is affordable)
  • Income to rent ratio: $121,274/$21,300 = 5.69 (renting homes is affordable)

Sugar Land is located in southeast Texas, about 19 miles southwest of Houston, in Fort Bend County, at the junction of US-59 (now I-69) and Texas State Highway 6. The nearest major airport is the George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

a. Size and Population

Sugar Land has a population of 78,817 (2019 estimate) and an area just under 43 square miles. The population density is 2,928 per square mile (2019 estimate).

The population in Sugar Land grew by 9.9% from April 2010 through July 2019 (source: U.S. Census Quick Facts), which is above the overall U.S. rate of 6.3% but slightly below the rate in Houston (10.7%).

b. Median Income, Cost of Living and Housing Market Characteristics

The numbers below show the median income, cost of living and the annual spending on housing for owned and rented properties in Sugar Land.

 

SUGAR LAND MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME (2019): $121,274

Sugar Land Cost of Living

    • 15% Above the U.S. National Average
    • 19% Higher than Houston, Texas
    • 39% Lower than New York City, New York
    • 7% Higher than Chicago, Illinois

Sugar Land Housing Costs

Median Home Value Annual Spend for Homeowners Percent Housing Cost Burdened Annual Spend
(Rent & Utilities)
$323,200 $27,924 27% $21,300

Sugar Land shows a home P/E (home price to income) ratio of 2.67, based on a median home value of $323,200 and a median household income of $121,274. The U.S. average is 4.0. Therefore, it is relatively affordable to buy homes in the area.

Sugar Land shows an income to rent ratio of 5.69, based on a median household income of $121,274 and an annual spend of $21,300. Therefore, it is also affordable to rent properties.

Twenty-seven percent of owners in Sugar Land are housing cost burdened, which is below the U.S. nationwide rate of 30.2%. This shows housing is affordable for more residents of Sugar Land than in the U.S. overall.

In Sugar Land, 81.4% of residents own their homes. The median home has 4.3 bedrooms.

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Top Neighborhoods in Sugar Land

The best neighborhoods to live in often depend on commute times and school districts, but in general, the following neighborhoods stand out within Sugar Land:

    • Riverstone (Home Value Range: $275,000 to $3 million)
    1. Riverstone residents have access to some of the highest-rated schools, including those in the Fort Bend Independent School District as well as private schools. A mixture of homes, townhomes, patio homes and lakefront estates exist in this community, which is known for wide-open spaces with water and greenery.
    • Avalon (Home Value Range: $400,000 to $1.5+ million)
    1. Avalon has access to great schools as well, including Clements High School. Plenty of properties are located around the waterfront and in private spaces.
    • First Colony (including Sweetwater) (Home Value Range: $175,000 to $1.5+ million)
    1. A mixed-use community less than 5 miles from the center of Sugar Land, First Colony is adjacent to the First Colony Mall and numerous schools, including Clements High School. The community has multiple single family and luxury homes, estates and condos.
    1. Sweetwater, with homes built from the 1980s forward, is a golfing community with large homes that is located within First Colony.
    • Telfair (Home Value Range: $375,000 to $875,000)
    1. A new, planned community about 4 miles south of central Sugar Land, Telfair is also part of Clement High School’s district, with many other excellent public and private schools. Many of the homes are arranged around a 70-acre lake and park district within the development.
    • New Territory (Home Value Range: $250,000 to $700,000)
    1. This newly built community is located within the Fort Bend Independent School District. There are a significant number of duplexes, with single family homes interspersed, some of which are in gated communities with waterfront access. Residents have access to the amenities of a large local community center.

c. Employment Prospects

The unemployment rate in Sugar Land is 5.7%. By comparison, the national average was 3.7% in 2019, but had risen to 14.3% by mid-2020 (largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The poverty rate, at 4%, is significantly below the national average of 9.2% in 2019.

Sugar Land residents are heavily employed in the local energy and oilfields sector, as well as professional, scientific and technical services.

Sugar Land is home to many Fortune 500 companies and other large companies, including CVR Energy, Minute Maid, Schlumberger, Imperial Sugar Company, Fluor Enterprises and BMC Software.

Sugar Land residents have an average commute time of 29 minutes.

d. Unique Attributes and Lifestyle

Sugar Land is known for:

    • Art and Culture. Sugar Land is home to the Smart Financial Center, a unique indoor concert hall in the Greater Houston area. The venue includes an outdoor arts plaza.
    • Sports and Fitness. Sugar Land has multiple minor league teams, including the Sugar Land Skeeters (Minor League Baseball) and the Sugar Land Youth Cricket Club. It also has a reputation as one of the fittest cities in Texas.

e. Education

The best-known universities in Sugar Land include several campuses under the University of Houston system, the UT Health Center in Houston and Houston Baptist University.

Sugar Land has 86 private schools and 30 public ones, according to GreatSchools.org.

Overall, Sugar Land has an extremely good educational infrastructure, much better than similarly sized metro areas.

The population is known for being well educated, with 93% having graduated high school and 59% having graduated college. The many universities in the area add to the mix.

III. Texas Hill Country, San Antonio and Austin Metro Areas

The next two cities are in central Texas, close to the San Antonio and Austin metropolitan areas. As such, residents have access to the many amenities in those areas.

Both cities are part of the beautiful Texas Hill Country area, a stretch of undulating country along I-35 S between Austin and San Antonio.

The descriptions below refer to the two cities by themselves. Refer to Part I to learn about the many attractions of Austin, San Antonio and the surrounding area.

6. Leander

Leander

HOMEiA Score: 89/100

  • Population: 62,698 | Rank Last Year: #3 (Tied)
  • Cost of Living: 28% of local residents are housing cost burdened (below the national rate of 30.2%), meaning that they spend more than 30% of monthly income on housing costs.
  • Home price to income ratio: $263,400/$101,872 = 2.59 (buying homes is affordable)
  • Income to rent ratio: $101,872/$18,132 = 5.62 (renting homes is affordable)

Leander is located in east central Texas close to Lake Travis, about 27 miles northwest of Austin on U.S. Route 183. The nearest major airport is the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

a. Size and Population

Leander has a population of 62,698 (2019 estimate) and an area of just under 38 square miles. The population density is 1,669 per square mile (2019 estimate).

The population in Leander grew by 129.4% from April 2010 through July 2019 (U.S. Census Quick Facts), which is almost 20 times the overall U.S. rate of 6.3% and almost six times the rate in Austin (22.1%).

b. Median Income, Cost of Living and Housing Market Characteristics

The numbers below show the median income, cost of living and the annual spending on housing for owned and rented properties in Leander.

 

LEANDER MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME (2019): $101,872

Leander Cost of Living

    • 0.1% Above the U.S. National Average
    • 19% Lower than Austin, Texas
    • 47% Lower than New York City, New York
    • 7% Lower than Chicago, Illinois

Leander Housing Costs

Median Home Value Annual Spend for Homeowners Percent Housing Cost Burdened Annual Spend
(Rent & Utilities)
$263,400 $22,884 28% $18,132

Leander shows a home P/E (home price to income) ratio of 2.59, based on a median home value of $263,400 and a median household income of $101,872. The U.S. average is 4.0. Therefore, it is relatively affordable to buy homes in the area.

Leander shows an income to rent ratio of 5.62, based on a median household income of $101,872 and an annual spend of $18,132. Therefore, it is also affordable to rent properties.

Twenty-eight percent of owners in Leander are housing cost burdened, which is below the U.S. nationwide rate of 30.2%. This shows housing is affordable for more residents of Leander than in the U.S. overall.

In Leander, 78.2% of residents own their homes. The median home has 3.9 bedrooms.

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Top Neighborhoods in Leander

The best neighborhoods to live in often depend on commute times and school districts, but in general, the following neighborhoods stand out within Leander:

      • Crystal Falls (Home Value Range: $300,000 to $3 million)
      1. Leander’s first (and sometimes voted best) master-planned community is still the go-to place to live in the area. The Crystal Falls Golf Club and other amenities make it attractive.
      • Sarita Valley (Home Value Range: $250,000 to $4+ million)
      1. A mere 10 miles from Austin, this master-planned community features large homes, 40 acres of dedicated parkland and miles of hiking and biking trails. Dedicated schools within the community add to the attraction.
      • Lakewood County Estates (Home Value Range: $525,000 to $1.5 million)
      1. This community allows for basic homes but also custom-acreage plots, which means the homes could be large and exclusive.
      • Reagan’s Overlook (Home Value Range: $600,000 to $1.1+ million)
      1. Sitting atop a knoll on the San Gabriel River, the 190-home community will feature great views as well as privacy and greenery due to the many cul-de-sacs that are planned.

c. Employment Prospects

The unemployment rate in Leander is 7.8%. By comparison, the national average was 3.7% in 2019, but had risen to 14.3% by mid-2020 (largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The poverty rate, at 4%, is significantly below the national average of 9.2% in 2019.

The Austin metropolitan area has a high number of scientific, engineering and professional services firms. The occupations of Leander residents are heavily biased towards those fields, as well as senior management.

Most of the prominent companies in the area are in IT, software and management services and include Silicon Labs, Cirrus Logic, SailPoint Technologies, Procore Technologies, Kendra Scott and Informatica.

Leander residents have an average commute time of 30 minutes.

d. Unique Attributes and Lifestyle

Leander is known for:

    • Natural Beauty and Outdoor Activities. Located on Lake Travis, Leander attracts families and visitors for boat tours and activities such as the Lake Travis Zipline Adventure.
    • Family Activities. There are a number of family-friendly activities, such as movie theaters, laser tag and bounce houses at Freedom Fun USA, the nearby Austin Aquarium and Escape Room Leander. The Texas Pumpkin Fest is a well-known event in the area.

e. Education

The best-known universities in and around Leander include Southwestern University, Concordia University Texas and several Austin Community College campuses.

The Leander Independent School District has 41 public schools and 21 private schools, according to GreatSchools.org.

Overall, Leander has a very good educational infrastructure, better than average for similarly sized metro areas. Sixty-eight percent of the public schools in the area are rated above average, far exceeding the state average of 27%.

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7. New Braunfels

HOMEiA Score: 82/100

  • Population: 90,209 | Rank Last Year: #6
  • Cost of Living: 20% of local residents are housing cost burdened (significantly below the national rate of 30.2%), meaning that they spend more than 30% of monthly income on housing costs.
  • Home price to income ratio: $219,200/$71,044 = 3.09 (buying homes is affordable)
  • Income to rent ratio: $71,044/$14,196 = 5.00 (renting homes is affordable)

New Braunfels is about 32 miles northeast of San Antonio and 48 miles southwest of Austin. The nearest major airport is San Antonio Airport.

a. Size and Population

New Braunfels has a population of 90,209 (2019 estimate) and an area of 45 square miles. The population density is 1,997 per square mile (2019 estimate).

The population in New Braunfels grew by 56.4% from April 2010 through July 2019 (source: U.S. Census Quick Facts), which far exceeds the overall U.S. rate of 6.3% and also the rate in San Antonio (16.7%).

b. Median Income, Cost of Living and Housing Market Characteristics

The numbers below show the median income, cost of living and the annual spending on housing for owned and rented properties in New Braunfels.

NEW BRAUNFELS MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME (2019): $71,044

New Braunfels Cost of Living

    • 0.3% Above the U.S. National Average
    • 46% Lower than New York City, New York

New Braunfels Housing Costs

Median Home Value Annual Spend for Homeowners Percent Housing Cost Burdened Annual Spend
(Rent & Utilities)
$219,200 $19,188 20% $14,196

New Braunfels shows a home P/E (home price to income) ratio of 3.09, based on a median home value of $219,200 and a median household income of $71,044. The U.S. average is 4.0. Therefore, it is affordable to buy homes in the area.

New Braunfels shows an income to rent ratio of 5.00, based on a median household income of $71,044 and an annual spend of $14,196. Therefore, it is also affordable to rent properties.

Twenty percent of owners in New Braunfels are housing cost burdened, which is significantly below the U.S. nationwide rate of 30.2%. This shows housing is affordable for significantly more residents of New Braunfels than in the U.S. overall.

In New Braunfels, 62.2% of residents own their homes. The median home has 3.6 bedrooms.

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Top Neighborhoods in New Braunfels

The best neighborhoods to live in often depend on commute times and school districts, but in general, the following neighborhoods stand out within New Braunfels:

    • John Newcombe Estates (Home Value Range: $250,000 to $1.5+ million)
    1. Named after an Australian tennis great, this master-planned community around an exclusive country club and 200 premium housing lots was created in 2011.
    • River Chase (Home Value Range: $250,000 to $1.5+ million)
    1. North of New Braunfels proper, and in the Texas Hill Country, this community boasts upscale country living with high-priced homes.
    • Havenwood at Hunter’s Crossing (Home Values: $200,000 to $2+ million)
    1. This community, formed in 2007, features homes sitting on at least 1.25 acres of land each and has many amenities that are available to the residents.
    • Manor Creek (Home Values: $200,000 to $1.1+ million)
    1. Houses in this gated community were built with large lots and many amenities within each subdivision and are designed to take advantage of the Texas Hill Country.

c. Employment Prospects

The unemployment rate in New Braunfels is 5.8%. By comparison, the national average was 3.7% in 2019, but had risen to 14.3% by mid-2020 (largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The poverty rate, at 12%, is above the national average of 9.2% in 2019.

Two of the top five employers in the area include its two large independent school districts, the Comal ISD and the New Braunfels ISD. Other major employers include a Walmart distribution center, Rush Enterprises and Schlitterbahn Waterpark.

New Braunfels residents have an average commute time of 24 minutes.

d. Unique Attributes and Lifestyle

New Braunfels is known for:

    • Art and Culture. New Braunfels is typical for many Hill Country towns, with a mixture of rich culture and historic sites. The Wurstfest — a German sausage festival — is a must-visit every winter. The picturesque area is popular for movie and TV shoots.
    • Nature and Recreation. New Braunfels attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Located along the Balcones Fault, at the edge of the Texas Hill Country, the area is known for tubing, rafting and fishing along the Comet and Guadalupe Rivers. Schlittterbahn Waterpark and Ernest Eikel State Park also attract many visitors.

e. Education

The New Braunfels and Comal Independent School Districts serve the New Braunfels area. There are 41 public schools and 33 private schools in the area, according to GreatSchools.org.

Overall, New Braunfels has an average educational infrastructure, on par with or slightly below similarly sized metro areas.

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CONCLUSION

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of large metropolitan areas, the cities described above may be ideal for you. Most of them have large proportions of families with children, and feature vibrant communities where you can mix in.

When deciding where to live in Texas, think about how far you want to live from the bigger cities and which amenities are most important to you. The cities we’ve discussed here have plenty of charms of their own, and with their relative proximity to major cities you will still have access to the attractions you may crave from time to time.

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HOMEiA is a city living guide site where visitors can find detailed information about communities of interest. HOMEiA’s City Living Guides, created in partnership with local writers, are curated lists of the best, safest, and most affordable places to live. The guides feature the HOMEiA Score, a proprietary index that rates communities on such factors as housing costs, education and employment.

HOMEiA.com aims to be the premier site for people planning to relocate, providing them with insightful content and connecting them with skilled real estate professionals.

We also empower real estate professionals to establish or strengthen their web presence by highlighting their experience, knowledge and achievements. If you’re selected to join our list of certified real estate professionals, you will distinguish yourself from your peers — and earn HOMEiA’s support.

If you believe in HOMEiA’s mission, please share the site with others.

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I’m an avid writer who often focuses on real estate, business consulting, economics and finance. Before leading business and investment advisory services for over 25 years, I got a Ph.D. in Economics and taught at the university level. I have lived in Houston, Texas and Chicago, Illinois for a combined 35 years. I also traveled to 40+ states on business and pleasure, and love writing about the great cities and small towns across the US. Read more >>