Houston Texas here we maybe come

(37 Posts)
lolaflores Tue 04-Jun-13 18:20:21

Would really love to hear from any lovely MNers in Houston. There is a move afoot, possibly end June/early July for myself, DH and DD2 (6) for 6 weeks.. Have been looking at things in general but DH tells me the office he will be based in is in Memorial.
What is that like? Is it really expensive? Where is nice, safe and not too expensive?
Do you like it? Would you think it is a good place for a longer visit than 6 weeks? this visit is a sort of taster.
looking forward to hearing from you all..

AndreaDawn Tue 04-Jun-13 22:11:35

Head for "The Woodlands", lovely place, clean and safe and just heaven to live in. We lived in this area for 8 years and can't wait to move back. Texas is very different to other states, they have their own set of rules! The people are lovely and very friendly and it is a very Christian place, most people go to church at least 3 times a week and the kids all do Church group activities. I hope you can drive tho as this is necessary, public transport hardly exists unless down town, and you wouldn't want to ride it anyway! Have fun, I think you may want to stay smile

Woodlands is at least an hour commute from Memorial (it's waaaaay north past the airport). It's an Exxon campus so pretty much everyone there works for Exxon.

We are Brits living in Singapore, moving to Houston this July (long term). We visited at Easter (with 2 DDs) for 3 weeks and stayed at Gables West serviced apartments at 2800 Kirby Drive so very central and not far from Memorial. You will need a car and probably do a chauffeur service for your DH as public transport isn't really an option.

Weather will be hot (pool at serviced apt!), plenty to do, great kids museum, natural history museum, zoo, aquarium, lots of parks, go to a basketball game, you'll have a great time.

lolaflores Wed 05-Jun-13 07:39:10

OK. we are going to be in serviced apartments for this visit. as far as I know. Pool is a must. company paying obviously for the domestic side of things.

We are not deeply religious. but happy to join in groups etc. We are in a particularly strange suburb of London. Its oddness makes me often wonder if we are living in an open psychiatric unit...seriously. The high street feels very unsafe and downright strange alot of the time. Anything other than this for a period of time would feel like heaven. I think DH secretly hopes we will stay. We shall see.
I wann go to a dude ranch and take my DD riding and get outdoors at the weekends. I hear Galveston is nice for the beach but opinioin is divided.
Keep my updated butterflies on your plans. we might dovetail. Do you know where you will be based from July?

We'll be in West U near Rice Village from end of July (bought a house there at Easter, as you do!)

Galveston is OK, it's a bit like a western-style pleasure beach, decent places to eat, small aquarium, some fairground rides, miniature train. Drive isn't very picturesque but it's only an hour or so, nice to get some sea air for a day though. Heard Austin is a great trip too, and obviously the space centre but haven't done them yet.

We're pretty pleased to move to Houston, this is quite interesting

lolaflores Wed 05-Jun-13 08:36:25

that was a great read. DH spent 6 months there soon after we met and I spent new year 2001 with him. we went to galveston and san antonio. The place appealed to me somehow. I am Irish so we are natural movers, just put us down somewhere and we have a pub in 10 minutes. Though i hate that ex pat paddy shtich. very excited at the prospect. loads of hoops to flip through here before we get any firm decisions but fingers crossed.
How is life in Singapore? I was threatened with it once but that [passed over us.

My best friend in Singapore is Irish so the pub comment made me lol - she says the same thing.

Singapore has been good to us for 5 years (third posting so about 8 years in total). DD2 was born here, safe place for kids, plenty of opportunity to do anything. Prices are crazy though and it's a bit claustrophobic if you don't get out from time to time - good location to explore Asia though. No complaints from me, we've made a good life here but it's time to move on. Looking forward to the kids having a more normal less spoiled childhood (visiting playparks rather than multi million $ aquariums (aquaria?!) at weekends, running round with a garden hose rather than comparing friends' pools etc). Time to get back to normality ... or as close to it as Houston can offer grin

Keep in touch and let us know how your trip goes - pm me if you're there when we are. DD1 is 8 and DD2 is nearly 5.

lolaflores Wed 05-Jun-13 10:30:22

DD2 is 6. I shall let you know our plans as they bear fruit. if at all. DH's manager is a bit of a moon gazer but i think he will have to give him a swerve if he wants anything to happen this year.

Are you going to work? I haven't been back to work since dd2 was born. dd1 was 20 yesterday which is a whole other conversation.

Thanks for all your input. really appreciated.
speak soon

Lola

Ooooh, lucky you! We lived in West U for three years - such a good time. Buy loads of shoes for me at DSW please!! There is a lot to get used to, culturally, hopefully those on long assignments will have cultural integration sessions etc, but all in all, it's a very easy life in Texas.

Now I'm reminiscing about MW dry cleaners - they collect and return your clothes....

lolaflores Wed 05-Jun-13 11:05:51

Please to ask what is DSW? If only people could understand where I am living at the moment, Houston seems like Mars?! Good to hear so many positive stories and opinions.

Oh yes, I know DSW wink They ship overseas you know....

Hoping to work as DH is on an L1 visa but he travels a huge amount and I'm not sure how to cope with the childcare gap between end of school and end of work. I retrained last year as a swim coach teaching pre-schoolers which works well in Singapore (lots of private pools) and I had my own business so worked my own hours but the season for private pools in Texas is limited ... and wages for employed swim coaches are at student levels so not sure. Otherwise it's back to the office for me....

Where on earth are you living at the moment?! Sounds dire...

DSW = Design Shoe warehouse. Sigh. Heaven.

lolaflores Wed 05-Jun-13 12:21:56

Harrow and Wealdstone, North West London.
A very very grimey gritty suburb. not quite hackney or tower hamlets. but...jesus there are days.
Its great for getting into town great connections. but it is almost like you are having to put up with an appalling quality of life just for the privildge of living in London. When I see what we could buy in Houston for this teeny little terraced house it makes me gasp. honestly....so

Bue Wed 05-Jun-13 21:51:56

My mother's friends moved to Houston in the 90s. Their new neighbours came over to introduce themselves and one of their first questions was "And where will you be worshipping?"

I love that story grin

How fortuitous! We are moving there mid Julyish! Another about turn from our company. Our conditions aren't that great, but we shall suck it up for a year or 2. We will be working in Galleria.

I've heard from colleagues Katy and Sugarland are nice suburban places to live and certainly houses of decent size are cheap enough, schools seem to be well rated. A previous colleague lived in the heights and recommended Travis Elementary as somewhere to consider for elementary.

I shall lurk further on your thread for ideas.

lolaflores Thu 06-Jun-13 07:39:31

thanks HerRoyal, lets spread the ideas around.

Bue they may be less than impressed when I tell them i am catholic. not sure how that might go down.

Catholic will be fine, don't worry! Sugerland is a bit Stepford-ish, all the houses look the same etc. Katy better IMO, especially since they expanded Katy freeway. (They pronounce Katy 'Kay-dee', it took me ages to realise its the same place as 'Katy' on the map blush).

butterflies if I may ask? Did you have a credit rating in the US to buy? Presuming you have a mortgage?

We are thinking about buying something, and would have a 20% deposit for sub 300k house. But are trying to work out if it's worth it, when factoring in buying/selling fees. We'd probably be there 2 years. We were looking more expensive, but figured it definitely wouldn't be worth it considering the fees, and we don't want to clean out all of our savings. We actually want to come out with a little extra at the end of it. Other possibility is to keep it and rent it out when we leave. Reason for this is company pay a housing allowance, so we might as well use it to line our pocket rather than a landlord.

What were the closing fees like? % wise. Was it a quick process? Did you come up against any issues?

lolaflores Thu 06-Jun-13 15:54:49

Sugarland sounds like a thriller title. we visited Katy Mall , and I saw the biggest cowboy boot and hat shop in the world. i mean HUGE. i secretly want cowboy boots.

monsterchild Thu 06-Jun-13 16:01:07

Most Americans pronounce T as D when the letter is not starting the word and is followed by a vowel sound. Just so's you know...

ie, butter is pronounced budder, etc.

Oh, and the word Butte is pronounced bute, not butt!

answers Thu 06-Jun-13 21:14:49

We lived in Texas for about 4.5 years and loved it .... visa ran out which is why we came home... we bought a property out there.... houses don't gain much in price as there is so much land to build on ... estate agents fees were 6% when we sold so bear that in mind as you won't make that type of profit in 2 years.... lots of people rent and it is not expensive to get a good size house...
All the best ... Houston is very humid though compared to further north in Texas ... I am very envious of your move .. would go back in an instant!!

We have no US credit rating and no debt anywhere. We needed 3 recent debts that show we are good at making payments. We came up with 2 credit cards and a recently paid off car loan, none of which are in the US. Our bank accepted these and we were able to buy the house - we needed our visas and social security numbers to close the deal.

The Houston market is crazy, our house was on the market for 12 days and had 3 asking price offers. We wanted to look at 12 houses that were on the market but by the next day our realtors said that only 3 were left. Speak to a bank (we are with Wells Fargo) and make sure that you can act quickly when you see the one you want. HAR is a good website - only look for active properties as everything that is "pending" etc is as good as sold.

Katy is nice, schools are OK, have British friends there who have been there for 12 years. I don't know about Sugarland. Bear in mind that both are an hour commute from Katy to Memorial / Galleria though.

AndreaDawn Fri 07-Jun-13 21:25:31

An hours commute is nothing in the greater Houston area and is the norm! The thing about the Woodlands is, the ISD (Independant School district) is one of the highest rated in the state of Texas and has phenomenal teachers and faculty at every school! Yes, there are a lot of Exon employees living there but so what? They have social groups and they welcome anyone, a great way of making instant friends! Believe me, I lived there 8 years, having a great suburb to live in that is safe with great schools is worth an hours commute, I know people who commute further!
Having no credit history can be a problem, especially if you are planning on getting a vehicle if you can't pay cash for it. Best thing to do is to keep your UK credit cards, you can use them there and try and build up a history ASAP. You can do this with say Orchard Bank, but you basically buy your credit card and pay yourself back! Once you have this going for a while the credit card offers will come flying in. House buying is easy and usually quite quick if you are either "pre qualified" (i.e mortgage already in place) or a cash buyer.

lolaflores Sat 08-Jun-13 10:08:41

This is a gold mine of information

wentshopping Tue 11-Jun-13 03:52:17

Hi Lola, I live in Memorial, kids go to Spring Branch isd schools - which are very good.
Also, just up the road is a huge catholic church, so a lot of catholics in our neighbourhood.
HerRoyal - the biggest costs with selling a house are the realtors fees - paid by the seller - it's 6% of the house price - and is split between the realtor acting for the seller and the one acting for the buyer. Closing costs are less than this. I recently sold my house (on market for 1 day) and I could pull out the figures for you if you like. I am currently in a rented house while my new house gets built.
The further east you go along Memorial Drive, the more expensive things are - so maybe if your DH is working at Shell or BP you would be at the more reasonable end. Lots of serviced apartments on Eldridge with pools. Are you here for just 6 weeks as a recce visit?
And my particular love here - drive-thru banks - ho getting out of the car to go to the atm smile

wentshopping Tue 11-Jun-13 03:52:59

of course that says NO getting out of the car. What I wrote means something else entirely here...

lolaflores Tue 11-Jun-13 07:50:08

went....that last sentence before you updated your spelling is very very very funny in indeed.
Am sending a PM

went grin

I would appreciate if you could PM me the costs for buying/selling. I did hear from an exHoustonian that we can roll the closing costs into the mortgage so don't need the cash up front for that, which helps us out a lot. We'll be able to put that money towards a car.

Do you feel safe there, generally? We are in Montreal right now, and we've never felt unsafe here. Have often walked home through downtown 2amish with DS in the stroller and never felt threatened. We do have a private police unit in our suburb though, which also keeps crime down.

Does anyone know about living in gated communities? I presume the fees/taxes would be quite high to upkeep the golf course, leisure complex etc..

We are waiting now on our company to do the paperwork for the visa's to go ahead. We need to wait where we are until we get it approved and do our in person interview before we can book a vacation for July. Very frustrating, but we don't want to get stuck somewhere while waiting for them and cost us more $$$. Fingers crossed our landlady does not rent our apartment any time soon, as we will really be stuffed then!

wentshopping Thu 13-Jun-13 01:03:01

HerRoyal - yes, will send you details later this evening.
On safety, yes, in general, in the area I live in... but Houston doesn't have the old walkable downtown that many other cities have. I have never been to the east side of town - warned against that when we first arrived. I find it quite a strange city in that you might have an area - West University for example (I don't live there so I may get this wrong) which is very friendly, cafes, shops etc with a pavement outside, and then a couple of streets away, there will be an area where you need to lock your car while you are driving. You just have to figure out the good bits! I consider our area to be fine, but twice in ten years the bank inside one of the local grocery stores has been held up at gunpoint.
I am moving to a gated development later this year - it just has a man in the gatehouse, lakes and eventually, a pool, so the fees are not very high. I also find that ethnic groups live in clusters, and so local shops may be aimed at a particular ethnic group - so Korean grocery stores, or Hispanic bakeries etc.
On taxes, there is a property tax which is calculated on the value of your house. High value house= higher tax payment=good school district. So, if you are going to a private school, watch out where you live, as you are contributing to the local school too through your property tax. This is quite a high amount, and usually the mortgage company will collect it as a monthly payment (in an escrow account) and pay it as an annual lump sum. The same is done with your household buildings and contents insurance. This is very expensive, if your house is old. (eg the one I just sold was built in the 1960s, so was difficult to get coverage for).
I am not sure about rolling the closing costs into the mortgage - it might depend on your bank.
And leave plenty of money spare for motor insurance. I find that very expensive.

butterflies and went would you mind putting down approx. costs of living to give us an idea please?

We are generally expats, but for some reason in our Houston office they're making us local hire and therefore we are losing a lot of benefits. They gave DH a good payrise to compensate, and I'm waiting for an offer for me. We're trying to do a budget to see how things will cost out. We will be forced to buy a house (sub 300k with 20% deposit, I've allowed 1500 to cover this incl tax/insurances) as we don't want to waste our money on rent (normally the company pays this). Fingers crossed it works out! Still waiting on visa's, they want more info on how DH is a specailist compared to anyone else in the US or in our company. sad

Things I'm looking at are:

(we are 2 adults, a 6yo and 3yo)

Utilities
Food
Health Insurance*
Internet
iphone x2
Fuel
Car Insurance **
Tolls from Katy to Town $78/month
Cleaner
Pool Cleaner

* Any tips on what kind of cover to go for? Our company offers, a basic with Aetna, an Aetna 1000 (which i think is 1000/year excess) and 2 HMO options

** I guess we are going to take a lease, something like a Volvo C60, Merc GLK350 type size, Ford Edge (I think that's what DH has been looking at) (happily, they are HALF the payments in the US than here in Canada!!)

Also a question on house insurance, when they give an estimate and it's put in the escrow through the mortgage company, is this the house only, or house and contents insurance?

Thanks for any info you can give us!

Actually I will revise my tolls to 215/mth for work. I didn't read the diagram properly. Which is okay as we have free parking at the office.

wentshopping Tue 25-Jun-13 16:13:41

Hi Royal - well, mine are:
Utilities - these are all per month
gas (town gas for heating) $20
electricity $250-350 per month - highest in summer
water $100 - this could be more if you have a pool as you'll need to top up pool water as it evaporates in summer
phone/internet/tv (as a package) $160
cell phone package - 3 phones, one recently upgraded to iphone $150

Food - around $200 per week, but includes fast food and some specialist things
Fuel for car - I put 10 galls in once a week - $36 - but I only do under 200 miles a week

Now, take a deep breath...
car insurance - $2,500 for 2 cars, which was a six month premium. It cost more to pay instalments.

Health insurance. Go with the company one. For various reasons I am on Cobra cover, and it is $460 per month. Including children $750 per month.
Don't forget co-pays - the portion you pay at each office visit - probably $25-35.
Does the company one offer prescription cover? (And dental and vision)

Cleaner - varies - $70-100 for a morning
Pool cleaner (I can recommend one) $173 per month
Gardener - $100 per month

Car lease - not too sure.

I feel as if I have forgotten something - but can't think what.
Insurance estimate should be both buildings and contents.

Thanks Went, that's very useful. I overestimated some things and under on others, namely utilities, so I should come out about right.

The utility per month, is that average, or is it more in summer (we have the opposite here where it is significantly more over winter, looking forward to the change!)

Car Insurance - eek! when you say 6 month premium, does that mean it's $5k for the year??? I really hope we can manage with one car.

We're looking at about 500/mth for car lease. We got caught on the hop as we haven't been saving for car replacements whenever we move, so don't have car savings to buy outright, and lost 10k on our last lease as the company said we were going, but never mentioned the US! In which case we could have driven it over and kept it I imagine. Oh well.

wentshopping Tue 25-Jun-13 16:29:20

I averaged out the utilities - but put a range in for the electricity. These were for my older 1960s house. I am moving to a new-build (not built yet) where the utilities will be less - located half way between Katy and Galleria, in case you are interested.
I know "eek" on car insurance. Very few families have just one car - unless you can make use of the rubbish commuter bus into town - I say rubbish because a city this size should really have a good transit system and it doesn't. Businesses complained about having light rail going past them as people wouldn't be able to park up and use them. Houston really lives in its cars.

wentshopping Wed 26-Jun-13 07:46:18

fyi - Texas sales tax holiday weekend -
The recent passage of Senate Bill 485 (83rd Regular Legislative Session, 2013) changes the dates of this year’s annual Sales Tax Holiday to August 9-11, a week earlier than previously scheduled. As in previous years, the law exempts most clothing, footwear, school supplies, and backpacks priced under $100 from sales and use taxes, which could save shoppers about $8 on every $100 they spend.
Boo from me as I will still be in UK. Oh well, more of an excuse to buy UK things.

lola how are your plans going?

Our visa application has FINALLY been submitted <mutters> and we're expecting the approval by the end of the month. We're not sure if the company will let us still take vacation or move straight there, considering they wanted DH for beg. June originally. Fingers crossed it all works out, as we are scuppered with no work if not.

Visa's approved, now to book the movers. Still waiting for DHs contract for signing, but I guess it's all good. Hopefully we will land there in 2 weeks at the latest!

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