Best places to live in Texas in 2021

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Everything is bigger in Texas, including the number of businesses that call it home. Dell, American Airlines, ExxonMobil, AT&T and Whole Foods are just a few of the massive companies with headquarters located in The Lone Star State. The lack of corporate income taxes is a huge draw, and where businesses go, people follow. The state has no personal income tax, either, so all those hours on the job translate to more money in residents’ pockets.

So, what do they do with that extra cash? It depends on where they live. Texas offers everything from relaxing vibes along the Gulf Coast to the fast pace of urban living. Thinking about packing your bags and heading to the state? Here are the best places to consider.

Best places to live in Texas in 2021

While what makes a city ideal for you will not be a perfect match for someone else, there are common factors that everyone seeks when searching for a new place to settle. Here’s a rundown of the key factors that shaped our research:

  • Affordability – How much of your money goes to essential costs, and how much of it can go toward saving or having fun? We analyzed each city’s cost of living compared with median household income figures from the Census Bureau. To dig even deeper, we looked at Redfin data on average home sale prices in these cities to get the pulse of the real estate market.
  • Safety – If you can go to bed feeling safe, you can wake up feeling good. We analyzed per capita statistics on violent crime and property crime incidents in the biggest cities in Texas.
  • Job market – We looked at Bureau of Labor Statistics city-level unemployment data from the fall of 2020 to get a sense of how each of these cities has recovered from the initial shockwaves of the pandemic in early 2020. In addition to being able to find a job, we also looked at how long it will take you to get to that office based on average commute times from the Census Bureau.
  • Educational attainment – Education translates to achievement, so we looked at Census data on the number of residents with bachelor’s degrees in each of these areas.
  • Culture – Everyone has unique preferences about what to do outside of work hours, so our cultural metrics are a subjective evaluation of opportunities to see, do and experience these cities. We looked at convention and visitors bureau information and chamber of commerce listings to get a sense of what each of these places offer in terms of arts, music, food and nature excursions.

1. Austin

Affordability: 6 out of 10
Safety: 8 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Education: 9 out of 10
Culture: 9 out of 10

Biggest upside: A strong job market, low crime rates and top-notch creative scene
Biggest downside: Rising housing costs thanks to an endless surge of newcomers

The state capital of Austin has historically embraced the mantra “Keep Austin Weird” — a nod to the city’s small businesses and creative scene. Today, Austin is less out-there and more of a place where everyone wants to move. Dell, Whole Foods and Samsung are just a few of the big-name businesses with major operations in the area.

No matter what your day job is like, the nightlife in Austin offers plenty of reasons to stay out late. All the city’s attributes are driving a huge influx of new residents. Roughly 152 people have moved there each day in the past 10 years. Perhaps the city’s new mantra should be “Keep Austin Growing.”

2. San Antonio

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Safety: 6 out of 10
Job market: 7 out of 10
Education: 5 out of 10
Culture: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: One of the more affordable cities on our list
Biggest downside: A lower number (just over 25 percent) of college graduates call San Antonio home

If Austin’s home prices are a deterrent, head 90 minutes south to San Antonio, where the average home sale price clocked in at $245,000 as of early December 2020, according to real estate brokerage Redfin — around $200,000 cheaper than the average sale price in the capital.

Saving on a home doesn’t mean skimping on opportunity, though. Major employers like USAA and H-E-B call the city home, and San Antonio is climbing the ranks as a standout place for technology companies to plant roots. If you’re a foodie, San Antonio might speak in your flavor profile, as well. The city is one of the few U.S. cities that earned the honor of a “Creative City of Gastronomy” from UNESCO. Arrive hungry.

3. Dallas-Fort Worth

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Safety: 5 out of 10
Job market: 7 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Culture: 9 out of 10

Biggest upside: A diverse cultural scene and a massive geographical area
Biggest downside: Safety and that massive geographical area can mean a lot of time in your car

With major brands like Southwest Airlines, Verizon, Lockheed Martin and a number of other employers, the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is a hub of business activity.

While our numerical rankings offer a glimpse of the benefits of living here, finding the right place for your lifestyle requires a willingness to look around. That’s because the area includes more than 9,000 sprawling square miles. From the young energy of music venues and breweries in downtown Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood to the family-friendly atmosphere in Plano, chances are you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for somewhere in your search.

4. Houston

Affordability: 7 out of 10
Safety: 4 out of 10
Job market: 6 out of 10
Education: 7 out of 10
Culture: 9 out of 10

Biggest upside: More companies are coming to the area, and the cultural scene means employees have plenty to see and do
Biggest downside: Safety

With nearly one-third of the country’s jobs in oil and gas centered in Houston, the city is often called the “Energy Capital of the World.” However, Houston is making a name for itself in other industries, too. Hewlett Packard is relocating its Silicon Valley corporate headquarters to the area, and the healthcare and retail industries both have massive footprints.

While the city’s recovery from the pandemic has been a bit sluggish, the long-term outlook for the area is very bright. Over the next decade, the city expects to welcome more than 1.2 million new residents, according to Cushman & Wakefield, all of whom will have plenty to do for fun. The city’s Museum District includes 19 institutions that honor everything from Czech culture to craft-making.

5. Amarillo

Affordability: 8 out of 10
Safety: 6 out of 10
Job market: 8 out of 10
Education: 5 out of 10
Culture: 8 out of 10

Biggest upside: Affordability housing and wide-open spaces
Biggest downside: A smaller city means smaller businesses and smaller opportunities

Amarillo may not have the Fortune 500 names that the biggest cities in Texas boast, but a very low unemployment rate — just 4.4 percent in the fall of 2020 — helped the city land on our list. Located in the Texas Panhandle, it is the least urban destination on our list (although nearly 200,000 people call it home), and major employers include Tyson Foods, Northwest Texas Healthcare System and BSA Health System.

If you’re willing to trade the elevators of downtown skyscrapers for the beauty of hiking and biking trails in the Palo Duro Canyon or ditch business shoes in favor of cowboy boots, Amarillo is an ideal place to land. Look out for Amarillo as a leader in the shift to renewable energy, too: The city is one of the country’s best producers of wind energy.

Next steps

Now can be a great time to buy a home in Texas or elsewhere due to record-low mortgage rates. If you’re new to homeownership and the mortgage process seems overwhelming, count on Bankrate’s homebuying guide to help prepare you for your homebuying journey.

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Written by
David McMillin
Contributing writer
David McMillin writes about credit cards, mortgages, banking, taxes and travel. David's goal is to help readers figure out how to save more and stress less.
Edited by
Mortgage editor