Dallas vs. Houston: Choosing Where to Live in Texas

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Mike Romano

Nov 14, 2023

Mike Romano is a mortgage industry veteran with over 20 years of experience. His expertise spans mortgage technology, credit risk, and loan origination, and he has spoken at many mortgage and fintech conferences. He has a Bachelor's and MBA from the University of California, Berkeley and currently resides in Austin, TX. NMLS # 2515901

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    Moving to a new city is a big deal. It’s important to do your homework before you make your final decision. In the first round of our “Choosing Where to Live in Texas” series, we matched up Dallas vs. Houston. 

    To help you plan ahead and get an idea of what your life might look like in either of these cities, we put together information on the housing market, cost of living, schools, and more. 

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      Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as legal or financial advice. Please consult an attorney, mortgage lender, or CPA for guidance on your specific situation.

      ** The figures in this article were aggregated from: Numbeo Cost of Living Index; Numbeo Traffic Index; Zillow Home Values Index; Zillow Rental Market Trends; MIT Living Wage Calculator; and livingcost.org.

      Dallas vs. Houston: How each city stacks up

      There’s a lot that goes into making a city livable, and much of it comes down to personal preference. That being said, there are a handful of big-ticket items to consider before you move.

      In this article, we’ll go into detail about: population and city size; transportation and commuting; home prices; rent and utilities; gas and groceries; childcare; culture, schools, and activities. 

      But first, here’s an at-a-glance overview of Dallas vs. Houston:  

      City size386 square miles662 square miles
      Avg commute
      37 minutes43 minutes
      home price
      Average rent$1,925$1,800

      Cost of living: Which city is more expensive?

      Dallas and Houston have a very similar cost of living, similar enough that determining which city is more expensive likely comes down to your personal expenses. Here’s how the major expense categories compare between the two cities.

      Housing and utilities 

      Median home price$306,877$263,147
      monthly mortgage payment*
      Median rent$1,925$1,800
      Average utilities $269$258

      *Monthly mortgage figures based on the median home price with a 20% down payment and 7.25% interest on a standard 30-year mortgage.

      Housing affordability is one of the categories where Houston beats Dallas. The median home price in Houston is $263,147 and the median rent is $1,800, compared to a median home price of $306,877 and $2,216 for median rent in Dallas.

      On average, you’ll pay $136 more per month ($1,632/year) for rent and utilities in Dallas versus Houston. 

      You’ll pay $317 more per month ($3,804/year) for a mortgage and utilities in Dallas versus Houston. 

      For many people, this alone makes Houston a better place to live compared to Dallas, regardless of what the cost of living index says, since housing is one of your least flexible expenses.

      Gas and groceries 

      Gallon of Gas$3.56$3.32
      Loaf of Bread$3.25$3.20
      Gallon of Milk$3.68$3.72
      Dozen Eggs$3.88$4.43
      Chicken Breast$5.32/lb$4.59/lb
      Round Steak$7.36/lb$6.82/lb

      The cost of daily staples in Dallas vs Houston is somewhat of a mixed bag. Gas is slightly less expensive in Houston compared to Dallas (although not by much). Dallas is slightly less expensive when it comes to staples like eggs, and milk, but more expensive for meats like chicken and steak. 

      Dallas and Houston are roughly equivalent when it comes to the cost of gas and groceries. 

      For this category, we’ll call it a tie. The difference between the two cities is minimal, and your actual expenses will depend on where you shop and what you buy.



      For families with young children, childcare can be the most significant expense aside from housing costs. In this category, Dallas is significantly less expensive than Houston. 

      On average, you’ll pay $157 more per month, per child ($1,884/year) for childcare in Houston vs Dallas. 

      How much money do you need to live comfortably in each city?

      Living WageDallasHouston
      One adult, no children$17.78$17.06
      One adult, one child$35.51$34.35
      Two adults, two children$38.90$37.98

      Based on the average cost of living in each city, you need to make $17.78 an hour, or $3,082 per month, to live comfortably in Dallas as a single person. With a family of four, it takes $38.90 an hour, or $6,742 per month to have a comfortable living.

      In Houston, your income needs to be $17.06 an hour, or $2,957 each month, to live comfortably as a single person. If you have a family of four, you need to make $37.98 an hour, or $6,583 per month for a comfortable living.

      Make your move easier with down payment assistance

      Making a down payment on a new home is one of the biggest moving costs you’ll face. Down payment assistance (DPA) programs in Texas offer thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to help you cover this cost. 

      Stairs Financial streamlines your access to DPA, making it easy for you to connect with a trusted lender and compare the loan and assistance programs you may qualify for, all in one place.

      Learn more about your down payment assistance options.

      Size: Is Dallas bigger than Houston, or vice-versa?

      DallasHoustonDallas-Fort Worth
      City size386
      sq mi
      sq mi
      sq mi

      Technically speaking, Houston is roughly twice the size of Dallas, both in terms of land area and population. Dallas covers about 386 square miles, with a population of 1.288 million people. Houston covers 662 square miles and has a population of 2.288 million people.

      However, because of their close proximity, Dallas and neighboring Fort Worth are often considered one single metropolitan area, with people living and working easily between the two.  The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area consists of 742 square miles and houses 2.223 million people. 

      When you compare Houston to the entire Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, the two cities are roughly equivalent in size and population.  

      Getting around: Traffic, transit, and walkability

      commute distance
      18.9 miles19.5 miles
      commute time
      37 minutes43 minutes

      Dallas is generally considered to be a better commuting city because it has a robust metro system, while Houston does not. 

      Both the average commuting distance and average commute time are less in Dallas compared to Houston. It also tends to be more walkable, because it is less spread out than Houston.

      On average, you’ll spend 30 minutes more per week or 26 hours more per year commuting in Houston versus Dallas. 

      A day (or night) on the town: Culture

      First, there are some strong cultural similarities between the two cities. Both Dallas and Houston have multiple professional and college sports teams, and both cities take their collegiate sports seriously (this is Texas, after all). 

      For everyday entertainment (day or night), both Dallas and Houston have plenty of offerings, but with a different flavor for each city. 

      Because of its size and layout, Dallas parks, attractions, restaurants, and bars tend to be clustered closer to the center of the city. This is convenient if you’re the type who likes to tackle multiple adventures in one day.

      Entertainment in Houston tends to be more spread out, with pockets of attractions scattered throughout the city and near the coast. This might not be so great if you’re looking to hit several destinations in one outing, but it works well if you like to explore and go to different parts of the city, each with its own unique atmosphere.

      Raising a family: Schools and activities

      When it comes to schools, the situation looks like this at a high level: Dallas has some of the most highly rated public schools in Texas, but the city as a whole has slightly lower rankings compared to Houston.

      The top three ranked public schools in Texas are in Dallas, and of the top ten schools (both public and private) in the state, five are in Dallas. 

      However, the average school ranking in Dallas is 480, and the average school ranking in Houston is 402. This means Houston has a slightly better distribution of well-ranked schools compared to Dallas.

      On the family activities front, the two cities are pretty similar. Both Dallas and Houston have a Six Flags park, large aquariums, museums, and very impressive public and adventure parks. 

      Make Houston or Dallas your hometown with down payment assistance

      Ultimately, Houston and Dallas have a lot in common and could in many ways be sister cities. But regardless of where you choose to locate, you’ll need to make a down payment if you intend to buy a home, and this is a challenging expense to cover. 

      Down payment assistance (DPA) programs available in Dallas, Houston, and throughout Texas, offer thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to help you get over this hurdle. However, it can be tough to learn about programs and find an approved lender to help you apply. 

      Stairs Financial matches you with trusted lenders and down payment assistance programs in your area. You’ll get a customized list of qualified lenders and any down payment assistance programs for which you might qualify. 

      With Stairs, it’s easy to compare your options side-by-side, apples-to-apples. Learn more about your down payment assistance options. 

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