Boom or Bust: How the Exploding Housing Market in Houston is Complicating Matters for Buyers and Sellers

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Photo by Sarah de la Rosa
We never expected to find a home as quickly as we did. When my fiancée and I started looking, we assumed we would casually search until after our wedding in October, then get serious. But as we watched interest rates slowly begin to tick upward, we decided to speed up the process. Even then, we assumed it would take weeks or months to find a home. How could we have known it would only take one day?

The Houston housing market is booming. In the last year, home sales have shot up by 28 percent and prices have risen by 11 percent as of May. The combination of low interest rates (they are still historically low despite rising over a point in the last two months) and still relatively low housing costs compared to most of the country -- nevermind a steadily growing economy and a rebound from the housing bubble of 2008 -- are sending prices and sales higher than ever. But, this is fueling concerns over the return of a housing bubble.

Real estate website Trulia recently reported that homes in Houston were as much as 2 percent over-valued in the current market, but cautioned that this is simply a rebound, not another bubble, not yet.

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Growing Pains: Heights Residents Concerned About Second Proposed Apartment Complex

Categories: Surreal Estate

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From the Alexan Apartments Web site: how Heights life might look in five years?
For several years, complaints raged around the development of a Walmart near the corner of Yale and I-10. Certainly there was some degree of "Walmart sucks and we don't want it in our neighborhood" frustration, but chief among the legitimate concerns was what would happen to traffic at that intersection and the one immediately adjacent to it, Heights and I-10. If you have driven in that area since Walmart and all the corresponding shops have opened, you know the whole area is a traffic cluster-you-know-what, made worse by the fact that trains still halt traffic, sometimes at rush hour, along Heights Boulevard.

Add to this the exponential growth throughout the historic neighborhood over the past five years and the worries of residents seem justified. Now comes word that developer Trammell Crow is adding to its plans already in place to build a massive apartment complex on Yale just six blocks north of I-10. One complex at Yale and 7th -- right near where the hike-and-bike trail crosses Yale with no signal, it should be noted -- is under way and now they want a second just a block south at Yale and 6th.

As you might imagine, folks in the Heights are not thrilled.

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Move Over, Jeff Bagwell! Brian Cushing's House Is For Sale, Too!

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Photo by HAR
USC's "Fight On" is piped in underwater, we bet
Maybe after the tidal wave of a sports week that we all enjoyed/endured last week, we needed a bit of a breather. After Manti Te'o's phony baloney girlfriend, Lance Armstong's phony baloney apologies, the Patriots' and Falcons' phony baloney Super Bowl aspirations, a slow sports week leading up to Super Bowl Hype Week may not be such a bad thing.

How do we know this is a slow sports week?

Well, because for the second time in 24 hours, we are posting about an athlete's house being put on the market for sale.

RIVETING!

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Jeff Bagwell Selling House for $15M, Includes Saltwater Pool, Wine Vault, Fitness Center, Putting Green

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Via HAR.com
Holy Toledo!
The only news lately for former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell is that he didn't get selected for the Hall of Fame for the third year in a row. There has been a lot of talk that the reason he wasn't selected was due to rumors of PED use mainly due to his associations with Ken Caminiti and others.

We don't know if this is the result of his losing out on the HOF (we doubt it), but he has put his home in Timberwilde up for sale. If you are looking for a cozy little 16,000-square-foot home (though the Harris County Appraisal District lists it at over 18,000 square feet) on a private 2.4-acre estate, you can grab this bad boy for $15 million, though I bet there is some wiggle room there given that the appraisal district has it pegged at just over $9 million. But, then again, the real estate market in Houston is pretty damn strong.

With it you get a wine cellar, a saltwater pool and spa, a fitness center, a putting green and a loggia. "A loggia?" you ask. Yes, a loggia.

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VIDEO: Ben Milam Hotel Building Goes Boom

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Photo by Abrahán Garza
With the booming blasts that sounded off like a 21-gun salute, spectators gathered as Houston said goodbye to the Ben Milam Hotel on Sunday, December 9, 2012. The 80-year-old building that stood across from Union Station had been closed since the 1970s, and was imploded to make room for a 380-unit apartment complex covering the area where the Ben Milam Hotel was built in 1926.

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Jan Merklin: Smooth-Talking Drifter and Ladies Man Swindled Woman Out of $200,000 in House-Flipping Scheme, Lawsuit Claims

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Midwestcitypersonals.com
Jan Merklin: Those who've met him through dozens of dating sites say to beware.
A Texas City woman claims in a civil lawsuit to have lost $200,000 to a man she met via e-mail who persuaded her to back him in a house-flipping venture.

The suit, filed by attorney Russell Plackemeier of Texas City, states that 55-year-old Jan Merklin met his client -- "Shelly" -- via e-mail on February 13 of this year and immediately proposed that the two of them pursue a house-flipping venture together.

A month later, Shelly drove to Schulenburg to meet Merklin. There, according to the suit, Merklin presented himself as a very experienced contractor and an expert in real estate. He assured Shelly that her golden years would be that much more golden if she would only spot him a little cash -- $200,000 to be exact. Just to get him off his feet and get the ball rolling on their joint venture, he continued. Once the cash started pouring in, she would get all that back and then some.

The rest of March and April passed. According to the suit, Merklin continued pestering a reluctant Shelly, until, on May 4, she signed a business agreement with Merklin. Merklin assured her it was an industry-standard document, the suit says.

That very day, Shelly wired $200,000 from her personal bank account into a joint account she shared with Merklin.

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Le Promenade Gang Condos to Clean Up Act, According to Temporary Injunction Signed This Week

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John Nova Lomax
Attorney Arturo Ramirez explains the terms of the injunction to his client, a defendant sued by the state of Texas.
Harris County's and the State of Texas's beef with the Le Promenade condominium complex and its individual owners was temporarily settled in Harris County civil court on Monday morning.

A few weeks back, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan filed suit against the complex at 7400 Bissonnet, its homeowners association and dozens of individual owners, alleging that they had all fostered an environment in which crime and gang activity had flourished. The suit claimed that the La Primera gang used it as a safe harbor, recruiting ground and occasional battleground in its perpetual beefs with rivals Southwest Cholos.

With 71 of the complex's 205 units in their portfolio, a company called Huali Investments owns a plurality of the complex's assets. They had an attorney at Monday's hearing, as did a handful of the individual owners. About two dozen Spanish-speaking owners represented themselves pro se at the hearing.

Selling them on the provisions of the temporary agreement between the county and the complex -- and them -- was not easy.

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Lenwood Johnson: Trying to Save a Last Shred of Freedmen's Town History

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John Nova Lomax
Lenwood Johnson: guardian of the last row of Freedmen's Town shotguns.
And so, after all these years of condofication, it has come to this: one last row of shotgun houses in the Fourth Ward. The transformation from funky and proud Freedmen's Town to go-go, oontz-oontz Midtown is almost complete.

Gone or boarded up are several historic churches, the Fa Real bar, King Cole's Liquor and This Is It! soul food, replaced by creperies, tapas bars and coffeehouses.

And In the sweltering summer sun, out in front of the boarded-up houses on the corner of Victor and Gillette, as he has ever been there before, Lenwood Johnson is there again today, trying his level best to save these ten remnants of Houston's first black neighborhood.

Johnson says he chose this week to speak his piece because the Fourth of July should mean something for the people of Freedmen's Town too.

"We want freedom and independence just like everybody else," he says.

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Montrose's Half Price Books Strip Mall Has a Buyer

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Illustration vis Swamplot
Sold...let the speculation begin
After just three months on the market, the block that contains Montrose's Half Price Books has been sold Swamplot is reporting.

Details are sketchy, as neither the buyer or seller is talking yet, but HFF, the company that had listed the property, now says the property is under contract.

The site, in the heart of Montrose at the corner of Montrose Boulevard and Westheimer, is ripe for development. The original listing noted the block "represents an excellent opportunity to acquire a value-add retail center or a prime redevelopment opportunity ideal for multi-family, hotel, retail, medical, or mixed use development."

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So You Want to Buy a Former Meth Lab!: Meth-Testing Houses the New Big Thing

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Courtesy USA Decon
Now there's no need to worry about guests noticing embarrassing meth residue on your walls.
There are lots of important things to consider when choosing an apartment, house or trailer: commute time, distance to retail centers, public schools -- but perhaps the most important thing of all is, "How do I get rid of that stagnant meth-lab odor?"

Well, thanks to companies like USA Decon, you too can make sure your new abode is suitably free of residues left behind by any former occupants who engaged in the fine art of meth manufacturing. Had we known this sorta thing existed years ago, we never would've agreed to live in that one trailer in the desert for six months. Here are some things USA Decon's CEO, John DiGulio, told us in an e-mail about former meth lab cleanin':

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