Reality Check: Calling the Side of the Freeway Home

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Photo by Brian Austin

Way out in the west Houston suburbs, there is a tent sitting on the banks of the freeway.

It is obviously someone's home, and has been for a while. It is surrounded by milk crates and bags of clothing, and I always find myself surprised at how neatly everything is stacked. Care has been taken with the placement of the belongings, and it's evident even as they sit stacked atop the dirt embankment.

I pass that tent every day on my way into our midtown office, and although I've often wondered what the story was behind it, I never bothered to do much more than hypothesize. Daydreaming about what leads people to life on the bridge was comfortable. The reality was not.


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How Much More Can The Woodlands Keep Growing?

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov
Construction on highway 242 flyover means more mobility in The Woodlands.
It's no surprise to the 108,000 people who live there already, but The Woodlands is growing ... and keeps growing. For some purists who love to see the wildflowers grow there in the spring, all those new arrivals might be taking some of the charm out of the master-planned community built in the 1970s.

Last week the consumer finance and investing website Nerdwallet.com crunched the numbers on 2009 to 2012 Census data on Texas and named The Woodlands the top city on the rise (Houston ranked in the 90 out of 127 cities). How come? Because of its 9 percent median income growth, 3.6 percent job growth and the fact ExxonMobil will be bringing some 10,000 or so people to nearby Springwoods Village next year.

But that's not the only reason, since the township already hosts 60 companies with nearly 30,000 employees, according to the study. And officials in The Woodlands (note, the capital "T" in the) say the vision for the area was always to grow and attract big business. Even if infrastructure needs to catch up a bit. (Sit in traffic passing through there? There's a reason for that.)

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5 Reasons It Might Be Time to Move Out of the Heights

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Photo by Jeff Balke
Time to go?
I am a big fan of the Houston Heights. I lived there for the better part of 15 years and spent countless summer days at my grandparents' house just about 8 blocks east of there. It has so many things that make it a desirable place to live, from the big old oak trees to the quaint shops to the location so close to town. It's a far different place from when I bought there back in 1996.

At that time, there was still regular gunfire nearby. I saw a car chase right on my block complete with one car blowing out the back window of the other with a shotgun in a drug deal gone bad. About 2 a.m. one New Year's Eve, I heard the familiar sound of a machine gun -- yes, fully auto and everything -- being fired off just down the street. Of course, my house cost about one-third what it would cost now -- when I sold in 2009, I got substantially more than double what I paid -- and my guess is that the OK Corral-style shootouts are mostly a thing of the past.

Still, over the years, the growth and the popularity of the charming neighborhood has begun to take its toll. The gentrification has begun in earnest and doesn't appear to be beaten back in quite the same way it has been in the Montrose. But, the Heights has never had the level of commercial and retail development as Westheimer, so this is happening more to the homes and streets themselves, which is why, if you live there, I think it might be time to consider a move.

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Pearland Makes List of Most Affordable Suburbs in America

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Photo by Patrice Shuttlesworth
Live there if for no other reason than this place!
Houston has been and continues to be one of the most affordable cities in which to hang your hat long-term. Though housing prices inside the Loop have been escalating rapidly over the past five years, housing can still be had on the relative cheap as compared to other cities around the country. Add to that plentiful jobs and a generally robust economy, and you have the makings of a pretty good place to live economically.

It is also true that much of our affordability comes at a cost, namely sprawl (we can debate smog, traffic, humidity and hurricanes on another day), with communities spread all over the 600-plus square-mile radius we call home. One of those communities was recently ranked on a list of the most affordable suburbs in America, and would you believe it was Pearland?

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Saving the Astrodome: Demolition Crews to Tear Down the Dome Already?

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Not shown: piles of rubble.
According to Swamplot, Reliant already has crews in place to begin demoing parts of the Astrodome as soon as next week. But before you go into a panic, the work is only being done to portions of the facade and the outer structure that is apparently beyond repair and would be removed regardless of the vote on the stadium in November.

The ballot initiative will determine whether or not the Dome will remain standing. Harris County wants to turn it into a new convention center-type-building thing, but if voters say "no," the old gal will be torn down and a beautiful, gleaming parking lot will appear in its place.

For now, the county says this is all part of the process, but some are concerned that if Houstonians drive by and see the Dome surrounded by rubble, they will assume the vote won't matter.

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Suggestions for What to Put in Place of the Downtown Macy's

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Photo by Jeff Balke
On September 22, the downtown Macy's (formerly Foley's for you olds) will be imploded. to make way for...well, we just don't know. So far, mum's the word on what will take its place other than a giant hole in the ground, but that should only be temporary. Anyway, given the fact that a giant hole in the ground isn't exactly what you normally find in the middle of a downtown district, unless you live in Detroit, they have to fill it with something. We have some suggestions.

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Houston Market Continues Its Explosion in July

Categories: Surreal Estate

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According to a report from the Houston Association of Realtors, the city of Houston had its biggest single month of home sales ever in July. This continues the housing boom of 2013 that has seen dramatic increases in the number of homes sold and the sharp rise in home prices. All of this has been fueled by lower interest rates, which ticked up slightly last week for the second time in as many months, and a substantial increase in the number of jobs added by local employers over the past year.

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Former Houston Pavilions Getting Facelift to Go with Name Change

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Courtesy of GreenStreet
When the downtown Houston Pavilions was being built, it was touted as a pass-through from Main Street and the rail line to the other side of town with Discovery Green, Toyota Center and the George R. Brown Convention Center. People would be able to leisurely stroll and browse various shops on their way. That never quite worked out and the odd concrete breezeway with very few stores turned into a ghost town.

Now the mixed-use space -- renamed GreenStreet in April -- is preparing for a much-needed facelift that sounds as if it will attempt to live up to the new name and fulfill its original mission of connecting two parts of downtown.

"Our focus is to implement a plan for GreenStreet that creates lasting value both onsite and for the surrounding downtown businesses," Midway CEO Jonathan Brinsden said in a release. "Ultimately, the changes we are making to the property will help elevate it into the type of mixed-use district that is needed to support the growth and diversification of downtown Houston."

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Suggestions for Navigating Home Buying During a Housing Boom

Categories: Surreal Estate

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Photo by Sarah de la Rosa
Closing is an annoying process, but at least it's the end. Sitting in a conference room with sandwiches, chips and a bowl full of Halloween candy wasn't exactly how I pictured the final moments of my quest for home ownership -- second time around for me, first for my fiancée, Cathy -- but the entire process of buying a home is stressful, confusing and frustrating, so snacking on a Reese's while signing document after document seemed like a miracle.

By the time Cathy was done signing -- her credit score superior to mine, she took on the bulk of the purchase responsibility -- it had been an hour of sitting at that conference table in the offices of a title company we'll likely never visit again with an mortgage broker who will likewise become a stranger and a real estate agent that won't only because he's been my friend for many years. Surreal, yes, but all part of buying a home.

As if the whole buying a home thing wasn't difficult enough, add to it the furious real estate market in Houston and new regulations designed to protect us -- and lenders -- from ourselves and you have, well, a mess.

Our story had a happy ending. We got the house we wanted for less than we expected to pay and there were only minimal complications. But, as any realtor will tell you, transactions of this magnitude can be overwhelming. There are certainly a million good tips for home buying, but here are a few that I found served me and others I know particularly well (or didn't if they were ignored).

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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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