12/30/14 1:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT LIFE FORMS HOMES GOT RIGHT Drawing of Life Forms Home“I’m also a big Life Forms fan, I own and live in one in the Woodlands. So happens I’m an architect, too. Life Forms is the only company I know that has built suburban tract homes which are innovative, spatially unique, extremely livable, and which complement the landscape. Truly American, as I would like to say it. Many of Life Forms homes were also created for a price point that allowed normal folks like us to experience unique and honest architecture. I do that every day now. Scott Mitchell deserves unique credit as an exceptional architect, a brilliant home builder, and a true innovator. Most American architecture amounts to mindlessly recompiled ‘tradition,’ endlessly mundane and pretentious. No where is this more evident than in American tract homes. Bad copies of architectural forms and inspiration: selectively applied pastiche . . . that is the norm. As the ‘home of the free and the brave,’ as social and technological pioneers, we Americans ought to pride ourselves on our residential buildings, too. Life Forms challenged the organization, layout, forms, spaces, use of light . . . just about everything that’s bad about the typical american home. Sure some of the details may look dated to us now, and not all the experiments they did were successful. But many of them were. . . .” [Paul Schuyler, commenting on A Look at George Mitchell’s Decked-Out Home in The Woodlands, All Cleaned Up and Cleared Out for Sale] Illustration: Lulu

10/28/14 12:00pm

WHY DARLING HOMES SMELL THAT WAY ScentAir ScentWaveJust where does that Houston new-home smell come from? The cookies the sales agent baked in the oven just before you arrived? The formaldehyde holding together the OSB and MDF? The VOC-laden paints and finishes still off-gassing indoors? An errant breeze from the Ship Channel? Well, sure, but also, it turns out, from liquid aroma cartridges squirted out by the motion-detector-equipped ScentWave (pictured above right), which shoots out a “clean and crisp . . . sweet floral” aroma to woo potential buyers and passersby who’ve stopped to sniff out a model home display. Reps of Texas’s Darling Homes, now owned by Taylor Morrison, install the ScentWave wafting device strategically in every one of the company’s model homes. The exclusive sign-here-now fragrance the homebuilder employs was whipped up for that purpose by the ScentWave’s distributor, a North Carolina company named ScentAir. That Darling Homes scent isn’t available for purchase, reports the HBJ‘s Paul Takahashi, but the ScentAir website lists a matrix of “euphoric, invigorating, restoring, refreshing, relaxing, or restoring” olfactory options (from a total 1,600 available off-the-shelf) to “blow your customer’s nose’s mind.” [Houston Business Journal; ScentAir] Photo of ScentWave: ScentAir

08/01/14 4:00pm


Who — or maybe what — was Ike and why does his tree get a namesake street in the Augusta Creek Pointe neighborhood in Spring? Sure, there was the notable hurricane by that name, but Ikes Tree Dr., which slices through the semi-shaded 64-lot section of The Creeks at Augusta Pines golf course community east of Kuykendahl Rd. and north of FM 2920, was in place by the beginning of 2008. The semi-custom, non-gated neighborhood’s model home, built by J. Kyle Homes in 2011, went onto the market this summer with a $409,563 asking price.


Do You Like Ikes?
07/24/14 4:45pm

Site of Future Stanley Park Dr., Timbergrove Manor, Houston

Site of Future Stanley Park Dr., Timbergrove Manor, HoustonAn increasing number of weed-whacking and drive-up visits to the site “after a stagnant period” suggest to a Swamplot reader that development activity may soon begin on Lovett Homes’ Stanley Park development, a collection of 78 patio-home sites drawn but not yet carved out of a vacant lot at the southern border of Timbergrove Manor just north of the railroad tracks, paralleling Queenswood Ln. A new street named Stanley Park Dr., with accompanying similarly named stub streets, is planned to connect what are now dead ends at Shirkmere Rd. and Shelterwood Dr. The photo above shows the Shirkmere entrance to the future neighborhood. Sunflowers have sprouted quickly after the last weed-whacking event — in a portion of the development cleared of trees several years ago.

Photos: Swamplot inbox

Stanley Park
06/20/14 12:00pm

Ad for Royce HomesBack in January of this year, the bankruptcy trustee assigned to colorful imploded homebuilder Royce Homes obtained a $9.3 settlement from Amegy Bank for the bank’s role in what attorneys called a $39 million conspiracy — to swindle creditors by draining the collapsed builder’s bank accounts shortly before Royce shut down and was declared bankrupt, in 2008. A separate settlement with Royce Builders’ founder, Michael Manners, was reached in March. And earlier this month, a jury in federal court returned a $27 million verdict against Royce’s former CEO, John Speer, for his role in the escapade. (Back in March, an earlier jury had ended up deadlocked on a number of charges.)

According to reporting by Law360’s Jeremy Heallen, the charges stemmed from what the attorneys claimed amounted to an off-the-books leveraged buyout of Royce Homes. In 2006, Speer bought Manner’s 50 percent stake in the Royce Homes for $33 million, to give himself complete ownership of the homebuilder. Though the funds used to finance the purchase (including a $20 million personal loan from Amegy Bank) were borrowed in Speer’s own name, Speers, Manners, and Amegy came to an understanding that Royce Homes would ultimately be responsible for paying them off, the suit claimed. The purpose of the scheme, according to the claims, was to keep the loans off of Royce Homes’s financial statements, because doing so would have “wiped out most of the homebuilder’s equity and caused lenders to shut down vital credit lines,” Heallen reports.


Amegy Bank and More
05/27/14 1:45pm

HOW A DEVELOPER MAKES FRIENDS IN GERMANTOWN 121 Payne St., Germantown Historic District, Woodland Heights, HoustonFisher Homes owner Terry Fisher has been scuffling with city officials and residents of the Germantown Historic District over the dilapidated state of the recently renovated 104-year-old bungalow at 121 Payne St. that he bought last year, got permission for a 2-story addition, but then let sit for months with an opened-up roof protected only by a blue tarp. Fisher may have had some difficulties maintaining the sticks and stones on his property (“demolition by neglect” is how one inspector put it), but he sure has demonstrated a way with words: “The neighbors and anyone else who doesn’t like me is welcome to go walk off a bridge,” he reportedly texted to Woodland Heights Civic Association member David Jordan: “Just try and remember I am a property owner in that neighborhood also and I’m just as important as the others. Considering how much I own, I may be more important.” The latest document attesting to that importance: the violation letter he received from the planning department ordering him to stop work on the Payne St. property and address concerns identified by the inspector. But Fisher tells reporter Erin Mulvaney his text to Jordan has been taken out of context: “God gave me two cheeks and I do what I can to turn them, but enough is enough,” he tells her, explaining that he lives in Spring, rather than in the Heights, where many of his developments are, in part to avoid ending up next door to a development he doesn’t like. “I have done nothing wrong,” Fisher says, “I’m not just a big bad developer. I’m a human, too.” But wait, there’s more: “I’m not ashamed of anything, including the Payne house,” says Fisher, who according to the article has been developing in Houston for more than 30 years. “At the end of the day,” he tells Mulvaney, “I’ve never done anything intentionally wrong. Anything has been out of ignorance.” [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of 121 Payne St. in better times: HAR

05/13/14 2:15pm

Home and Office Under Construction at 832 Yale St., Houston Heights

What’s this new construction being framed in wood and steel on the site of 2 former bungalows at 828 and 832 Yale St. in the Heights? A single 23,000-sq.-ft. residence that will also serve as the offices of homebuilder Fisher Homes, a source tells Swamplot. The builder is perhaps best known for the Morrison Heights 5-story condo building near Houston Ave. and White Oak; it is also planning a Studemont Mid-Rise at Studemont and Center St., just north of Washington Ave.


Fisher Homes
04/02/14 4:45pm

Vacant Lot at 3510 Sherman St. at York St., East End, Houston

Spotted on a reader’s drive to Champ Burger: the newly vacant almost-an-acre lot at the corner of York and Sherman streets east of East Downtown, where the New Era Nursing and Rehab facility at 3510 Sherman St. was recently demolished. An entity controlled by Lovett Homes developer Frank Liu purchased the property last October.


Lovett Gotta
08/01/13 4:15pm

MONTGOMERY COUNTY MASTER-PLANNED COMMUNITY PICKED FOR MIDDLE-AGED DISTRICT Arizona homebuilder Taylor Morrison has just purchased 700 lots in the master-planned community Woodforest a few miles north of The Woodlands, and the Houston Business Journal reports that these lots — for which prices and plans are not yet available — in Johnson Development’s 3,000-acre community will be reserved for residents 55 and up. But this doesn’t appear to mean that Taylor Morrison, which is also building in Springwoods Village south of here, will be putting anyone out to pasture, writes Bayan Raji: “It’s committed to the homes fitting in.” [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Riverbend in Woodforest: Woodforest

06/14/13 3:00pm

Houston builders Westin Homes seems to be expanding into the luxury replica spaceship playhouse market — at least this summer, anyway, hooking up with HomeAid Houston to imagineer something like what you see here and display it this June and July at Minute Maid Park. (That’s Astros mascot Orbit peeking out, as though a tad reluctant to deboard.) Of course, the playhouse isn’t just for show: It’ll be raffled off, with proceeds going to HomeAid, and it’ll eventually find its way to someone’s backyard, where the lucky winners will enjoy its

. . . space-themed amenities such as a cockpit complete with swivel seats, ‘rocket booster’-framed windows, a 32” wall mounted LCD TV, an XBox, an MP3 player, an iPod docking station with speakers and interior detailing . . . air conditioning and electricity.

It doesn’t appear that the playhouse will be suitable for actual space travel — but there’s always next year. (As Astros fans well know.) Most recently, the nonprofit HomeAid started construction on those 8 single-mothers’ duplexes on W. Bellfort in Meyerland on St. John’s Presbyterian property.

Rendering: Westin Homes via HomeAid Houston

05/06/13 11:30am

Does the green fence mean go? It looks like demolition is just a shot away for this westernmost building of the former Shell Technology Center. Lovett Homes has said it plans to build 39 3-story homes — scaling back after some Southside Place residents raised concerns at public hearings its original plan for 45 3.5-story ones — on the 3.2 acres here at the corner of Braes and Bellaire Blvd.


05/01/13 3:35pm

A Swamplot reader writes in with some identifying info about the Katy homebuilder whose Heights Blvd. townhouse construction collapsed into a pile of sticks over the weekend. The collapse of two 4-story structures under construction shortly after the end of Saturday night’s storm didn’t end up injuring anyone, but it did set back construction and marketing efforts for the Madison Park development just south of White Oak Bayou.

The builder of the toppled properties at 103-117 E. 2nd St., in a corral of townhomes built earlier by another developer, is Keystone Classic Homes, an LLC managed by Michael D. Surface. That appears to be the same Mike Surface who found himself in local headlines a couple of years ago, before and after he admitted to a judge that he intended to influence his longtime friend, Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole, with approximately $100,000 in cash and gifts. As part of a plea deal, Surface ended up pleading guilty to filing a false income tax return and making false statements to federal officials in connection with that bribery case, which centered around county contracts; in November 2011 he received a sentence of 2 years’ probation, along with a restriction barring him from being able to do any business with federal, county, or city governments for 5 years.

And then there was Surface’s job on the Astrodome.


03/01/13 4:00pm

BIG PLANS FOR NEW SOUTHSIDE PLACE HOMES A LITTLE SMALLER Those 45 3-and-a-half-story houses that Lovett Homes said it was planning for the western end of the old Bellaire Technology Center site (shown here) met a lot of resistance, reports the Examiner‘s Robin Foster: “In a packed public hearing Jan. 29, neighbors expressed concern over traffic, visitor parking and the taller buildings.” Since then, writes Foster, Lovett Homes met with some of those “neighbors” to share scaled-back plans, which were presented at a second Southside Place hearing on February 27: The revised plans are for 39 homes no taller than 3 stories, with an interior street for more parking, wider setbacks, more common space, and “larger-than-average trees.” [The Examiner; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Candace Garcia

10/11/10 12:45pm

Last night’s postponed airing on ABC of the first Extreme Makeover: Home Edition filmed in Houston proper made no mention of the mud-inducing and deadline-destroying downpours, the organizers’ multiple pleas for Gatorade, patio furniture, trim carpenters, siding installers, and plumbers — or the mad (and ultimately futile) rush for an on-time finish that was a major source of drama at the South Union site. But it did feature a brief pre-demolition “roast” of the Johnson family’s dilapidated original home on Goodhope St. by comedians Tommy Davidson, Ralphie May, and Paul Rodriguez, as well as a later appearance by supermodel Brooklyn Decker, (wife of tennis star Andy Roddick), flown in to design the 5 Johnson girls’ elaborate pink closet. Plus: plenty of those fawning building-product-delivery placement shots. On what looked like it could have been the limo ride back from IAH after the family’s Paris vacation, Cedric the Entertainer briefly “joked” to the girls that they wouldn’t get to see their new house right then. But viewers’ only delay was a commercial break.


10/07/10 12:54pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HANGING OUT A SHINGLE, BUT QUIETLY “In Houston, Some Obra lots have been purchased by Frontera Homes, they are also using the Obra Floor Plans. While researching, I could not find any relationship between Obras Owner and Staff Vs Frontera Owner and Staff. However, Frontera’s information is hard to find, only contact number is to the salesmand/building supervisor. I can not locate a CEO, DBA or board members for Frontera. It is awfully secretive, like Obra was when going under.” [Gayle, commenting on Obra Homes Secret Hiding Place Revealed!]