08/05/10 5:17pm

Four long and hot construction days after the big made-for-teevee bus-moving ceremony, HHN Homes still needs help finishing its 4,400-sq.-ft. Extreme Makeover on Goodhope St. in South Union. What exactly is the company looking for? “Plumbers to finish trim features,” HHN’s Linda Stewart tells Swamplot. And there’s still that ongoing, restrained request for some patio furniture. When will the Johnson family get to move in? They’ve been “in and out” of the house over the past few days, Stewart says. HHN Homes hopes to have all of its work complete by Friday evening.


08/04/10 4:43pm

This new concoction in Briardale, just steps from the corner of San Felipe and Sage, isn’t your ordinary farmhouse-themed Tuscan-style mansion. No, this home is loaded up with actual materials snatched from actual old buildings in Europe! Among the repurposed Yurpian booty: limestone floors and stone surrounds from France, 19th century doors from a palazzo in Florence, and an 18th century stone sink. Plus plenty of antique brick from Chicago. A stone-vault-like Powder Room affords a relaxed, yet secure environment for guest excretions.

Completed just last year, the home was built by Burton Construction — best known locally for its not-so-Tuscan work at CityCentre — for the family of the company’s founder, Brad Burton. But the Burtons are now ready to sell, if one of you is willing to cough up the $3.5 million asking price. Here’s what you get:


07/27/10 3:14pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE VERY SPECIAL SECRET BEHIND THAT “NEW HOME” SMELL “After having worked for two major local homebuilders, I was shocked to discover that most subcontractors leave an organic surprise for every new homeowner in the form of a bowel movement, hidden somewhere in the home…closets, attic, pantry, fireplace, you name it. And I’m talking about ALL homebuilders. I was told by upper management that it’s a ’statement’ from the have-nots to the haves. Charming.” [marketingwiz, commenting on Comment of the Day: Someone Was Sleeping in My Room!]

06/24/10 10:36pm

A commenter on the TexAgs online forum is claiming that former Royce Builders vice president Shawn Speer called his supervisors and threatened him with the loss of his job. The fun started about a month ago when another forum participant, who goes by the name Comet*, complained online that workers constructing a house next door to his had been using water from his home without permission, leaving nails on the street and trash around the neighborhood. Comet* didn’t know who was building the home, but 2 days later, after several hours of phone calls, he received a call back from Shawn Speer. Comet*’s record of the conversation will likely be of interest to the many fans of bankrupt Royce Builders:

So I told him what was wrong, and he was extremely nice and will be doing a number of things to make sure that doesn’t happen. Went above what I expected, and I am very satisfied for now. No complaints at all anymore.

He said we’re not trying to hide who we are, I just ran out of signs, so that’s why there was no contact info on the lot.

me: So you’re just going by “Shawn Spears?”

s: Well, I have several companies and mentioned Travis homes as one of them (the only one I didn’t know Royce was working under).

But according to Comet* (or Comet*’s wife, who apparently also posts under the same account), the workers didn’t stop using the water spigot on his property. And then things started to escalate. Comet*’s wife wrote the next day:


06/02/10 5:41pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE “. . . Tricon Homes, if they are not the number one builder in terms of number of units in the Heights, they are definitely in the top two. Since the 90’s they’ve built over a hundred units a year, with the majority of them located in the Heights. If you think their construction costs even sniff $100/sqft, you simply do not know what you are talking about. I sell land for a living to top builders in town, and work for a home building company that builds from the $150’s to $1.8M. A $1.8M house in Memorial will average $120/sq.ft in direct costs for construction. Are you trying to say that it costs more per square foot to build a bungalow with siding in the Heights than it does a brick/stone mansion in Memorial or River Oaks?? If so, again….go find a better builder cause you’re getting ripped off.” [MCoerver, commenting on Comment of the Day: The High Cost of Building Small]

05/07/10 11:23am

Remember the swingin’ days of a couple of years ago, when InnerLoopCondos bought Bistro Vino and got ready to tear down the 24-year-old Montrose restaurant at the corner of West Alabama and Roseland? And then the company put out that goofy little internet survey asking us to vote on which type of condo-building cliche you’d like to see shoved onto the site? If you’re one of the lucky participants who somehow managed to write in “Give it up,” congratulations! Your choice has been selected!

Mexico City natives Jorge and Isaac Alvarez have since secured a lease-purchase of the former restaurant property from its would-be redevelopers. Jorge Alvarez, a custom-home developer himself, had a crew from his Alvgar Construction company renovate the 1930’s Tudor-style home and patio.

The brothers’ “modern Mexican” restaurant, Ocean’s Ceviche, isn’t expected to open officially until May 21st, but intrepid Swamplot photographer Candace Garcia brings you this little preview of the spiffed-up grounds:


04/19/10 4:26pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON HOMEBUILDING TALES, ABBREVIATED “Once upon a time we knew how to build homes to take advantage of [things] like prevailing winds, natural shade, the position of the sun at different times of the day and year. Then we started just smacking them down in a line after clear cutting the entire sub-development and relying on being able to chuck in a bigger AC unit to take the load.” [Jimbo, commenting on Factory-Built Green Homes for Houston]

04/01/10 3:40pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT ROYCE BUILDERS SOLD ME “I bought a home from them in oct 2007 and got riped off. First I am still trying to figure out how I even got financed based on my income. I was making about $1200.00 a month and my notes where almost $900.00 a month. Then I have an adjustable rate morgage which would go up every 6 months. I thought about it after the fact (I had to give up my home) that they must have messed with the figures to get me in the home at the first place. I couldn’t get them to come fix things that come with the home warranty. If anyone knows what kind if any lawsuit is out on them would you please let me know.” [monmon, commenting on No-Charity Case: Royce Builders Education in Bankruptcy]

03/08/10 9:49am

COMPLETING THOSE WEST U FINAL INSPECTIONS Covington Builders will get to keep its license to build in West University after all. Ten homes the homebuilder had constructed since 2000 had never received occupancy permits from the city, but they’ve got ’em now. At issue on 7 of those homes: tree inspections. “‘They went to them and were able to determine what trees were there, measured the inches. I gave him some credit for some of the growth inches that were there, over time,’ [Chief Building Official John] Brown said. ‘He paid the tree trust the balance of money that was owed, which closed out his cases.’ Covington paid about $8,250 to the tree fund for the 82.5 tree inches that were missing on the seven outstanding properties. Before completing all the inspections, the city had estimated that Covington owed $10,300 to the tree fund.” [Instant News West U; previously on Swamplot]

03/05/10 3:17pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: MAKING OLDER HOMES SAFER “Ironically, all of the lawsuit-limiting legislation passed at the request of the home-building industry makes Texas one of the few states where a pre-existing home is a more secure investment than a new home. When the market begins to reflect this, which it will eventually, new home builders will regret it.” [jlawrence, commenting on The $58 Million Perry Home]

02/23/10 2:56pm

Things have slowed down a bit in the West University Place building department: Only 20 new homes were permitted in the city last year. What to do with all the free time? Chief building official John Brown used some of it to pore over city records . . . and make a small discovery: Out of a grand total of 938 new homes built in West U this decade, 39 of them never received certificates of occupancy.

Instant News West U‘s Angela Grant reports that’s not so much of a problem yet for 5 of those homes — they were built in 2008 and haven’t sold. But what about the others?

Of the 34 homes that should legally have certificates, 14 homes — 41 percent — were constructed in 2000. Twenty-seven homes, or 79 percent, were constructed before 2005, when the city says the building department began professionalizing operations with the addition of key staff members.

How’d all this come up?


01/14/10 12:10pm

MORE OF THE STORY OF THOSE DISAPPEARING OAK FOREST OAKS “My neighbor lived in what you would consider a ‘tear down.’ For several years she struggled with selling and moving or rebuilding on the lot. A big factor in the decision was finding a builder that would keep the integrity of the lot and not cut down the gem – a 100 year old tree that is 4′ in diameter. She thought that she found the builder that respected the tree and had the same vision while simultaneous[ly] she found her dream home over in Garden Oaks. . . . Shortly after the transition, a family bought the lot and are ready to build . . . I have 2 neighbors including myself that would take this tree. I have till Friday to find an association that would underwrite this project and be interested in saving this tree.” [Kat Alan Madison + Austin; previously on Swamplot] Photo: HAR

12/14/09 2:57pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: TRUST THE WEBSITE “I live in a bungalow in cottage grove . . . since 2005. [7677 Homes] bought the house in 8/2006. We have paid our rent on time and have asked SEVERAL times even as short of time as 3 months ago (when I saw land being surveyed next door) if they had plans on doing something with our home. They reassured me no worries the market is bad and we would give you 90 days to 6 month notice before doing that. Told me how well we have always paid, yada yada yada, well guess what found out Saturday they have plans on demolishing the house, only after we had to pay 155.00 so we could have heat, we have a 4 yr old in the house. They gave us 30 days to move (verbally) . . . and ofered us “another” house for 200 more a month, and failed to tell me it is listed as being demolished as well. I really thought the men were nice when we met them, but to do this behind our backs when we asked them to please give us alot of notice. Sad thing is, it is Christmas, times are hard, and they have had our house on their website to demolish since September and we never knew it or else we could have had all this time to save money to move. . . .” [Susan Dugas, commenting on Daily Demolition Report: Truck Tired]

11/25/09 12:11pm

A few ominous tidbits from the website of John Speer’s latest building venture, Vestalia Homes, which makes no mention of Speer’s former company, Royce Builders — or the more than $17 million Royce still owes its creditors:

When it comes to homebuilding, we understand that it is not just about making the customer happy. As the expert, we are committed to doing the little things of which the customer may not even be aware. . . .

And on the “Build on Your Lot” page:

It’s about trust.

Trusting your land and your dream home to a builder is a major decision. Placing your trust in the right builder is more than just a matter of choosing a builder who intends to please you. . . .

Does the builder have a reputation for delivering results?

Vestalia’s partners and builders have decades of experience in delivering excellence in homebuilding. Our team has “seen it all” and we understand the importance of communication in building a custom home. Our team’s track record speaks volumes.

Photo of unfinished entry, 18522 Arlan Lake Dr., for sale: Vestalia Homes