08/04/16 11:30am

NOVEL APPROACHES TO HOUSTON Downtown HoustonNoting the “daily clash” of old and new, local and immigrant, and very rich and very poor around these parts, “the tawdriness of those who control the city’s worst quarters,” and the density of terrific raw material for stories, Mimi Swartz wonders — as she considers 3 new novels set in the Bayou Citywhy Houston hasn’t served as the setting of more great fiction: “Anyone from Charles Dickens to Edith Wharton to Tom Wolfe would have or should have killed for the chance to take Houston on. And yet, so far, few have stepped up. The hands-down best novelist on Houston is Larry McMurtry; the best of his books set here — Moving On, All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, Terms of Endearment, and The Evening Star — evoke the place with affection and authority. But McMurtry’s last Houston book came out in 1992.” Worth mentioning since then: short stories by Antonya Nelson; a few scenes in Justin Cronin’s vampire trilogy, The Passage; Alicia Erian’s novel Towelhead; and thrillers by Attica Locke. Still, she notes, “with Houston, every writer is pretty much starting from scratch.” [Texas Monthly] Photo: faungg [license]

08/03/16 4:00pm

HOUSTON’S NEW OFFICIAL MESSAGE TO IMMIGRANTS: WELCOME, Y’ALL! Welcome to Houston sign, ChileLong derided by some illegal-immigration opponents as a “Sanctuary City,” Houston appears now to be rebranding itself to suit. The city’s Office of International Communities, along with 2 area nonprofits, are joining to label Houston an official “Welcoming City” for immigrants and refugees, focused on welcoming and integrating new Americans. In joining the nationwide Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative, Houston is joining such hotbeds of newcomer friendliness as Boise, Idaho; Crete, Nebraska, Salt Lake County, Utah; Dayton, Ohio; and Memphis, Tennessee (not to mention Austin, LA, NYC, Chicago, and other likely suspects). Participating community groups intend to create a plan for Houston to “improve the lives of immigrants moving to Houston” and present it to Mayor Turner in November. [City of Houston; Welcoming America] Photo of sign in Chile: Pipe Loyola M

02/16/16 1:15pm

Leather-clad real estate agent Paul Gomberg, perhaps best known for the sales video of that Champion Forest house filled with excrement that made the rounds back in early January, is now starring in a less nose-threatening video tour — this one of a squeaky-clean 2011 mansion on Lake Conroe. The punchline this time: a suit-and-tie-clad 11-year-old that Gomberg chaperons around the property, who ultimately leaves the contract-ready agent hanging on the steps of the house pending parental permission to close the deal.

The house at 12386 Tramonto Dr., which first went on the market in October of 2014 for $1.6 million, was dropped to just below $1.5 million on Tax Day in 2015, two weeks before an early May relisting. The asking price dropped again last July to the current $1.35 million.


Lake Conroe Listing Antics
07/13/15 4:15pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE ONLY 5 HOUSTON NEIGHBORHOODS YOU MEET ON TV NEWS Houston Neighborhoods on TV“It’s a balancing act. If they get too specific (address! intersection!) the newscasters know that the overwhelming majority of the metro which has no relation to that spot will tune out. If they are too vague (somewhere in the solar system!), once again they run the risk that the audience will feel no connection to the dateline location of the story and will also tune out. But there’s that sweet spot (southwest Houston!) where a large wedge of the viewing audience will think ‘I live/work/school sometimes in what I think of as southwest Houston’ and sit up and pay attention. Gotcha, TV viewers!” [slugline, commenting on What If Local Reporters Could Keep Their Houston Neighborhoods Straight?] Illustration: Lulu

07/10/15 1:00pm

WHAT IF LOCAL REPORTERS COULD KEEP THEIR HOUSTON NEIGHBORHOODS STRAIGHT? Screenshot of KHOU Report on Shooting in Independence Heights, HoustonMaybe by being more specific and accurate about the locations they describe, suggests Christopher Andrews, teevee news reporters could help Houston learn a little more about itself: “I sometimes wonder how much more we as citizens could learn about our cities if our local news media accurately described the neighborhoods in our cities. A shooting occurred in the Independence Heights neighborhood of Houston early Wednesday morning. Independence Heights is a neighborhood just north of Houston’s I-610 loop. It is home to what most claim was ‘Texas’ first self-governing African-American community.’ When Houston’s local news media covered the shooting, it was described as a shooting ‘in the Heights-area.‘ Would viewers not know where Independence Heights is located? Well, sure, it was near the Heights. But how close is near? Another outlet described it as ‘north Houston.’ Again, how far north of Downtown Houston is ‘north Houston’? Houston is a gigantic city, so north Houston should be more than a few miles from its center. The site of the shooting is approximately a half mile north of Houston’s I-610 loop, which serves as the northern border of what is known as the Houston Heights neighborhood. (To be technical, Sunset Heights is the subdivision name north of the Houston Heights proper.) This is part a further trend in Houston of simply attaching ‘-Heights’ to neighborhoods or developments in hope of invoking the charm of the Houston Heights proper. (I’m sure this can be said of many other neighborhoods in other cities as well.)” [Not of It] Screenshot: KHOU

06/16/15 11:45am

$150 HOUSE HEADED FOR THE MLS, EXPECTING MUCH HIGHER OFFERS 213 E. 23rd St., Houston HeightsHere’s the final tally for real estate agent Michael Wachs’s failed attempt to sell his Heights bungalow at 213 E. 23rd. St. for $150: After a flurry of late entries, the total number of essays-with-$150-application-fees came to more than 1000, though a slightly larger number of essays came in without any fees at all. Wachs and his family are now rich in heartfelt stories documenting the residential yearnings of strangers, but the total funds received were not enough to “make it work,” Wachs writes in a new note on the house-offer website. He’ll soon be listing the house on HAR at a much higher price, and accepting what he terms “traditional” offers, though he does encourage interested buyers to attach a “heartstrings” letter. A FAQ about fee refunds has been posted to the website as well. [$150 House; previously on Swamplot] Photo: $150 House.

06/12/15 1:45pm

COMMENT OF THE DAY: LET’S KEEP HOUSTON’S ODDBALL ORIGINALITY A LITTLE MORE ORIGINAL AND LOCAL, PLEASE Mythical Banana Bridge, Houston“Well, so much for the oddball originality that made Houston special. If you’re gonna rip off an idea, at least cover your house in wine corks or build an elaborate complex paying homage to the health benefits of bananas. Come on, people, you’re better than this.” [Amanda, commenting on Houstonians Are Attaching Their ‘Love Locks’ to Buffalo Bayou’s Rosemont Bridge] Illustration: Lulu

06/10/15 10:00am

$150 HOUSE SELLER EXPECTS TO REFUND 500 IDENTICAL OFFERS 213 E. 23rd St., Houston HeightsThe real estate agent who’s been trying to sell his Heights bungalow for $150 tells reporter Paul Takahashi that — barring an “incredible surge” of new applications and fees before the June 13 deadline — he’ll be refunding the approximately 500 $150 offer fees he’s received so far for the property. For now, he says, he’s organizing his emails to filter out the more than 1,500 essays he received from would-be homebuyers who somehow got the idea that Wachs would sell them the 2-bedroom, 1-bath property even if they didn’t submit the required fee from the 500 or so who followed his instructions. All that sorting is “a time-consuming and boring” task, he tells Takahashi. Wachs had hoped the application fees would add up to the unspecified amount between $265K and $550 he figures his family’s home at 213 E. 23rd St. is worth. [Houston Business Journal; previously on Swamplot] Photo: $150 House

06/05/15 10:30am

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO SELLING THIS HEIGHTS BUNGALOW FOR $150 213 E. 23rd St., Houston HeightsThree weeks since the announcement, and with a little more than a week remaining before the June 13 deadline, more than 2,000 essays have come in from would-be buyers requesting that Heights real estate agent Mark Wachs sell his Heights bungalow at 213 E. 23rd St. to them for one heartening reason or another. But writing in The Leader, Kim Hogstrom reveals a more curious development: The vast majority of the applicants either can’t or don’t want to follow Wachs’s instructions — or never bothered to look at them too closely. Only about 500 of the submitted 200-word essays came with the required $150 application fee. With enough fees coming in from also-rans, some fortunate buyer would be able to purchase the 2-bedroom, 1,056-sq.-ft., 2-bedroom, 1-bath bungalow for just $150 (plus title and closing costs) — and still allow Wachs to receive what he thinks the house is worth, which he hints is somewhere between $265K and $550K. On the website he set up for the offer, Wachs states that application fees will be refunded if he doesn’t end up with a buyer using this method; he also indicates he might extend the deadline. [The Leader; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Mark Wachs

05/14/15 12:30pm

HOW TO BUY A HOUSE IN THE HEIGHTS FOR $150 213 E. 23rd St., Houston HeightsOr just pay $150 and don’t get a house at all! No, there are no missing zeros or Ks in that sale price, but there is a catch: Real estate agent and Houston Heights resident Michael Wachs says he’s accepting offers until June 13th, each accompanied by a nonrefundable offer fee of $150, for his family’s 2-bedroom, 1-bath bungalow at 213 E. 23rd St. The decision of which one to accept, he indicates, will be made by judging the best 200-word essay that accompanies it, not the offer amount. The required essay, he writes, should explain “why we should sell the house to you,” but include no names or identifying information: “The fee is nonrefundable if we find a buyer via this process. If we do not, we will refund the offer fee.” (He’s also discouraging his family and friends from applying: “It just would be fishy if our parents happened to have the best essay,” he notes.) Included on the website he set up to explain the sale — along with a handy form for collecting email addresses for his real-estate business and a bit of encouragement to support some hearing-aid legislation now under consideration in the Texas House — are a few photos of the property, a sellers disclosure, inspection report, and mold remediation certificate. Why’s his family selling? “We had longterm plans to fix-up our little place or build on the lot, but our baby is now going to school across the city and we don’t want to deal with traffic. (It’s a very Houston reason to move.)” HCAD values the 1,056-sq.-ft., 1920 home with 2-car garage on a 5,300-sq.-ft. lot at $394,129. [$150 House] Photo: Terrence Foster  

05/12/15 1:30pm

TAKARA-SO COMPLEX BACK ON THE MARKET, THIS TIME WITH NEW UTH UPGRADE Takara-So Apartments, 1919 W. Main St., Dearborn Place, Montrose, HoustonIf you were thinking its purchase by a SoCal investment firm almost exactly 1 year ago meant the pseudo-Japanesee 1962 apartment complex at 1919 W. Main St. would be shielded from the evict-and-redevelop cycle for a few years, think again. Apartment Income Investors has put the Takara-So Apartments, which sit on most of the block surrounded by Hazard, W. Main, Colquitt, and McDuffie, back on the market — with a twist. Though on-site signs have not been changed, the complex is described as the Takara South Apartments in a sleek set of marketing materials produced by Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, the firm that’s marketing the 77-unit, 10-building, 1.22-acre property once owned by Allen Stanford. Why unload the storied complex now? So much has happened in a Montrose year: There’s that $2.05 million jump in the property’s tax appraisal. And maybe some profits to be made: Though no asking price is listed, included comps indicate the sellers are likely aiming for offers between $8 and $10.8 million. The purchase price was listed on company documents as $5.51 million. [LoopNet; previously on SwamplotPhoto: Newmark Grubb Knight Frank