Comment of the Day: 2 One-Way Trajectories for Houston Townhome Development

COMMENT OF THE DAY: 2 ONE-WAY TRAJECTORIES FOR HOUSTON TOWNHOME DEVELOPMENT Looming Townhomes” . . . The big concern that I have about townhomes is that perhaps about 15 to 30 years out, and as they start to show their age in the predictable ways (never mind the less predictable ways that relate to the regional economy or transportation), that some individual owners in fee simple arrangements will shirk repairs and bring down entire clusters or neighborhoods. They are different from condo regimes in that way, but also in another: fractured land ownership and deed restrictions make redevelopment and land use change basically impossible. Forever. It’s possible that state laws and municipal ordinances would change to cope with things, or that Houston will become so affluent as to render the concern moot, but I see it as a risk.” [TheNiche, commenting on Raising the Bar for Upscale Housing; A New Hospital for Galveston] Illustration: Lulu

23 Comment

  • I truly hate the town homes that have been put up everywhere. They really aren’t good for young families or old people (3 flights). They are basically just crash pads for people who don’t care about private green space.

  • Also, what is the point of making the town homes so big when there’s no parking for adult family or roommates and people sell them pretty much immediately as soon as their kids are old enough to walk and explore a backyard space, get fresh air, etc. No town home needs more than 1,500 feet given what it will be used for by the target audience. They are just the urban equivalent of a suburban McMansion – gaudy and ridiculous.

  • How would that be any different than any other non-deed restricted community with stand alone housing? The Heights is a mixture of decently kept up homes and tetanus death traps.

  • I disagree. At least within the Inner Loop, townhomes are pricey and you still have to be pretty well off to own one. Plus, the trend is that they’re knocking down old, badly maintained house to build new townhomes. I haven’t seen poorly maintained townhomes. It’s usually single family houses that are really badly maintained. I guess if there’s more rental conversion then maybe…

  • Wake up and smell the demolition dust, people!
    Crappy construction is good for Houston.
    It promises cycles of re-development as time goes by. Get on the band-wagon now, by buying one of these houses of cards. Join forces for planned obsolescence!

  • I have a 3 story free standing house in North Montrose. The 3 flights thing is no problem… elevator. There’s just 2 of us in 3400 square feet plus a rooftop terrace. We bought this place so we could have an entire floor just for a bar/party area with its own bedroom for people who have too many drinks. Also, our parents can come live here In the extra bedrooms when they get old. It’s a fantastic location , we don’t even have to use a car on the weekends. Since this is a brand new house with good insulation our electric bill is the same as our old 1500sf place. I even have enough extra storage room in the house so that I can use the garage to park my cars and not look trashy with cars in the driveway. The driveway has spac for two guests and there is plenty of on street parking too. OK, now bring on the hate everyone. 😀

  • They will obviously age but I don’t see the well located townhomes ever being an issue. As the city continues to grow (and it will despite the slowdown), the inner loop will become even more luxurious and urban than it already is.

  • Townhomes are so pervasive inside the loop because they serve a market need – they allow middle- and middle-upper class buyers to get into the neighborhoods they want without spending $1+ million. Surprised by some of the complaints here. Not everyone wants or needs a yard or parking for 4+ cars, especially if you’re in an urban area with parks and public transportation nearby. More and more new townhomes put all the living spaces on the ground floor and bedrooms on second floor. Families who move on from them do so because of the schools more so than the stairs. Townhomes may get run down overtime, but the same can be said for single-family suburban housing, apartment complexes, or many other housing types. 90% of the time they replace dilapidated structures anyways.

  • @Jgriff – Glad you’re making it work. Most people sell their town homes when they get kids. Sure, there are hardcore exceptions but most move out and most do not have elevators or decent nearby green space. So we have a huge volume of housing stock that is essentially for people whose big priority is a good party layout – as I mentioned above. There is a ticking time bomb as the younger folks who bought town homes are now looking for more traditional houses without an endless supply of younger people to purchase the town homes they are selling and needing to make profits on to afford the move to a traditional house.

  • Location is important in Houston, maybe more so than in other cities. Look at the area around the public housing complex on the West side of downtown. I think it’s called Alan Parkway Village. There are some badly maintained townhomes in that area. Move over a few blocks and things get much better.

  • Townhome clusters get bought out all the time. Trammell Crow bought out a set of pretty new townhomes to construct the apartment complex on Yale. Some of the first growth townhomes in the Montrose area have been bought out and demoed for redevelopment. When townhome developments get long in the tooth and fall into disrepair, residents are happy to take an offer from a developer and get out of Dodge. Developers do not need some magical deed restriction smasher from the legislature to be able to redevelop an old set of townhomes. Once they buy up all the units, they take over the HOA and vote out the deed restrictions. Remember that Greenway Plaza sits atop where a deed restricted single family neighborhood used to be.

  • @Jason, if you’re being taxed on 3400, you should protest. HCAD says it’s 3039.

  • I don’t begrudge people for choosing a house that work for them and their lifestyles. But can we please acknowledge that it’s not real Density that they’re building with these townhomes. In many cases the townhome developments are actually no more dense than the single family homes they replace. And in some cases, where townhomes have replaced older apartment complexes, the new development is actually less dense.
    It’s really the appearance of density that is the goal with these new developments: three buildings built up to the lot line with broad pleasant sidewalks; ahem, street level retail…. It’s not density in terms of people per square mile. And that’s important because we’re told that to get better transit connections we need to have higher density in our neighborhoods. More people means better ridership on transit right? Maybe not really, if we watch the areas with townhomes….

  • @Grant, the townhouses in Montrose are not cheap. Two doors down from me, the builder bought for around $500K a cute bungalow that had just been fixed up, tore it down, and took a year and a half to build two THs that sold for over $900K each.

  • @ commonsense: That’s a valid counterpoint and the very same thought had crossed my mind too; some neighborhoods become so affluent that they’re economically insulated from a random dispersion of crappy housing and bad neighbors throughout them. I think that its likely that that will eventually happen with the East End’s patchwork of single-family neighborhoods the same as it has for the Heights and Montrose.

    Townhome enclaves strike me as subject to additional risk factors, though:

    First and foremost is density, because you’re just as likely to have bad neighbors as anywhere else but the proximity between you and everybody else and the bad neighbor(s) is diminished. Let’s say that you have an especially high tolerance for the human condition and don’t personally care, but you think that your neighbors are more likely to sell or that buyers are less likely to buy…well, that’s a slippery slope; if your hypothesis is correct then you should start caring and you should sell before everybody else realizes what’s happening. As that sort of turnover begins, the demographic mix becomes more heterogeneous and the process accelerates.

    Second, I would hypothesize that anything that can be inferred as an unintentional difference between any one of a set of mostly-identical units reflects poorly on all of them. By contrast, most single-family neighborhoods have a similar but heterogeneous housing stock and if one of them looks especially good or bad, that doesn’t reflect on other people. This could be something as simple as a fresh coat of paint on one townhome and not the others…or it could be a lot worse. Do you really want to be an owner of a single fee-simple shotgun shack where any of the others in that row have taped-up windows? No. But space them out a bit, change them up slightly, and having one house on the street with taped up windows would be…tolerable, I think. Seems to be in a lot of places.

    Third, consider that crappy housing stock built long ago is MOSTLY not around anymore. Entire neighborhoods can get plowed under and be redeveloped. Freedmen’s Town is a really good example of that as an accelerated process, but get onto Google Earth and load the imagery from the 40s and 50s in Houston and just gaze upon the density of homes that don’t exist anymore or that are a patchwork. What is now left over from back then is mostly the good stuff. Good stuff and bad stuff has been built in every era and I’m not about to jump on the bandwagon and claim that all of these townhomes are poorly-built, but a lot of them have been and/or will be improperly maintained for long stints as they age. I won’t cite Urban Living because they are a brokerage outfit, but anybody remember Waterhill? There will come a time when the crappy housing stock really ought to be plowed-under and even where the good stock may warrant a change in land use or density if the land is sizable enough to bother with, but I don’t know what’ll happen with the townhomes. Casualty loss will also take a certain toll over time. What happens when that happens and a townhome enclave is past its prime?

    Fourth, as some have demonstrated here (kind of surprisingly), is that many or most people neither read their closing docs or fully understand the implications thereof or how their circumstances compare to the rest of the marketplace. Townhomes may look like a commodity, but they are not a commodity.

    The bottom line is these appear to be long-term risk factors. They probably shouldn’t be too much of a concern if you’re a buyer with a five-or-ten-year time horizon for ownership, but maybe it should be a consideration for long-term buyers and for public planning purposes. I’m also not saying that it will necessarily end poorly, only that it might sometimes; but also, the East End is likely to have the greatest number of the largest of these enclaves and that’s a risk factor too at more of a community level.

  • Take a drive down Stanford or Taft; from W Dallas to W Gray, and tell me you don’t see 3 story town homes in disrepair, and those aren’t more than 5-7 years old. Seriously open your eyes and look around, as a long time resident my old (former) brick home from 1936 will still be there in 10 years looking virtually the same, seen many a hurricane, many a flood, still there looking regal, you won’t say the same about a shoddily built stucco monstrosity, given time.

  • I like this comment. I moved from a townhouse situation where the homes and grounds were being poorly maintained. I even joined the HOA while I was there to try and get some improvements and deferred maintenance taken care of. I was overridden and soon realized that everyone was only in it for the short term gain in their wallets and not the long term health of the community. After I sold and moved the HOA fees were cut to almost nothing. I really feel for that group of homes in the next 10-20 years. Hell, they are only 7-8 years old and already having lots of issues; leaking roofs, windows, stucco cracking, rusting perimeter fence, constantly malfunctioning entrance gates, etc, etc.. I live in a single family home now and am so happy that I am in charge of all of the maintenance and repairs. I don’t ask anyone, except my wife, if I want to fix up and maintain my home.

  • These townhomes have potential, but Houston has got to relax minimum parking requirements at least in certain neighborhoods. Wall off the garage and turn it into living space, knock out the driveway and bring back the on-street parking (covered front porch addition optional), and suddenly things start looking a lot less oppressive on the street level. As property values rise, eventually many of these homes can be subdivided into 2 or 3 family homes, and then you’ve got some REAL urban density cooking.

  • Also, not every young couple is going to flee to the burbs as soon as they have kids. I have zero intention of moving my kids out there. Schools in town will improve as more and more families stick around.

  • @ Old School–thanks for taking the long view of things.
    @ those who say people with kids move out when the babies come, true. But you forget that inside the loop many many townhomes are occupied by gay and lesbian couples who don’t worry about the schools or green space and will be there a while as long as the neighborhood infrastructure of shopping/dining/drinking establishments is good.
    @ ZAW–less dense? Seriously? Yeah, there’s a few places where some old 2 story garden apartments got plowed under to make room for a 6 pack of townhomes, but there’s many more areas where old single story homes of 900~1200 square feet were removed from a 60’x100′ lot and turned into a townhome complex. So now you have perhaps 10 to 14 people living on the same land that housed an elderly couple in their 70’s.
    I do see a situation that Niche proposes where the economy turns south for an extended period of time and people who have lost their jobs walk away from their townhome and the new bank owners can’t unload it and it sits empty. Happened with condos in Houston in the mid-80’s. I hope we won’t see it again, but there’s always the possibility.

  • @GoogleMaster: That’s not me.

  • Commenter: They don’t seem to fit your needs, but obviously there is a market demand for them given they’re being built/sold.

  • 40-50 years from now we’ll see pockets of decay due to shoddy, poorly kept townhouses around Washington, Montrose, Eado probably. The people who have bought them aren’t likely loyal enough to stand and resist poor maintenance around them, units becoming rentals around them or the most powerful element of change, professionals fleeing when lower-income people begin to move in. If Inner Loop land values hold or climb until then then most will be easily dozed for highrises. But there’s no guarantee that the Inner Loop will remain hot. Coffee shops and the whole hipster/urban culture has a lot of fad in it and generations to come might see the suburbs as way more attractive than a bunch of crummy townhouses like where their parents once lived.