Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate: The Official 2013 Ballot

This is it, folks. We’ve reached the final ballot in the final category of the 2013 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. The award for the Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate is meant to separate those events that are especially noteworthy from those that were simply headline-worthy.

The nominees came from your suggestions. Now, we need you to pick the winner! Vote by adding a comment below or by email, Facebook, or Twitter. You can vote using all 4 methods — if you follow these rules. Tell us which of the following nominees represents the greatest moment in Houston real estate. And then tell us why.

Here are the nominees:


Demolition of Former Foley's and Macy's Building, 1100 Main St., Downtown Houston

1. Foley’s Falls. September 22nd. Houston’s last remaining downtown department store — since 2006 known as Macy’s went down in a cloud of smoke after a series of loud Sunday morning dynamite charges. The 10-story, 791,000-sq.-ft. all-but-windowless building was designed by Kenneth Franzheim for the block bounded by Main, Travis, Dallas, and Lamar 66 years ago, but suddenly it was a plume-of-dust-covered heap of bricks. The department store had announced its March shutdown at the start of the year. A structure once lauded as a model of postwar retail efficiency (PDF) quickly became a symbol of downtown redevelopment efficiency: Building owner Hilcorp now plans to build a 23-story headquarters building for itself on the site, which fronts the Main St. light-rail line.



2. Voters reject Harris County’s Bond Proposal to Renovate the Astrodome. November 5th. There were so many deliciously absurd Astrodome moments to choose from this year, it seems unfair to be forced to pick just one. There was the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation’s declaration of a deadline for private bids to redevelop the Astrodome when it hadn’t bothered first to request any; its decision to reject all submissions — which were restricted to private funding sources — in favor of its own publicly funded proposal; the demo work — excuse us: “improvements” — scheduled to begin before the public vote on the landmark’s future; the carnival-like pre-election sale and auction of stadium seating, turnstiles, and interior fixtures; and the late-night detonation of the Astrodome’s add-on ramp towers, which had made the upper decks wheelchair accessible. Alas, this is an award for great moments, so we’ll have to stick to just one: Any way you slice (or detonate) it, the failure of the $217 million bond measure that would have created a “New Dome Experience” was the biggie. Were voters rejecting any redevelopment efforts for the long-vacant stadium, or just the county’s continued bungling of the process? And how will we remember this moment, once the Dome is gone — or given a new life?


Sold Sign, Pearland, Texas3. The moment between listing a property and getting a contract on it. All year. “That ‘moment’ might’ve only affected the buyer and seller, but it happened everyday all day all over Houston all year! Looking for a new home over this past year, I had to check HAR’s website daily. Often the same day something went on the market, a showing was scheduled immediately and an offer made; then word would come that there are 5 other offers, and then you’ve got to wait to see if you got it! Several times I didn’t get it, until finally I offered many thousands of dollars over the asking price. I got my house within 12 hours of it going on the market. A month later, I put a sign up in my yard, showed the house 8 times before dinner, took one of many offers that was shockingly over my asking price and that set a new record for my block, and walked around for days with a huge grin of disbelief on my face. The dust and smell from the Foley’s demolition wafted into my open Midtown windows for longer than the time it took to sell that home!”


Collapsed Townhomes, 103-117 E. 2nd St., Houston Heights

4. Heights Blvd. townhomes collapse overnight. April 27th. They were on their way up one second, but gone the next. A couple of under-construction 4-story stick-framed townhomes on Heights Blvd. at E. 2nd St. straight-up topple and tumble into a spectacular woodpile. Was a big bad wolf to blame? The Keystone Classic Homes construction was a project of on-probation former Astrodome overseer Michael Surface. Fingers were quickly pointed at a storm that reportedly moved through the area earlier that night — a story the developer also stuck to, though others near the site hadn’t noticed anything especially gusty. The quick toppling ended up setting construction back about a week on the so-called Madison Park townhomes, both collapsed units of which had already been sold.


Urban Living, 5023 Washington Ave., Houston5. Urban Living sues a former customer — and loses. November 19th. Going after former clients who end up buying properties through other brokers after first signing a buyer representation agreement with Urban Living wasn’t a tough call for the Washington Ave real estate firm — it was how the company went about collecting a fair number of commissions. But Christopher Drummond claimed he didn’t understand what he was signing when the agreement was put in front of him, and complained his Urban Living agent never told him about the Magnolia Grove townhouse development he ultimately bought into through a competing agency. When the parent company behind Urban Living sued him for approximately $13,000 in commissions and lost bonuses, Drummond refused to settle. After testimony from a wide range of witnesses — including Urban Living owner Vinod Ramani, who told opposing attorneys he’d “spend $1,000 to collect $1” — a jury found that Urban Living had failed to comply with its own promises in the agreement, and ordered the real-estate firm to pay Drummond more than $150,000 to cover his legal fees.


Stop Ashby Highrise Signs, Southampton, Houston

6. Jury sides with neighbors in the Ashby Highrise case. December 17th. $1,661,993.62. That’s how much the jury awarded in damage claims to 20 of the 30 Southampton-area households that entered into the lawsuit against the developers of the 21-story apartment tower planned for 1717 Bissonnet. The developers would only be liable for payments if they go ahead with the project, but neighbors are hoping to prevent that next, with an injunction from the judge. Was the verdict another example of a wealthy neighborhood’s ability to rejigger longstanding development rules, a long-awaited rebalancing of power in the redevelopment game, a decision that’ll rattle developers for years to come, or all 3? Calling any final ruling based on that verdict a harbinger of “a dark era for urban growth and economic prosperity,” Buckhead Investment Partners says it plans to appeal.


Quitman/Near Northside Station, North Line, Houston

7. Metro’s North Line extension opens. December 21st. Once trains can ride continuously from the Fannin South station south of the 610 Loop to Northline Commons north of it, the Main St. Red Line’s Sam’s Club-to-Walmart manifest destiny will have been achieved. Crews have been working for this moment all year. The first expansion of Houston’s light-rail system in its 10-year history is a big deal, but it’ll be an even bigger deal when 2 new east-west lines open next year.


Aerial View of New Grand Parkway Segment E, Texas Hwy. 99 Between I-10 and Hwy. 290, Katy, Texas

8. The Grand Parkway connects Cypress to Katy. December 21st. Sure, it’s mostly Katy Prairie habitat around there now, but give it a few years to see what kind of sprawl blossoms along this 15-mile stretch of 4-lane tollway. The concrete and EZ Tag system are brand new, but segment E of the Grand Parkway has some history . . . um, underneath it too! The Katy Mills Mall–to–Houston Premium Outlets expressway opens this weekend.


A big round of applause, please, for all of these hard-working contestants. Now tell us: Which moment was greatest? Voting ends for this and all other categories on December 27th at 5 pm. Get your votes in now!

Images: Christof Spieler (Foley’s); Jefferson Noxon (Foley’s video) The Sam Team (sign); Swamplot inbox (Madison Park townhomes, Ashby Highrise signs, Quitman Station); Russell Hancock (Astrodome); New Dome PAC (Astrodome video); Vinod Ramani (Urban Living); Hennessey Performance (Grand Parkway segment E)

The 2013 Swampies

38 Comment

  • So many great moments. I’ll vote for #5 Urban living. I think the greatest impact to Houston is #2, the funniest is #4, and the one that I constantly shake my head in disbelief at is #2.

  • I vote for dome bungling. Oh, and correspondingly, I WON’T be voting for Ed Emmett next election.

  • 5. Urban Living sues a former customer — and loses

    That’s using the definition of “greatest” as in the best – not necessarily the most consequential.

  • I vote for #5, Urban Living. I’d run far far away if a buyer’s agent asked me to sign an agreement. While Mr. Drummond, should have read his agreement before signing it, I completely understand how unnerving it can be when you are buying your house that you completely and utterly trust your agent who should have your best interests in mind.
    Coupled with Urban Living’s slimeball lawyer who proudly proclaimed that he’d spend an obscene amount of money just to recoup some chump change, how could anyone muster up an ounce of support for such a villainous, spiteful plaintiff? It’s also extremely infuriating to see people comment that they settled with Urban Living because they were similarly bullied and threatened. Seeing the jury award Mr. Drummond a settlement was incredibly self-satisfying.
    For me, runner’s up would be #3 (moment from listing to contract) and #2 (dome). I think #3 is a wonderful attestation to the booming/stable Houston Real Estate market. It held its own during the recession and took off in 2012 only to go completely off the rails in 2013. I don’t envy those who were trying to find a home this year (and I actually get a bit anxious hearing how cutthroat the buyers market became). As for #2, the voters voted, but since then, people continue to revive this behemoth. Totally ridiculous. I see this one being a forerunner for something in 2014 but not necessarily under the moniker of “greatest.”

  • #5, please. Just ’cause it was so damn satisfying.

  • I’m going to say the Dome on this one but these are all GREAT nominees.

  • Get Ashby High (on the ballot)! #6

  • I’m voting #7!

    The Dome fiasco has certainly been the mess of the year., I’ve been watching the Ashby fight with amusement and growing detachment since I was at Rice, so it’s interesting to see things take this turn, and I was downtown drinking coffee and eating pastries provided by Cherry Demolition during the Macy’s Implosion and the ensuing ten minutes of apocalyptic dust, but the thing that gets me most excited about the future of Houston (or at the very least the inner loop) is increasing transit coverage. I never thought I’d see the day that a new line actually opens!

  • Count me in for #5– the Urban Living Comeuppance.
    Yeah the guy should have read it better, but if you represent someone you have a fiduciary duty. That’s real, man. That means don’t be a cheezy sleazeball.

  • I vote #4 because I took that picture. I also have learned a lot about Houston real estate this year from that incident and from Swamplot itself.

  • The Greatest? Well, 1 and 2 were big, but not good. Gonna go with 5.

  • #5 and I quote Progg : “#5, please. Just ’cause it was so damn satisfying.”

  • #2 Astrodome

  • #8. Grand Parkway. This is the most important thing to happen to this city since the Rockets moved from San Diego.

  • #5 Urban Living fail. Congratulations to Urban Living owner Vinod Ramani, who exceeded his own expectations. His company paid out more than $150,000 to cover the defendant’s legal fees and collected zero. Far better than his comment to opposing attorneys that he’d “spend $1,000 to collect $1”.

  • #5, Urban Living. Great way to make your customers into your enemy.

  • Let’s see if we can narrow this down. Foleys/Macys was an event, perhaps the end of an era, but not particularly unusual, as often chronicled on this site. The Dome story, which most thought would be the “end of the line”, turns out to be something completely different. Urban Living got its comeuppance, but similar stupidity exists in the Houston real estate market and is rarely dealt with. And the only thing we can count on in the Ashby story is that it will be in the courts for years.

    My focus turns to number 3, the generally overheated Houston residential market. Doesn’t every homeowner in town personally know someone who had an experience just like the nominator? Or better yet, got the knock on the door, greeted a potential buyer who told them to name a “stupid” price, and found themselves moving out six weeks later! Problem is, some folks are going think this is “normal”, and be shocked when it goes away! So my vote is number 3 (but I can offer 3.2, if we can close in two weeks).

  • 7. Metro’s North Line extension opens

  • #2 The Dome. This vote will be written into the Houston history books.

  • #7 Metro

    I was undecided until I read:

    “Red Line’s Sam’s Club-to-Walmart manifest destiny will have been achieved.”

    I nearly spit my coffee out, haha

  • #6 – no question. That verdict is the greatest moment in real estate in Houston’s history.

  • #5 for sure. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer plaintiff; schadenfreude at its finest. I have mixed feelings about #6.

  • I think there is absolutely no way that the Ashby damages survive on appeal. Think about it – what if the development actually causes the value of those homeowners’ lots to appreciate? Will the homeowners have to pay the developer?

    I just don’t think the law is on the side of the residents on this one. It would make for very bad public policy because it would be anti-growth, and we all know that Texas law is very pro-growth.

  • Number five for sure. It’s amazing.

  • Doomsday for the Dome.

  • It is tempting to vote for Ashby, but the ultra conservative/pro-business court of appeals will shoot it down and probably strike down nuisance law as violating Texans’ right to bear arms (serious about the former, not the latter).

    I think the Grand Parkway is the biggest story, but in a sleeper kind of way. People did not rally to oppose the Grand Parkway the way they did the Trans Texas Corridor because it just seemed to far out to attract much development. But, Houston’s housing inventory is at critically low levels with very little cheap and easy land left to develop. Thus, this is the beginning of uber-sprawl. A kind of urban sprawl that will one day have us look back lovingly on the days when Cypress seemed like the boonies. There will be a massive crescent of suburbia outside of Beltway 8 that will quickly fill up what little room will be added in expansion work on 290, I-10 and I-45.

  • #5 Urban Living


  • I think #4 should win, but for best demolition. How often does a structure demo itself?

  • #5, for sure.

  • Definitely #5 Urban Living. Shows the true colors of many real estate companies in Houston.

  • 6.) Ashby High Rise Lawsuit…….Jury sides with Residents

    The Ashby High Rise battle continues. It’s been a multi year struggle between the local residents and the developer. The locals continued to go forth in battle to hamper or eliminate this project. This court victory shows that the proposed high rise will damage property values in the adjacent area. Maybe this is just another speed bump for the development, but so far the locals have been winning this war. Winning = no vertical construction on the Ashby High Rise and the defense of “quasi defacto zoning” in Houston.

  • Voters rejecting the dome proposal.

  • #7 Metro Rail