COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SECRET LONELINESS OF THE ‘CHEF’S KITCHEN’ “It seems like the standard marketing protocol in homes like this is to always refer to the kitchen as a ‘cook’s kitchen’ or ‘chef’s kitchen.’ Maybe I’m just being pedantic, but a home cook/chef really doesn’t need all of the bells and whistles (48-in. gas range with double ovens, huge built-in fridge, pot filler, 2 dishwashers, prep sink, wine fridge, etc.) to produce a great end result for (presumably) just their own family. It’s almost like saying, ‘If you don’t have a kitchen like this, you must not be a very serious cook!’ I know it’s just salesmanship, but rubs me the wrong way nonetheless.
That, and I think deep down inside that there might be a little bit of an inverse relationship between the price tag of the kitchen and the amount of cooking that actually gets done in them. It’s kind of like calling a four-car garage a ‘mechanic’s dream’ even though it’s really most likely that it’s going to be holding a couple decades’ worth of crap that no one wants to get rid of. Maybe a car or two.” [Balthazar, commenting on Houston Home Listing Photo of the Day: Eat in Kitchen] Illustration: Lulu
RICHMOND MANNEQUIN MANSION NOW HAS A FAN PAGE, REGULAR DRIVE-BYS, AND LOOKY-LOOS, BUT NO BUYER YET More than 3 million people have now viewed the listing for the 5-bedroom gated home at 4302 Colony West Dr. — a bit of an uptick from the 200 or so per week its real estate agent, Diana Power, says typically look up one of her less unusual home offerings. But this 2-acre property on Jones Creek has a bit more going on in its photos. Sandy Walsh, the Richmond jewelry and clothing designer and artist behind the tchochke-, mannequin-, and set-piece-stunt-filled 5-bedroom home, has now done 3 teevee interviews to show off her handiwork and stand up to viewer insults (“Don’t just hate it and think it’s creepy . . . take a second look.”); she’s also started a Facebook fan page for the property, which she regularly populates with jarring closeups of its done-up mannequin residents. Law enforcement officers, writes Chronicle reporter Emily Foxhall, have been alerted to “the issue of curious people driving past” the home. “It requires time to take everything in,” Foxhall notes. “Some potential buyers have wanted the mannequins included,” Powers tells her, “but Walsh does not plan to part with them all.” The asking price remains at $1,275,000. [Houston Chronicle ($); previously on Swamplot] Photo of 4302 Colony West Dr.: HAR
The landscaping promised for the courtyard area that doubles as a driveway in back of the newly expanded and renovated home at 707 Euclid St. in Woodland Heights is now installed. We know this because a Swamplot reader was kind enough to send in the above photo of the scene. It provides an update to the photos in the listing (below), which show only unplanted planting beds in the driveway, before the most recent additions:
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The HAR listing for the home at 5116 Avenue H in the Second Ward, for sale for $99,990, identified the property’s subdivision as MEX Y CAN. Which seemed notable enough in the rapidly changing neighborhood for the curious name to appear as discussion fodder yesterday on Reddit. The subdivision name is accurate, appearing on county tax records: The property’s developer was required to give a name to the subdivision when the single 5,000-sq.-ft. lot on which it stood (at the time part of a subdivision named Engel) was divided into thirds last year, in order to allow him to sell off individually the 3 existing homes on the property. “Actually no one had any comments [on the name] at the time of replatting,” the developer notes.
MEX Y CAN, the name he assigned to the subdivision, “is for the name Mexican and (Y in Spanish) Canadian,” he explains to Swamplot. “The love of my life is Mexican and I am Canadian. . . . There is no other meaning or significance behind it.” The motivation for choosing this particular name? “Having myself, the love of my life, and our desire to be memorialized in the area for eternity like our love.”
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THE INVENTION OF UPPER KIRBY Among Houston’s grids, strips, and cul de sacs, let a million neighborhoods bloom! Perhaps the story of how the area around upper Kirby Dr. came to be known as Upper Kirby can form some sort of template for this city’s vast numbers of undifferentiated districts just waiting to be branded? “We weren’t Greenway Plaza, we weren’t Montrose, we weren’t Rice Village,” Upper Kirby Management District deputy director Travis Younkin tells reporter Nicki Koetting. It was a section of town that lacked identity. “This nameless neighborhood, Koetting adds, “was the sort of place you drove through on the way to other, named neighborhoods.” One helpful step along the way: Planting the shopping areas with red phone booths. “The authentic British phone booths are an homage to Upper Kirby’s acronym, and actually operated as phone booths for a few decades until cellphones became the norm,” Koetting notes. “Now, the telephone booths are lit from within and locked, serving today as a visual indication to visitors that they’ve arrived in Houston’s own UK.” [Houstonia] Photo: WhisperToMe
STILL SELLING A LITTLE PLACE IN THE BIG CITY “In 15 months of reporting on Houston’s suburbs and exurbs,” writes Mike Snyder, “I’ve heard this phrase again and again, usually uttered in a tone of wistful nostalgia. It’s often cited as a vital civic asset that’s at risk in rapidly growing cities such as Pearland that really were small towns within some residents’ lifetimes.” And it hits the print regularly too, he says: “A search for the phrase ‘small-town feel’ in the Chronicle‘s digital archives yielded 245 hits. Most were articles about real estate projects that used the phrase as a marketing tool. They carried headlines such as “Bay Oaks: Resort-style living with a small-town feel” and “Creekside Village will create a small-town feel.” [Houston Chronicle ($)] Photo: Stanford via Swamplot Flickr Pool
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHEN THEY MOVE THE NEIGHBORHOOD TO SELL THE HOME “I think the branding is more about attracting people to an open house. Future buyers scanning online listings are going skip right past something that says Fifth Ward, but might give a second glance at something labeled EaDo (bars! restaurants! sports!). Then, if you get them to look at the place, that’s when you hard sell. And homebuyers and renters for the most part don’t really care about neighborhood designations. I certainly think it’s disrespectful to the histories of these neighborhood and like most gentrification issues there’s undertones of racism and classism. But I’ve met a lot of people who live in GOOF, Shady Acres, Timbergrove, etc., and if you ask where they live, they just say ‘The Heights‘ —either for shorthand or because they don’t even know their neighborhood’s name.” [Pitts, commenting on Renaming Acres Homes; Bringing Back Curbside Glass Recycling] Illustration: Lulu
Note: Story updated below.
A couple of days after a lawyer from Zillow sent McMansion Hell author Kate Wagner a letter demanding she take down from her website all the images of homes she’d ever found on the real estate listings aggregator site and artfully marked up with satirical commentary, an attorney from the Electronic Freedom Foundation has responded with an artful letter on Wagner’s behalf and a blog post of its own. (And it’s perhaps worth noting that in creating the delightful graphic above to illustrate its no-can-do response to Zillow’s threat to sue, the foundation itself chose to work from a Creative Commons image.) Writes EFF’s Daniel Nazer: “Using humor and parody, Wagner tries to illustrate the architectural horror of modern McMansions. . . . Importantly, Zillow does not own, and cannot assert, the copyright in these photos. But even if it could, McMansion Hell’s annotation of photographs for the purpose of criticism and commentary is a classic example of fair use.”
So what’s the fallout?
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Fair McMansion Use
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE REAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TOWNHOME AND A PATIO HOME “I see you crossed out townhouse and wrote patio home. So just what makes it a patio home? Does a 4 x 6 ft. space outside constitute a patio? Are all town-homes devoid of outdoor space?” [icerad, commenting on If You Like the Idea of Living Upstairs from Kay’s Lounge, Here’s the Next Best Thing] Illustration: Lulu
‘666 GET OUT’ HOUSE DRAWS IN A BUYER ANYWAY The 3-bedroom, 2-bath house up in Longview, TX, listed with spooky pronouncements like “666” and “GET OUT” smeared into the veneer of dirt in its kitchen (as recently seen on Swamplot’s Home Listing Photo of the Day feature) — was sold last week “to a buyer over the phone who had never seen the property in person, just the online listing,” Heather Leighton of the Chronicle reports. The cryptic messages, which turned out to be pretty killer marketing, were put in place by the previous owners to deter break-ins. Although seller Amy Tabor of H5 Auction and Realty says the writing initially creeped her out, it did not deter her from selling the house to the highest bidder at last Monday’s auction (which started at $2,500). The company’s Facebook note about the home, which made no secret of the property’s decaying, peeling “fixer upper” conditions, simply urged buyers to “channel your inner Joanna Gaines” —- and received 88 percent more action than a normal post for the company. [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 642 Sylvan Dr.: HAR
Sure, nervous economists and friends, go ahead and fret about how the coming robot revolution is likely to decimate the availability of middle-class jobs. But the likely wide-ranging effects of technological change are notoriously difficult to predict. For example, after viewing the dramatic promotional video above, which brings to the treed expanse of a 0.78-acre vacant lot in The Woodlands the full power of remote-controlled robot-camera cinematic glory, does another possibility come to mind? With this marriage of drone footage, music-video-intro aesthetics, desktop video software, and soundtrack punch, has a Woodlands-area real estate agent stumbled upon the secret to unleashing desires hidden deep inside us all . . . to feed a new vacant land boom?
As delicate orchestral swells matched to lingering aerial pans and zooms tug at our emotions and the full majesty of 67 N. Glenwild Cir. (conveniently located between The Woodlands Preparatory School and the entry gate to the Club at Carlton Woods Creekside) comes into view, can we imagine a new — dare we dream? — vacant-lot-buying frenzy, the wider availability of new technologies enabling craftily orchestrated drone footage to surround and tempt us, and transforming this once dowdy sector?
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Flyover Country, The Woodlands
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOUSTON NEEDS A NEW T-SHIRT “. . . LA and New York marketers just don’t know enough about Houston or don’t bother to learn more. They just hear ‘Houston’ and queue up the rocket launch. This might have been magnified by the rumor that PR firms in Houston were overlooked to market the Super Bowl. But maybe now that the elites have seen Houston thanks to the Super Bowl that will change. It is like when you tell your great-aunt you like Lord of the Rings when you are 12 and so she buys you LOTR T-Shirts for the next 20 years.” [rex, commenting on Taking on the ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’ Problem]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: Y’ALL NOT TALKING ABOUT THAT DUCT TAPE SOLUTION HOUSTON CAME UP WITH TO FIX THAT PROBLEM WE HAD “‘Problem solved, crisis ended, astronauts saved,’ should be the answer the world should know. ‘Houston’ — actually JSC — solved the problem, saving the astronauts on Apollo 13.” [Blake, commenting on Taking on the ‘Houston, We Have a Problem’ Problem] Photo of device installed in-flight on Apollo 13 using duct tape, maps, and other materials on hand: NASA