Your votes have been tallied. Now here’s the moment you’ve almost been waiting for! That’s right: It’s time to announce the second-place winners of the 2012 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate!
But first, a note of thanks — to all of you who voted, commented, nominated, campaigned, and cajoled in support of your favorite candidates. You made this extended moment of reflection, recognition, and honor possible. The Swampies belong to you!
You know what they say about runners-up: Should the actual award winners (they’ll be announced in a later post) be unable to fulfill their duties for any reason, these second-place winners will be ready and willing to serve! Let’s have a big round of digital applause, please, for the 2012 runners-up in the Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate — the Swampies!
1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Second-place winner: The Sago Palm.
The nomination: “Ubiquitous, indestructible, smelly, and poisonous. They’re the ugly equalizer — you find them in every neighborhood: old and new, Inner Loop and far-out suburb. Taste is subjective, of course, but please don’t eat one. Throw some Knock Out roses, crepe myrtles, and maybe a Bradford pear in there for good measure and you’ve got your basic palette of ‘staple’ Houston landscape plants — even though none of them are even remotely native to our region.”
- From anon: “I have 2 in my front yard and I hate them.”
- From rental me this: “In not so loving memory of the enormous sago in the backyard of my childhood home. No one liked it except the wasps. RIP Stabby.”
- From Old School: “They are awful plants. They are poisonous to pets and will sting you with their needle tipped leaves if you get too close. They attract no wildlife. No hummingbirds or butterflies will come within 50 feet of these things.”
- From Lost_in_Translation: “Sagos are everywhere and practically unkillable (my house came with three). No more sagos please.”
- From etherist: “What a horrid, prickly eyesore. I can’t trim mine without the paralyzing fear that I’m going to have my eye gouged out. Gotta love those builders and remodelers that plant them right next to walkways, too!”
2. Best Demolition. Second-place winner: 3640 Willowick Rd., River Oaks.
The nomination: “The prize $8.6 million River Oaks listing from 2011 became the notable $8.5 million River Oaks teardown in 2012. The 3-bedroom, 7,780-sq.-ft. showcase had been designed for its original owners in 1940 by Harvin C. Moore. The Italianate home with the purple kitchen featured formal gardens and an elaborate rear portico. Such poor judgment by the architect, though, to place it smack dab in the middle of a 1.6-acre lot backing up to the golf course at the River Oaks Country Club.”
- From anon: “It takes a lot of brass to tear down an $8+ million dollar house, just because it’s not big enough . . .”
- From coconutbutter: “Truly such a waste.”
- From ShadyHeightster: “In a city that’s been buying and scraping residential property for almost 3 decades, it still blows my mind that you could destroy a nice mansion that you paid multi-millions for.”
3. The Swamplot Award for Special Achievement in Traffic. Second-place winners: The West Alabama St. Reversible Center Lane and Feeder Road Construction Along I-10 between Washington and Taylor (tie).
The nomination for the West Alabama St. Reversible Center Lane: “Sometimes it flows west. Sometimes it flows east. Sometimes it’s a turning lane. Make sure you know which way it’s headed at the moment, and that everyone around you does too.”
- From em1998: “It gets particularly sporty when you have to weave around the three-inch high manholes and other assorted tire busters. Oh, and you might want to tell your recently licensed children to avoid that stretch.”
- From Benjy Compson: “Back in March, some idiot going the wrong way in center lane hit my wife and then fled the scene.”
- From anne bonny: “This was supposedly installed as a temporary solution to a predicted rise in neighborhood traffic during the closure of Spur 527. The spur construction was finished a long time ago but this stupid counterflow lane remains. Before it went in, I attended community meetings (one I recall being at the Greek Orthodox School) where the city officials promised that removing the bike lanes from Alabama to install this lane was going to be temporary. Why is it still there? When will we ever get our bike lanes back?”
- From Sihaya: ” The thing is, though, that even with all the traffic snarls, people slowing down to turn from the flow lane *across* the turn lane, people stopping oncoming traffic in the contraflow lane when they try to use it as a turn lane, . . . Alabama still tends to get you west across that section of town nearly as quickly as taking 59 at rush hour.”
The nomination for Feeder Road Construction Along I-10 between Washington and Taylor: “For years, this area managed to get around just fine without freeway frontage roads, and to avoid the car dealerships, furniture stores, topless bars, and fast food restaurants that clutter so many of our other freeways. But thanks to the stimulus, federal funds for highway reconstruction suddenly became available, and this project, which had been languishing on TxDOT’s back burner, met the definition of “shovel ready.” After 3 years of construction, it still is not finished; the Shepherd and Durham bridges have been reduced from 4 to 2 lanes, the westbound Shepherd exit and on-ramp are still wacky, there’s an extra traffic signal on Yale, and trees that once lined that section of the freeway are gone. Exits and entrances are so close to each other that motorist conflict — usually in the form of regular games of chicken — is pretty much guaranteed. This was an ‘improvement’ in search of a problem.”
- From chris: “This construction has been going on forever. To make things worse, every couple of weeks, different on ramps open and close, new lanes become enter on-ramp only or don’t exist at all. There is always a bunch of broken headlights and bumpers lying around. I try to avoid the area if I can.”
- From Angostura: “Frontage lanes are a scourge. What parking regulations and minimum setbacks have done to ruin inner-loop development, frontage lanes have done to ruin development everywhere else. Is 59 from Shepherd to downtown next?”
- From ShadyHeightster: “Eastbound frontage between TC Jester and Durham has had the inside lane closed for over 2 years and no construction has even been done. Why has it been blocked off?”
- From MindTheGap76: “I live in the area between Washington and Taylor and really appreciate the new feeder roads. The construction is a bit of a headache, but really hasn’t been that bad all things considered. Don’t really understand the complaint.”
4. The “It’s Alive!” Award. Second-place winner: Penguin Arms Apartments, 2902 Revere St., Upper Kirby.
The nomination: “When it was put up for sale late last year, few figured Arthur Moss’s 1950 Googie icon would survive. Instead, the distinctive apartment building was snapped up by the owners of Kuhl-Linscomb, the home-goods store down the street. A full year later, they announced their plans: The building is to be renovated in all its Googie glory and connected to the growing home-shopping campus of Kuhl-Linscomb’s Upper Kirby empire. That’s a new life for a unique building — and a lot of people are happy about it.”
- From S: “I drive by that building all the time. I can’t wait to see the inside. Thank you Kuhl Linscomb!”
- From Al: “An interesting building that deserves a new lease on life.”
5. Most Overlooked Neighborhood. Second-place winner: Sharpstown.
The nomination: “Pockets of well kept homes (and yards), longtime residents, and close to everything. Already starting to attract some attention, though.”
- From RJ: “I bought an amazing mid century modern here on a lot with gorgeous oak trees for a steal. Great neighbors, 10-15 min commute to Montrose, and its the quietest neighborhood I have ever lived in Houston. Love my sharpietown!”
- From Dale Davidson: “I’ve always felt it was a slumbering jewel . . . there is a lot of investment into the area coming along. Come look at the neighborhood in about 4 years and you will see significant changes in the infrastructure, school buildings, local businesses, home remodels and esplanade maintenance. . . . Areas for improvement: apartments surrounding; school reputations (they really are great schools despite what people think); MALL NEEDS NEW OWNER AND CONCEPT!!!; more plain non-ethnic grocery store access; an identity as a community. I live here and love my neighbors. I drive elsewhere for grocery shopping. That hopefully will change in the near future.”
- From robert: “My dad lives on Mobud and 8 homes have been completely renovated the past 2 years just on his street.”
6. Neighborhood of the Year. Second-place winner: The Greater Heights.
The nomination: “No other neighborhood is as loved — or hated — as the greater Heights. Articles about the Heights, new construction in the Heights, teardowns in the Heights, WalMart, whatever are guaranteed ‘hit’ generators on this site. Post something positive about the Heights, and here come the negatrons to hate and troll on the crappy old houses and decrepit sidewalks. Post something negative about Heights, and here come the defenders to wax philosophical about the quiet simplicity of living small and walking in the street.”
- From Guusje: “It has a little bit of everything anyone needs to make a good life. Despite all the new places, it still has some of the best thrift stores in town.”
- From Old School: “This is really the year that the Heights came into its own. The Heights added Sonoma, Sale Sucre, Belissimo, Little Woodrows, Boomtown Coffee, Public House Heights, Crisp and Premium Draught to its quickly growing roster of food and drink options. Next year should see the opening of Coltivare, Torchy’s Tacos, a fried chicken and donuts drive through by the Liberty Kitchen guys, a Killen casual stakehouse, Ruggles Green (the real one), Union Kitchen, and Town in the City Brewery. There are even rumors of a family interested in opening an Indian restaurant in the Heights. Two new doctors’ offices and one dentist office opened in the Heights. St. Luke’s opened an emergency room at the hospital on 19th st. On the housing front, Sullivan Brothers have almost completed filling up a giant lot (made vacant by the demolition of Cooley Elementary) with 30+ units of new single family construction. Block-long empty lots in Sunset Heights west of Yale along 25th and east of yale where the old elementary school was demolished are prime for future development. The new drainage detention pond near Rutland and the bike path could potentially be a new park if the stars align just right. White Oak St. is seeing some good growth in retail with the addition of One Green Street, La Camella, and Heights Vinyl. The Sparrow and the Nest is a great Houston-only craft artist shop across the street from crafty Hello Lucky on Studewood and next to the Funny Potter to create a mini-craft district. New galleries went in where King Biscuit was and at an old grocery store in Sunset Heights. Lights in the Heights and White Linen Nights are emerging from growing pains to become great annual events in addition to the monthly First Saturday and dozens of smaller festivals (including my favorite, Sausagefest at the Odd Fellows lodge). The fever-pitched battles over historic districts and Walmarts have died down, but residents are ready with their pitchforks and torches if a developer tries to go all Ashby on the neighborhood. No other neighborhood in Houston is on such a dynamic trajectory as the Heights.”
- From HTX REZ: “Heights does it like nobody else. I raced a motorized bicycle guy down durham street yesterday — damn thing kept up with me at 35 mph — but the driver’s dreadlocks never moved an inch. God bless our neighborhood. Fun people, used car lots as far as the eye can see, big government attitudes on housing, mature fruit trees, civic pride of ownership, random industrial facilities down the street, gigantic fruit-bearing trees . . . nobody touches my hood.”
7. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate. Second-place winner: Houston’s Real Estate Market Marks Its Comeback, September 21st.
The nomination: “It’s not exactly a shocking turn of events to find a monthly report put together from MLS data showing the inventory of single-family homes on the market has dipped below a 5 months’ supply — even though that’s the lowest level it’s been at in more than 10 years. But the data showing lower supply numbers is more evidence that Houston has become a solid sellers’ market. The latest figures show it down to just over 4 months; meanwhile, both sales and prices are up. Average and median residential home prices are increasing steadily too. Houston’s real estate market wasn’t especially hard hit by the downturn, but it’s clearly bounced back from whatever setbacks it did hit, leading the way for much of the rest of the country.”
- From Cody: “I’m blown away at the pace of building in Houston (at least inside the loop). I can drive a 2 mile radius from my house and see 10 new large projects. And as others have pointed out, SFHs (in the right locations) are snapped up in days.”
- From shadyheightster: “On my block the last 2 houses to sell had firm offers within 8 hours of listing. And developers are getting loans and putting up detached homes, townhomes, and ‘luxury’ apartments at the fastest clip I’ve seen in years around here.”
- From coconutbutter: ” I bought my first home this year, and I can’t even believe how unbelievably cutthroat it was on SFHs inside the loop (that’s where I was looking). Properties that were listed on the weekend had multiple offers and a contract come Monday. I never would have expected so many people clobbering each other over the sale of a property. . . . My mom’s property that she purchased over a year ago was appraised at 40% higher than what she paid. Watching Houston turn into a seller’s market these past few months has been mind-blowing.”
Congratulations to all! Coming up next: The Swamplot Award . . . winners!
Photos: HAR (Sago palms at 5435 Cherie Crest Ct., 3640 Willowick Rd., Penguin Arms, 7151 Roos Rd. in Sharpstown, 1407 Herkimer St. in Houston Heights, chart); Candace Garcia (West Alabama reverse lane, I-10 exit)