Drumroll, please. The results of the sixth annual Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate are in! Who won what in this year’s competition? You’ll find the answers below.
This announcement caps an almost month-long process that began with calls for nominations in 8 separate award categories. Official ballots were assembled from reader nominations. Then voting was opened up — to everyone.
Let’s salute the winners of the 2013 Swampies for their unique contributions to this city. It takes something special to stand out in Houston’s real estate landscape. Houston real-estate fans have noticed you!
A big salute is also due to the many Swamplot readers who took time to nominate, evaluate, vote, and comment on competitors in each category. It’s your judgments, your descriptions, and your observations that are featured below. Does this honor roll of award winners — along with the list of runners up — provide an accurate snapshot of the year in Houston real estate? All were determined by reader votes. Sure, it’s too late to vote, but you can still let us know what you think!
The winners of the 2013 Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate are . . .
1. Favorite Houston Design Cliché. Award winner: The Typical Inner Loop Townhouse Plan.
The nomination: “Start with a 3-story stucco exterior. The first floor gets the garage, an office/third bedroom, and a full bathroom. The second floor will be the living-dining-kitchen open area with a powder room tucked in there somewhere. The third floor will have the master bedroom with en suite bathroom with a plastic whirlpool tub plus the second bedroom with its own bath. Round that out with a tiny patch of grass or rocks on the side and a 2nd or 3rd floor balcony measuring maybe 2 ft. by 4 ft. and, voila! You’ve got yourself a $300K townhome. Did I miss anything?”
- From Raj Mankad (in an extensive OffCite post): “No other building type has so radically changed the fabric of Houston’s neighborhoods for the worse in the last twenty years. We all witness the transformation in slow motion, one block after another. . . . Yes, the faux-historical stucco is lamentable and worthy of scorn by those with design educations, but it isn’t any particular detail that is the problem. It’s the mishmash of styles that is truly dizzying — vaguely Mediterranean, rusticated brick Alamo-esque, candy-colored Mattel, bleached-white-stucco Modern, or cheap-as-it-comes beige siding. When several of these Houston townhouses come together, they don’t come together. The individuals do not add up to a greater sum. We end up with the atomization of the ‘suburbs’ without the pleasure of a big lawn, and the claustrophobia of ‘urban’ enclosure without the conviviality of public life. . . . The Houston townhouse is more a profit-maximizing expression of the city ordinances than a design cliché. ‘Favorite Latent Form Embedded in City Ordinances’ doesn’t sound as fun as ‘Favorite Houston Design Cliché’ though.”
- From Liz Roller: “I can think of at least 3 of my friends who own townhouses with that have that exact floor plan. Mine is different, dammit. It has the whole top floor as the master suite and a huge balcony. That makes it different enough, right? Right?”
- From coconutbutter: “Put an automatic gate around 3 of these babies on a 5K-sq.-ft. lot, and presto! Your very own, super-exclusive gated community inside the Loop.”
- From Your guess is mine: “Because it offends my Feng Shui sensibilities and good common sense: Loos that open up to a dining area. For the love of all that is sweet and pure, please stop doing that.”
- From Balthazar: “Like several others have stated, I became most familiar with these when house-hunting ITL a few years ago. It got to the point where we didn’t have to go in the house because they were essentially the same! And when friends start to describe the new place they just bought, I can stop them when they start with, ‘Well, the garage and third bedroom are on the first floor . . .’ All that said, I actually do like the floorplan. For a young professional ITL couple, they make a lot of sense for the footprint. Maybe not the prettiest, or most authentic, or charming, or highest quality (depending on the builder), but hey — people gotta live somewhere. And it beats the pants off a 4,500 square-foot monstrosity with a maintenance-heavy yard in the ‘burbs.”
- From Sihaya: “It is this generation’s ranch. After you’ve visited enough of them you can walk through them blindfolded.”
- From MaxC: “The vertical mobile homes — what a pathetic design. Do they know they’re paying for approx. 175 unusable sq. ft. — i.e., the stairways? But, hey, they sell, so what do I know!! If I wanted to climb that many stairs day in and out, I would join the gym!”
- From Ted Striker: “There’s a block of these that just went up a block over from us in Brookesmith, and I get douche-chills every time I look at them.”
- From Mel Wood: “The ultimate would be a townhome with a Juliet balcony. Do builders know how unsuited that clichéd floor plan is for a family dwelling? I know they’re aiming for couples, young and old, but there are families who want to live in Montrose too and finding new construction with a good floorplan is tough.”
- From roadchick: “Me and all the other boomers are too frickin’ old to climb all those stairs every day, and keeping the top floor cool in the summer will be very expensive.”
- From Miz Brooke Smith: “They are as omnipresent, and as annoying, as mosquitoes.”
2. Best Demolition. Award winner: Foley’s, 1110 Main St., Downtown.
The nomination: Early on the morning on September 22, Downtown lost its only department store. The 10-story 791,000-sq.-ft. building that took up the whole block bounded by Main, Travis, Dallas, and Lamar was detonated in a giant cloud of glorious dust. The 66-year-old brick almost window-free box had been designed for Foley’s by the now-oft-demoed Kenneth Franzheim as a model of modern retail efficiency; it became a Macy’s in 2006. Hilcorp plans to build a 23-story headquarters building for itself in its place.
- From Ian: “It was a Houston icon. The demolition was also one of the coolest things I’ve ever been witness to.”
- From Ben: “The demolition encompassed an entire city block!“
- From Old School: “I always liked to think about a time in Houston when people would head into downtown to shop and see a show back when the Galleria was surrounded by farmland. At the same time, it is exciting to see what will come of all the renewed development in downtown.”
- From Native Houstonian: “Having grown up in Houston, I will always remember what a Saturday treat it was to take the bus to Foley’s. And those fun Christmas windows were special.”
Runner-up: Reliant Astrodome Ramp Towers, Ticket Booths, Berms, and Accoutrements, Reliant Park. Other nominees in this category: Kelly Village Apartments, Fifth Ward; Baptist Temple Church buildings, Houston Heights; Randalls Flagship #1013, Memorial; Fiesta, Montrose; Cafe Adobe, Upper Kirby.
3. Best Houston Transplant. Award winner: Bayou-tification.
The nomination: “We only recently took hints from other cities that maintain a better focus on creating or preserving urban greenspaces and started in earnest to address the opportunity offered by our bayous. From the citywide hike-and-bike trail system to the total overhaul of Buffalo Bayou, we are finally turning ugly scars on the landscape into desirable amenities.”
- From Nuke: “It’s going to be amazing in a couple of years.”
- From Old School: “Long overdue and will transform the city.”
- From J.V.: “Having lived in Boston and Philly, I know what life is like when you incorporate a river into the social fabric of a city. I’ve seen the little James Baker park tucked in behind the Wortham Center, and I’d love that type of thing spread through the city.”
- From RobertinHeights: “Finally some green to give a more appealing backdrop to our ubiquitous billboard art.“
- From Burgermeister: “Bayou-tification has the greatest potential to transform the urban landscape and to create a signature, identifying amenity associated with the city. It will be important to develop a few key north-south connectors to integrate any bayou trails and bike paths into a city-wide system.”
- From carol: “Future generations of Houston kids need to be able to ‘go down to the bi-o‘ to play with friends like we did.”
- From Roy: “Growing up here and playing on the concrete banks of Brays Bayou I would never have believed it, but this is the change that we will still notice in 50 years.”
- From Rob: “The bayou’s transition from eyesore to selling point is nothing short of remarkable.”
- From Dana-x: “Amazing it took this long to treat them as more than drainage ditches.”
- From Miz Brooke Smith: “Exorcising the ghosts of the Corps of Engineers, little by little.”
4. The Ground-Floor Retail Award. Award winner: Main St. between Congress and Prairie, Downtown.
The nomination: “I would give a big thumbs up for the revival of ground-floor retail here. There’s Goro and Gun, the Pastry War, Clutch City Squire, Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge, and Little Dipper; the OKRA Charity Saloon, Batanga, and others are nearby, and there’s plenty more on the way. All are fresh, new and interesting places to eat and drink in a strip of downtown that has seen many failures and long-term vacancies over the years. This time really feels different as the block is reaching a critical mass in terms of occupancy — without getting all Washington Ave stupid.”
- From coconutbutter: “With a slew of businesses opening this year in 2013, this area has never seemed more prosperous or vibrant. Repurposed buildings give this part of town some wonderful character (yes, I used the c-word!), and it’s wonderful to see that Downtown is becoming a place where people can hang out and spend time, post-business workday. I’m seriously jealous of all the cool stuff happening on the other side of Downtown within reasonable lunch/happy hour-walking distance compared to the boring southwest side (near Pease and I-45).”
- From paulbtucker: “You have true ground floor retail supporting a budding 24/7 neighborhood (although with a long way ahead of it). The proprietors are all local, with strong interest in investing long-term. The level of access to multi-modal transit is unparalleled for Houston. And the spaces are all quality reuses of some of the few historic buildings in town.”
- From Mr.Clean19: “For the sole reason that when I go there and ask ‘Whats your special?’ I don’t get a typical response of about $1 off Miller Light. Interesting drinks and a flavor of Houston I don’t see anywhere else. Keep this going!”
- From Brian: “This has actually made me want to hang out on Congress, and as a native Houstonian that is pretty astonishing.“
- From Chris: “That stretch of Main is incredible now.”
Runner-up: Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Downtown. Other nominees in this category: Centre at River Oaks, Upper Kirby; Alexan Heights, Houston Heights; Skyhouse Houston, Downtown; Hanover Rice Village, Rice Village.
5. Least Recognizable Neighborhood. Award winner: Oak Forest.
The nomination: “It’s the West U of the twenty-teens around here. Once filled with 1960s ranchers sitting in the middle of large yards with lots of mature trees, now it’s the spot to go build McMansions that fill the lot. Already, many streets are unrecognizable from a couple years ago. At the current pace of demo work, there will be very few original homes left in 5 years, and the ‘forest’ part of the neighborhood’s name will be reduced to a marketing moniker. The change has definitely picked up speed this year; Swamplot’s Daily Demolition Reports reflect a lot of what’s been happening recently in Oak Forest.”
- From TheNiche: “There are so few landmarks that it’s even sometimes difficult to figure out which street you’re on if you’ve made a wrong turn.”
- From Dana-X: “The only thing that remains there from the original 1950s sitcom setting is the name, and even that’s in danger of losing out to GOOF (or Faux Forest).”
- From ShadyHeightster: “The change is fast and furious.“
- From GOOF: “Oak Forest has had the most drastic change in the past year. I purchased my home in 2011 and after no new construction in my section in 1.5 years, in the past six months at least six homes have been demo-ed in the near vicinity to me. When I protested my property taxes, two of the homes they compared mine to are empty lots waiting for construction. And it’s not just the demo of homes, old businesses are being razed for new projects (see the old Mobil station-to-Berry Hill) and 610/290 construction is reshaping how folks get to/from the ‘hood.”
- From Tawnya: “I grew up there and my mom still lives in the same house. My sister managed to buy a house a few doors down before the McMansion influx. Now they’re both flanked by them with more and more going up on the block. It makes me so sad to see all the trees gone!!!“
- From Rafa: “Do this experiment. Exit Ella from 610, make a right on any street between 34th and 43rd (Wakefield, Chippendale, Lamonte, Althea), repeat two months later and you won’t recognize it from the last time. The neighborhood has not only changed on the surface, it has also changed within. In the last 4 years OF has become a more vibrant, engaged and activist community. Problems and angst are openly discussed, debated and resolved, neighbors pro-actively help each other, and diversity is embraced and welcome. On a quick walk around the neighborhood you may meet a gay couple, an original owner, young professional and blue collar families, a flasher on TC Jester park, and some dude named Harry painting curbs.”
- From Claire de Lune: “It looks nothing like its original incantation (but what does, these days?) and the old timers howl every time a new, sturdier structure replaces the sad victim of deferred maintenance.”
6. Most Recognizable Neighborhood. Award winner: Old Sixth Ward.
The nomination: “It has defined boundaries — no trying to figure out if you are in the Woodland, Sunset, or O.G. section. The style of home is consistent — and the historical preservation ordinance ensures it will remain that way. The brick sidewalks help tie everything together.”
- From james: “Feels like a true neighborhood. Small-town vibe in the heart of the fourth largest city in the US. People actually hang out on their porch here — weird, I know.”
- From Bill: “New street signs that brand the neighbor ‘hood, classic old style street lights, brick side walks . . . etc. A classic 1800s vibe that’s set in stone thanks to the Historic protection.”
- From Jay Hamburger: “No neighborhood . . . has worked more diligently and successfully to craft the total integrity of a particular style of ‘hood through restoration.“
- From Carissa: “It’s the oldest preserved neighborhood in Houston and is protected so it can’t be overrun with townhouses. It has clear boundaries and doesn’t merge into any other residential area so it feels like a true neighborhood (if you see someone walking their dog, you know they live in the hood and it’s easy to meet and get to know your neighbors). “
- From Old School: “The only neighborhood in Houston with a substantial amount of Victorian architecture in place. Transomed doorways, gingerbread trim and Queen Annes make this neighborhood easy to pick out with a random drop of street view on Google maps.”
- From Jamie: “No other neighborhood in Houston has as much legal protection. Other than the few townhomes that got in before the law, you will not see anything else like it in Houston and it plans on staying that way.”
- From Kathy in Houston: “Not only distinctive and recognizable, but also cute, charming, convenient and walkable. An island of antiquities in the middle of an international city. The hard work of the residents over a number of years has paid off in creating this unique and instantly recognizable neighborhood!”
- From Cynthia: “A jewel box of a neighborhood. It is an amazing place to live.”
- From Bob Card: “It is the oldest, most intact neighborhood. It is one of the few truly walkable ‘hoods in town, and each home is unique — not the cookie cutter, developer driven type that dominates the city.”
- From Chuck: “Where else in Houston can you find such a large collection of restored Victorian cottages where the homeowners sit on the front porches and wave to other neighbors who walk by? Also, there are signs all around the neighborhood perimeter proclaiming the neighborhood as the Old Sixth Ward.”
7. Neighborhood of the Year. Award winner: Eastwood.
The nomination: “Great neighborhood for everyone (families and singles alike), decent housing stock, new construction, new businesses moving in, close to Inner Loop attractions, and still mostly affordable. Dynamo — er, BBVA Compass — Stadium is next door in EaDo (I hate calling it that), and the light rail on its way. They say it’s the ‘new Montrose.'”
- From Spencer Howard: “I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 10 years and wouldn’t think of living anywhere else. Great neighbors, active civic association, hipster businesses, light rail, lots of gays, easy access to freeways, great restaurants, and low crime. Eastwood Academy is in the Top 10 schools in Texas and #56 in the country.”
- From Diana Sims: “The light rail is just one of many things making this longstanding East End neighborhood hot property!”
- From Kate: “We can bike to Discovery Green, get anywhere in about 10 minutes . . . and we enjoy beautiful, historic homes that mirror our sister neighborhood in Woodland Heights. But, the best part is the people. Eastwood is home to so many artists, educators, and politicos. We have a tight-knit community that is fun, creative, and down-to-earth.”
- From Matt Fugate: “It is the hidden gem in Houston. Close to everything with fantastic homes — everything from quaint bungalows, fabulous Foursquares, and glorious Mission architecture. All of this and the best neighbors you could ever imagine.”
- From Gabriel Terrel: “Eastwood Home Tour, Eastwood babysitting co-op, National Night Out, Yucca Flats, Halloween, Bohemeos, Bohemeos’ bad ass bike ride, the BEST taco trucks, light rail, coffee factory smells, Bread Factory smells, Lantrip Elementary, Chrysalis Middle School, Eastwood Academy . . .”
- From Dana-X: “It’s been both the spark and anchor of the true historic East End’s (sorry EaDoites, your area is great but is a new species of animal) 21st century rebirth.“
- From Jenny: “Beautiful homes, giant oaks, friendly tight-knit community, active civic association, amazing food, effortless commute . . . I could go on and on.”
- From Andrew Minchew: “It’s the only neighborhood on the list with a bustling population of free-range chihuahuas.“
- From Steve Parker: “The neighborhood has worked hard on a number of projects from the East End and South East light rail lines to working with groups on a master bike and pedestrian path plan. I love knowing more of my neighbors than anyplace I’ve lived, many of which are involved in great volunteer activities.”
- From Julie O: “Awesome neighbors, great food, great schools, diversity, lots of community activists, lots of animal lovers, fantastic parties, active civic association, and just a great vibe. There are some truly amazing homes, and our home tour is fantastic. The neighbors here are basically an extension of your family. Finally, if you care at all about animals, Eastwood is THE place to be. You can add a furry family member (the kitties . . . my goodness, the cute kitties . . .) to your family on any given day. (And, by the way, Eastwood has the BEST porches for porch kitties.)”
- From Lydia: “As my (now envious) friends say, “It’s like the Heights, but without the traffic.” Since 2013 is the centennial anniversary of Eastwood’s establishment, it deserves to be named Neighborhood of the Year!”
- From vivian: “The homes are very charming and yet still reasonably priced. Waking up to the smell of coffee and fresh bakery is awesome. I also love the mature oak trees in this area and the great proximity to downtown.”
8. Greatest Moment in Houston Real Estate. Award winner: Urban Living Sues a Former Customer — and Loses, November 19th.
The nomination: “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.”
- From Progg: “Just ’cause it was so damn satisfying.“
- From coconutbutter: “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 . . . you completely and utterly trust your agent who should have your best interests in mind. . . . It’s also extremely infuriating to see people comment that they settled with Urban Living because they were similarly bullied and threatened.”
- From Howard Mandell: “But if you represent someone you have a fiduciary duty. That’s real, man. That means don’t be a cheezy sleazeball.“
- From Norhilljoe: “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.'”
- From Mike: “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer plaintiff. Schadenfreude at its finest.”
- From Native Houstonian: “Shows the true colors of many real estate companies in Houston.”
Runner-up: Voters Reject Harris County’s Bond Proposal to Renovate the Astrodome. Other nominees in this category: Foley’s Falls; The Moment Between Listing a Property and Getting a Contract On It; Heights Blvd. Townhomes Collapse Overnight; Jury Sides with Neighbors in the Ashby Highrise Case; Metro’s North Line Extension Opens; The Grand Parkway Connects Cypress to Katy.
Congratulations to all who participated in this year’s awards!
Photos: Sandcastle Homes (Stratford); Christof Spieler and Jim Parsons (Foley’s); SWA Group (Brays Bayou); H-Town in Pics (Main St.); HAR (1261 Du Barry Ln., 1815 State St., 4722 McKinney St.); Vinod Ramani (Urban Living)