Unmasked: That Unphotographable Home in Spring Branch Woods

Reader Claire de Lune has a reconnaissance report on the mysterious home at 9765 Oak Point Dr. in Spring Branch Woods Swamplot highlighted yesterday — you know, the new “enter at your own risk, with a mask” $110K listing apparently so horrifying to the agent that only a series of seemingly random stock photos could properly represent it. “There IS a house behind all that foliage,” our volunteer correspondent assures us. But then: “I must say, of all the stock photos [the listing agent] used, the little children running away in fear is the MOST appropriate.”

Claire de Lune reports that the rest of the street is pretty, but there’s no for-sale sign in front of this home:

This is a corner lot, overgrown with a minimum 3-4 years of neglect. Dead tree limbs on the roof suggest Ike damage. I suspect someone who really knows where and how to dig can find out when the taxes were last paid. . . . This place is within walking distance of the ginormous HEB @ Bunker Hill and all that surrounds it.

A couple more photos from the scene:

***

Photos: Claire de Lune

36 Comment

  • Me, I’d have cleaned up the driveway, cleared the sidewalk, assuming there is a sidewalk, to the front door, and bought some philodendron and maybe some banana trees and filled in the yard with those and advertised it as a “tropical rain forest” setting.

    As for the interior, maybe advertised it as “needs some TLC” and left it at that.

    The “wear a mask” was a little too much.

  • You know, now that you mention it, I think there is something behind the running children. Let me sharpen it in PS and see what it is… Woah! Sharpened photo:

    http://img84.imageshack.us/img84/6207/springbranchzombie.jpg

    I actually think the place is kind of cool. Might even be a good flip prospect if it’s just overgrown and littered with junk.

  • Nothing says pot heads like an overgrown lot..

  • Kilray’s photo is way better than the realtor’s! Gives it much more meaning….

    But as to the taxes, HCAD is pretty up front about that. If back taxes are owed, they put it out there. It looks as if the taxes have been paid regularly although at least last year, they were very very low even for an over 65 exemption. Of course, even county records can be wrong.

    Per the Harris County clerk’s site, that property, Lot 6 Block 13 of Spring Branch Woods has been in the same name since the 60′s.

  • Looking at hctax.net via hcad.org, how on earth do you get an exemption for the entire value of the property??? The records show that all of the county’s taxing entities are using 0 as the taxable value, and only the City of Houston is using a non-zero taxable value. Even going back to 1992, the total tax is minimal. Could that possibly be 20 years of overgrowth?

  • A look at the real property transfer records shows that the elderly woman listed as current owner purchased the property from the builder in 1961. Wow.

  • Rumor hath it that Sylvia Miles is holed up in this hellhole for fear that Matt Mystery will find her…….and demand to try on her frightwig.

  • Googlemaster,
    If the hctax.net records indicate values have been minimal since ’92 then that might narrow down the answer. Per social security death index, two women with the same name of the listed HCAD owner have died in TX. One in ’93 in Harris County and she may have been the owner. Nothing in the probate records however.

    I asked earlier here how long it would take the property to get in that condition but I somehow think it’s been less than 17 years, especially in Houston with all our rain and sunshine. It surely would have been totally covered in that time.

    On second thought, someone could have been living in it until recently. And, it may have been a different person altogether from the listed owner. The realtor probably knows.

  • From PYEWACKET2:

    I asked earlier here how long it would take the property to get in that condition but I somehow think it’s been less than 17 years, especially in Houston with all our rain and sunshine. It surely would have been totally covered in that time.
    _______________________________

    It probably has been the 3-4 years as Claire de Lune estimated. The neighbors would probably know how long it’s been since the house as well as the yard was abandoned. Or when it began to go downhill. Someone may have been living in it until recently. As shocking as that may seem. I assume there is probably mold inside the house. Hence the “wear mask” admonition in the MLS remarks. So it may have been around the time Ike hit. The roof was probably damaged, the water penetration began. And soon the creepy crawlies began appearing on the walls and ceilings.

  • If I lived adjacent, I’d be mowing, clipping all over that place! so it wouldn’t become a rat, mosquito and flea nursery.
    Unless I was run off at gunpoint, that is.

  • If look at the HCAD records, the address changed from the home to a PO Box in February 2009. That tells me that they were in the house until about that time. The tax bill says that the over-65 exemption went into effect in 1990 – at that time, we can assume that her assessed value was below the exemption amount, and thus she paid no school taxes. Because it froze at that amount, she pays no school taxes. Texas’ over-65 homestead exemption is a well-deserved break for our older citizens.

  • Does Bilbo Baggins live there??

  • Looks like she bought a second, smaller house in Pecan Park in 2007. Same name, same PO Box number.

  • From yesterday’s papers everywhere…

    “Sogen Kato was thought to be the oldest man in Tokyo – but when officials went to congratulate him on his 111th birthday, they found his 30-year-old remains.

    He had received about 9.5m yen ($109,000; £70,000) in pension payments since his wife’s death six years ago, and some of the money had been withdrawn, reports said.

    Police are now investigating his family on possible fraud charges.”

    I’m just sayin…

  • Great detective work, finness. Perhaps someone will find Mrs. Simmons “at rest” in this house. Eww eww eww ….

  • I do think that HCAD is understaffed, or maybe they just don’t look for “problems”.

    I knew a woman whose mother died in the early 80′s and she continued to live in the home, with the over 65 exemption for over 20 more years. Don’t know how they caught up with the situation but the daughter did have “some ‘splaining to do, Lucy”.

  • It’s threads like this that make me love Swamplot. Excellent stalking… er, detective work, folks!

  • A woman, perhaps 50 years old was there with her (?) teenage daughter. She said that it belonged/belongs to her mother. Neither of them looked like the type that might be squatting in that house for the past X years.
    She was there to meet the realtor, Marie. She seemed very surprised that the house was mentioned online or even that it was listed. I guess she doesn’t know that this house is now (in)famous.
    I was in the area checking out other houses, but I felt like a stalker so I didn’t care to ask much more.

  • Our 40 year old neighbor has maintained her long-deceased mother’s over 65 exemption. My husband and I disagree on what to do. I want to narc on her but he thinks it will bring us bad karma. Anyone know who I would even call if I decide to do something about it?

  • Katie … with all due respect, unless the place looks like the one pictured above, it would be neighborly to MYOB.

  • Anyone know who I would even call if I decide to do something about it?

    Maybe the same number for ratting on single-drivers in the HOV lane?

  • True, it might be the prudent thing to do, MYOB but if and when HCAD does find out, they will adjust the taxes.

    Worst case, when ownership of the property is changed, whether by sale or whatever, someone in the appraisal district will catch it. The above mentioned person I knew did have to pay additional $$$$$. I don’t know if it involved the whole 20+ years worth of back taxes, but it was a substantial amount.

  • Since the discussion has turned philosophical, I am wondering what kinds of crimes would be worth reporting?
    If not tax cheating, what about a neighbor who uses gasoline as weed killer? (Yes, I have one.) What about a pot grower? Illegal parking? I once tried to talk a friend into turning in a woman who was running a puppy mill out of her house, but the friend refused. What is the criteria?

  • probably nothing less than a guaranteed felony (which i believe pot growing may be) as you never know if they’ll go after the neighbors with guns blazing. nevertheless, it creates a dynamic in the neighborhood that is probably better left avoided.

    just remember, cops should be treated like wild dogs. never to be trusted and avoided at all costs. this usually also applies to calling in complaints as well so try to settle grievances in a neighborly context.

  • Katie … with all due respect, unless the place looks like the one pictured above, it would be neighborly to MYOB.

    There is less overgrowth but it does have the requisite dripping window A/C units, family of stray cats, rotting roof and walls, and bedsheet “curtains”. The bars on the windows definitely predate the million dollar house across the street (although the bars are not made of metal, but are actually the plastic garden stakes one would use to support his tomatoes). There are a couple of really nice cars though!

  • @finness – let’s break it down:

    Gasoline guy: yes, his activities pollute the water and will likely kill the other guy’s pot farm.

    Pot grower: no, unless he’s the kind that runs around with machine guns. He’ll probably be better for your health than the guy with gasoline =)

    Illegal parking: I mean, seriously, is this what you _really_ want your tax dollars spent on?

    Puppy mill: depends, are they of the tasty variety, or the non-tasty variety?

    Overall, I’d avoid calling the cops on a neighbor unless I thought someone’s safety was immediately threatened. (Including theirs!)

  • I would report the neighbors who are claiming an over 65 exemption when they aren’t entitled. I’ve also pointed out to HCAD properties where the valuations aren’t consistent. When we lived in Midtown, there were blocks where the townhome land was valued at $20 per sq ft, while the commercial properties on the same block were valued at $5. That’s an artifact of how HCAD determines neighborhoods – there can be two or more on the same city block.

    My general feeling is that people who take exemptions they aren’t entitled to are stealing from the rest of us.

  • Ross, you have a point there, but is that the Heaven you want to go to?
    The Heaven For People who Turn In Appraisal Cheats?
    Not me, and I don’t want to go to Coupon Clipper’s Heaven, either.
    I would jump right in against puppy mill guy, and gas on the grass guy.
    But I leave tax fraud guy to be sorted out by some higher power.

  • So, Ross … someone who might not otherwise have a place to live, who maintains their parents homestead rather than camping on the street with a shopping cart and subsisting on welfare and food stamps, has a hand in your pocket?

  • HCAD frowns on the practice of claiming an exemption when none is valid.

    Homestead means that the owner is living in it. Clearly not the case with the house this thread is addressing.

  • My biggest problem with my under-65 cheating neighbor (yes, bigger than the fact that she has a completely rundown house but two sparkly new SUVs and a new truck) is that her son attends a public high school in the neighborhood. She is EXACTLY who needs to be paying her full share of property taxes.

  • Katie–

    No doubt someone is paying the taxes even though it’s not their full share.

    If the owner is deceased, that would be on the social security death records, which are public. You could (and I’m not saying you should) print the death record along with a copy of the HCAD tax statement (also public record) and mail to our tax collector’s office.

    As far as the karma, you’re on your own.

    If your neighbors would rather spend their money on ‘things’ instead of keeping up the property, it would seem they aren’t too attached to the house anyway. Probably because they don’t have any real investment in it.

  • Claire de Lune says
    So, Ross … someone who might not otherwise have a place to live, who maintains their parents homestead rather than camping on the street with a shopping cart and subsisting on welfare and food stamps, has a hand in your pocket?
    ___________________________________________
    Well that is clearly not the case with this property–maintained being the operative word. So by your logic, it is perfectly okay to cheat the government
    because that is exactly what taking an exemption that one is not entitled to is.
    It doesn’t matter what the extenuating circumstances are.

    I guess it was okay for those folks to scam FEMA during Katrina/Rita because they may or may not have been homeless and it’s okay for the clerk at the fast food joint to skim from the till as long as he/she is two steps from living on the street.
    I don’t think so.

  • Melanie– I was not referring to the property noted here. That train left the tracks a number of posts ago. I just meant that Ross seemed to be taking this a little too personally. I used (as a theoretical example only) someone who might be living in his or her parents’ home (and Im sorry I used the word homestead here) when they might otherwise not be able to afford housing of their own. That person might otherwise be living in subsidized housing (at taxpayer’s expense) drawing welfare (also at taxpayer’s expense) and needing food stamps (also at taxpayers expense). Perhaps I am just too compassionate a person (shame on me!) but to compare someone like that to the cheats and scoundrels who tried to use Katrina for their own thievery is just not justified in my humble opinion. I am well aware that some of those upthread think otherwise. I feel obligated to add that I pay more than my full share of taxes, and I have never had a child in the HISD.

  • Claire, I would probably cut some slack to someone who is down on their luck and needs help. And, I make allowances for people like my neighbor, who has sent several letters to HCAD about her father’s death a few years ago. The house hasn’t transferred into her name because her brother hasn’t been diligent in probating the will. I am also lenient on those who have an exemption because of a mistake.

    The other times I’ve known people who had an illegitimate exemption, they bragged about it, and rubbed it in everyone’s face that they were paying $300 per year in tax when the rest of us were paying $3600 or more. They deserve whatever they get.

    I will always maintain that people who intentionally cheat on their exemptions when they can afford to pay the taxes are scum who are stealing from the rest of us.

  • Well put, Ross. I don’t care for flagrant scofflaws either. Thanks.