Watch for Cottage Cheese Dropping from Heights

This 1,300
-square-foot, 2-bedroom, 2-bath home planted in a lot-sized subdivision in Shady Acres called “Cottages in the Heights” just shed $5K from its asking price and is resting at $184,000 after a month on the market. But Heights home shopper John Whiteside still isn’t buying it:

These things always seem like the real estate equivalent of conjoined twins with birth defects. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but your children are stuck together, and their garage doors are bizarrely oversized, and their internal organs are jumbled around in unfortunate ways.”


As a result this “cottage,” built in 2005, is listed for approximately one-half its [2008] tax value. This is Houston, which never had a housing bubble, and this is the Heights (well, it’s sort of in the Heights), where house values have stayed remarkably high given the economic conditions, because the neighborhood and its houses tend to have certain innate characteristics: houses with distinct architectural styles, welcoming front porches, garages around back where they belong, windows proportioned properly to the structures, surrounded by modest but pleasant green space, placed on a traditional street grid that makes it easy to walk places, talk to your neighbors, and feel like part of a broader community.

So developers come in and build houses which lack all of these things, therefore managing to create things that plummet in value while 70-year-old bungalows up the street remain in demand. For some reason, the opportunity to pay Heights prices while missing all the things that makes the Heights desirable enough to support those prices is not that appealing.

36 Comment

  • Agreed, these are not the most delectable homes in the Heights. But that is fairly harsh criticism of homes that are well outside of the actual Heights and built on vacant or teardown lots in areas that were previously undesireable to the point where no self-respecting builder would have dared erect a bungalow or something similar. These homes do in fact have a market for people looking for a Heights-area, newer-build, gate-secure (in a “Shady” neighborhood) home with no lawn maintenance for under $200k. It’s not where I would live, but I don’t think it’s worth whining about as long as they don’t start building them on Heights Blvd.

  • I am forever amazed by people buying these cracker boxes and sardine cans and they have been a blight in every neighborhood where they have been built. Some HOAs have managed to amend their deed restrictions and shoot the bird at the city with regard to how many homes you can build on a standard lot but in most areas, like the Heights, it’s still a matter of how many you can convince the city you can build on a standard lot which translates to how much you’ve contributed to City Hall.

    These are all testaments to the foresight of city councilmembers, Annise Parker in particular, who wrote “homeowner friendly” ordinances some years ago which in the end are not “original homeowner friendly” and in fact are really only “developer friendly” and have resulted in areas like the Heights losing their aesthetic quality. But they weren’t built to add to the aesthetics of neighborhoods. They were built to add to the developer’s bank account. Maximum profit for minimal space.

    They are, perhaps, the new “minimalists.”

  • Finally, we have a functional real estate market where buyers educate themselves and take a step back and ask really salient questions.

  • i don’t know, that’s a pretty good looking cat.

  • Again with the gates!

  • Anyone else see a potential morning of drama when both homeowners are on the phone, late for work and in a hurry to back out of their respective garages?

  • My main point was: it’s not a cottage, and it’s not the Heights, so why call it that?

    I realize there is a market for this sort of house but it’s not people who want to live in the Heights or live in a cottage.

  • How about renaming it “Gated 6-plex in Shady Acres”? (Or 3-plex in this case, as it appears to be only half of the standard model).

  • Well John, unfortunately it is for people who want to live in the Heights. They want to cheaply see cute and charming outside of their windows.

    They just plain don’t care what we see out of our windows.

  • You are so right EMME! I would much rather look out my window and look at the old crippled bungalow that use to house druggies!

  • One person’s old crippled bungalow is another’s future Houston House & Home renovation cover feature.

  • Someone needs to think of poor C&D Scrap Metal (4 lots over). Just imagine what he has to see every day when he looks outside his window. His neighborhood is just crumbling around him! First this and what’s next? The abandoned car lots on Shepherd/Durham must be preserved!

  • Keep in mind that the “cottages” in question are not in the Heights and not ruining the view from anyone’s bungalow. The lots on 25th St west of Durham in the area branded as Shady Acres were/are primarily industrial use or vacant. Frankly, I feel that, as unattractive as they are, these homes are a more desireable addition to the neighborhood than another $2 scrap metal yard. Again, when these complexes are being built in the Heights-proper it is a different issue.

  • Bagby, did you notice that the newly curbed and storm-drained Cortland that you raved about a few weeks back was the first and deepest street to flood on Saturday. I must have driven through almost 12 inches of water submerging the whole of Cortland @ 9th whilst the surrounding streets with ditches remained water free. Somebody will probably tell me now that thats a design feature but I’ll keep my ditches thanks very much.

  • Thanks Bigger in Texas. You are right about these particular “cottages.” And if that were always the case, great. Unfortunately, these are popping up all over the Heights, so my earlier post applies there.

  • As I read that, the “development” is named “Cottages in the Heights”, even though it’s in Shady Acres. That’s a trend of neighboring areas trying to rimshot onto the popularity of The Heights. From the comments it appears the realtor’s attempt to mislead about the location has been successful! ;-)

    Silly really. As long as you don’t mind refridgerator boxes there’s nothing undesirable about Shady Acres.

    I’m no architectual guru, but calling those ‘cottages’ is about as absurd as calling an apartment building a ‘bungalow’.

  • Talking of rimshotting onto the popularity of neighboring areas did anyone else notice that the Alexan Height apartments became the Midtown Heights after changing hands despite the fact that they are at I-10 and Oxford. Exactly how big is Midtown these days?

  • To clarify further, I think building new townhouses is also fine. I just think it’s better if they’re designed to be attractive and welcoming to human beings (unlike these).

  • The picture associated with this post is a bad example. There are at least several bunches of this exact same townhouse complex along 25th and 24th. Most of them have homes on each side (with garages facing each other) and the street front units are somewhat tastefully done so it doesn’t look so bad from the street. This particular complex is cut in half and looks unbalanced (particularly the rear unit). Although I do agree that, for the most part, these gated complexes do little in the way of being attractive or welcoming.

  • When a buyer purchases one of these, do they own the land underneath the town home, or just the structure itself?

  • They only own the cat.

  • Silly Miz B, no one owns a cat but the cat herself.

  • I’m one of those curmudgeons who thinks that a house whose primary front street-level feature is a garage door is not a house, it’s a parking garage with living quarters on top. It’s just irredeemable.

    And there are plenty of well-designed new homes all over the Heights that actually are a good use of space, giving people ample living space on limited land.

  • John said “I’m one of those curmudgeons who thinks that a house whose primary front street-level feature is a garage door is not a house, it’s a parking garage with living quarters on top. It’s just irredeemable.”

    John is my soulmate (architecturally speaking)

  • John, were soulmates too.I looove to talk about how the older bungalows are so much more eclectic than the stupid new McMansion Hummer McHomes. Youre so fresh and Heightsy…

  • So what is yall’s opinion on a place like Rice Military where the majority of townhomes have garage door fronts? Any townhouse with a private driveway has a street level garage front, but if you don’t have a driveway guest parking is very limited.

  • IMO – Having a garage as your first floor is very unwelcoming to your neighbors. And if you have a whole street of that, it appears to be a cold and unwelcoming neighborhood.

    I like front porches and front yards. That lends itself to neighbors working out front and socializing together.

    Now, having said that, I have seen some larger houses that are able to have a first floor garage along with a first floor entrance and porch of equal width. When that is on a large enough lot, that can look quite nice. The key is if it is garage only. Garage only has the same effect as though you had an 8 foot privacy fence in front of your home.

    That’s my thinking.

  • Personally, I find Rice Military creepy and unpleasant.

  • I should add that the Heights (and places with some common features, like the Old 6th Ward) were what brought me to Houston. I was living in Washington, DC (a city I really love) and thinking about the voluntary transfer to Houston that had been offered to me. It was a good but not vital thing work-wise so I spent more time here (I was already coming regularly for work). I liked a lot of things about city, but the clincher was that i could live in a neighborhood like the Heights. (The two neighborhood most like it in DC were Arlington, VA – great bungalows with (gasp) planned main thoroughfares of high-density development and subway stops running through it, and a wonderful place to live… and Takoma Park on the Maryland/DC line.

    In Arlington those cute bungalows ran about $800,000. In Takoma Park, it was cheaper, but a really awful commute to my office in Virginia and much farther from central DC.

    I realized that in Houston I could live in a great old neighborhood near downtown for a reasonable amount of money. That was what got me here.

    In DC I lived in a 130 year old townhouse; very cute, walk everywhere, but 673 square feet of total living space, split onto two levels, and way too intimate with your neighbors (you hear a lot through 130 year old walls).

    I’m not opposed to new homes. I’m not opposed to high density development. What I hate is housing which uses space badly and which is organized around storing cars rather than providing a good life for people. One of the first thing I noticed about Rice Military is that the streets are gloomy and you’re surrounding by overly tall (for the setting), really foreboding structures all the time. The general feel is a bit apocalyptic. I found it really depressing.

    My old DC neighborhood had more density and taller building but they fit the setting – in part due to strict rules and neighborhood review – and on the street things felt open and inviting and lively.

    I’ll also note that my part of DC, like the other areas with strict land use rules, historical preservation rules, and truly painful neighborhood reviews of new projects, had some of the highest real estate values in the entire metro area. People thing that stuff is really negative; my experience in DC was that because it preserved the value of the overall neighborhood, propety owners ended up making a lot of money out of it – their properties appreciated faster than those in other neighborhoods, so the homes became much more valuable. Even small, ordinary places like mine commanded high sums, because they were in neighborhoods that people wanted to live in. Meanwhile far more luxurious places – even in the central city – didn’t appreciate, because the surrounding neighborhoods were just less attractive to buyers.

  • In the end, the only people I have found to oppose historic designation, etc. are developers. While my home has increased significantly in value over the last many years, I did not purchase it for investment. I purchased it for its charm and the neighbors and the subsequent lifestyle it has offered. That is what I think homeownership should be about. That is what historic designation can help to maintain.

  • like the other areas with strict land use rules, historical preservation rules, and truly painful neighborhood reviews of new projects, had some of the highest real estate values in the entire metro area.
    I never thought about that connection. Houston has wide open, limitless development. And some of the lowest real-estate prices for a major city in the nation. Connection? Maybe, maybe not. There’s probabaly a nice masters thesis there.

    I completely agree with your take on Rice Military. I work nearby, and get clausterphobic just driving around. It will be interesting to see how long it remains hot, and what happens when that market is no longer so trendy.

  • Rice Military (and other areas like it) are future slums. The garage door front, first floor look, crammed together in a row (like on Knox north of Blossom) reminds me of a Houston version of Brooklyn Brownstones. In 100 years, people will look back and ask, “How did they live like that?”

    Aside: I live in a row of 6 3-story townhouses, garage first floor. But, our garage doors are to the rear off a communal driveway. The front has a proper entry door into a foyer. Our individual small yards are landscaped with shrubs and trees, etc. This feature alone makes our places not that bad, but still we are a wall of connected townhomes with no individual character.

  • For myself, when I mention garage first floor, I mean garage first floor facing the street with no setback and the housing above. Most garages are on the first floor.

  • I’m just thinking of the fabulous potential of a penthouse garage. With an elevator! :)

  • They park on top of the old buildings in the Village. It always kind of freaks me out to see the cars up there. But it makes sense.

  • Good call, John, regarding the correlation between historic designation and property values. It is a well-known fact that neighborhoods with the highest potential for stability tend to enjoy higher property values and resale than their counterparts. Due to the absence of zoning in Houston, this potential for stability can take the form of deed restrictions, land use restrictions, or historic designation. All of the most desirable neighborhoods in the Houston area have some form of rules that protect their stability; River Oaks and Southhampton are deed-restricted, The cities of the Memorial Villages, West University, Soutside Place, and Bellaire all have zoning.

    Historic designation also boosts property values. Just look at homes sold in Norhill vs Brooke Smith or Sunset Heights – same housing stock, same lot size, same general location. Norhill homes always sell for more because the historic district rules ensure the adjacent home will not be demolished and replaced with development that could have a negative impact on the neighborhood. Home owners in adjacent neighborhoods do not enjoy this luxury. Old 6th Ward Historic District is another example; owners in that neighborhood enjoy higher property values than owners on the non-designated side of Washington Ave.