COMMENT OF THE DAY: A SIMPLE QUESTION ABOUT BUYING A HOME IN HOUSTON “I’m in the market for a new place. Where can I find if the house was flooded or is otherwise in a compromised zone? It appears in Harris County such information wasn’t recorded or readily available. Thanks.” [Sparta, commenting on What Makes West Houston the Bermuda Triangle of Real Estate Disclosure] Illustration: Lulu
WHAT MAKES WEST HOUSTON THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE OF REAL ESTATE DISCLOSURE “None of the more than half a dozen residents interviewed by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica after the floods said they knew they were living inside Addicks or Barker — many of their neighborhoods are several miles away from the dams. Several local officials — including Houston’s ‘flood czar’ and a neighboring county executive — said they had no idea the neighborhoods had been built inside the flood pools. Several real estate agents said they didn’t realize they were selling homes inside the pools.” This from the latest exposé on how 14,000 homes came to be located in designed-to-flood areas inside the Addicks and Barker reservoirs. First, the good news: Of those 14,000 homes, only 5,138 of them flooded this time! Among the many additional OMG-worthy revelations from this latest report from the crack Houston-flooding investigations team of Neena Satija, Kiah Collier, and Al Shaw: Of those homes built inside the reservoirs, at least 4,000 of them were built after Tropical Storm Allison hit in 2001. That’s interesting to note, considering that a Harris County Flood Control District report published in 2003 warned that as many as 2,000 acres of private land inside the reservoirs might easily have flooded in that storm if the rains had fallen in a slightly different location. Also included: this little glance at the area’s real-estate future: “One five-bedroom home in Lakes on Eldridge . . . was listed for $678,000 about two weeks before it flooded during Harvey. The seller’s agent, Moira Holden, tried to put a positive spin on things when she updated the online listing that decreased the asking price by $10,000. ‘Unfortunately this stunning home did flood and is being refurbished to the highest spec!’ it says. ‘Fabulous chance to choose your finishes!‘ When asked if she would disclose to potential buyers that the home was inside Addicks Reservoir, Holden didn’t have a clear answer. ‘I will obviously disclose whatever we are required to disclose,’ she said, pointing out that the home wasn’t in a floodplain. ‘I would hope that the buyer’s Realtor would do their due diligence on that.'” [Texas Tribune; previously on Swamplot] Photo of 13119 Shermons Pond, for sale in Lakes on Eldridge: HAR
COMMENT OF THE DAY: HOW MUCH HOUSE YOU CAN AFFORD “. . . Affordable is in the eye of the beholder.
My brother wants to buy his first house, and I explained it to him thusly: To see how much house you can afford, NEVER start with one of those mortgage calculators. Instead, do the following: Evaluate your month to month finances. Figure out how much you can comfortably spend on housing every month, using your own situation of debts, expenses, etc. Multiply by 2/3 to see how much you can pay on a mortgage (the remaining 1/3 is escrow fees to cover required insurance, taxes, etc, which the mortgage calculators leave out.). THEN go to the mortgage calculator and work it backwards to see what price range you should be in. This will be your threshold for affordability. You will then probably want to knock off 10 or 12% and give that number to a realtor (this way if they show you something over your price range that you like, you can still go for it).
That said, on a macro scale, the affordability indices do have merit. Large corporations use the data to help determine where to locate offices. Federal and State governments use them to help determine who gets housing dollars. But it is important that we not treat those numbers as gospel for what we, individually, can afford in terms of housing.” [ZAW, commenting on Where Houston Ranks for Affordability; The Rise of Bicycle Commuting] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE CITY’S HOT SPOTS AND COOL SPOTS “The Houston housing market is really crazy right now. There may be 2.5 months of inventory on the market when you look at the numbers as a whole, but the real issue is some pockets are in demand and some aren’t. I have a buyer who has been looking in one area for months, being outbid when something does come up and after a dozen+ offers is under contract in 24 hours or less. In contrast I have a house across the street from mine that’s been on the market for months. Location is the key and those overall statistics of months inventory don’t paint the whole picture. I am REALLY hoping the spring season sees a flood of people putting their homes on the market but I have a feeling it won’t be as many as needed.” [Tawnya, commenting on What To Do with the Gus Wortham Golf Course; Record Houston Home Inventory Lows] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: YOUR INNER LOOP NEIGHBORS “Who wants to buy a house in the innermost area of Houston when you never know what horrible thing is gonna sprout 25 stories in the sky butted up next to your charming house and garden you spent so much time on? Renting is the only quick easy escape. Of course then your landlord sells the vintage apt bldg, gives tenants notice and the new owners tear it down. I feel sorry for my old neighbors, they’re about to have a colossal monstrosity next to them, after they put up with the banging and the big trucks and the port-a-potty that sits in the yard for 6 months. [Bethsheba, commenting on The First Look at That 25-Story Residential Highrise Hines Might Build in the Museum District] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN’T GET WITH A CONDO “Maintenance fees, common areas, special assessments . . . all great reasons to buy a single family home on its own lot with a sturdy fence on 3 sides (preferably 4). Bonus: you get to piss in your backyard whenever you want.” [Superdave, commenting on A Serene Single Bedroom in an Un-Orphaned Villa Serena] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: THOSE CRAZY DIY HOUSTONIANS “And what is up with everyone wanting to build a house? I have friends who are building in the Heights, Spring Branch and Oak Forest. I can tell you that it is a miserable process. Lots of delays (trades and materials can be in short supply), cost overruns, failed inspections, builders who don’t return calls until you start dropping the ‘l’ word (not ‘lesbian’) and having a double bill for housing if you buy the land. All of that just to get a ‘custom’ home that is really just a slight variation on a form of residential design that an architect has recycled dozens of times for different clients all around Houston. Why not just find a house you like well enough, make an offer, sweat the inspection and move in after 30 days?” [Old School, commenting on Garden Group Looking To Turn Gus Wortham Golf Course into Botanical Wonderland] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY: IMAGINING A HOUSTON TEARDOWN FINANCING FUND “Cool place. And could be bought with payments less than rent in the area. I wish lending were easier. I think this place would have a better chance of being saved. This will likely have to be bought unfinanced due to its condition, which means wrecking ball.
I’d love if there was a fund of sorts, funded by people that want these places saved. Then home buyers could borrow from this fund when bank financing was otherwise not available. That would give the people that want to save these places a way to put their money where their mouth was while not having to directly buy and rehab themselves. A bonus would be an actual return on their cash vs the .1% they get in a bank.
Dreaming, I know . . .” [cody, commenting on Peeling Away a Richmond Place Spanish Colonial Bungalow]
Brick-fired, you think? Swamplot tipster Ryan Lankford says that when he convinced his mom to add this tantalizing topping to her sign, the 2-story, 4,700-sq.-footer in Memorial that she’s standing in front of was shown 18 times and received 3 offers on its first day. Listed at $1.5 million, the house went option pending not 24 hours later.
Photo: Ryan Lankford
A FAKE STREET FOR REAL ESTATE SHOPPERS IN SPRING Opening in February, reports CultureMap, is a 10,000-sq.-ft. real estate “park” where a dozen lavishly turned-out showcase homes, ranging in styles from “The Midtown” to “The Calais” to “The Ashby Manor,” are presented for your perusal on a private cul-de-sac near I-45. Think of the immersive, don’t-mind-if-I-do shopping at IKEA blown up to the scale of Disney World — except at MainStreet America there will be fireworks and Christmases and tailgating parties and almost everything will be for sale: “Do you like the paint color, the metallic faux technique on the ceiling or the graphic wallpaper accent in the bedroom? The details are available and so are the prices. In fact, you can make the purchase on site. If that couch, occasional table or rug is what you are looking for, swap that credit card and have them delivered. Floral arrangements? Yes, those are for sale as well. Mirrors? Check. Artwork? In stock. Window treatments? You bet.” Admission for adults is only $10; children aged 5-17 can get in for half that. [CultureMap] Photo: MainStreet America
ENOUGH SQUARE FOOTAGE TO QUIBBLE OVER “We bought a fairly new house this year. We were all surprised when the appraiser’s square footage was 7 percent (200 square feet) smaller than what they had listed on HAR. Turns out the builder built the original owners a smaller house than they paid for. Some of their original closing documents showed the smaller square footage, but others had the larger number, so we understood why they were confused. We adjusted our offer price based on the revised square footage and called it good. . . . BUT as it turns out [the original owners] had been paying property taxes on the larger square footage. Now it’s our turn to pay the property taxes and I’d like to get the square footage corrected. Our estimate is that we’ll be overpaying by $600 this year if the error isn’t fixed. Unfortunately, I’m reading this information [PDF] from the HCAD website. I’m not sure whether this is a ‘clerical error’ or a ‘substantial error.’ For a substantial error, you apparently can’t protest unless the error causes the property to be over-appraised by more than one third (!). And for clerical errors, they say that inaccuracies in estimation such as estimating the square footage of a house, cannot be changed. I’m guessing I could push this as a clerical error (tell them they must have transposed some numbers when filling in their system). Has anyone done this with success? Or are we just screwed?” [Swamplot inbox; previously on Swamplot]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: OH, AND WATCH OUT FOR THOSE AREAS NEAR THE SHIP CHANNEL TOO “If you are looking inside the loop at places like Eastwood or just outside the loop at places like Oak Ridge and Westbury, be careful that your house is at least 1000 feet from any highways. Living within 1000 feet of a major highway can expose your children to serious air quality issues in addition to what we already have to endure in Houston. Also, make sure that you get the house tested for lead paint and be ready to have some cash on hand to do some work to remediate any lead paint on the interior and any lead paint that is coming off on the exterior. I always thought that I was being overly cautious when I had my house remediated before moving in. But one day I had my then 4 month old baby on the changing table and watched as he scratched the paint on the wall with his finger and then put his finger in his mouth . . .” [Old School, commenting on Crazy for the Inner Loop]
CRAZY FOR THE INNER LOOP “I’m sort of at my wit’s end, I don’t have anyone else I can ask, so here goes: say you have $150K–$200K (closer to $150K would be best/more realistic) to spend on a house anywhere in Houston — where do you buy, now, at this point in 2012? We’d prefer to keep it in the loop, and we’ve got a baby with more possibly on the way. Trying to buy a house in this city is driving me insane.” [Swamplot inbox]
If this West U mansion on Buffalo Speedway brings to mind a game of Clue, chalk it up to its interior layout — and its inadvertent role in a jewelry pilfering attempt by a house-hunting poseur earlier this year.
As with the classic board game, the listing identifies each room by its function. There’s a Music Room. A Loggia. Even a Billiards Room. It was in a Bedroom back in January, however, that an unassuming early guest at an open house allegedly rummaged through a jewelry drawer. He left quickly and empty-handed, but first “body-slammed” the sales agent who had interrupted him. An account of the incident that appeared in the Village News at the time (no longer online, unfortunately) said the perp, believed to have been working high-end open houses in 2 cities, was quickly ID’d, due in part to a fast-and-furious word-of-mouth campaign among Houston-area Realtors to name him and flush-out his whereabouts — and to remind fellow agents to be careful when showing properties.
The upshot? Don’t be surprised one of these days if you’re asked to show an ID and pose for a cell phone photo at a slightly less open open house. No ID required for this tour, though:
CONTINUE READING THIS STORY
COMMENT OF THE DAY: NEW URBANIST FLIGHT “Several posters are spot-on about walkable neighborhoods commanding a premium over traditional suburbs, if all else is equal. Unfortunately you can’t have it all in Houston – neighborhood charm, architecturally interesting houses, walkability, safety, good public schooling, AND affordability. Our growing family is being “forced” out of the Heights for several of the above reasons. If a New Urbanist development existed in the Houston area that was priced similarly to the traditional lollipop surburb, we would go there in an instant. Instead, we’re moving to what we see as the best suburban compromise – the Woodlands. Outside observers will no doubt think we are going to the suburbs because of the cul-de-sacs, but the truth is, we are going despite them.” [CV, commenting on Cul de Sac City: Houston’s Ban on New Street Grids]