COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: HOW TO ADDRESS THE TOWNHOME GAP “I’ve always wondered how it will be possible to maintain (or one day have to replace) the fiber cement siding in between all those 3-story homes separated by what looks like mere shoulder width. Super thin scaffolding?” [Progg, commenting on Comment of the Day: The Real Difference Between a Townhome and a Patio Home] Photo of 3108 Baer St., Fifth Ward: HAR
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: IT’S NOT WHAT YOU HAVE, IT’S HOW IT’S ATTACHED “As an engineer who regularly performs inspections of homes/businesses, I don’t think there’s an issue with stucco itself. If properly installed and maintained, it works fine. Maintenance is just as important as installation, however most home owners do a poor job of regular maintenance on their house and just blame the builder for any issues that appear 5 years down the road. A good practice is to inspect and re-caulk any seals on the exterior of your house every year, preferably before the spring rainy season.
However, I wouldn’t go with the impermeable barrier system in Houston, which assumes that no moisture will get behind the wall (so there are no weep holes at the bottom). I’d rather have a ‘breathable’ building envelope, because keeping moisture out is very difficult with the soil conditions and climate we have in the area.” [Chase, commenting on Comment of the Day: Why Is Houston Still Stuck on Stucco?] Illustration: Lulu
A group called Friends of the Fountain has started an online campaign to raise $60,000 for reversing the recently-halted-after-all changes to the Mecom Fountain, at the roundabout confluence of Main St. and Montrose Blvd. near the entrance to Hermann Park. The group’s crowdfunding page says the money will be used to remove the limestone panels recently screwed around the concrete wall of the 1964 modernist fountain’s elliptical main basin, as well as to repair the concrete and to repaint. A member of Mayor Turner’s transition committee involved with the project also tells Swamplot this morning that around $25,000 of those funds will replace the grant money spent to add the panels in the first place.
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In Reverse at the Roundabout
Update (2/9): The entire beacon fixture has been replaced. See this story for details.
The rotating spotlight on top of the 64-story Williams Tower in the Galleria area has been back on for a few weeks, following an autumnal hiatus.
According to a representative of the tower’s property management office, the beam stayed dark during difficulties finding the correct kind of bulb for the fixture. A reader sent a report this week from a bedroom window overlooking the Galleria area:
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Twinkle, Twinkle, Giant Bulb
WHEN SYSTEMS BREAK DOWN A reader writes: “The non-profit I work for is currently looking for a new office. We found a great location in East Downtown, near the new rail line, recently renovated, and a great price. It is essentially our dream office.
During the lease negotiations the realtor said that after 90 days into the 3 year lease, if any plumbing, electrical, or HVAC issues arise, we would be responsible for paying it. Including any replacement and labor.
When countered with a ‘no,’ the realtor stated that this was a normal practice in Houston and ‘good luck trying to find a place that will let you get away with that.’
Being new to this process, we are curious if this is true. The current office we are in does not require that and I personally have not heard of it other places.” Photo: Russell Hancock
THE NEXT BIG EVENT PLANNED FOR THE ASTRODOME WILL BE A WASH When was the last time anyone bothered to clean the exterior of the Astrodome? Long enough ago to merit media coverage for word that the Dome’s caretakers have now decided to do something about the building’s growing exterior grunge. The Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation, having presided for 15 years over the former sports stadium’s steady decay, is about to embark on its first notable Dome maintenance operation since firefighters used fans to blow smoke out of the building in the aftermath of a 2011 transformer fire in the vacant facility. With approval from the Texas Historical Commission, reports Fox 26’s Mark Berman, the agency will award local building restoration and pressure-washing practitioners Green Team Services $63,800 to clean the outside of the structure. [My Fox Houston; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Green Team Services
IF YOU TYPED ‘POTHOLE,’ PLEASE TYPE ‘YES’ A spurting water main? One of your neighbor’s free-range hens clucking the ever-loving night away? There’s an app for that: today, the city is launching a 311 app that will help smartphone-equipped Houstonians report and track complaints: “‘Say you see a pothole on your street. Before you even leave for work you can walk over, launch the app and type in ‘pothole,’ [city spokesperson Chris Newport] said. ‘You have the option of taking a picture, punching in the address and answering two other questions before you hit send.'” [Houston Chronicle] Photo: Chelsea Gomez (Oakes)
COMMENT OF THE DAY: POWER WASH THE DOME! “It has been about three years since I was V.P. of the company trying to convince Harris County to let us use the Astrodome as a movie production studio. at that time, my research into costs of sprucing up the building’s exterior revealed that plain old pressure washing could make a huge difference in the outside appearance. The company I consulted, specialists at cleaning large scale commercial buildings – like international airports – said it could be done for $500,000 or under. While that is a lot of money to most of us, it is not much compared to the negative P.R. ‘black eye’ that our dirty and forlorn-looking icon gives Houston. If only the Harris County Commissioners, the true stewards of the Dome, would clean up the exterior and do some landscape refreshing perhaps the grand old building would not appear so neglected to the rest of the world. While the interior still has grand promise, if only temporarily as a storage facility, the county should invest in putting the Astrodome’s best ‘face’ forward until its future use is determined. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t read about the Dome in the national media and blogs and it usually includes a negative nod to its appearance. This is something that CAN be done without a referendum!” [Cynthia Neely, commenting on The Astrodome’s New Gig: AstroTurf Storage Warehouse]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHAT YOU REALLY MADE ON YOUR HOUSE “. . . Most people say ‘I bought it for x and sold it for y, so I made an (y-x)/x return on my house’ which really isn’t the case. That formula can tell you your total appreciation in market value, but that is not the same as your ROI.
To get closer to calculating an accurate nominal return, you need deduct the following from y: total in real estate taxes you paid while you owned the home, total expenses for repairs and maintenance, total amount of insurance premiums, the total interest and fees you paid to a lender before paying off your mortgage, and any commissions you paid to a realtor. You can then add back any income tax benefit you got for deducting your interest payments as well as any income you got from renting out all or part of your property.
If you wanted to take things to the next level you could discount these cash flows and also convert nominal dollars to real, but I think even with just doing the above exercise most people will find that they didn’t really make as much money on their house as they think they did, and unless you manage to time your purchase, sale, and hold period just right, home values really have to appreciate significantly each year for the regular homeowner to just break even on it as a pure investment.
That said, I think there are a lot of other very good arguments in favor of home ownership, including some financial ones. My point is just that if you bought a house for $100K and sold it 10 years later for $200K, you didn’t actually get a 10% annual return unless your property was tax exempt, you paid cash (and had a separate account set up to hedge inflation and compensate you for the cost of that capital being tied up for ten years), sold it yourself, didn’t buy homeowner’s or flood insurance, and never made any repairs.” [You Didn’t Earn That, commenting on Comment of the Day: What You Inner Loopers Got Wrong]
HOUSTON JANITORS CLEAN UP AFTER STRIKE Six of the 7 janitorial services companies affected by a month-long walkout agreed to a tentative settlement late Wednesday that should end the work stoppage by more than 3,000 Houston janitors. Beginning next January, janitors will earn an additional 25 cents an hour each year, bringing their pay to $9.35 an hour by 2016. The Service Employees International Union Local 1 had sought an increase to $10 an hour over 3 years, beginning a strike early last month after the companies offered only a 50-cent increase over 5 years. The janitors were reportedly unsuccessful in efforts to lengthen their work hours. [Texas Observer]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE SHELF LIFE OF APARTMENT COMPLEXES “. . . please drive by the Belmont Apartments on Bissonnet between Buffalo Speedway and Kirby. They were built in 1991 and pretty much kicked off the modern era of apartment development in Houston (post 80′s bust). They are in FINE condition at the ripe old age of 21 years.
There are plenty more early 90′s vintage complexes around that are also going strong and aging well. Vanderbilt Square (1995). Inverness (1991). Pin Oak Green etc. (1991). City Scape. City Walk. And MANY more. There is nothing wrong with these 20 year old complexes.
Finally, take a look at Westchase or Avalon Square and you’ll see 50 year old apartment complexes that are still fine places to live.
Yes. Buildings age. And deteriorate over time. But well located assets in high demand sub-markets where the rental rates are high enough to finance proper maintenance can stand the test of time.” [Bernard, commenting on Apartments Replacing Park Memorial Condos in Rice Military: More than Triple the Density]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: CAREFREE HOMESTEADING IN HOUSTON “Living in a teardown is the best way to own a residence homestead. Cracked slab? Let it widen. Brickwork splits open and doors stick? Apply caulk, sand the doors. Roof needs replacement? Paint over the water stains on the ceiling and stick some buckets in the attic to catch the drip. Black mold? Spray a solution of bleach and water on it. Buy some air freshener. Don’t like the off-white color of the walls? Paint it neon pink with glitter, if that’s what suits you. Nobody cares. You live in a teardown!” [TheNiche, commenting on Crazy for the Inner Loop]
Teevee reporter Courtney Zubowski follows up on questions raised by some recent photos published on Swamplot: Just how badly trashed is the Astrodome? The county claims to be spending $2 to $3 million a year to maintain the vacant structure, but apparently that amount isn’t enough to keep the place presentable. A burst 8th-floor pipe has drenched the Astroturf, seats are caked with dust, pipe insulation is frayed, and hung ceilings have collapsed on office space:
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REPAIRS DONE, WEDGE AS IT WAS The Swamplot reader who noted a color change in the panels at the top of the WEDGE International Tower at Louisiana and Bell St. downtown last week informs us that they’ve since been returned to their original appearance, and submits this pic from a perch at the Tellepsen YMCA a couple of blocks away to prove it: “Presumably, as one of the commenters surmised, they were just running through some routine maintenance.” We now return to our regularly scheduled Swamplot programming. Photo: Swamplot inbox
COMMENT OF THE DAY: WHY’D THEY LET THE ASTRODOME ROT? “. . . It doesn’t have to just sit there and waste our tax dollars, but unfortunately taxpayers are letting that happen by not pressuring the county to take immediate steps towards making it useful. Instead of doing nothing while waiting on what it will be in its grand ‘next life’ they should be getting it up to code, bit by bit, step by step so that it can be used, or at least parts of it be used – like maybe just the field – to start bringing in revenue. Before the doors closed permanently, a family paid around $18,000 to rent the field for a bar mitzvah. Don’t know how much director/producer John Lee Hancock paid to lease it for his movie Friday Night Lights (Sport & Convention Corp. wouldn’t tell me) but it wasn’t chickenfeed. If the county had been doing stuff like this all along the building would still be inhabitable and probably be at least paying for itself. It certainly would be a lot more attractive to potential investors. Taxpayers need to be pro-active and tell their commissioners to start fixing it up NOW and not wait another month or six months (at $300,000-400,000 a month) or a year! They should put that money to work and not down the drain. Taxpayers should show up at Commissioners Court and insist that the process to get the building operational, even in some small way, should start NOW.” [Cynthia Neely, commenting on How To Demolish the Astrodome: No Dynamite, Please]