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
Here’s the backside of the 12-story former KBR office building that Midway has for the last week lit up with a new message in hopes of signaling to Amazon and avian passers-by that it buys into the concept underlying many of Jeff Bezos’s business decisions. Also: That the surrounding 150-acre property on the north side of Buffalo Bayou east of Downtown Houston that the company has renamed East River would make a fine second headquarters campus for the online and offline retailer. Day 1 is the name assigned successively to 3 different Amazon buildings in Seattle, the latest a new 37-story downtown tower that itself features a lit-up sign on its lower floors that reads HELLO WORLD. Day 1 is also a common catchphrase in the company, a reminder to itself, among other things, to focus on outcomes rather than process and to make decisions quickly, even if you have less information available than you’d like.
Day 1 for this Houston sign was October 2nd. As a reader reported last week, since then the vacant building has been sporting the company’s NASDAQ ticker symbol on the opposite side to match:
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Day 1 on Clinton Dr.
The tallest of the 5 vacant structures remaining in the 136-acre former KBR campus fronting Buffalo Bayou east of Downtown that new owner Midway has dubbed East River has been sporting a new night-time look as of this week. The lights in the photo above, taken last night by a reader, spell out the NASDAQ ticker symbol of Amazon — which has announced a nationwide search for a second headquarters campus.
Previously, the lights in the 12-story office building at 4100 Clinton Dr. in the Fifth Ward had been tuned to HTX:
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Hey Lookie Here!
HOW TO NEGOTIATE THE MANY COMPLICATED EMOTIONS INVOLVED IN LISTING YOUR NOTTINGHAM FOREST HOME From the new listing for 302 Hickory Post Ln., posted yesterday: “Build your dream home here! This is a remodel or a tear down! Your choice. The Lot is amazing and is nestled at the end of the culdesac and backs up to the bayou. This was the only time the home ever flooded! Serious buyers only! Please don’t waste our time with low ball offers!” [HAR; previously on Swamplot]
WHEN GOOGLE MAPS REVEALS YOUR HOME’S SOGGY SHAME “Google Maps has outed us as a city that floods,” laments meteorologist Brooks Garner, giving voice to would-be sellers of flooded homes worried that recent soggy aerial views will remain in the mapping system for years: “It should be said that legally, home owners must disclose if their home has ever flooded (or even if their property has flooded, while their actual house stayed dry). While that’s defeating enough to have to do, words are less influencing to a buyer’s decision than seeing an actual image of the inundated neighborhood. It arguably gives the impression that the water is still that high. . . . KHOU 11 has featured Realtors on our News at 4pm who’ve speculated that once people ‘forget’ about the floods, depressed home values in submerged areas will return to their pre-Harvey prices. (At least one realtor with that opinion was a victim of flooding himself, so I wonder if that fact influenced his statement.) . . . Here are several other ‘unfair’ things: Neighborhoods which experienced short-term flooding, but saw it subside after a day or two, were largely missed by the Google satellite update. They look high and dry. The only ‘tell’ in some is the trash which is piled high along the sidewalks. Drywall, couches, mattresses and furniture making up these walls of debris. It’s so extensive in places like Meyerland you can see [it] from space. In other areas like Hall Rd. off Beamer in southeast Houston, the satellite-update at time of this blog’s publishing apparently ‘missed’ the neighborhood and as a result, things look totally normal despite the huge mounds of refuse still present today.” [KHOU] Screenshot of Cinco Ranch on Google Maps: KHOU
Here’s a cruel twist on all those DID NOT FLOOD signs popping up in front of homes in Harvey’s wake — and perhaps a cautionary tale for potential buyers of some of them: When it was offered for sale this summer, this 3-bedroom 1957 home on Yarwell Dr. in Meyerland between Chimney Rock and S. Post Oak featured a proud NEVER FLOODED topper on its for-sale sign. But Hurricane Harvey permanently altered that situation. Reader James Thomson snapped this shot of the front yard on September 4th, showing the first part of the sign painted over to reflect the home’s new status. The property has since been taken off the market.
Photo: James Thomson
THE MANY DILAPIDATED PROPERTIES OF SCOTT WIZIG Writer Rachel Monroe catches up on the real estate empire of Scott Wizig, whose extensive operation scoops up properties at tax sales — and lets you know about it by means of those often hand-scrawled bandit signs offering them for seemingly sympathetic terms. Using a scrambled web of LLCs, Monroe explains, the Bellaire resident became the biggest private owner of derelict houses in Baltimore: “Wizig wouldn’t speak with me for months. When he finally agreed to, he didn’t want to discuss how he profits from buying up distressed properties. By the time we spoke, he was trying to rid himself of his Baltimore properties, just as he’d done before in Buffalo. He presented his work as a form of charity: In his view, he helps the city by selling homes and providing financing to people who otherwise couldn’t afford them. (The Houston Press has reported on his company’s sales of legally uninhabitable houses to undocumented immigrants.) He donates to local minority youth groups and hosted a book signing last year for Martin Luther King III and Representative John Lewis. . . . It’s true that in Baltimore, unlike in Buffalo, Wizig focused on selling his properties to other investors rather than renting them out to low-income tenants. But to those who live next to his unmaintained properties, the precise shading of his business model offers little comfort.” [The New Republic] Photo of 5441 Ridge Wind Ln., for sale in Quail Ridge: Wizig’s SWE Homes
HOW IT CAME TO PASS THAT HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES PURCHASED HOMES INSIDE HOUSTON’S RESERVOIRS Many of the flooding victims upstream of Addicks and Barker dams learned for the first time that their homes were inside government-designated reservoirs only after rains from Harvey flooded their neighborhoods, reports Naomi Martin. How had they come to live there? “The corps didn’t feel the need to acquire all the land at the time the reservoirs were built, [the Army Corps of Engineers’ Richard] Long said, because that land was nothing but rice farms and fields where cattle grazed. It didn’t stay that way. In 1997, developers came before Fort Bend County government for approval to put subdivisions on the pastures. Aware of the flood risk to the area, the county was in a bind. It didn’t have the authority to prohibit development or establish zoning rules, said County Judge Robert Hebert, who has been in office since 2003. So the county insisted, ‘over great objection’ by developers, on including a warning on the plat, Hebert said. The county, he said, ‘felt it was a defect on the land that should be pointed out.'” The warning appeared as a small note on the plat document establishing some later Fort Bend County subdivisions, but equivalent declarations were absent on documents establishing nearby Harris County subdivisions. [Dallas Morning News] Aerial view of flooding in Canyon Gate, Cinco Ranch: Michael Fry
Popular yet again in Houston: The DID NOT FLOOD sign topper. Here’s a new one spotted by wandering photographer Joshua House in front of the Covington Builders 4-story townhome development at 3821 N. Braeswood Blvd., one block north of Brays Bayou and a couple blocks east of Stella Link.
Where have you spotted signs like these in Harvey’s aftermath? Please send pics and coordinates to us. Swamplot wants to know what DID NOT FLOOD.
Photo: Joshua House
Above It All
HOUSTON’S NEW HIGH-WATER MARK It took a journey to the moon for Houston to become Space City, an NBA championship for it to become Clutch City, thousands of years of storm drainage for it to become the Bayou City, its emergence as a lower-cost alternative to New York, LA, and Chicago to become Discount City, an American League pennant run for it to become Crush City, a clever marketing campaign that plays on the city’s famous sprawl and lack of zoning laws for it to become The City with No Limits, and a Hollywood movie for Houston to become the preferred invocation preceding any declaration that “We’ve Got a Problem.” Now, amid the fluid aftermath of Harvey and the resulting flood of worldwide media coverage for the city’s latest historic high-water event, is Houston set to become known as . . . That City That Floods? “This ‘Houston Hang In There’ logo designed by Chad Ehlinger has become the go-to symbol uniting the city of Houston during this trying time,” reads a note posted last week to the Facebook page of Cactus Music, promoting the sale of T-shirts emblazoned with the mark, with proceeds promised to JJ Watt’s Houston Flood Relief Fund. (Hats with a similar charitable promise are available now too.) Like all great logos, Ehlinger’s badge of hope accommodates alternate readings: Is that a hand raising high the city’s initial in a defiant gesture of pride? Or someone hanging on for dear life as the floodwaters rise? If so, do we imagine the next step: a one-handed pull-up, lifting ourselves out of our predicament and into a drier future? What would it take for a new civic identity to emerge from the floodwaters — one that incorporates a more honest recognition of the city’s fundamental ongoing battle with drainage? A message of perseverance provides great cover. [Cactus Music] Logo: Chad Ehlingerm
COMMENT OF THE DAY: THE GREAT RESETTLEMENT “I suspect you’ll start seeing ‘Didn’t flood in Harvey’ as a selling point in future real estate listings, which will drive up the land values, and drive the poor out to the flooded areas (which is par for the course). It’s no wonder that happened, though. Many of the oldest neighborhoods in Houston are also predominately minority. And the oldest neighborhoods (read, first settled) are the highest points in Houston. After all, who is going to settle in a lowland when the ‘highlands’ are still available?” [Chris C., commenting on Our Place Never Flooded] Illustration: Lulu
COMMENT OF THE DAY RUNNER-UP: TRUST, BUT VERIFY “My home didn’t flood, though a few blocks away, others did. I wonder if we could get a ‘Certificate of Nonflooding’ or some such official thing. I always laugh when I see a home listing with the words ‘Never flooded, per owner.’ Yeah, right!” [Gisgo, commenting on Metro Back in Service; Public Health Threats; A 12-Step Program for Houston’s Flooding Problem] Illustration: Lulu