Real Estate Round-Up
Martha Turner sings through the recession and Houston home prices rise
Keep on smilin' through the rain, laughin' at the pain/
Just flowin' with the changes, till the sun comes out again — Wet Willie.
If an ice storm is coming, and it’s freezing outside, Martha Turner calls the nasty weather “interesting,” and says it will be a fun change of pace that will give folks something to talk about. Of course, Martha Turner is always optimistic, even when the skies are gray and the economy stinks.
She has reason to be: Coming out of the nastiest recession since the 1930s, Martha Turner Properties just recorded the best year in the realty company’s 30-year history.
Two years ago, things weren’t so bright. Houston was still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, which gutted the Galveston real estate market, damaged property throughout Houston and snuffed out any remaining ember of positive consumer sentiment. The stock market was tanking, and wealth was vanishing as 401K accounts shriveled and home prices nosedived across the country.
The Houston market wasn’t as bad as some parts of the nation — realty prices were down only 10 percent or so here. But as the recession deepened, houses just weren’t selling. There were fewer transactions and skinnier commissions.
In other words, it was time for Martha Turner Properties to shed its skin and transform itself into a new animal — or else.
Change You Can Believe In
For years, the company had been pretty high-toned, known for serving River Oaks, West University Place, Memorial and other affluent neighborhoods. Prior to going into real estate, Turner had been a school teacher at the private River Oaks Baptist School, and she had a lot of contacts from that upscale base. Turner had matched up against tough competitors like John Daugherty, Heritage Texas and Greenwood King and duked out a nice niche in Houston’s upper-end real estate market
But the old tactics weren’t cutting it anymore — not in 2009, at least.
The answer? Turner went after all of Houston. That included the low-end of the market — i.e. inexpensive houses.
“We were identified with the high-end market, but we knew we needed the middle market to survive,” says Tom Anderson, partner and executive vice president with Turner’s firm. “It changed the company and allowed us to penetrate market areas where we hadn't had a strong presence before.”
And MarthaTurner took to the airwaves with TV spots saying: “We list and sell in all price ranges from $20,000 to $20 million.”
The public bought it. Turner branched out, penetrated more neighborhoods and sold more houses than ever before. In 2010, the Houston realty firm sold 2,044 properties for $1.2 billion.
So what’s next? Well, for one thing, the company is looking to open its sixth office this year — probably somewhere in Fort Bend County.
But what’s next for Houston, Martha? The Houston economy is projected to have improved job growth in 2011, and Turner is expecting a modest rise in home prices. The home price increases will give buyers more confidence and improve sales volumes, Turner says.
Any neighborhood looking really hot? Turner says Oak Forest is strong and getting a lot of tear-down activity and new home construction. (Oak Forest is west of the Heights, near Ella Boulevard and W. 34th Street. Infamous developer Frank Sharp started developing Oak Forest in the mid-1940s.)
Houston Home Prices Up
Home prices appear to be going up in Houston again.
Clear Capital, a real estate data firm based in California, reported that Houston home prices have rebounded better than most cities around the nation, and some cities are still suffering declines. Houston houses had a 5.6 percent price gain over the last year and a 1.7 percent gain in prices over the last three months, Clear Capital said.
The Houston Association of Realtors reported that local home prices were up overall during 2010, despite the fact that fewer homes were sold in 2010 than in 2009. The average single-family home price rose to $211,765 in 2010, up 4 percent from $203,626 in 2009, the HAR reported. That was much better than the year before. The city’s average single-family home price dropped 2.2 percent in 2009, down from 2008, according to HAR.
The housing market is not booming — there will be no instant recovery. If job growth doesn’t materialize or mortgage interest rates rise sharply, the rebound will be dampened. But any rise in home prices is a welcome relief from the days of decline.
Ralph Bivins, former president of the National Association of Real Estate Editors, is editor-in-chief of RealtyNewsReport.com.