Real Estate Confidential: CultureMap's month-long search for the perfect home(and office)
June is traditionally the start of the summer vacation season — a time when everyone slows down. But in the world of real estate, it's all business.
For those looking to buy or sell a house, the early summer months are one of the busiest times of the year. There's no holiday rush to contend with, the kids are out of school, and many times, if someone is transferred for work, it's the perfect opportunity to get everyone moved and settled before school starts up in August.
So, here at CultureMap, we decided to make our June theme, "Real Estate Confidential." Over the next month, we plan to tell you just about everything you need to know to buy or sell a house — while taking a look at what's happening in the world of Houston real estate, from suburban ranch-style homes to in-town high-rise condos.
We'll ask the experts to explain the Houston housing market and offer tips on things like how to "stage" a home for maximum impact and ways to survive the closing, where something invariably will go wrong at the last minute.
And we'll look at some of the most interesting homes on the market now, examine what's going to happen to the great wealth of mid-century modern homes and offices in Houston, decipher the joys of vertical living, and weigh the pro's and con's of renting vs. buying.
I've played the buying-and-selling game several times, and, frankly, I'd rather have a root canal than go through it again. I abhor the process so much that the last time we were in the market for a house I refused to go on the search until my partner and our real estate friend had seen everything worthwhile in our price range in our target area — Montrose and the Heights — and whittled the list down to the best two or three available. We chose a 1920 Montrose bungalow with a lot of potential in our price range. (That was in 1997; we couldn't afford the neighborhood in 2010.)
However, now I love watching House Hunters on HGTV, so I must be coming around. (Hey HGTV: Why don't you feature more homes in Houston?)
As Houstonians, we are lucky. Even through the recession, homes have, more or less, held their value — unlike Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami and much of California, where home prices have dropped dramatically. And Houston home prices consistently remain below the national average for major cities, a great selling point in luring new business to the Bayou City.
While the market has been sluggish the last couple of years, CultureMap real estate expert Ralph Bivins notes several signs that the Houston real estate market is perking up. Residential sales and building permits in the spring have increased over the same period last year and the market for multi-million-dollar mansions is flourishing. Ralph is organizing the National Association of Real Estate Editors conference in Austin later this week and I'll be a panelist there, so I hope to learn more about how residential real estate works and report back with my "Dummy's Guide to Real Estate."
Lately, I've learned a lot about commercial real estate, too. CultureMap is growing so fast that we left our cramped Rice Village office for a really large, really cool loft space facing Buffalo Bayou just north of downtown in the warehouse district near the University of Houston-Downtown campus. It's one area of Houston I don't know much about. Some of the city's oldest buildings are here — with eclectic tenants ranging from Houston Studios to the nation's best looking jail (at least from the outside) — so there's a real sense of history here that's missing in other parts of town.
Our upstairs neighbors, who live in residential lofts, walk to work in downtown Houston or ride the light rail from the UH-D station. We're within walking distance of the iconic Last Concert Cafe and Ray's, which serves some of the best burgers and hot dogs in town. I really like the edgy urban space. It mirrors what CultureMap aspires to be.
Drop by and see us sometime.