Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Southern Living in the City

While I’m most certainly not writing this blog to promote my listings, this home is so beautiful and so reminiscent of the sophisticated, French-inspired Southern Living aesthetic that’s been on my mind so much lately—I had to share it!

My friend Deborah’s home was already one of my favorites out of the whole Memorial area. It’s stately and sweet, and Deborah reflects her home’s charm out to everyone she meets. She even calls me “sugar”—and trust me, in real estate, having a client that calls you “sugar” will turn the worst day into a great one. Look at how gorgeous this porch is: whenever I go to Deborah’s, I make sure to get there early so I can have some time to sit out there and sip from my imaginary thermos of mint juleps.

The lovely paneled walls in Deborah’s home remind me of the panels in the home I sold to Ruth Gay, who owns Chateau Domingue (an architectural boutique carrying distinctive, impeccably curated, antique found objects). Ruth has spectacular taste that she used to just transform her home; she saw the potential in the paneling and painted it a beautiful French blue and pale lavender.
If you have the vision, these small details can be used to give your home a real touch of atmosphere. Ruth’s house feels like an old French chateau, or maybe a breezy country farmhouse. Deborah’s home feels like a charming Southern retreat. What do you want your home to feel like?

To get some ideas, visit one of my favorite blogs: Cote de Texas. It’s all about incorporating thoughtful, sophisticated design into your Texas home, mixing vintage and antique with modern for some extraordinary results! If you’ve never looked at this blog, you’ll thank me. We could all use a touch of classy Southern Living in our lives!

Monday, April 18, 2011

And the Top Producer award goes to 80% of our firm!

Kenneth Schnitzer, the man who the New York Times called a “visionary” and whose buildings make up our distinctive Houston skyline, was my mentor in the real estate business. When I was 27, he gave me a promotion, and I became the youngest vice president that the company had ever had. I was happy, of course, but I just kept on doing the same work I had always done. One day Kenneth came over to me laughing, saying, “Sissy, you are so different than anyone else! You couldn’t care less what we call you. You just want to get the job done.”

It’s true! Titles are just titles. And I think there are a lot of real estate agents who think in just the opposite way. I was recently looking at the Chronicle real estate section and noticed a bunch of quarter-page ads by real estate firms advertising their "top producers."

It seemed strange to me. How could so many firms have so many top producers? I called my sweet friend at a large firm, and I asked her, “What makes a top producer?  Is there some sort of standard guideline that top firms adhere to?” I had to laugh thinking of a secret meeting of all the biggest real estate firms in Houston, in which they’d get together in some conference room and agree on the very important definition of a “top producer.”

Well, I laughed even harder when my friend told me that there’s no definition at all! Each firm defines what a top producer is for themselves. A top producer could be somebody who’s listed four homes at your own firm, or it could be somebody who’s sold four homes at another firm. It could simply be the number of years that they’ve been in business! Some firms give 70-80% of their agents the top producer title! These words are just totally meaningless. Just goes to remind you that titles don’t mean anything—it’s the work that counts.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's okay to ♥ Houston!

It’s been a hard year for the world, and with the global economy and the Internet’s flattening effect on industry and communication, what happens to the world also happens to us. We’ve had the Japanese disaster, the implosion of the old ways of the Middle East, and uncertainty only grows larger as we enter Libya.
Where you stand on these issues depends on where you’re sitting, and in the face of constant bad news—global, domestic, and local—I want to say that we’re still sitting pretty. What I see in Houston is an economy that, in spite of everything, has weathered this recession better than any other city in the United States. With the price of everything—food, gas, medicine, you name it—going up, we still haven’t seen the challenges that other parts of the country have seen. Our cost of living is still remarkably low relative to every other major city, and we’re truly the last surviving industrial city in America.

I think that housing prices will remain steady in Houston, the main reason being that we’re a migratory city. We have people moving here at a rate that outpaces any other area of the country, because we still have jobs. We certainly don’t have as many jobs as we used to, and I don’t want to discount the suffering that the recession has caused plenty of people in our city, but we’re one of the only cities in America that has successfully created jobs in the down economy.
With that being said, there’s been very little construction since the recession, and although I feel that people will continue to move to Houston, I suspect that they might not be moving because they want to but because they have to.

For us, the Houston residents, we should think about how our city’s made it and be proud and thankful. We have foreclosures, but our foreclosure rate is nothing compared to the rate in states where people were allowed to pull equity out of their home like an ATM card. Our homes didn’t show the out-of-control appreciation that homes in other states did. We had steady appreciation, which is always better.

We don't have personal income tax. We have other, higher taxes to make up for it—but I’m pretty sure a lot of us appreciate this anyway. Like the adage goes, it’s not what you say but how you say it that matters! And high property taxes may have a lot to do with our real estate being able to weather the recession’s storm.
And the bottom line is that we have an entrepreneurial spirit unmatched by any other city or state. We have more Fortune 500 companies than New York, and in contrast, we’re still home to 230,000 businesses with less than 100 employees—a pretty remarkable statistic in 2011.

Houston will continue to grow. Forbes ranked us the #1 “Place to Get Ahead” city in 2009. People will continue to come here for business opportunities. The housing market isn’t exactly rosy right now, but I believe that it’ll take about four years for us to see a housing shortage and a substantial increase in prices. Sit tight, and soon we’ll all be sitting even prettier. As this shirt says, it's okay to love Houston!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A new generation moving to the Heights?


About two years ago, a friend invited me to a restaurant called Shade in the Heights. I hadn’t been to the area in probably 10+ years, but I’m always ready to try a new great restaurant—and what I found on that trip was an amazing, surprising neighborhood that would soon start attracting people from outside the loop.

Shade was fabulous. The design is sleek, and the atmosphere is casual, quirky, and elegant. Once inside, you can forget you’re in Houston and imagine you’re in Soho on a visit to New York. When we finished our meal, we walked down to the Penzey Spice Shop, where they had some of the coolest, best spices I’d ever seen. There I was able to buy a present for one of those friends who’s impossible to buy presents for; since she sprinkles crushed red pepper all over every dish, I bought her an imported spice that was 10 times spicier than what you’d find at the grocery store. I love the feeling of getting the perfect gift, and with that plus the food at Shade, I was hooked on the Heights.

Recently, I’ve had three families from the Memorial area move to the Heights. They’re not empty nesters, and it made me realize that this shift was becoming a trend. For the last few years, national trends in everything from food to fashion to music have shifted from a corporate flashiness to a humbler and more hip aesthetic, and it seems that Houston is no exception. Farmer’s markets, Discovery Green, and now, formerly Memorial-based families moving to the Heights.

The Heights, with its mix of people and real estate (gorgeous, expansive homes next to run-down shanties), appeals to everyone. It has a small-town feel, yet it’s minutes from downtown. When Wal-Mart tried to open a store in this area, the community response would make you think that they were trying to build a nuclear power plant. Just like the West U community continues to protest with ever-increasing indignance against the Ashby high rise, the people of the Heights want to keep their local charm.

And why wouldn’t they? There aren’t too many places in Houston where restaurants are still locally owned, where the community braves the heat to hang out with each other outside. Food trucks, a trend that never left Austin, have come back to our city—a welcome reminder of my college days, where the third vendor on the drag would sell “lemony lemonade salvation sandwiches,” and one time the Vietnamese eggroll cart caught on fire and made the front page of the Austin statesman.


Visit the Heights if you haven’t been there in awhile and it’ll feel like a breath of fresh air, a piece of carefree living straight out of your twenties. I recently went to a small restaurant called Zelko’s, where the food is sourced locally and the menu changes daily. The manager is a St. John’s alumnus, and one day he sat down at our table with the young chef Jamie and talked to us about food and wine for over 20 minutes. It’s so different from a lot of the other experiences you’ll have at restaurants in Houston. It’s personal, about making a memory and not turning tables. We finished our dinner, went over to a friend’s house, and sat on the porch with a glass of wine. Within minutes, some neighbors had joined us, and I ended up talking to someone who had left a big corporate job to start a music studio—and had been successful within 60 days! Where else but the Heights could you do this? Then, the neighbors from across the street came over from their relatively humble home and started talking about their son’s deployment to Afghanistan.
Houston is a great city, but in a lot of neighborhoods, we lack the community and relaxation and personal connection that a small town brings. The Heights brings that back, and you can reclaim it through a day’s visit or maybe even a move. If you’re an empty nester or feeling a tug towards those college days where things were unexpected and not always so neatly packaged, the Heights might be the place for you.