Roger Martin and Life in the Loop

 

June 25, 2010

West University Place - New Colonial Park Pool

Colonial Park Pool has been re-designed for water-playOur local kids are all raving about the new neighborhood pool complex for West University Place.  Colonial Park Pool, located at 4130 Byron, has been newly-renovated in 2010 as a water-play feature!

When this was the only pool in West University Place all the lap swimmers, swim teams, swim classes, and free-swimmers were forced to compete for space in this one facility.  Not so any more!  The lap swimmers have all moved over to the new West University Place Recreaction Center at 4120 Bellaire Blvd.  This pool has been re-designed as our own enormous waterpark.

The pool is divided into several different areas, each with a different purpose.  A sun-bathing area with in-water lounge chairs separates the shallow end from the deeper water areas.  The shallow end includes a large climbing structure with several small slides and a bunch of water cannons.

Of course one of the deep-end activity areas is your classic diving board.  But in addition to the diving board, there is also a water slide and a climbing wall (shown above).  Another pool is dedicated especially to water sports (water polo or volley ball or basket ball or what have you).  The balls are supplied by the City.  There is also a lily-pad “bridge”.

The much-beloved shady and grassy areas have been preserved for picnicking, including the enormous deck under the live oaks.  Colonial Park also features a giant playground, a pavilion, and two lighted tennis courts.

And the concession stand – well, that’s another great story!

For pool hours and fees, visit the City of West University Place website at www.westu.org.  I can't think of a better way to beat the heat!

Roger Martin

June 18, 2010

Houston - Best Cities for Young Professionals

Houston named best city for young professionalsHouston has just been named one of America's best cities for young professionals, according to Forbes.com....

June 17, 2010

University valedictorians, overachievers and would-be entrepreneurs across the country graduated this month into a bleak economic landscape.  Faced with 9.5% national unemployment, even the most ambitious young people are thinking carefully about how to find their best shot at success.

Our advice? Consider moving to Houston, Texas, Washington, D.C., or Minneapolis, Minn. These three cities to Forbes' fourth-annual list of best cities for young professionals--places where ambitious college grads can get a strong start on a high-powered career."

Francesca Levy, www.Forbes.com

Yes, Houston is a job-creating engine, and it just keeps on.  To read the full article, click here.

May 29, 2010

Houston - a Model 21st Century City

Houston - a model 21st century cityAccording to Forbes.com, Houston is a model 21st century city...

June 7, 2010

Innovation, job growth and immigration put Houston ahead of New York and Boston

Do cities have a future? Pessimists point to industrial-era holdovers like Detroit and Cleveland. Urban boosters point to dense, expensive cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco. Yet if you want to see successful 21st-century urbanism, hop on down to Houston and Texas, the Lone Star State.

You won't be alone: Last year Houston added 141,000 residents, more than any region in the U.S. save the city's similarly sprawling rival, Dallas-Fort Worth. Over the past decade Houston's population has grown by 24%--five times the rate of San Francisco, Boston and New York. In that time it has attracted 244,000 new residents from other parts of the U.S. while older cities experienced high rates of out-migration. It is even catching up on foreign immigration, enjoying a rate comparable with New York's and roughly 50% higher than that of Boston or Chicago.

So what does Houston have that these other cities lack? Opportunity. Between 2000 and 2009 Houston's employment grew by 260,000. Greater New York City--with nearly three times the population of Houston--has added only 96,000 jobs. The Chicago area has lost 258,000 jobs. San Francisco 217,000, Los Angeles 168,000 and Boston 100,004.

Politicians in big cities talk about jobs, but by keeping taxes fees and regulatory barriers high they discourage the creation of jobs, at least in the private sector. A business in San Francisco or Los Angeles never knows what bizarre new cost will be imposed by city hall. In New York or Boston you can thrive as a nonprofit executive, high-end consultant or financier, but if you are the owner of a business that wants to grow you're out of luck.

Houston, however, has kept the cost of goverment low while investing in ports, airports, roads, transit and schools. A person or business moving there gets an immediate raise through lower taxes and cheaper real estate. Houston just works better at nurturing jobs.

It's not just smug coastal places getting smoked by Texas. Since the collapse of the housing bubble Houston has outperformed Sunbelt counterparts like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. A big factor has been that manufacturing, professional services, international trade and technology industries have been the primary drivers of the city's economic growth--rather than construction and speculation. Ironically, this has increased home values. Since 2007 prices of homes in Houston have ticked slightly higher, while those in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and the Bay Area each are down by more than 35%.

Some traditional urbanists will concede these facts but then try to shift the focus to 'qualitative' factors: the best-educated residents, the highest salaries, the most expensive real estate. Although it also attracts a large number of low-skill migrants, Houston has considerably expanded its white-collar workforce. According to the Praxis Strtegy Group, Houston's ranks of college-educated residents grew 13% between 2005 and 2008. That's about on par with 'creative class' capital Portland, Oregon and well more than twice the rate for New Your, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

But Houston's biggest advantage cannot be reduced to numbers. Ultimately it is ambition, not style, that sets Houston apart. Texas urbanites are busy constructing new subrban town centers, reviving inner-city neighborhoods and expanding museums, recreational areas and other amenities. In contrast with recession-battered places like Phoenix, Houston remains remarkably open to migrants from the rest of America and abroad.

Houston, perhaps more than any city in the advanced industrial world, epitomizes the Rene Descartes idea-applied to the 17th-century entrepreneurial hotbed of Amsterdam--of a great city offering 'an inventory of the possible' to longtime residents and newcomes alike. This, more than anything, promises to give Houstonities the future.

Joel Kotkin, Forbes.com

May 27, 2010

Code Red – Protection for West University Place

Code Red is a valuable free service, protecting West University Residents

I have spoken before about the wonderful Code Red service that the City of West University Place offers free to all its residents.  Basically, this service is an electronic emergency warning system.  The advantage is that each household gets to choose what notification option is best for that family – with modern-day technology options including home phones, cell phones and email accounts.

The Code Red system worked beautifully during the last hurricane, when the city manager delivered regular progress updates on the disaster cleanup.

Today, we saw another use of the Code Red warning system.  A driver fled on foot after a routine traffic stop by the West U Police.  His passenger, who remained with the vehicle, was arrested on a federal weapons trafficking warrant.  West U Police activated the Code Red warning system, describing the fugitive and asking residents to stay indoors.  An alert resident recognized the fugitive’s description and called the police, who arrested the man on a warrant from Louisiana.

To subscribe to this very valuable safety service, to www.westu.org, and click on the Code Red button as shown above.

And while we're at it, this would be a good time for me to brag about the response rates of our great West U Police Department!

Roger Martin

May 26, 2010

Houston Economy - Good News and Bad News

Dr. Barton Smith discussed the good news and bad news for the Houston economy.For many years, I have been a fan of the foremost expert on the Houston economy, Dr. Barton Smith from the Institute for Region Forecasting of the University of Houston (www.uh.edu/irf).  This week, I was privileged to get a sneak preview of his upcoming symposium.

As the old joke goes, there is some good news and some bad news.  Here are my notes from the lecture….

  • Good News – A recovery is definitely underway!
  • Good News – Of the two big bullets which flattened the rest of the country, the Houston economy was hit by one (the stock market collapse) and mostly missed the other (the housing crunch).
  • Good News – National housing prices have dropped back to affordable rates (see the chart above).
  • Good News – The Houston economy did not suffer from the over-inflated home values of the rest of the country; hence, our housing correction has been shorter and less difficult.
  • Good News – House prices in Houston are essentially flat to a year ago.  As far as I'm concerned, stable is good!
  • Good News – Houston’s recover was predicted to lag behind the rest of the country.  Instead, we are recovering right along with them.
  • Good News – Houston housing starts have dropped to 60% their 2006-07, thereby helping to reduce excess inventory and stabilize prices.  The housing industry’s response was much faster this time than during the housing crunch of the 80’s.
  • Good News – The conventional wisdom has the US becoming a service economy.  Actually, manufacturing employment is leading the jobs recovery.
  • Good News – The dollar is down, and US export markets abroad are expanding.

For the Bad News....

  • Bad News– The apartment market remains overbuilt.  Katrina survivors soaked up a significant portion of the rental market, but this should have been recognized as a short term event.
  • Bad News– Commercial real estate values have dropped significantly, with negative impact on sales and financing.
  • Bad News – Prime mortgage defaults are climbing and have not yet peaked, unlike subprime mortgage defaults, which have begun to taper off.
  • Bad News – The Federal Reserve still needs to liquidate one trillion dollars of mortgage backed securities, which were purchased to prop up the credit markets during the financial crisis.  How's the market gonna like THAT?
  • Bad News – State and local governments are hurting badly and facing huge budget shortfalls.  A very painful correction is expected at this level.
  • Bad News – Federal government deficits have doubled relative to the past decade, and are predicted to remain at that level through at least 2016.  Deficits at this level may not be sustainable for the national economy.

Dr. Smith concluded by saying that “every recession has a purpose that must be fulfilled before an economic rebound can permanently take hold.”  By this yardstick, the Houston economy - and the national one - still have hard work ahead.

Dr. Smith himself is retiring this year.  I wish him well, but must say that his steady hand and sensible analysis will be sorely missed!

Roger Martin

May 19, 2010

Owner Financing - New Rules for Small Landlords

Owner Financing - New Rules for Small LandlordsThe rules for owner financing have just changed. Mortgage fraud was one of the contributing factors in the recent financial crisis.  In 2008, Congress passed the SAFE Act, hoping to clean up the mortgage mess by requiring lenders to be licensed (like Realtors).  This new law has had unintended consequences for those of us who are small “rent house ranchers”.

It used to be possible to sell a rental unit by owner-financing the property, as long as the owner did no more than five such transactions each year.  The result was often a financial win/win for both buyer and seller.

Unfortunately, this is no longer possible.  According to the new legislation, an unlicensed owner may only self-finance a property

  • if it is his homestead, or
  • if he is selling it to a family member.

For more details, call me (832-483-2636) and I will send you a full copy of the May 2010 article in Texas Realtor magazine.

Roger Martin

May 10, 2010

Virginia Chenault - Realtor of the Week

Virginia ChenaultCongratulations to Virginia Chenault, who has been named the Realtor of the Week by the Houston Chronicle.  See the article, below...

Clients Won't Let Their 'Go-To' Realtor Retire

By Jude Patronella, Homes Correspondant

"Since 1979, Virginia Chenault has been selling real estate throughout Houston, making friends along the way, with many clients who continue using her service as their Realtor because once they work with her, there is a bond.

"'I work for the sake of my clients. I've gone to Austin to speak with state legislators on their behalf.... Also, I have helped clients avoid the process of foreclosure on numberous occasions,' said Chenault, who holds a Texas real estate broker's license, a BBA from the University of North Texas and a teaching certificate for all levels. 'And in return, many of my clients call me back to ask me to represent them in new transactions ... which is a real compliment. Besides, I can't quit selling real estate even if I wanted to, because my clients tell me I can't retire due to the fact they don't want to work with another Realtor.'

"Chenault is a native Houstonian whose father immigrated from Sicily, Italy, and owned several businesses and rental properties in Houston. She never wanted to own rental properties; however, marvels at the first thing she did after becoming a Realtor was to purchase a duplex and garage apartment. Since then Chenault has purchased numberous rental properties and assisted clients in buying and selling investment properties.

"Roger Martin, broker/owner of Roger Martin Properties, first met Chenault when he move to Houston after marrying his wife Ann. Martin and Chenault formed a great friendship that led to her joining the Roger Martin Properties office in the West University area.

"'When Roger came to Houston, he sat right next to me at Carriage Realty and when he was about to become a father I gave him a baby shower in the office,' Chenault said. 'I kept up with him when he opened his company, and now I am a member of Roger Martin Properties. He is a good business man and his wife Ann is a good office manager. I am proud to be associated with them.'

"She's worked through the ups and downs of the Houston real estate market for the past 31 years and knows the city is a survivor. Her current take on the economic situation regarding the country's housing market sets Houston apart from other cities as still being active. 'Houston always recovers sooner than other cities and in comparison to the early 1980s, the city is much more diversified and the salaries are higher,' Chenault said. 'If people spend their money right and don't buy more than they can afford, they can't go wrong.'"

Well done, Virginia Chenault!

Roger Martin

 

 

May 3, 2010

Cameron Blaylock Joins Roger Martin Properties

Cameron Blaylock - Roger Martin Properties

I am pleased to welcome Cameron Blaylock back to Roger Martin Properties.  Cameron worked for us while he was in high school, as reported by this article in the Houston Chronicle...

May 2, 2010

"Roger Martin Properties has lured back Cameron Blaylock, who first worked for the real estate company on a part-time basis while he was attending Lamar High School.

"Company owners Roger and Ann Martin were impressed with Blaylock, and referred him to the West University Rotary Club's International High School Exchange Program, which sent him to Germany.

"Blaylock lived with two German families while abroad and attended the local German high school. He became fluent in German and began artistic work in photography in the Arts Department. Blaylock returned to Houston and graduated with high honors in the International Baccalaureate Program in Art and European History from Lamar High School.

"After graduating from high school, Blaylock returned to Germany to attend Bauhaus-University Weimar and earned a European diploma (the German equivalent to a master's degree) in the Fine Arts Program. He graduated with highest honors from the university and studied abroad in multiple countries.

"Upon returning to Houston and his roots at Roger Martin Properties, Blaylock is happy to be a part of the company as a staff member and graphic design assistant."

Jude Patronella, Houston Chronicle

Welcome back, Cameron Blaylock!

Roger Martin 

May 1, 2010

Museum of Fine Arts Houston - Sargent and the Sea

Sargent and the SeaThis week, it was my privilege to see one of the most fascinating art exhibits I have ever experienced.  The show was called Sargent and the Sea, and it was tucked away in the basement of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (www.mfah.org).

Their collection of John Singer Sargent portraits has long been a backbone of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston collection, but these 80 new pieces are much less well-known.  They represent some of Sargent’s early works, while he was developing his style as a young artist of 18 to 23.  Instead of formal society ladies, the subjects are the boats, beaches and fisherfolk of the Breton coastline.  Most importantly, this exhibit traces the evolution of a composition, from his earliest sketchbooks, through intermediate paintings, and finally to finished exhibition-grade work.  It is also possible to see the same subject treated differently for his two separate audiences – the more formal world of European painting, and the breezier American market across the Atlantic.

I was not the only one impressed.  I struck up a conversation with a visitor from San Francisco as we both stood (slack-jawed!) in front of the gorgeous portrait of an unknown Spanish lady.  This visitor was in town on business, and she made a point of dropping by the MFAH during her stay.  Her comments?  “Of course, I knew Houston’s art museum was world class – but I never expected anything as good as this.”  Her words, not mine!

Next stop for this exhibit is London, where Sargent and the Sea will be featured at the Royal Academy of Arts.  Hurry!  You need to enjoy this exhibition while it is still here at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston.

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) is located just 3.2miles from downtown West University Place.  Easy access to great civic venues like this is one of the benefits of living in West U.

Roger Martin

April 27, 2010

"Net Inward Migration" favors Houston, West University Place

2010 CensusNet inward migration is changing the labor pool in Houston and West University Place.  And those changes are documented on the 2010 survey.

I timed myself – it took just six minutes to complete my 2010 Census questionnaire.  And, as of April 27, 2010, between 81 and 83 percent of West University Place residents have done the same, a good ten points higher than the US average.  You can see our neighborhood's results here http://2010.census.gov/2010census/take10map/.

Now Texas (in general) and Houston (specifically) have been growing in population.  But we are actually growing faster than our own ability to raise children – we have had “net inward migration”.  In other words, Houston has been attracting people from other parts of the country.  In fact, Houston was the #1 destination city in the country, according to U-Haul International’s 2009 National Migration Trend Report.

Now obviously, our voter and tax bases increase when people pack up and move to our city.  And of course, the Census data is important for political representation, redistricting, etc.  However, you may not have considered that net inward migration is a big, big boost to local businesses and helps keep our tax rate low as well.

Why?  Because workers who arrive via "net inward migration" get here as fully-grown adults.  If we raised these workers from scratch, we would have to send them to public school for eighteen years.  Think of the cumulative cost of books, salaries, buildings, maintenance, etc. needed to educate a single kid - before that person can become your employee.  California has benefitted from this “migration bonus” for years, but is now being forced to play catch-up in providing education.

So say “Howdy” to all these new Texans – they weren’t born here, but "net inward migration " got them here as soon as they could.  Let’s welcome them and put ’em to work!

Roger Martin