Roger Martin and Life in the Loop


Dec. 13, 2010

Houston Shopping Ranked Best in Nation by

Houston Shopping Best In NationAlright, it’s official! Houston shopping is the best in the nation!  I guess that means that we Houstonians are the biggest Shopaholics in the USA! has just ranked all the major metropolitan areas in the country for their retail savvy, and Houston topped the list.  Surprisingly, hot spots such as New York and San Francisco fell to the bottom of the list.

The ranking is based on amount of retail space, number of major malls, the Consumer Price Index, and the sales tax for each city.  In fact, a fourth of the retail shopping space in the US is located in Texas.  Here in Houston, we have a LOT of shopping space (both mega-malls and boutiques) and a relatively LOW tax rate.  The combination pushed us to first place.

To read the full story by Meghan Casserly of, click here. 

I am pleased to learn that Houston shopping opportunities lead the nation.  Yes, we Houstonians DO love to shop.  But the larger lesson is this... thanks to the strength of the Houston economy, we not only have plenty of retail choices, but we actually have the green stuff to go to the mall when we want to. 

Congratulations, Houston!

Roger Martin

Nov. 24, 2010

The New/Old Edloe Deli

Edloe DeliMy back-door neighbor, The Edloe Deli, has just reopened under new management.  Well, not exactly new – E.I. Thomas is the chef who has been running the restaurant and he and his wife Jill have now stepped up into an ownership position.

The Deli has been closed for a week so that everything could be freshened and re-organized.  I have seen past owners Janet Carter and George Boehme up here as the redo progressed.  Their input guarantees that the Edloe Deli will retain its unique ambiance and flair as the neighborhood’s “meet and greet” location.

The menu is a mix of old and new as well.  The Berry Salad is a favorite, and the Pulled Pork Sandwich is absolutely to die for.  Chef E.I. is working on some new items as well.  One of the first new additions is a gorgeous dessert menu, and there are rumors of a soft-freeze ice cream machine in the works.

So best of luck to the new venture!  We look forward to being your neighbors.  The restaurant's website is currently under construction, but for more information, go to

Roger Martin

Posted in Where West U Eats
Nov. 20, 2010

Johnston Middle School - Blue Ribbon School

Kudos to the students and staff of Johnston Middle School!

The US Department of Education has named Johnston one of their “Blue Ribbon Schools” for 2010.  This award is the highest honor an American school (whether public or private) can achieve. 

Johnston was nominated by the TEA (Texas Education Agency) because of its improved performance.  In 2009, Johnston achieved a Recognized rating for the first time in the school’s history.  They followed these results in 2010 by achieving Texas’ highest rating of Exemplary. 

Principal Dave Wheat held a drawing amongst the Johnston Middle School staff, with the winners accompanying him to the awards ceremony in Washington DC.  Wheat made sure that the entire group trooped across the stage together to receive the school’s flag and plaque, “because we all did this as a team.”

Congratulations to all at Johnston Middle School for a job well done – and especially to Principal Wheat for his gracious and generous gesture!

Roger Martin

Posted in Our Schools
Nov. 3, 2010

Halo House Foundation

Halo House Foundation - Providing Residential Assistance for Cancer PatientsHalo House is something that needed doing – so some residents of West U made it happen!  Halo House Foundation provides residential assistance to cancer patients.

Of course, West U is located right next to the Texas Medical Center.  In fact, I’ve been told that we have more doctors per capita than any other city in the nation.  And many of them work in cancer research and treatment.

These dedicated professionals have seen their many of their patients struggle with life-and-death decisions.  Treatment at the Medical Center may be their best chance of survival – but staying in Houston for the length of those treatments can financially crippling.

Now we have Halo House Foundation, a brand-new 501(C)3 organization.  Halo House provides inexpensive furnished housing to lymphoma and leukemia patients.  They have just received a grant from the drug company Cephalon, and they plan to have their first patients housed in time for Christmas.

Here’s how you can help…

And if anyone has an un-used guest house or garage apartment, what about hosting a cancer patient and family?

Happy Holidays!

Roger Martin

Posted in Helping Others
Oct. 29, 2010

Housing Market - West University Place Report

So how IS the housing market in West University Place? A number of friends, neighbors, and customers have approached me recently.  They are concerned by recent newspaper reports that prices in West University Place are “down ten percent”.Well, sort of.

Since 2007, I have kept rolling average statistical reports for West U single family homes.  On a house-by-house basis, I find that most properties are worth now approximately what they were worth two years ago -- which is absolutely great in comparison to the horrendous price drops reported across the country.

The issue with our statistics is that the property mix being sold in West U has changed radically in response to the subprime mortgage meltdown.   Check out this chart...

Housing Market - West University Place - Age of HousesThe subprime crunch found West U with a large inventory of big, new-built “spec homes”.  These were liquidated as quickly as the market would allow.  In June, 2008 the average age of a home sold in West U bottomed out, reflecting the prevalence of these new home sales.  However, there were very few new homes coming on the market to replace them, because financing was difficult or impossible for builders to obtain.  Therefore, the average age of homes sold began to rise, and now exceeds its pre-crunch values.

The old house/new house issue shows up in the average price statistics as well.  While big houses dominated the market, the average price was high and vice versa.

Now let’s look at dollars per square foot…

Housing Market - West University Place - Ave Dollars per Square FtThe overall upward trend is clear.  It is also clear that from 2006-2008 there is a divergence above the trend line – representing the higher prices during the “spec home” boom.  Values have since returned more to their normal trend and begun to rise once again.

In fact, the total volume of real estate sold annually in West U has run between $200 and $250 million dollars a year for most of this decade – the exception being the “spec market” boom years of 2006 and 2007, when it was about $50 million dollars higher.   Remember that each “spec” home is really two sales – one for the original lot, and once again for the new-built home.  This explains, in part, the statistical double whammy that those sales had on the West U home market.

Housing Market - West University Place - Sales VolumeIn conclusion, it appears to me that the housing market in West University Place probably bottomed out in December, 2009.  Please be aware that “spec home” anomalies will continue to work their way through our statistical reports over the coming months and years.  However, right now the supply of homes on the market is actually tighter than I would prefer – which, in my observation, usually precedes an uptick.  Interest rates still remain historically low, which means that buyers can afford more house for their money.

The message is that the old adage (“location, location, location”) really works.  During a crunch, prime neighborhoods retain value better -- and recover faster -- than other areas.  West U is proving this point.

So if you are interested in selling your home – or if you want to discuss theses reports, please give me a call.  Or drop by for a cup of coffee and we can chat about the housing market in West University Place.

Roger Martin

Oct. 28, 2010

Healthy Trees for Houston - Tips from West University's Urban Forester

Example of Oak Canker InfectionWe need more healthy trees for Houston - and this is definitely not one of them.

This photo (courtesy of Texas A&M University) is of an oak tree infected with Hypoxylon Canker, a fungus which has been showing up in East Texas.  There is no cure for the disease, which manifests in stressed-out trees.  Proper feeding and watering are the only hope.  Be warned -- if more than fifteen percent of the crown dies off, the entire tree must be destroyed.

Trees are important to us here in West University Place.  We love our green, shady streets and yards.  And our City keeps an Urban Forester on staff to keep it that way.

Just recently, one of my West U customers was forced to cut down a Hypoxylon-infected tree.  Craig Koehl, West U’s Urban Forester, confirmed the disease.

Unlike urban environments, forests are naturally diverse biological communities.  But when we homeowners plant a mono-culture of Live Oaks, our trees are more prone to diseases like this oak canker.

Rather than planting another susceptible Live Oak, Craig suggested choosing from among the following Completely Resistant trees:

  • Cedar Elm
  • Winged Elm
  • Mexican Sycamore
  • Bald Cypress
  • Monterrey Cypress
  • Drummond Red Maple
  • Trident Maple

You can also choose from among the following Mostly Resistant trees:

  • Monterrey Oak (Mexican White Oak)
  • Bur Oak
  • Swamp Chestnut Oak

I know that planting a good-sized tree can be a sizable finacial investment, so I recommend checking with Craig before you make your final selection.  Or go to the City of West U’s website at and select “Tree Information”.

Thank you, Craig, for your tips on healthy trees for Houston!

Roger Martin

Oct. 27, 2010

"Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett

Fall of Giants - Ken FollettI have just finished Ken Follet's new mega-novel, Fall of Giants.  It is excellent. This is the sort of tale usually accompanied by the adjective "sweeping". I know many of you loved this author's 12th century novels (Pillars of the Earth and World Without End). This new novel begins with the tensions leading to World War I, and follows five different families (English, Welch, American, German and Russian) as their worlds spin apart. This was especially interesting to me - the fictional American family lived in turn-of-the-century Buffalo, New York, where I grew up. It was great fun for me to recognize the landmarks, streets, etc. described by the author.

Enjoy! All 800 pages of it!

Recommended by Ann Martin

Posted in What West U Reads
Oct. 26, 2010

Price Per Square Foot - Pitfalls in Valuing a Home

Price per Square Foot - Pitfalls in Valuing a HomeAn appraiser I know stopped by to chat, and we discussed an interesting topic — When is price per square foot a good indicator of a home’s value?  

The answer is:  Sometimes.

Price per square foot is the very simplest yardstick of home value.  It uses only two factors, ignoring the other myriad details that affect value.  If we compare two homes of equal square footage, there will be at least 30 items that contribute to value… finishes, construction quality, number of rooms with plumbing (plumbing rooms may be the most expensive footage in a home), age, general condition, and size of the lot, to name a few.

In a suburban neighborhood, most of the homes were built about the same time, usually by the same builder, and on similar lots.  In effect, many of the variables have been standardized.  So you have a large pool of comparable houses, and a simple ratio comparing size vs. price can often give good results.

However, the same is not necessarily true in the older neighborhoods of Houston’s Inner Loop.  As we near the center of the city, the value of land goes up dramatically while the value of older structures may go down.  In West U, it is perfectly possible to find a small 1930’s cottage with its original tile and plumbing fixtures sitting on a huge double lot.  Right next door, you may find a big new home with granite counters and stainless appliances, but this new home is built on a small lot.  The trick is that the price of both these homes may be exactly the same – but one is valuable because of its structure and one is valuable because of its land.  In this case, price per square foot will NOT be a good indicator of value, because the cost of the land and the age of the structure are ignored in the calculation.

If you examine a professional appraisal, you will see the proper way to value a property.  The appraisal will contain a column for your property, plus two or three other comparables homes. Each column will show a long laundry list of items, ranging from lot size, number of rooms, to, yes, square-footage. Each of these will have a plus and minus to “adjust” the value of the property being appraised.

So, when you are valuing a property, use the simplified price per square foot only as a starting point for comparisons.  Be aware that many other variables can be equally important in determining the value of a home, especially in Houston’s older neighborhoods.

Roger Martin

Oct. 23, 2010

Angels in the Operating Room by Mallory Agerton

Angels in the Operating Room - "Be Not Afraid" - Mallory AgertonCan you envision angels in the operating room, surrounding a patient in surgery?  Mallory Agerton did.  Recently, I was privileged to attend a preview party for this painting by Mallory, who is a West U resident and portrait artist.  This enormous canvas is titled “Be Not Afraid” and was based on her personal experiences while facing surgery.  The composition shows angels of many cultures, races and faiths, all guiding the operating room professionals at work. You can read more about this piece on her website  As a treat during the preview party, I was able to meet several of the children who served as models for the painting.

Well done, Mallory.  Our community is richer for having talented people like you living in West University Place!

Roger Martin

Posted in Art in West U
Oct. 1, 2010

New Internet Cafe – Aroma Classique

Aroma ClassiqueThere is a new internet café in our neighborhood, and it’s a winner!

Check out Aroma Classique at 3953 Richmond at Weslayan, across from Costco.  This little café serves up Mediterranean soups, salads and sandwiches with an emphasis on fresh and homemade.  Yes, the bread is baked on-site daily.  Yes, the salad dressings are homemade.  Even the pastries are baked on-site.  And the veggies?  So crisp and fresh that you almost risk a paper cut from them!

So give this European-style bakery and coffee shop a try.

Roger Martin

Posted in Where West U Eats