Roger Martin and Life in the Loop

 

Oct. 30, 2009

Civility - Is Our Nation Divided Against Itself?

A discussion of civility in politics

Civility - does it exist in our political process any more?  Is compromise now a dirty word?  Are we a nation divided against ourselves?  And if we are, what can we do to heal the widening breaches?  This week, I attended a lecture at the Rotary Club of West U (www.westurotary.org) that addressed exactly these issues.

Cassandra Dahnke, of the Institute for Civility in Government, believes that there are two key threats to a nation’s political health:

  • Apathy – evidenced by a lack of participation at all levels of government, for our neighborhoods to our Capitol, and
  • Polarization – the fragmentation of our society along lines of race, socioeconomic groups, religion, age, politics and special interests.

Any nation experiencing both polarization and citizen apathy is a nation seriously at risk.

Cassandra and the Institute for Civility in Government do not endorse any political candidate or position.  Instead, they promote the process of civil discourse by teaching civility training workshops, organizing congressional student forums, and taking groups of high school student to Washington DC to experience government first hand.  Through their activities, they promote listening and communication skills, the importance of teamwork, resources for building civility, and a respect for other belief systems.

So there is something we can all do!  For more information (or to join the non-profit, 501 (c)3 Institute for Civility in Government) go to their website at www.instituteforcivility.org.

Roger Martin

Posted in Helping Others, Rotary
Oct. 26, 2009

Juliette Gordon Low - Happy Birthday!

Brownies celebrate Juliette Gordon Lowe's birthday

We have all celebrated birthdays at Palace Lanes on Bellaire (see http://palacebowlinglanes.com/but this party was unusual -- the birthday girl was absent!   This annual gathering of 70 giggling girls was hosted by Evergreen Service Unit in honor of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouting.

Juliette, nicknamed “Daisy”, was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1860.  It is easy for kids to remember her birthday, because it always falls on Halloween!  When Juliette Gordon Low was 26, she married a wealthy Englishman.  It was in England that she met Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouting.  When Juliette returned to Savannah, she started a similar program for American girls. Her niece was the first registered Girl Scout.

Juliette Gordon Low died of breast cancer in 1927.  She never had any children of her own, but the movement she founded continues to this day.  Girl Scouting has influenced over fifty million young women worldwide.

Thank you, Juliette Gordon Low ... and happy birthday!

P.S.  The chocolate fudge birthday cake from the new HEB Buffalo Market was absolutely awesome!  I highly recommend it.

Roger Martin

Oct. 23, 2009

West University Place - Not a Foreclosure Market

Foreclosure in West University Place

Is real estate in West University Place a "foreclosure market"?  Nope!  Please don’t mistake the green dots on this map for trees – they are foreclosures.  The Center for Public Policy at U of H has released the map above from a study on Inner Loop homes.  It is hard to see, so you might want to look at the original at http://www.uh.edu/cpp/Houston_Area_Foreclosures_Map.pdf.  It is worth noting how very, very few green dots (i.e. foreclosures) there are in the City of West University Place (red outline, mine).

The lesson learned is that quality residential real estate may cost you more to acquire in the first place – but it appreciates more in a good market, declines less in a downturn, and recovers more quickly after a market shock  Thus, you are less likely to find yourself under water with respect to your mortgage, and more likely to have good options when the time comes to sell, if that is what you want or need.

This principle is what experienced real estate agents are referring to when they say a property does (or does not) have good resale value.  Listen to them!  In the long run, a modestly-priced quality property is usually a better investment than the bargain-basement, price-is-my-only-consideration “deal”.

Traditionally, West U has tended to rise strongly, followed by a plateau.  That is exactly what we are seeing now.  Our prices are flat or up a couple of percent relative to last year.

So, flat – it’s the new up!  And that sounds pretty good to me, at least by comparison to real estate prices some of the national forclosure markets.

Roger Martin 

Oct. 8, 2009

FOUND MONEY! Check the Unclaimed Property Websites

Finding money on unclaimed funds websites

After a change of address - which of course is what my real estate clients all do - it can be a good idea (and fun!) to check the unclaimed property websites for "found money".  It is all too easy for a utility deposit or a tax refund to be left behind when your address changes.

Check out the Unclaimed Property website of the State of Texas at http://www.window.state.tx.us/up/.  I found a surprising amount of missing money among my friends and clients, ranging from 27 cents on up to $1,100.00, maybe more!  I personally found over $100.

The challenge!!! Go to the website and see if you are there. Or your relatives. Or your friends.

A few hints. Be bold. If you lived anywhere in Texas, put that city in and search. I have found funds going back so far I still had hair. There is a link to other states that also retain funds… where did your parents or other relatives live?

Final warning, searching can be addictive! When I find something, I’m sending out emails to friends from college. Hopefully, they will buy lunch next time I see them.

Roger Martin

Oct. 8, 2009

West University Place Building New Recreation Center

The City of West University Place is making GREAT progress on our new Recreation Center, located on the site of the former YMCA on Bellaire at Westpoint. The concrete parking lot is cured, and the new building is framed and covered with damp-proofing material (that neon green stuff in this photo).  The contractor began to sheath the building with stone in mid-October.  This project is really moving along – and is scheduled for completion next spring!

Well done, West University Place!  Its inovative design includes a second pool for the neighborhood lap swimmers, as well as squash courts, playing fields, and a gym.  Can't wait to see (and use!) this new Recreation Center.

Roger Martin

Sept. 25, 2009

Loco-Motion on Houston Railroads

Tour of Houston Railroads

Many thanks to our friend Paul Martin for a ticket to the Rice Design Alliance’s recent Freight Rail Tour.  This trip gave a fascinating look at Houston railroads - the industry that helped he city grow into today’s economic powerhouse.

Freight railroads were once thought to be fading away -- but current traffic is rebounding, thanks largely to international container shipping.  Freight trains move cargo just as quickly as eighteen-wheelers, but they do it more safely, cheaply and efficiently.  A train is one of the “greenest” choices among the various transportation modes.  Each train can keep as many as 200-300 truck off our highways, while expending a tenth of the fuel and reducing smog-producing pollution by two-thirds.  And with 2,200 trains moving through Houston each week, that’s a huge savings in labor, fuel and pollution.  Now imagine what will happen when the newly-widened Panama Canal re-opens in 2014.  The Port of Houston (and its connecting railroads) can expect to be busier than ever!

So what is being shipped on these increasingly numerous freight trains?  And why should we care?  Trains carry the stuff of our American Dream – the concrete and lumber to build Houston’s houses; the energy to heat and cool them; the TV’s and VCR’s to furnish them; the grain to bake our daily bread; the t-shirts we wear; and the plastics for our children’s toys.

Freight trains are an essential component of our global supply chain – but as our city grows, the co-mingling of railroads and residential neighborhoods causes increasing problems.  Overpasses or underpasses can keep train and auto traffic separate, but they are expensive and disruptive to build.  Safety and noise can be a divisive issue as well.  In 2006, a three-way effort by the City of Houston, the City of Bellaire, and the City of West University Place created a “quiet zone” inside the West Loop.  Throughout this zone, the three cities provided advanced safety features at each street crossing.  In return, the railroads silenced the whistles that warn of oncoming trains.  But none of these solutions is simple, cheap or quick.

Which means we need to be a whole lot smarter about an issue that is critical to our city’s economic future.  For more information, see…

  • Citizens’ Transportation Coalition -- www.ctchouston.org
  • Houston Region Freight Rail Study -- www.houstonrailplan.com
  • “Economic Crossroads”, by Carolyn Feible, Houston Chronicle, September 1, 2009.

And then watch the Houston railroads grow!

Ann Martin

Roger Martin Properties

Sept. 24, 2009

Pruning Your Fall Foliage

Fall is the time for pruning your trees and shrubsIt’s been a long hot summer in Houston! Cooler weather and fall colors are here! Now is a great time to get back into the yard and enjoy gardening and caring for your plants, trees and lawn.  It is time for your fall pruning!

Fall lawn care is important as it gets the grass ready to go dormant during our winter months. This is a good time to fertilize with a product that promotes root growth while combating brown patch and fungal diseases which affect St. Augustine grasses.

Your trees and shrubs will be happy with a “haircut” at this time of the year. Most trees go dormant during the cooler months of the year so this is a good time for pruning old growth and shaping the new growth.  Pruning the lowest branches on the trunk will force growth into the crown, encouraging your tree to grow strong and tall.  Depending on the size and type of tree, at the tree’s maturity, you want to see ten feet of straight trunk, topped by gently arching branches.

We are fortunate to know many good landscaping companies who can lend a hand with questions or perform the work for you. If you would like some help with your fall pruning, please give me a call.

Enjoy the cooler weather!

Roger Martin

Sept. 4, 2009

Houston - Best Cities To Earn A Living

Houston is Best City to Earn a LivingForbes.com has just named Houston as one of the Best Cities to Earn a Living.  See the quote below...

September 3, 2009

For the exasperated job-seeker to whom employment opportunities seem bleaker than ever, salvation may lie in the Lone Star State. Texas, home to dozens of energy heavyweights and nearly as many innovative small companies, has three of the best cities to earn a living: Dallas, Houston, and Austin.

When taking into account the cost of living, strength of industry, economists' predictions for the future state of employment and, of course, salary, these are some of the best U.S. cities in which to take home a paycheck..."

Fracesca Levy, Forbes.com

To read the full article, click here.

Aug. 25, 2009

Houston's Real Estate Market - It's Baaaack!

A free Market Snapshot Report monitors real estate activity.

Yes, the kids are back in school. But that’s not the only thing that’s different!  Our real estate market is back!

Our market in West University Place has gotten REALLY active in the last couple of weeks. Houses that sat around for months (or even years) are now under contract. And new listings are coming on the market daily.

And who are these buyers? Some are folks transferring in or out of town, of course. But more importantly, we are seeing local residents trading up and down within the city. That is the single most optimistic yardstick I have seen since the mortgage crisis hit.

So if you (or anyone you know) have been sitting on the sidelines waiting and watching – you might want to reconsider. Things are moving fast right now. To monitor the new activity, just go to my website at www.rogermartinproperties.com and sign up for a free, individualized real estate Market Snapshot Report (shown above).

Roger Martin

Aug. 25, 2009

West University Team Wins Little League World Championship!

The 2009 Little League World Championship Team from West Unviersity Place

When it comes to parades, I am a bigger kid than any of you!  So you can count on me to be putting out the West U Rotary flags to line the parade route for the winners of the 2009 Little League World Championship!

As most of you probably know by now, this West University Place team of 14, 15 and 16-year old local boys is coached by Dean Doxakis.  The Senior Division All-Stars defeated teams from around the world to earn their title in Bangor, Maine.  What an accomplishment!

Our home-town parade starts at 6:30pm at University and Rutgers, and ends at University and Auden.  There will be flags, floats, a West University Place fire truck, and (of course!) the 2009 Little League World Championship team!

Be there or be square!

Roger Martin