Top 5 Master Planned Communities In Houston

July 28th, 2014

 

If there’s boom happening in Texas, it’s happening in Houston. But the Bayou City isn’t just a burgeoning urban cityscape. Houston and its surroundings house some of the top master-planned communities going, and more are coming, fueled by the growth of Houston as the energy capital of the U.S.

The Woodlands

 

No community, much less no master-planned community, is experiencing the growth and fast pace that The Woodlands is. This suburb of Houston is the fastest-growing place in Texas, thanks to the coming of Exxon Mobil and the 10,000 new jobs it’s bringing with it by 2015. A home in The Woodlands is so sought-after that there is barely a month of inventory (a normal market has six months) and in many cases, homes are selling the day they hit the market, and for more than the asking price.

 

Sedona LakesSedona Lakes

Sedona Lakes, a new master-planned community just south of Houston, in Manvel, is a luxury master-planned community in the shadow of the big city. Sedona Lakes is just a quick commute to the Texas Medical Center, the central business district, Greenway Plaza, and a most major work centers in the metro area. This gated community is served by the Alvin Independent School District, and an onsite elementary school is planned here.

 

Barrington Kingwood Barrington Kingwood

 

Another gated master-planned community just outside of downtown Houston is the 200-acre Barrington Kingwood. This upscale community is surrounded by the back nine of the Lakes Golf Course of Kingwood Country Club and is renowned for its spectacular views. There are also manicured baseball and soccer fields, horse stables, the boat ramp into Lake Houston, and Deer Ridge Park. All within a few minutes of the booming, bustling downtown.

 

City Park

 

Just minutes from the Medical Center and Galleria area is City Park, an eclectic master-planned community that puts you close to work, but gives you splendid living options.  Renowned builders have lent their hands to a superb location, with outstanding amenities that put you close to city living, but still in the quiet and calm of your own neighborhood.

 

Westover Park

 

Still under construction, Westover Park is a premier 500-acre master-planned community slated to house more than 1,400 homes when it’s completed. The inaugural two  recreation centers feature a 5-acre recreation complex that includes three pools, a cabana house, a multi-purpose sports field, a playground, a lake, and a park. Prices are ultimately expected to range from the $150,000s to the $350,000s.

Top 4 Luxury Gated Communities in Houston

July 14th, 2014

 

Houston isn’t just the sprawling urban cityscape you see in pictures and movies. The Houston area also has some of the finest upscale communities in Texas, if not the country. If you’re looking for luxury living in one of Houston’s premiere gated communities, consider these destinations:

 

Sedona LakesSedona Lakes

Sedona Lakes is a new master-planned community just south of Downtown Houston, off Route 288 in the Greater Pearland town of Manvel. This is great news for anyone looking for luxury living in the shadow of the big city and all it has to offer. Sedona Lakes is just a quick commute to the Texas Medical Center, the central business district, Greenway Plaza, and a most major work centers in the metro area. And for the kids, there’s the Alvin Independent School District, which will feature an onsite elementary school. At home, Sedona Lakes is set amid tranquil trees and features miles of trails for walking a hiking. There’s a family pool, waterslide, and contemporary open-air pavilion for recreation and a soothing waterfall for relaxing. And, of course, there are some of the finest homes, built by some of the country’s most preferred builders.

Royal Oaks Country ClubRoyal Oaks

Eight miles west of the Galleria is the Royal Oaks Country Club and its private, residential community. This is luxury living at its peak, where homes start at $300,000 and continue past $3 million. But what you get for your money is a legendary course accessible only through a guarded, private gate, where the stonework will take your breath away. The 50-acre course itself was designed by golf legend Fred Couples and boasts nine lakes, multi-tiered greens and even a waterfall. The 600-acre community is a completely private collection of homes in an array of styles on large lots. If you’re not up for a round on the links, enjoy the hiking trails, swimming, or tennis.

 

Barrington KingwoodBarrington Kingwood

The 200-acre enclave that is Barrington Kingwood is designed for upscale living. This master-planned community offers a resort lifestyle surrounded by the back nine of the Lakes Golf Course of Kingwood Country Club. In other words, the views are spectacular. From your porch, though, you’re likely to get an eyeful of the manicured baseball and soccer fields, horse stables, the boat ramp into Lake Houston, or Deer Ridge Park. And if you want to get your city fix,  it’s just a quick bike ride to Starbucks, Carrabba’s Italian Grille and all of the shopping you could want. The community’s motto is “City Living without the City,” and in this guarded, gated community, you’ll see why.

 

Place des VosgesPlace des Vosges

Place des Vosges, pronounced “plas ‘VOZH,  puts old-fashioned living in one of Houston’s newest gated luxury communities. This is where cast stone and brick facades meet cobblestone walkways and hand-crafted wrought iron gates. This quiet oasis lies in the shadow of Uptown Park, Post Oak Boulevard, and Tanglewood and boasts 4,200- to 6,800-square-foot custom homes with French exteriors, large living spaces and a low maintenance lifestyle.

Slab vs. Pier & Beam Foundations

June 25th, 2014

There’s nothing quite like Texas mud. All you have to do is step in it to realize it’s slick, it’s heavy, and it’s mostly clay. And it’s exactly these qualities that make building or repairing a foundation require so much attention.

But which type of foundation do you use? Slab or pier & beam? Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and both demand a qualified person to do the work, because you don’t want to mess with Texas clay.

Pier & Bean Advantages

Pier & beam is the most common type of home foundation in North Texas, where clay-heavy soil can eat away at concrete slabs in short order. Typically, pier & beam foundations give about 18 inches of space above the ground, which can allow easy access to the plumbing or electrical infrastructure. Pier & beam foundations are also usually less expensive to repair and often require more of a readjustment than an actual repair. Pier & beam foundations also make it easier to spot wood-destroying insects, which must access wooden beams via concrete piers. Termite guards on piers can make a world of difference and are relatively cheap to buy and install.

Pier & Bean Disadvantages

Unless they are properly ventilated, pier & beam foundations can collect moisture, leading to mold or wood rot. Also, that 18 inches of air can provide a cozy shelter for pests below your house, as well as leave you with no underneath insulation against the cold air in winter. If a section of the foundation weakens, it could drag the structure in that direction, which can happen as the ground softens and moves, causing movement and sinking in the piers. Tile floors can easily break when pier & beam foundations shift or warp.

 

Slab Foundation Advantages

Though pier & beam foundations are less expensive to repair or replace, slab foundations are often less expensive to actually build. Slab’s biggest advantage is the solid-feeling floor, which means less shaking, fewer wall cracks, and less moving furniture in the house. This also makes houses quieter.

 

Slab Foundation Disadvantages

Though improvements in slab foundations are happening all the time, the combination of high clay content and dry Texas heat can lead to cracking and deterioration. Repairing slab is usually far more expensive, and any plumbing or electrical repairs done under the house can be costly because it’s hard to get to pipes or lines. Either type of foundation requires proper irrigation and drainage to help keep the clay-heavy soil from robbing your home’s stability from under your very feet. Consult a pro now and you may save yourself some costly repair bills later.

Best Private Schools in Houston

June 20th, 2014

 

Choosing the right school district is a big factor in your decision to move. But if private school is in the budget, the Houston area offers an excellent alternative in some of the finest private schools in the state. Before you move specifically for a school district, consider these elite private academies of learning.

St. Johns

St. John’s School, or SJS, a coeducational, independent, college-prep school in Houston may be the best private school in all Texas. The school is noted for its selectivity and academic rigor. Forbes has ranked SJS as one of America’s elite prep schools, while the New York Times called it “the best private school in Houston.” The Wall Street Journal recently ranked SJS among schools in the United States with the largest percentages of graduates attending highly selective universities such as Harvard, Princeton, and MIT.  SJS was also the inspiration for the film Rushmore, by SJS graduate Wes Anderson. Other notable alumni include columnist Molly Ivins and bestselling author Katherine Center.

 

Duchesne

If you have a daughter, Duchesne (pronounced dew-SHEN) Academy of the Sacred Heart may be right for her. Duchesne’s college preparatory curriculum serves girls from pre-K through 12th grade in its Lower, Middle, and Upper schools. The program is a rigorous one. Upper School students must complete four years of mathematics, English, history, science, physical education and religion, as well as three years of a foreign language and one year of fine arts and computer-intensive courses. Texas Monthly once stated that Duchesne has “an edge in academic standing” over its nearest competitor school, Saint Agnes Academy.

 

 

The Village School

The Village School is a coeducational, nondenominational college preparatory school serving students pre-K through 12. High School and is legendary for a rigorous academic curriculum that develops critical thinkers. It is also known for its highly diverse student body, which represents 40-plus countries from six continents.  The school’s largest claim to distinction lies in its teaching staff, which focuses on more direct nurturing and mentoring than many other schools.

The Other Big Hiring Spree in Houston

June 19th, 2014

By now you’re probably familiar with the promise of the Exxon Mobil development just outside of Houston. And while it’s hard to compete with the staggering numbers Exxon Mobil is throwing out (10,000 jobs to the Greater Houston area is always going to be tough to beat), Verizon is tapping into Houston’s tech pool by going on a hiring spree along the Gulf Coast.

The nationwide communications carrier wants to kick off its hiring campaign on the waterfront with 322 new positions in Houston, according to the Houston Business Journal. The journal reported that Verizon wants in on the city/s and region’s growing economy and talent pool as a natural extension of some of Verizon’s core business customers in the region ‒‒ namely healthcare and energy. Verizon’s regional headquarters is based in Houston.

According to the journal, Verizon already has about 800 employees in Houston and has for the past few years been trying to cash in on the engineering talent moving into the region as the energy sector grows there. The company should fill most of the new positions throughout this year, making Houston even more of an employee’s market.

Verizon’s announcement is the newest phase in Houston’s hiring boom that has been credited (or blamed, depending on your perspective) for the shortage of available homes in the region. According to Houston Public Media, Houston’s inventory of available homes is at about two-and-a-half months. A normal market should have six months of available inventory.

So while job seekers ‒‒ particularly those in the tech sector and in the construction trades, where a shortage in talent is driving up the price of building new residential and commercial space ‒‒ have a healthy plateful of options in Houston, home buyers are facing stiff competition.

 

But on the plus side, if you’re selling in Houston, now is a good time, as all this competition and influx of new talent is helping home prices rise in Bayou City.

College Life in Houston

June 18th, 2014

In most ways, life as a college student in Houston is the same as college life anywhere. You’ll have classes, chase your passions, work your tail off, and contend with the rules of dorm living. The big difference for students attending one of Houston’s several colleges, from Rice to Houston Baptist, is that you get to visit the largest and fastest-growing city in Texas in your off hours.

If, however, you or your son or daughter will be attending the University of Houston in 2015 or beyond, be prepared to experience some large-living. UH is expanding its student housing with a $56 million private dorm complex development on Cullen Boulevard, just north of I-45 and roughly a quarter of a mile from the school’s main campus. The new dorm site will be 305,000 square feet and will house 739 beds on four floors. This will be a nearly 8-acre campus featuring one-, two-, and four-bedroom apartment-like units. It will be set across from the former Finger Furniture warehouse, which is right near the MetroRail station that is also being built on Cullen Boulevard.

In other news from UH, the downtown campus is upgrading according to more lax social norms these days and will be implementing gender-neutral restrooms on campus. But seeing as the downtown campus is, well, downtown, there’s been a slight problem with burglaries recently. The school’s student newspaper recently took a look at crime on campus and asked the question of why burglaries have haunted UH-Downtown.

Well, the short version is, a lot of students don’t lock their doors. That was fine once upon a time, but as the campus has expanded and the UH student body has grown (and is expected to keep growing for a while yet), UH police are not at all surprised that things are getting pilfered from students. Lt. Bret Collier of the University of Houston Police wrote in an email to the school paper: “Unfortunately, more rooms and more people living on campus account for an increase in overall opportunities for crime.”

 

Indeed. The university reported 87 burglaries of on-campus and off-campus residential facilities in 2012, the paper reported. This is up from 74 reported in 2011 and way up from the 14 reported in 2010. So yes, growth equals more temptation for crime. The moral? Lock your doors, be smart, and enjoy college. Just be aware that life in the big city is not like life in any idyllic suburb you might know.

Houston’s Has Road Rage

June 5th, 2014

Well, it’s not all joy in the Bayou City. Houston has taken over the dubious title of Road Rage Capital of the U.S.

Prince Market Research’s annual study of aggressive-driver cities put Houston in the top spot in 2014, dethroning New York as the city where drivers are considered the rudest, most aggressive, and most angry. So much for southern hospitality.

The study was a survey of more than 2,500 drivers in 25 major metro areas in which surveyors asked drivers about their own behaviors and actions during rush hours, as well as the actions of their fellow motorists. What they found is that Houstonians are not shy about honking their horns, flipping the bird, brandishing fists of rage, and screaming obscenities at other drivers.

The study did, however, find that Houstonians are not as likely as other metro drivers to be on their cell phones texting (they’re apparently too busy yelling), which BusinessInsider took as a silver lining in the age of “Don’t Text and Drive.”

Seriously, don’t text and drive. But beware of the drivers in and around Houston, because they’re a rather outgoing bunch when it comes to their feelings in traffic.

One reason for the increasing amounts of road rage could be that Texas’ largest city is growing again (and will keep growing as energy giants like Exxon Mobil are moving in and bringing tens of thousands of new professionals to the city). As more people enter Houston, its already-clogged and insufficient highways are getting plugged up with newbies who don’t yet know how to navigate city roads. Plus, people are getting just plain stuck in rush hour jams that make even large highways like I-45 parking lots.

Whatever the reason, Houston is not a place for a casual Sunday drive. Unless, of course, you like being honked at.

5 Great Neighborhood Restaurants You Haven’t Heard About

June 2nd, 2014

Finding a great meal in Houston is the easy part. There are terrific restaurants everywhere. But admit it ‒‒ we all love discovering a great new restaurant and then sharing the bounty with a chosen few close confidants. You may not have heard of the following neighborhood restaurants yet, but get there fast before word gets out.

 

1. La Plaza Mexican Restaurant
La Plaza is a Tex-Mex guilty pleasure. Open morning, noon and night, this is as eclectic as you get for Tex-Mex. It’s one part American diner that (sorry, Aggies fans) is rife with Longhorns memorabilia, and one part northern Mexican restaurant. Don’t expect haute cuisine or anything fancy here. This is an unpretentious spot to sate your diner cravings or your longings for authentic Mexican dishes. A tip: try the Mexican dishes first, you won’t be disappointed.

 

2. Variedades El Salvador
Variedades El Salvador will throw you when you first see it. Yes, it’s a pupuseria, where corn tortillas, beans, and cheeses make dishes any food writer would use as an excuse for rampant hyperbole. But it’s also part convenience store, with a discount clothing selection. See? Didn’t see that one coming, did you? But trust us ‒‒ this is the place to eat for authentic Salvadoran food. In fact, it’s so authentic, no one here really speaks any English. Bring your appetite, the meals are heavy, but you can get a side of curtido (a lightly pickled cabbage slaw) to help cut through.

 

3. Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant
Yes, there’s a theme running through the first few of these restaurants. And yes, Mi Bella offers another take (this time Honduran/Caribbean/Spanish) on Latin eats, but trust us, this Honduran hidden gem will put flavors on your tongue you never imagined. Try the combo catracho and you’ll see for yourself. This delightful platter comes with a little of everything ‒‒  a chicken dish, a pork dish, fried yucca and plantains, and queso fresco. Oh yes.

 

4. BBQ Garden Korean
If you’re looking for the best Asian cuisine in Houston that no one seems to be talking about (yet), BBQ Garden Korean might be exactly the place for you. This is an intimate place with one (quite long) table in the middle, surrounded by small, private rooms and booths. You also grill your own meat. But small meals, like the banchan offerings come with purple rice are to die for. And by the way, this place is open ‘til 2 a.m., so there’s no rush making up your mind when to get there.

 

5. Sammy’s Wild Game Grill

You want something different? Sammy’s is all exotic meats, from ostrich to antelope, but if you’re looking for some of the best grill gourmet, step in here. Sammy’s makes sausages, burgers, and sandwiches from farm-raised game that I s almost always a healthier alternative to traditional beef or chicken. Don’t be put off by the name, because this place is dynamite.

The Top 5 Most Sought-after Schools Districts in Houston

May 28th, 2014

It’s one of the biggest decisions you’ll face when looking for a new home ‒‒ Where will the best schools be for your children? If you’re moving to the Houston area, the good news is that you have plenty of great choices for top-tier school districts. Below are some of the most sought-after and respected districts in the Houston area.

 

Katy ISDKaty ISD

Just outside Houston itself is Katy, a community known for its family-friendly quality of life and it’s vaunted school district. More than 60,000 students strong, Katy ISD is a regular favorite of the Texas Education Agency and serves children in Harris, Fort Bend, and Waller counties. The curriculum is guided by a districtwide management plan, which coordinates the development, delivery, and assessment of the instruction. The students routinely win individual and team championships in sports, academics, and culture at the state, national, and international levels.

 

Conroe ISDThe Woodlands Districts

The woodlands, which itself is the hottest piece of residential real estate in Texas right now (thanks to the coming of Exxon Mobil), is actually comprised of two independent school districts ‒‒ the Conroe ISD and the Tomball ISD. Conroe serves 8,700 students spread over 348 square miles and operates on a $327 million annual budget to fund its 3,300 teachers, 2,100 auxiliary staff members, and  580 administrators ‒‒ no to mention its 450 buses that cover more than cover more than 40,000 miles, cumulative, every school day. Tomball serves students from the city of Tomball, Creekside Park Village, and a section of the Woodlands.

 

Cypress ISDCypress-Fairbanks ISD

Once dubbed by the Houston Chronicle as “Harris County’s Little A&M,” to denote the community’s deep-seeded agricultural roots, Cy-Fair these days is a modern (but still rural) community with a sough-after  school district that is the envy of much of Texas. Boasting an enrollment of more than 100,000, the district’s 33 schools serve students from more than 850 existing subdivisions and apartment complexes. Cy-Fair is actually one of the fastest growing school districts in the nation, (the third-largest in Texas) as more people come o appreciate the rural communities and the educational opportunities in Cy-Fair.

 

 

Humble ISDHumble ISD

Another Texas Education Agency-recognized district is the Humble ISD, which serves 37,000 students from the city of Humble, small portions of the city of Houston (including Kingwood), and portions of unincorporated Harris County. The district’s flagship high school is Humble High, one of five high schools in the district. Humble ISD also has seven middle schools and 25 elementary schools, one of which is the eco-friendly Atascocita Springs Elementary School in Eagle Springs.

 

 

Alvin ISDAlvin Independent School District

Alvin ISD, just south of Houston, serves the communities of Alvin, Manvel, Hillcrest, Rosharon, Iowa Colony, Liverpool, Amsterdam, and Pearland, including the last city’s rapidly growing western end, where the master-planned communities of Shadow Creek Ranch, South Fork, and Southern Trails are. For four straight years, Alvin was deemed a Recognized or Exemplary district by the Texas Education Agency.

10 Best Family Parks Around Houston

May 27th, 2014

 

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the bustle of the big city, but if you want to take the kids to the park, the Houston area has a lot of great options.

1 Hermann Park

The recently updated Hermann Park train is the centerpiece of this popular family park. The park train’s new 1.8-mile route now features an expanded space for wheelchairs and strollers to help everyone get a more comfortable look at the newly upgraded park. Hermann Park features a $15 million renovation of Lake Plaza, which is now double its size. Additional improvements include a renovated pedal boat launch, a new boathouse, a new food pavilion, and a new bridge across McGovern Lake. It’s an ideal place to spend the day with the kids for free (what kids don’t love trains, right?).

 

 

\2 Buffalo Bayou Park

This 124-acre park is a favorite for families and anyone who wants to grab an eyeful of beautiful natural scenery and the Houston skyline. It also features one of the city’s most iconic fountains, a top-notch skate park (one of the best in the nation), and sloping trails for bikers and joggers (hills are indeed hard to come by in Houston). Buffalo Bayou Park is also the spot where Houstonians gather to watch the immense fireworks show every Fourth of July.

 

 

3 Donovan Park

Kids love Donovan Park, known for its beloved playground area that features two playspaces ‒‒ one for the little ones and one (wooden one) for bigger kids (but we won’t tell if you enjoy it too). These playgrounds feature the always-fun zipwire, huge slides, swings, balance beams, lots of stuff to climb on, and even a bouncy bridge to, well, bounce on. And don’t worry, there are lots of nearby benches for parents who need a break.

 

 

MemorialPark4 Memorial Park

Loved by everyone from families to fitness buffs, Memorial Park offers a three-mile dirt trail surrounding a golf course and water fountains, bike trails, picnic tables, swimming pools, tennis and volleyball courts, and an arboretum nearby. Plenty of free parking, too, which is welcome in any city. This is an ideal place to get the kids in touch with nature without leaving the city.

 

spotts park5 Spotts Park

Remember that thing about hills in Houston? Spotts Park actually has some, and you’d be hard-pressed to go there on a nice day and not see kids running up and rolling down the hills. The natural splendor and trails appeal to families, daters, and exercisers all, and kids love the playground. Just watch out on Waugh Street, where no pedestrian walkway puts you up close and personal to Houston’s passing motorists.

 

 

GeneGreen46 Gene Green Park

Gene Green Park, near Carpenters Bayou, is a great spot for families, especially those with dogs. The park features a popular dog park space and some terrific walking  and biking trails. For active kids, it’s also great because of the off-road BMX course, skateboard area, and playground.

 

 

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center7 Houston Arboretum and Nature Center

At the very western edge of Memorial Park is the gorgeous, 155-acre Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, which not only plays a pivotal role in protecting native plants and animals, but also offers a free five-mile walking trail through some of the most beautiful grounds in the entire city. This is a popular destination for school trips, so you know it’s good for the family.

 

Settegast Park8 Settegast Park

Settegast Park features one of the coolest family-friendly amenities in Houston ‒‒ a water playground, which includes a multi-colored rubber surface and “spray-ground” features such as a geyser, a bell-spray column, a misty arch, and more. There are also lighted sports areas and a second, much drier, playground.

 

 

9 Arthur Storey Park

Clean, safe, and visited by many a parent, Arthur Storey park features a great playground, a fountain, and paths full of ducks and turtles. There’s also a great, grassy space for picnics and barbecues.

 

 

10 Discovery Green

The crown jewel of Houston’s family-friendly parks is probably Discovery Green. This is the place for events, concerts, and beautiful skyline views. The park features a soundstage, a shaded walkway lined with 100-year-old live oak trees, the Wortham Foundation Gardens, a lake, fountains, grassy knoll sculptures, two dog runs and a huge children’s area.