Monday, September 5, 2011

Property values: Centerpointe first impressions

As one of the very first buyers to sign a contract for a house build in Section 9, it may surprise you to learn that my first reaction upon seeing Centerpointe was absolute horror.  We examined all Clear Lake neighborhoods prior to making a buying decision, and my first response to the possibility of buying here wasn't "No" - it was "HELL, NO!!"


Because THIS is the first thing I noticed about the neighborhood:
Not a single scrap of vegetation anywhere.
Most of the cheap apartments I've rented in my lifetime have offered greater privacy than what is seen here.
That commonly-repeated neighborhood scene reminded me overwhelmingly of THIS:
This is a screengrab of a corridor in a maximum security prison - I believe this may be Alcatraz.  Same general configuration - rows of windows facing a completely sterile intervening space through which sun shines down.
Now, some of you may be thinking, "Hey, wait a minute - this is a new neighborhood - there hasn't been time for vegetation to grow."

There are two rebuttals to that as follows:

(1) Centerpointe is actually not that young.  Some parts are a decade old.  The conditions depicted above are not restricted to its youngest sections.

(2) At this price point, it is appropriate to invest in the kind of landscaping that would be visible from common areas from Day One of installation.  So even if the houses are young, one would expect to see good landscaping conspicuously in progress.

What I concluded initially as a house-shopper was that Centerpointe is the kind of subdivision where people throw up tract homes and then fail to incrementally improve them.  And that is THE kiss of death from a property values standpoint.  
The same phenomenon is visible in aerial photograph throughout the neighborhood: two builder-grade trees in each front yard, a few one-gallon foundation shrubs, and virtually nothing in any back yard.
Homes in far-flung Houston subdivisions generally do not appreciate in value.  In recent years, there has been value contraction.  Additionally, those of us who contracted new houses to be built according to specific tastes paid a premium for that service, a premium that we will not necessarily realize upon resale.  The only way the average Houston suburban homeowner can hope to recoup anything close to their original purchase price is to make smart incremental investments in their properties, investments that cause the properties to stand out from the competition.
Screengrab from a real estate listing of many months ago.  Rest assured, no potential buyer  ever responded to a scene like this by declaring, "Oh, look, honey - absolutely no privacy - how wonderful!!"
Artist's rendition of the Meritage Aspen, as shown on Meritage's Centerpointe marketing page.
What makes the big impression here is not the house - it's the ambiance, the feeling of richness.  Without the landscaping, the house is just another generic tract house.
So what ultimately compelled us to buy in Centerpointe, if our first reaction was wholly negative?

It's a long, long story involving the types of necessities and compromises that characterize our unusual family life.  Suffice it to say that one of the compromises I made with myself is that I would offer to the neighborhood my knowledge on how this kind of incremental investment deficiency can be rectified - and for far less money than you might think.  In order to build in Centerpointe, my husband and I each sold our individual Clear Lake houses at a profit during the Great Recession when many local sellers were probably not able to break even - both of them, at a profit.  We know how to maximize return on investment where suburban tract homes are concerned.

And so in an upcoming series of blog posts, I'll offer some small-yard, privacy-maximizing landscape ideas, complete with budgets and sourcing.

Several families have already asked me to lend a hand in this regard, and our own investment efforts to date here in Centerpointe have elicited some humorous responses from other homeowners.  One resident confessed to sneaking into the upper floor of a house under construction so that he could get an elevated view across the neighborhood and into our back yard, because he wanted to see what is growing there.  Another resident referred to me in conversation as "the one with landscaping".  I was trying to explain to him where I lived, and I was saying, " turn right and then make a left and then make another left --" when he cut me off and said, "Oh yeah - I know who you are.  You're the one with landscaping."  Note the use of the phrase "the one".  THE one - the ONLY one with landscaping on this side of the neighborhood.  Maybe it should be my Native American name: instead of Dances With Wolves, Crazy Horse, or Maria Tallchief, I'm The One With Landscaping.

So stay tuned for those upcoming posts.  And happy Labor-Day-plus-first-cold-front-of-fall.

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