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House Rules!

Even the pros are amazed by Houston’s booming seller’s market. “It refuses to lie down,” gushes a realtors association dispatch from last month. Prices are soaring in almost every neighborhood, and homes are selling faster than ever. It’s been a record year so far, and, as the experts note, it’s only half over!

MAKING A SPLASH
Homes in the Memorial area—like this one at 7 Saddlewood Estates in Hunters Creek Village, currently on the market for $2.4 million—are selling faster, and for higher prices, than ever before. 

SUBURBAN SURGE!
Some of the most lavish—and lavishly priced—houses to hit the market this year are suburban outliers. In fact, at press time, the Carlton Woods community in The Woodlands—where the average home price has increased by 12 percent since last spring, to $467,000—is the highest-priced house to go on sale in the region in the last 12 months.

At $14 million, 15 Grand Regency Circle is a fortress surrounded by a stone wall, lush palms and an infinity pool. To be sold furnished, it has six bedrooms and 17,000 square feet. “In my 32 years as an upper-end realtor, I have never seen such a magnificent complex,” gushes the listing agent, Coldwell Banker’s Beth Ferester. 

Meanwhile, Sugar Land’s 5324 Palm Royale Blvd., listed at $12.8 million, is the market’s second priciest newcomer. The palace boasts perks including Italian marble flooring and a two-story master suite.

HOT 'HOOD: MEMORIAL AREA
In recent years, Houston’s healthy housing market has impressed at every price point. And, so far in 2014, homes at the highest end of that market are some of the highest performing. “All markets are booming this year, including the high-end market,” agrees Cheri Fama, president and COO of John Daugherty, Realtors, “and the Memorial market, in particular, is on pace for a record performance.”

QUICK PICKS
Homes in West U, like this one at 6345 Westchester Ave., on the market for $1.8 mil, are selling quickly.

Indeed, in the outside-the-Loop Memorial Villages, manses were selling for a median price of $1.5 mil through May of this year, up 30 percent over the same year-to-date timeframe last year—and they’re also selling 25 percent faster. Furthermore, a MLS report shows that, since the start of the year, more than 160 homes have sold for $1 million or more, a 14 percent increase over the same time period in 2013. Fama cites the “extremely tight inventory” citywide—or shortage of homes for sale—as one reason for the spikes. But the Memorial area is also perennially attractive for its generous lot sizes, reputable public schools and proximity to urban amenities like the CityCentre compound.

Meanwhile, in the much smaller area dubbed by HAR as “Memorial Close-In,” which includes Stablewood and other tony ’hoods abutting the 610 highway, the median home price nearly tripled since last spring, to $2.5 million.

HOT 'HOOD: THE HEIGHTS
In today’s real estate market, things sure are looking up—or, rather, north, toward the Heights, where houses continue to sell quickly, and, lately, for a median price of $420,000, up 17 percent over this time last year, says HAR.

Jean Marie and Cutter Howard closed on their 1920s bungalow off White Oak Boulevard last month. “We were considering Upper Kirby and Montrose,” explains Jean Marie, 25, a communications director for the St. Marks school. She says they ultimately decided the Heights was the best long-term fit, and put several offers in before landing their “charming” new digs. “Our street feels family-friendly, and being able to walk to dinner on a Friday night is something we’re really looking forward to.”

They aren’t the only ones gravitating to the area known for its eclectic boutiques and hot restaurant scene that includes Liberty Kitchen and the new Coltivare. According to HAR, the number of single-family home sales is up 6 percent so far this year over last, and houses sit on the market for barely a month, on average. “More like an hour,” laughs Bill Baldwin, whose Boulevard Realty specializes in the area, noting that he typically receives multiple offers within a day of listing a home.

It seems that neighborhoods bordering the Heights are desirable, too. To the west, Timbergrove boasts an impressive 20 percent spike in median home prices since just last spring. Just south of the I-10 freeway, the Rice Military area, long popular with townhouse-buying young professionals, is even hotter, with homes selling 40 percent faster this spring over the same year-to-date 2013 timeframe.

And in the leafy adjacent districts of Garden Oaks and Oak Forest north of the Loop—some refer to the area favored by tear-down-and-rebuilders acronymically as GOOF—sales prices have risen sharply. New builds are topping a million. “As the price of homes in the Heights goes up, people have had to look to surrounding markets,” explains Baldwin. “These areas often have larger lots, and there are less limitations on new construction than in the historic Heights.”

DESTINATION: HOME!

Master-planned communities are sounding more like high-end resorts. Think ziplines and waterslides at the Riverstone in Sugar Land, and a vast tennis/aquatics center at Woodforest in Montgomery County. “Today’s buyer wants... the dream home in the dream environment,” says Lona Shipp, marketing manager at the Bridgeland community in Cypress, which boasts a disc-golf course, concert pavilion and its own town center.

And the Estates of Grand Beach in Galveston is comprised of 10 multimillion-dollar lots spread across 45 beachfront acres. Residents can customize their acreage with multiple residences, private pools, putting greens, tennis courts—and have access to the private helistop. “It’s living every day like you’re on vacation,” says developer Richard Anderson.

STUDIO LIVING

Design pros like custom homebuilder Kevin Frankel are letting clients get hands on with the interior design of their new homes. His FBG Design Studio is half showroom and half interior-design biz, giving homeowners an opportunity to handpick high-end finishes. As if that’s not enough: FBG has an iPhone app so clients can access project progress reports from start to finish. “You decide how involved you want to be,” he says.

When it comes to updating an existing home, longtime designer-to-the-Houston-stars Laura Umansky recently unveiled Studio U, geared toward petite projects—from picking paints to redressing an entire room. The studio has several experts on hand for on-the-spot advice (even sans appointment) and a “design bar” stocked with samples of fixtures and fabrics.

And Houston’s brand-new Design Within Reach (4066 Westheimer Road, 713.877.1555) flagship offers a similar experience, with a VIP client room and design resources like a colorful fabric swatch wall.

HOT 'HOOD: HOW WEST U WAS WON

According to sixth-generation Houstonian and Greenwood King realtor Kathleen Dunwoody Graf, it’s “extremely difficult to be a buyer” in West University this summer. “Competition and bidding wars are intense,” notes Graf, who grew up in the oak-lined neighborhood near Rice.

The bidding wars might explain the 20 percent increase in median prices in the area since last spring—from $950,000 to $1.1 mil. And its “month’s inventory” statistic—the amount of time it would take to completely sell all the homes in an area if no more properties were to come onto the market—is among the city’s lowest, at a scant 1.5 months.

Graf says that potential homebuyers here, primarily young families, are looking for a particular lifestyle—a suburban feel inside the Loop, great schools and public parks. These days, she says, “A home that checks all the boxes and is located in West U is off the market in days, not weeks.”

ALL IN THE DETAILS

Developers are wooing residents to high-rises with wow-factor amenities. Here are the heights to which luxury living is going:

| 1 | 2900 West Dallas
Each for-lease unit in the Finger Companies’ six-story spread in Montrose (next-door to Whole Foods) comes with a collapsible grocery cart tucked into a living-room closet. “Residents don’t have to carry a grocery bag or look for a parking space,” boasts Marvy Finger.” 

| 2 | Astoria
The under-construction 28-story high-rise near the Galleria has 74 residences—10 of which are penthouses. Each unit comes with an Origami tub and TV in the master bath. The building has a private wine cellar, as well as a pied-à-terre for guests. 

| 3 | Belfiore
Uptown’s under-construction 26-story condo tower will have just 46 residences. Each multistory unit is for purchase and will have two elevators. Grounds include walking paths and a lavish cabana-clad pool area. 

| 4 | Hines’ Market Square Project
The ninth floor of Ziegler Cooper’s upcoming 24-story high-rise will be home to an “aqua lounge” with outdoor pool and terrace, fitness center, gourmet kitchen and a private theater. 

| 5 | The Sovereign at Regent Square
Opened in March, the 21-story, 290-unit building has a 3,000-square-foot health club with panoramic views of Buffalo Bayou and Downtown, plus a private 1,500-square-foot pet “spa” and park. 

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