First-time Homebuyer Experiences

Map of the Greater Heights Area – #5

In 2020, I purchased my own home in an emerging neighborhood of Houston, Texas called Independence Heights. I served as my agent and saw something special in the quiet quarter between I-45 just north of the 610 Loop that encircles this enormous and growing city. I moved from my parent’s home in Bellaire also off the 610 and there were many comparables regarding how retailers were positioned throughout my new neighborhood. Although Independence Heights is no Bellaire, it is nestled perfectly on the borderline of Garden Oaks, a lovely neighborhood with tall lots and plenty of mature trees. The agent that upsold me was Rachael Hadzega. She assured me that the home was a good, energy-efficient build and that the neighborhood was coming up. Let me be perfectly honest, most agents are trained to say those things, however, like a good agent, she understood what to lean on. This was not just a home; it was also an investment. Further, the neighborhood was on the brink of a transition that could go in any direction given a fragile economic state due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. So, here is what I did right, and what more I could have/should have done better.

What I did right

  • I moved back to Houston, TX permanently in 2015. At the time, I was not able to purchase a home. I did, however, get my real estate (RE) license. Having a license was the source of $7 – 9 thousand in savings. It also connected me to a network of people with key information about local culture, neighborhoods, and opportunities. Although I was more interested in the commercial RE perspective, the license was an excellent first step to everything RE. It also helped me obtain plenty of data points to be able to make sound decisions moving forward.
  • A major factor of my decision-making process was the current and future health of my neighborhood. How did I assess this? I looked at neighborhoods that had already matured and took note of which retailers positioned themselves in or near my neighborhood of choice. I had the fortune of the perfect retail model to help establish the trend.  

Bellaire: Home Depot & Lowes, Chick-fil-a, PetSmart, Whole Foods & HEB

  • In Houston, Home Depot, Lowes, and Chick-fil-a tend to roll together in viable neighborhoods. PetSmart is in almost every “comfortable”
    The Whole Foods Market 365 mural reflects the African American roots of Independence Heights on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018, in Houston.

    neighborhood in Houston, and not by mistake. Also, Whole Foods and HEB are some of the titans of the grocery industry. In 2018, before the pandemic and after Hurricane Harvey, the opening of Whole Foods 365 Market was a tipping point for this neighborhood. Whole Foods introduced a new product/brand to support the variety of demographics that the neighborhood is comprised of. HEB followed in 2019. Retailers make their RE location decisions based on a healthy supply chain, demographics, surrounding growth potential, and more. They have determined that their businesses complement each other, a winning combination. After I pinned the neighborhood, I began to dig further into my personal preferences such as a gated community and the accessibility to outdoor activities. The things that you seek, often seek you too.  Established businesses like the ones mentioned have put a ton of resources into their location intelligence models. Know the experts and trust that they have done the heavy lifting.

  • I had the advantage of being in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Therefore, I drove various neighborhoods to review and assess damages. You can have a perfectly good home, and an excellent location but the risk vs reward of that purchase needs to be taken into account. In Houston, I searched for investments that were outside of the flood zone and near but far enough from the bayou waterways to have a fighting chance in the case of another major flood. Given the history of the neighborhood not flooding during Harvey, that also meant that investing in flood insurance became optional. It was another cost savings opportunity.
  • HOA fees can be insane if not a little rude. HOAs are businesses. The costs rarely, if ever go down. Make sure that you know what neighborhood policies are, how much they cost, and why they cost what they do. Speaking of businesses, ensure that your HOAs do not tie your hands by not letting you monetize your property. You may not want to, but it is always nice to have options. Specific examples are, can you rent, Airbnb, and what improvements are within policy guidelines?
  • Who you choose as a lender can help you gain financial leverage. This program may expire at some point, however, first-time homebuyers could beeligible for up to $30,000 worth of assistance in Houston, TX. Also, some lenders have a discount for the first-time homebuyer education course (if you are required to take it).
  • If you find that a quality builder or RE firm has invested greatly in certain emerging markets, check out their inventory throughout the city. Like the commercial retailers, the odds are that they have done their homework too. Get an expert like Rachael to outline the pros and cons of the options you have outlined. Even if you think you know the answer you could find out something that you didn’t know and that could reframe your search.

What I should have also considered

  • There was an easement on my property that I asked to be relocated before I even knew it was an easement. The telephone line stations were not installed in a straight line. One of them ended up in my backyard and to get to it, the service provider must enter my property. They can dig up my back lawn to burry telephone lines to other homes. Unfortunately, I picked that lot for a compelling reason. I honestly thought it could be a quick removal of the box. It was way more complicated than that. So, I must live with it, for now. Although, lucky me. There was a development in Houston around the same time where the developers forgot to oversee the installation of internet infrastructure within the community during the height of the pandemic and when everyone was working from home. Those residents were out of luck for over six (6) months.
  • The first morning that I woke up after I moved in, I experienced the train. It was way down the road and I did not think that I could hear it from my home. The area is not a quiet zone. When I inquired with a community leader, they gave me a comprehensive list of other items that the community wanted to prioritize. Some of those items were gentrification, extreme poverty, and rising taxes that were forcing the locals to move out of their long-time community. Moreover, in parts of town, there was an increase in flood damages due to an uptick in housing and construction coupled with a lack of progress within the infrastructure. Lastly, the I-45 expansion project may cause the neighborhood to shrink on the East side of town displacing residents due to eminent domain laws. The thunderous train was at the bottom of that list, as it should have been. Did I mention the rooster at dawn?
  • During Snowvid (the winter freeze week of 02.15.2021 – $18 Billion in damagest-shirts here), it was a shock to tout le monde. It left the city bruised but not broken. Right before the water to the entire city shut off for days, my aunt gave me some sage advice. She told me to fill my bathtubs with water. We usually drink filtered water and not bottled water, so we would not even have had water to drink as the stores were out of, well, everything! I was lucky to do so just in case and we had some form of water supply until we pooled resources with refugees. In my second bathroom, I settled for just a shower. Perhaps having a second tub would have been wise. As the water supply got lower and lower by day three, the second tub issue began to settle in. On a positive note, I also got to experience energy efficiency at its best. The home remained appropriately insulated throughout and my energy bill for last month was only $30.00. My energy retailer, Pulse Power, came through. It was fortune mixed with choosing the right team.

Suffice to say, I am learning a lot from my homeowner experience in Houston, TX. Also, I am happy to live in a diverse and growing neighborhood. Finally, I hope that hearing about my journey will enrich your point of view. You may not think of everything but there are ways to set yourself up for overall success. Oh, and if you are gearing up to be a first-time homebuyer, CONGRATS in advance!