Monthly Archives: October 2014

Mr. Bill Buys His Dream House… with apologies to Eric Hodgins

For most of the past thirty years I have experienced at second hand the machinations of the real estate world. Having grown up in a world where there were real estate salesmen – just like there were insurance salesmen – a world populated by real estate professionals is almost as dangerous as one populated by financial professionals and either can be injurious to your wallet in ways that you never imagined.

Having decided to desert Sodom on the Bayou and possessing a rough idea of what we needed the search began.

All we wanted

All we wanted

Several years previously my wife had been involved in a transaction where some people of her acquaintanceship had bought a spacious home on a huge lot with an extended garage and shop as well as a pool and a guesthouse. All of this nestled in a small village that was almost more rural than suburban and far enough from the thoroughfares to be quite if not secluded. Unfortunately they either got the last one or there are simply none available now.

Expanding the search there were a wealth of two storey houses and an absolute poverty of acceptable one storey houses. One of the few was on three acres but it had been built in 1956 and was judged too out of date, on a street with too much commercial development AND next door to some kind of Asian Monastery which did not frighten me so much as my wife worried about Hare Krishna rites being performed at all hours of the day and night.

One of the services offered by real estate professionals is staging a house and putting a picture portfolio on the internet so that you can get a feel for the property before you view it. The phrase that comes to mind for me is the one about putting lipstick on a pig to see if it can fly. The first of these that I came across looked like a beautiful brick country home sitting regally at the back of a long drive at sundown. It turned out to be a 1200 square foot house with a carport on an acre so devoid of tree or topography that you could have planted wheat. Ignoring the photographs and turning a jaundiced eye to the dimensions there were no two rooms in combination that would have given you enough space to change either your mind or your socks. I was reminded of the mobile home company that used to dress children as adults ostensibly to add an element of cuteness to their commercials but in reality to hide the fact that only the vertically challenged could occupy one of their homes without doing injury to themselves.

Next on the menu was a Frank Lloyd Wright style house. In realspeak this apparently includes anything built within the centenary of the great man that has a flat roof. Although it was on two plus acres with city water and sewer it included other city amenities such as a neighbor with a perpetual garage sale. The creek at the back of the property is a glorified drainage ditch with an access road that runs alongside and serves as a highway for housebreakers. The original garage had been converted into a bedroom/office, complete with rising damp, and replaced by a sheet metal shop that has not blown away only because it is ballasted by trash. The patio off the back glass wall that exposes the living area has more cracks than Obama’s resume and overlooks the entanglement of weeds that constitutes a wooded lot. The value added by the listing realtor was to let us know that not one but TWO offers were ready to be presented the next day – weeks later we have yet to see a sale pending sign.

Forsaking the hope of Heaven and praying to wind up no place worse than Purgatory we were trying to compromise on an apparently nice – if inauspicious – brick home on three quarters of an acre lost on a little dead end street where we could remain at home and unfound for the most part. It seemed to be in most ways adequate and to escape the cookie cutter pattern of most of Pearland which seems exclusively composed of poorly built tract homes for the sub-prime mortgage market. On houses more than 20 years old that have slab foundations you have the choice of those that have been previously repaired and those in need of more repair – either imminently or in the not too distant future.

We did not quite get to that determination since the electrical system had an FPE box and enough open splices throughout the attic and lack of GFI plugs in the kitchen, baths and utility rooms that we had more pressing worries. Added to this was the fact that there was a septic system which had not been pumped in the best part of a decade – when we were rude enough to suggest that we had no desire to buy the remaining contents of their sewage we were offered a pittance and the number of a discount pumping service.

Then we learned the truth! Having lived with power outages during storms we had determined to put in a natural gas powered standby generator. You can not hook one up to an FPE box and indeed Pearland may well not approve ANY additional circuits being run off such a box. In addition where it used to require 1 permit to hook up a standby generator it now requires 6 and Pearland may well be going the way of Houston where you are now almost required to have a permit to apply for a permit. Of course the permits do not add any sort of safety or quality to the work done – they simply generate an immediate fee and an excuse for increasing property taxes thereafter.

But this was only half of the cold hard facts of life. Older septic systems work through separation and returning the water back to the ground and have been used for centuries because they are effective and passive systems especially in a rural environment. The new systems are far more complex and therefore both more expensive to install and maintain. In that wonderful confluence of the interests between government and business if you have less than 1 acre and if the costs of maintenance and repair will exceed 25% of the value of the system you must replace your old system with a new one. The results are easy enough to predict and even though we spent $1,000 to find these things out at least we didn’t spend $250,000 to find out we could immediately spend $50,000 more.

All we were offered

All we were offered

While I would never accuse the current homeowner – or their realtor – of any of these properties of trying to conceal anything from us, NOBODY, and that includes the inspectors that we hired to examine the property in our behalf, was anxious to educate us as to these pitfalls and I can only thank the good people at the county offices and potential neighbors that I met as unhurried passersby  for raising red flags. If you want to look at Pearland go a little bit farther to Manvel which is not so badly infected yet! We continue our search and will let you know about our travels on the way to Shambala.





Comments Off on Mr. Bill Buys His Dream House… with apologies to Eric Hodgins

Filed under Book Reviews

Omnes relinquite spes, o vos intrantes.


My family has called the same house home since 1928. My grandmother had the house built after she was widowed and my mother grew up here – and even had her wedding reception here – I grew up here, my sons grew up here and my grand children have played here often. My surmise had always been that like the generations before me this would be my last address but that may be about to change.

The city of Houston has become progressively less livable. We are now three blocks from a freeway that was not there when I was born and where there was a truck farm just west of us has been a failed shopping center soon to be torn down for a midrise apartment project to help hold the daily influx of people who are certainly not Texans and often not even Americans and have no more appreciation for the values involved in being either than a dog has of algebra.

The problem of lacking these values is that these people are the natural fodder of politicians and unfortunately the political model of the large city is one of unceasing greed for tax dollars to be allocated, in small measure to reward the political faithful and, in large measure to burnish the image of the politicians eager for higher office. Thus the tax dollars paid to maintain the streets and sewers, the police and fire departments and to retire the debts of previous elected felons are diverted.

A portion – large enough to buy the next election – is wasted on giving jobs to sidewalk inspectors with no obvious qualifications while the larger portions build jogging trails on bayous whose only natural inhabitants seem to be the giant mosquito and the seasonal wino – or anything else than can memorialize an otherwise inconsequential office holder. Meantime the streets are torn up and already stretched to the limit services are treated like red-headed step children while the developers try to sidestep the permitting process in the building of their next collapsible architectural monstrosity and the citizens find their tax bills raised to exorbitant levels that bear no relationship to the market value of the asset being taxed.

In paying property taxes – and the dozen or more hidden taxes – the citizen finds himself supporting a vast network of politicians and governmental employees who don’t do any useful work, who don’t desire to ever do any useful work and who treat the very notion that they should do any useful work with the disdain of a head waiter asked to clear a table. The proximate result is a city that is rapidly collapsing on itself, a school system that produces functional illiterates, a hospital district that is more likely to kill you than cure you and a police and fire department that have become so politicized that you better have your own gun and hose if you would protect or save your home. The ultimate result is that before my grandchildren come of age Houston will be what Detroit is and so will every other major metropolitan urban area.

The most damnable aspect for me is that while I could not ask for a better group of people to live among than my immediate neighbors within a block we have an apartment project that specializes in felons recently released from the state prison. We have so many junk food restaurants that a former neighbor counted 43 rats in a single week that her cats brought her as offerings. In spite of the endless admonitions not to drink and drive we have everything from plastic pubs meant to be reminiscent of ye olde England to after hours bars for those of dubious gender that have had late night shootings to murderous effect – and many of their patrons proceed down our supposedly residential street at all hours of the night. Being conveniently located sometimes is a mixed blessing that leaves you too close to a good many things the city turns a blind eye to because they are cash cows for tax revenue.

While all of the virtues of a city are within easy reach so are all of the vices and the combination of the latter, the unwillingness of the city to do anything about them and a level of taxation entirely out of proportion to the services provided by the city the only choice left is to vote with our feet. One of the few benefits is that within a few miles we can escape Sodom on the Bayou. We can cross a county line to the south and buy our little patch of refuge down a state highway and two county roads on a dead-end road where our nearest neighbors are two llamas that belong to the people whose house is a few acres removed from ours. While they do not speak they seem to possess a reflective dignity and regal bearing that may make them the perfect neighbors.

Jeanne will have her one storey house. I will have a separate atelier as I have been told that books are banned in our new home. There will be no more one car driveway for two people who share four cars and those who find us at our hideaway may find me out on my riding mower or talking to the llamas. Whatever I do I will keep a weather eye towards the north since I know that nothing good ever comes from the north.

Brazoria County will have all the problems Harris County has – eventually – probably too soon. The problems will come first to the communities closest to Houston and they will come with a vengeance to subdivisions where the majority of residents received 100% financing on tract built homes with all of their closing costs – including points and a broker’s fee – wrapped into their very subprime mortgages. The HOA’s and MUD’s will go broke and the banks will add thousands of foreclosures to their inventories precipitating another crisis and taxpayer bailout. This is the price of equality in a democracy that started by demanding that there should be no taxation without representation and is ending in an age of entitlement by giving representation without taxation.

Comments Off on Omnes relinquite spes, o vos intrantes.

Filed under Book Reviews