Swamplot, Houston's snarky real estate blog, recently announced the winners of its 2013 "Swampies," otherwise known as the The Swamplot Awards for Houston Real Estate. Now in its sixth year, The Swamplot Awards offer Houstonians a chance to first nominate and then vote on eight distinct real estate related categories including "Favorite Houston Design Cliché," "Best Demolition," "Best Houston Transplant," and "The Ground-Floor Retail Award," among others.
One of the other categories of note was "Least Recognizable Neighborhood," which was awarded to Oak Forest. I give this award special attention because I happen to live in Oak Forest and, yeah, that's the only reason.
According to the nomination: "It's the West U of the twenty-teens around here. Once filled with 1960s ranchers sitting in the middle of large yards with lots of mature trees, now it's the spot to go build McMansions that fill the lot. Already, many streets are unrecognizable from a couple years ago. At the current pace of demo work, there will be very few original homes left in 5 years..."
If you are not familiar with the area, Oak Forest, often combined with the neighboring Garden Oaks, is the third large group of subdivision in Harris County, more or less right outside of the 610 loop, along North Shepherd to the east and 290 to the west.
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I moved into the neighborhood four years ago, mainly because my husband and I were priced out of the Heights and our realtor said this was all our poor asses could afford. We thought it was a nice little neighborhood and the price was right, but the real drawback to it, as we felt then, was that there wasn't much going on. There was a Kroger but not much else.
In the four years that we have been living in the neighborhood, there is no denying that it has become off the chart. Once filled with rows and rows of 1950/60s ranch-style houses, these are now in the minority. Every third home seems to be either under renovation or demolished in lieu of cookie-cutter homes double the size of its original layout. In addition to the barely recognizable architecture, the pricing of the neighborhood has also gone through the roof (that's a pun!).
When we moved in the price range fell somewhere between the mid 100s (on the low end) to the very low 300s, but 300 was really expensive at the time. Now, a $300,000 home is cheap. Two years ago two of our neighbors put their home up in the high 300s and I recall laughing at how absurd that was. It wasn't. Both of the houses sold in record time. As I walk my dog along our little subdivision, I like to check out the prices of the homes for sale, and I am continuously astonished. Selling a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom home in Oak Forest now for less than $350K is unheard of, even homes that have had little or no work done on them.
So I am not at all surprised by Swamplot's award that Oak Forest has become completely unrecognizable. Almost.
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Despite the trajectory of the neighborhood, retail and commerce have been incredibly slow going. There's still nothing here! I am exaggerating; over the past four years a few new place have popped up: Cottonwood, Shepherd Park and Pink's Pizza have opened up over on Shepherd, hidden away on Wakefield is Petrol and Wakefield CrowBar, in the shopping center on Ella we've still got our Kroger with some chain additions like a European Wax Center (thanks?) and an Edible Arrangements (thanks again?) and there is the much-praised Plonk bar and restaurant. But other than a select few, there's not a whole lot to do in Oak Forest. Don't get me wrong, I don't want the neighborhood to turn into another Washington Ave, but the hottest news item on the Oak Forest Facebook page over the past three months has been over the rumor that Berryhill is coming; that's how bored we are: "not bad Mexican" is the most exciting thing we've got going on.
I am not sure why commerce has been so slow going when the real estate has been on such an explosive path. I understand that the money follows the money but the money is here and it has been for a few years now. The neighborhood is littered with empty lots, abandoned buildings, and apartment buildings that should probably be torn down due to improper building codes. There is an empty storefront on the corner of TC Jester and 43rd street that has been that way for years and it's just begging for a coffee shop; it would be solid gold. The entire neighborhood is living on one Starbucks (I'm talking to you Scott Repass).
My fear for Oak Forest is that "McMansions," as so aptly put in Swamplot's nomination, will overrun the area and this will bring nothing but the douchbaggery resulting in the end of a very wonderful and potentially amazing neighborhood.
Next year, I hope Oak Forest wins the Least Recognizable Neighborhood again but I hope that it is not due to knock-downs and shoddily built homes, but because of the throngs of local businesses that will have discovered what we Oakies already know - we are totally bored and want to spend money and will do anything to avoid the horrific construction on 610.