Meet the developer behind Houston’s ubiquitous 3-story urban townhomes

Frank Liu had an opportunity in 2001 to buy 109 acres in a working-class section of Spring Branch for an enviable price: just over $1 per square foot. Yet he wasn’t immediately convinced the then-rough-and-tumble neighborhood — far off the radar of most Houston builders — would be the right spot for an upscale residential development. So he got in his car, day after day, and drove the area, passing overgrown lots and rusty warehouses. “At first I just didn’t quite fully get it,” Liu said on a recent tour of the property. “But then all of a sudden I realized when you have 109 acres it helps create that sense of community — even in a transitional area.” He bought the land, waited several years, and started developing it slowly and in phases. He hired a prominent architect to design a plan for the property and a “modern farmhouse” aesthetic for the homes, which have porches in the front and garages in the back, accessible by alleys. The first homes there sold for around $200,000 less than a decade ago. There are about 190 homes on the site today, selling for as much as $600,000 in the newest phase of the project. Liu, 63, has repeated this formula in other parts of town. He’s focused on neighborhoods in and around the 610 Loop where he could buy large enough parcels, by urban standards at least, to fashion miniature master-planned communities complete with dog parks, jogging trails and swimming pools. Click to read more at www.houstonchronicle.com.

The Howard Hughes Corporation® Acquires Approximately 1.4M SF Of Premium Office Space & Additional Land For Commercial Development In The Woodlands® From Occidental

THE WOODLANDS, Texas, Dec. 30, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — The Howard Hughes Corporation® (NYSE: HHC) announced today the acquisition of two Class AAA office towers, warehouse space and developable land in The Woodlands®, Texas, from Occidental (NYSE: OXY), providing The Howard Hughes Corporation with highly sought-after, premium office space that will enable The Howard Hughes Corporation to meet ongoing demand in the market. The acquisition increases The Howard Hughes Corporation’s office portfolio within the award-winning master planned community (MPC) by approximately 50%, and reinforces The Howard Hughes Corporation’s standing as the community’s steward and largest stakeholder. The $565 million transaction also includes the acquisition of Occidental’s Century Park campus in the West Houston Energy Corridor—a 63-acre, 1.3-million-square-foot campus with 17 office buildings—which The Howard Hughes Corporation will immediately remarket, in line with its recently announced commitment to sell non-core properties and to focus resources into the growth of its core business of MPCs. In The Woodlands, The Howard Hughes Corporation’s acquisition includes the two Class AAA towers rebranded as The Woodlands Towers at The Waterway, which total approximately 1.4 million square feet of office space, and a 125,000-square-foot warehouse. The acquisition also includes 9.3 acres of prime, developable land located in The Woodlands Town Center® bordering The Woodlands Waterway® and fronting Interstate 45 North, providing the opportunity for meaningful future commercial development in the heart of The Woodlands. Click to read more at www.prnewswire.com.

Houston Office Monthly Market Snapshot November 2019

Some market indicators positive, though future uncertainty persists. Halfway through the fourth quarter of 2019, overall vacancy is at 21.0% and availability is at 25.9%, both down 10 basis points from this time last year. Net absorption was back in positive territory at 898,000 sq. ft. Leasing activity is outpacing this time last year by 9.8%, totaling 13.9 million sq. ft. year-to-date. Developments under construction and delivered projects have also outpaced November 2018 year-to-date numbers. The Houston average asking full-service rent has increased to $29.68 per sq. ft., while the Central Business District is averaging $41.35 per sq. ft. Marathon Oil’s new tower in CityCentre. 990 Town & Country Blvd., a 15-story, 440,000-sq.-ft. Class A office tower in CityCentre will be the new headquarters for Marathon Oil. Construction is set to start soon on the project as the energy company relocates a little less than 6 miles west of its current location at 5555 San Felipe St. in the Galleria/West Loop area. Marathon has been in their current location for more than three decades and plans to relocate when its current lease expires in late 2021. Click to read more at www.naipartners.com.

Redeveloping Houston’s MSA

In the Houston real estate market, sometimes your end goal can be overshadowed by the process of how to achieve it. Development is a challenge, even in a city with no zoning laws, as Oxberry Group learned when it eyed a 1.5-acre property at the corner of San Felipe and Chimney Rock in Southwest Houston. The intersection appeared to be the ideal site for a luxury retail development, but there was a reason no developer had touched it yet. “That land has been in a deed-restrictive association for more than 80 years,” principal Sean Jamea told those in attendance at REDNews’ Houston & Southeast Texas Development / Redevelopment Summit. Seeing that obstacle, Oxberry led a nine-month marketing effort to educate homeowners in that association, Briarcroft, about the project and Houston’s everchanging real estate market. In the process, Jamea said he got to learn about the area as well. “One homeowner shared that when she was young, her house was on San Felipe and she used to ride her horse up and down San Felipe and Chimney Rock,” he laughed. Click to read more at www.rednews.com.

Bridgeland Among Nine Houston Communities On Group’s Top-Seller List

Home sales at the nation’s 50 top-selling MPCs exceeded expectations in the first half of 2019, with a pace that indicates the potential for a 10% increase at year’s end compared with 2018. On average, communities on this year’s list experienced approximately 3% growth in sales over the same time period last year. Texas, Florida, and California account for 66% of total sales among the 50 top-selling communities, with the share of total top-selling MPC sales in other states decreasing from 38% to 34% since mid-year 2018. These results appear to validate the sentiments echoed in RCLCO’s Mid-Year 2019 Sentiment Survey that it is not quite time to stress a downturn. Professionals across the industry were polled about their perspective on the current state of various product types, and most did not yet believe a peak had been reached in the for-sale residential space. Indeed, the sales figures provided by the top-selling master-planned communities in the country would appear to agree with these professionals, as this cycle continues to provide further room to grow. Click to read more at www.houstonchronicle.com.

Texas Medical Center Redesigns Massive TMC3 Project

The 37-acre biomedical research campus planned for the Texas Medical Center has been redesigned, a move officials said would better cultivate a “live, work and play” atmosphere combining collaborative research facilities with shops, restaurants, residences and offices peppered with parks and plazas. The new design, from Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects, builds on an earlier plan to develop a sprawling research building resembling a double helix — a nod to the scientific description of a strand of DNA — capped with an elevated park with gardens and trails. “In the previous scheme, the DNA strand was really the building. Now the DNA strand is really the spaces between the buildings,” said David Manfredi, chief executive of Elkus Manfredi. “Instead of mapping the building on a DNA strand, we’re using that icon or that image or emblem as a way to define outdoor spaces.”  Click to read more at www.chron.com.