May home sales surge for Houston region, Montgomery County

Closed Sales May 2012-2013The county and the Houston region continued to blow out previous home sales records as the area’s strong economy, job and population growth fuel continued demand for housing.

May 2013 marked the second-best month for home sales in Montgomery County ever, with 911 homes sold; that is second only to June 2006, when 929 homes were sold during the market peak. It was the highest number of homes sold in May in Montgomery County ever, compared even with the market peak in 2006.Closed Sales YTD May 2013

The monthly sales represented a 23 percent increase over May of last year; that compares well with Houston, which saw a 28 percent growth in sales in May, year over year.

Montgomery County has seen nearly two years – 20 consecutive months – of positive sales each month over previous years. Houston has experienced 24 straight months of positive growth.

It all adds up to a dynamic housing market that gives no signs of slowing, despite modest increase in interest rates recently, according to Houston Association of Realtors Chairman Danny Frank with Prudential Anderson Properties.

“The Houston real estate market has held to positive territory for two years running and you’d be hard-pressed to find a market anywhere in the U.S. as vibrant as ours,” Frank said. “We continue to see multiple offers on homes, in many cases before the ink has even dried on the listing agreements. There are also many cash offers. We need to carefully watch pricing, however. A disproportionate appreciation in home prices could suggest a bubble, and Houston is very fortunate to have avoided that so far.”

Houston’s and Montgomery County’s relentless surge in home sales continues to be fueled by further job creation, according to HAR, with the Texas Workforce Commission reporting the addition of more than 111,000 jobs over the past 12 months. Continued low interest rates have also made conditions more appealing for home buying, although rates have begun creeping up in recent weeks.

Median Price YTD May 2013The patterns of growth in sales, decreasing inventory, and median prices have been favoring The Woodlands, Conroe and southwest Montgomery County, but southeast Montgomery County and the Lake Conroe area saw the strongest increase in closed sales in May, and also year-to-date now. The two regions also lead in May with increases in median price; although year-to-date The Woodlands and southwest Montgomery County, followed by Conroe northeast, continue to see the strongest price appreciation, with gains in median prices of 9.1 percent and 8.5 percent, respectively.

All of this growth in sales of course eventually will have an impact on the availability of housing and the pace of sales.


Days on Market YTD May 2013

                                                                                                                The average Days on Market (DOM) fell in each of the four regions of Montgomery County, with the stro

ngest declines being in what have been the two strongest markets, The Woodlands/southwest and Conroe/northeast. In The Woodlands/southwest, the average DOM now stands at 56 days.

Months of Inventory June 2013The amount of remaining inventory continues to drop as well. In The Woodlands/southwest, the remaining months of inventory available has fallen to just 2.5 months.

The only negative to be found in all of the data is the number of closed sales in southeast Montgomery County – there has been a decrease for that region both for May compared to last year, and for year to date.

Still, with all the pressure on growth – and the coming development of the latest segment of the Grand Parkway, passing along the south part of the county from near the Exxon/Mobil complex to U.S. 59 – it’s hard to believe that southeast Montgomery County won’t see a surge in sales eventually as well.



Home sales for March in Montgomery County – up, up and away!

Home sales – up, up and away
County Monthly Home Sales for March 2013The long-term trends continue; home sales and prices are continuing their upward march to the next peak. What has been happening for a year in Montgomery County has now taken hold around the country – home prices are on the rise.

A survey shows U.S. home prices rose 10.5 percent in March compared with a year ago, the biggest gain since March 2006.

Core Logic, a real estate data provider, said Tuesday that annual home prices have now increased for 13 straight months. Prices are rising in part because more buyers are bidding on a limited supply of homes for sale.

Prices increased in 46 states over the past year – 11 of them posting double-digit gains. And when excluding distressed sales, which include foreclosures and short sales, prices rose in every state. A short sale is when a home sells for less than what is owed on the mortgage. In Texas, the Houston MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) posted a 7.9 percent annual gain (excluding distressed properties, the gain was 9.7 percent). For the PDF report: corelogic-hpi-march-2013

Nevada led all states with a 22.2 percent annual gain. It was followed by California (17.2 percent), Arizona (16.8 percent), Idaho (14.5 percent) and Oregon (14.3 percent).

Home prices also rose 1.9 percent in March from February, signaling a solid start to the spring buying season. And 88 of the 100 largest cities reported price gains compared with a year earlier, down slightly from 92 in February.

Consider the following statistics from the data of the Texas Real Estate Center for March. The data looks at home sales, including townhomes and condos, for Montgomery County:

County Monthly Home Inventory March 2013

  • Home Sales — Up 30 percent compared to previous March, rising from 528 to 684
  • Median Price —                 Up 5 percent compared with previous March, rising from $192,600 to $202,000.
  • Inventory — Falling 35 percent, plummeting from 6.2 months of available inventory to just 4 months currently.

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The interesting number to watch is the low inventory; it has been low for months, and I’ve been expecting to see builders respond to increasing demand for housing.

It has begun to happen. According to the graphic below, March building permits nearly doubled over the previous year. Eventually, that will help ease some upward pressure on prices — and more importantly, it will put more and more people to work and help the local economy.

Monthly home inventory March 2013

Being Strong

It is a sunny summer morning in The Woodlands, and attorney Bret Strong is looking relaxed in slacks and a dress shirt, his collar open and free of a tie as he talks about life, work and family in his office in Waterway One overlooking the  Waterway and its never-ending growth and development.

His office window affords a picture perfect view of The Woodlands, and it’s a view that Strong has rightly earned; after all, his business law firm, The Strong Firm P.C., has been a major player in many of the transactions and deals that have made the master-planned community the wonder of the Houston region.

With a brownstone located just down the Waterway, a growing business in the heart of The Woodlands’ “downtown,” and with a company whose name, as a sponsor, is associated with many of The Woodlands’ major endurance and fitness events, Strong should be feeling pretty comfortable these days –  and he is.

“The great opportunity I’ve been given, which I am blessed to have, is that I’ve been here since 1989 and I’ve been involved in this community,” Strong said. “I’ve been able to see this community grow through business transactions, and I’ve been involved in a lot of what you see going up around here.”

For Strong, being part of the team to bring a complex commercial real estate or oil and gas transactions to fruition is fulfilling. “You’re helping grow the economy and doing the things that need to be done to help this be the success it has become.” And unlike firms devoted to trial work and litigation, which Strong views as primarily “destructive” and a zero-sum process, his firm instead is devoted to handling transactions, trademarks, and other aspects of business law.

“It’s constructive. It’s progressive, it’s focusing on the future and growth and things that generally everybody’s pretty positive about.”

Strong was the first of his siblings to finish college, earning a degree in business from the University of Colorado in Boulder. Shell hired him straight from campus, starting him in its Traverse City, Michigan offices where he dealt with oil and gas contracts.

As he gained more experience in oil and gas production and exploration, Shell worked to continue his development, moving to positions with ever-increasing responsibility throughout the organization. He worked in Columbus, Texas, and New Orleans before coming to Houston in 1989.

It was at that point that Shell took another step in his career development, sending him to law school full time. He graduated from the South Texas College of Law in 1995.

Soon after, however, he was faced with a decision – to continue with Shell in its legal department, or strike out on his own in law.

Having made a number of contacts during his oil and gas work with Shell, Strong opted to launch a new career in business law, joining with Woodlands attorney Jack Stibbs and his firm, Stibbs & Burbach. Winstead acquired the firm in 2001, and in 2004 Strong decided it was time to begin his own firm.

Starting with just himself and a legal assistant, Strong has since seen his firm grow to five full-time attorneys and a total of 11 employees, “and we’re still growing,” Strong said. In fact, Strong recently exercised an option to expand his practice in Waterway One.

“When I moved into this space, I picked this space not only because of the view but because I knew I had expansion rights on both sides,” he said.

The first option, when that tenant moved out, enabled him to add on two or three offices and conference room; when the remaining space became available, he again exercised his option and then immediately subleased it to a client of the Strong firm.

That lease ended Sept. 1, and by October the Strong firm will “not quite double” its existing footprint, giving the firm, Strong said, “some elbow room and room for growth.”

And the growth prospects are strong. The Strong firm, as mentioned, has had a hand in a number of the major commercial transactions in The Woodlands over the last decade.

“We do a lot of work for the (Woodlands) township, and our energy related transaction work has been pretty busy.  And of course we work with a lot of developers in The Woodlands doing retail and office buildings, and we handle work for a lot of small- to medium-size businesses as well,” Strong said. “We’ll probably add another attorney at the beginning of next year.”

This would be enough to keep anyone busy, but Strong also finds time for his family: he is married to local CPA Angela Strong and they have an 9-month-old son, Luke, all the while maintaining a demanding fitness regime. (Bret also has two grown sons from a previous marriage.) Strong runs three times a week, swims two or three times a week, and heads out on the roads on Sundays for a long bike ride.

In January, this already demanding schedule will increase in intensity when he starts serious training for Ironman Texas – he has competed in three Ironmans already. Plus, he has run “four or five” marathons and numerous half-marathons and other events.

As crazy as this effort may sound, the truth is that his running, swimming and biking help keep him sane, he said.

Strong competes at the Kemah Olympic Triathlon

“When I get away from the office and go do a run or bike and think about stuff, that’s my clearing time, my decompression time; also, staying healthy is important in a high-stress position,” Strong says. “You gotta’ unplug and give your mind time to think.”

It is a demanding schedule, and not for the faint of heart. But growing up near South Bend, Indiana, Strong learned at a young age about the need for hard work. When he was just 4 years old his father was killed in a car accident, thrusting his mother into the role of sold breadwinner.

“My mother at the time had four kids all under the age of 10; my mom was a homemaker basically. She had no education past high school and had never had a steady job. She instantly became the main breadwinner of the family, and set a very good role model to show me you do what you need to do to provide for your family,” he said.

“She held all sorts of jobs.  She was a bartender, she worked at a jewelers, she did the census; I remember she was always working two jobs at a time.”

And as a result, there were no excuses for inactivity around the Strong home as a boy. His mother made certain he was constantly involved in productive activities at school, and throughout high school Strong competed in three sports, football, wrestling, and baseball.

“She taught me you are going to learn to be self –sufficient. There was no time for whining at all,” Strong said.

But it’s clear that all that focus and discipline has paid off, as Strong appears to be successfully managing the demands of family, work and community service.

With a Brownstone apartment just down the Waterway from his office, and owning his own practice, Strong enjoys the freedom and flexibility he has found.

“I may this afternoon go for a run at 4 o’clock, but I may be back on the computer either here or at home tonight;” he said. “There are times I’ll spend the whole night here to make sure things are on focus; and there are days I show up at 10 because I want to go for a run or do something with the family,” Strong said.

“I really love it, I feel I get the right level of leisure time and family time; I feel very blessed with what I’ve been able to do. When you can drive around and be involved in the community and see a little bit of your fingerprint in a lot of what’s going on, that’s very satisfying.”

On Speight, and the choice in Precinct 3

It was a Tuesday night, when many families are busy with a host of other activities.

But that night, about 200 people had filled the seats at an elementary school in south Montgomery County, eager to hear a presentation on the Grand Parkway that had been put together by Kenny Speight, who is in a four-way GOP primary race for Commissioner Precinct 3 to help determine who will succeed outgoing longtime Commissioner Ed Chance.

By any measure, it was an important meeting for those residents of Imperial Oaks and surrounding areas; most stuck around until the very end of the meeting and after a round of questions. It’s a good example of how important the proposed project is for these residents.

It also was a good example why Kenny Speight could make a great commissioner.

Speight said he had put together the program in order to help meet the needs of south Montgomery County residents who wanted to know more about the project, which ultimately will create a third outer loop encircling Houston. A portion of it will pass through south Montgomery County. Relying on relationships forged over the years with people like Imperial Oaks developer Jim Holcomb – who helped coordinate and get the word out about the meeting – Speight helped create a productive meeting that provided useful information to hundreds of local residents.

Last fall, I had written a blog post questioning whether Speight, in his campaign, would go beyond biography and endorsements to spelling out a clear vision for the county and taking actions that would establish his leadership. Sure, he had the backing of a large number of county officials, including Commissioner Chance – and he clearly had the lead in raising funds for a campaign — but why should voters choose him?

That Tuesday night was a good demonstration why he would be a good pick; another was a few weeks ago, when Kenny accompanied me on some visits to south Montgomery County leaders on the issue of transportation.

I’m currently involved in helping promote transportation infrastructure funding for the Houston region. Kenny’s broad knowledge of the area and close relationships with scores of local leaders made him a natural fit for visiting with local leaders to secure support for our goal – which involves ensuring that Texas has the transportation infrastructure it needs to maintain its strong economic growth and combat congestion that already is becoming a crisis around the region.

As we visited with these leaders, it was clear Kenny was familiar with the transportation issues facing many of our smaller communities and the county as a whole. And his well-established relationships with local elected officials and government leaders made for an effective set of meetings.

I think this is an important quality – and is the flip side of the coin of being what many people perceive as the “establishment” candidate in the race.

Yes. After spending 25 years in a community – he moved his family here in 1987 – and being involved in leadership in various civic groups, by any definition you would become a part of the “establishment.”

But that also is the very reason Speight is the best person for the job – 25 years of building relationships and serving in community leadership have given Speight a familiarity with the issues and people relevant to voters in Precinct 3. He can make a seamless transition into the post, and can leverage that 25 years of effective involvement in the community to hit the ground running.

So yes – voters shouldn’t back Speight simply because he’s supported by established leaders in south Montgomery County. But from my perspective seeing him in action – and given his long involvement in the community, which you can read more of below – I think Kenny’s demonstrated his value to south Montgomery County voters. I wish him luck in the primary; early voting ends today, and Election Day is Tuesday, May 29.

Some of Kenny’s accomplishments:

  • Recipient of the North Harris Montgomery Community College District’s Small Business Man of the Year Award in 1994;
  • Volunteer of the Year by The Woodlands Chamber of Commerce in 1997;
  • Kenny Speight Agency was named Small Business of the Year in 1999 by the Commercial Real Estate Association of Montgomery County;
  • Honored as a Hometown Hero for The Woodlands in 2005’
  • Served as the Chairman of The Board of the South Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce from 2006-2007
  • Served as co-Chairman of the VOICE PAC to free The Woodlands Township from annexation;
  • Served as a Director of the Woodlands Community Association and Cochran’s Crossing Village Association boards;
  • Lifetime Committeeman Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo; member Board of Directors of Montgomery County Fair Association; founder of South County Buyer’s Group