Thomas R. Griner, 39, could care less but he is one of the reasons the Houston area is leading the nation in housing starts this year, with 25,457 units begun through June.
On an airplane taking him back to his family after a business trip, the purchasing specialist in a petrochemical industry said he contracted to buy a new three-bedroom house in the Cimarron subdivision in West Houston for $52,000 in March. The family moved in July 1 and it makes Griner "feel good to know that the same house now is being resold for $3,000 more. I saw the prices go up while I was house looking when we were living in an apartment. I'm glad we made the move."
Other than a few "little things," like the driveway holding puddles when it rains hard ("mostly cosmetic stuff"), Griner is satisfied with the construction because "I watched it being built." The frame-and-brick exterior is topped by a wood shingle roof, not uncommon for Houston houses over $50,000. The house has 1,864 square feet of living area. That's about average in that price range for a house on a 66-by-120-foot lot.
Griner moved to Houston a year ago from Lakeland, Fla., where he took a slight loss in selling back his house to a builder. "That market is depressed but Houston is booming in housing and everything," Griner said. "I looked for a house in the $40s but paid more because you get less house for the dollar in Houston than in Lakeland."
But most newcomers to Houston are not from Lakeland and most are surprised to get substantial, air-conditioned houses for around $30 a square foot in the mass market. Not unlike Washington, Houston gets many new and resale house purchasers from the estimated 1,000 newcomers a week who make the growth rate here so strong. Incorporated Houston has about 1.5 million residents and another million live in the area counties. In addition to oil and construction, both the petrochemical and medical-related businesses are strong employers.
Unsold new houses are few even though most Houston builders start houses "speculatively" (without a buyer signed up) but they usually have a buyer before the house is finished.
Houston had a record 47,254 housing starts last year and the 1977 total should be near that figure, even though a downturn in the pace is anticipated in the second half of this year. Last year apartment starts slightly exceeded single houses, but houses are slightly ahead this year.
The rental market is considered strong at 93 per cent in this city, which usually has a surplus of rental units to take care of expected growth.
Some Houston housing observers caution that the torrid new construction pace of the past 18 months could diminish before the end of 1977. That's why builder Doyle Stuckey (whose annual production at varied locations now totals about 600 single houses in a price range from the high $30,000s to $150,000) keeps a seasoned eye on the market.
"I'm a former mortgage banker and have a dozen individual builders working with us," he said. "That holds down overhead and a build-up of inventory. Our big demand is for houses in the $40s but all markets are strong."
One unusual factor related to Houston housing, where the resale market is also running 25 per cent ahead of 1976 in dollar volume, is a continuing boom in school construction. Building permits in Harris County, which includes much of the metropolitan area, were $131 million for a recent 15-month period, up from $95 million in a similar period a year earlier.
More than 80 per cent of the area's new housing is being built in the unincorporated areas where school population is still growing. That's stark contrast to Washington and some other metropolitan areas, where child population has been declining and schools have been closed and new construction curtailed.
Houstonians, being both Texans and residents of a city that thrives on overbuilding (to be ready for tomorrow), seem to be normally upbeat but they are not carried away with their own words. Rather, they talk hard dollars-cents and live and work in a free enterprise atmosphere.
That attitude is evident at Kingwood , a planned community of 14,000 acres about 25 miles north of center Houston and adjacent to Lake Houston (which provides some of the city and area's water supply) and only five miles from the booming Houston Intercontinental Airport. Kingwood now has 8,000 residents good roads, shopping, schools and recreation - plus fire and police services. It is a privately financed development of Friendswood Development Co. (a subsidiary of Exxon) and the King Ranch, Inc. Sales started in 1971 and the build-out is scheduled in 1990.
Among the dozen or more volume and custom builders active in Kingwood is the Ryland Group (a company based in Columbia, Md.), which is fast becoming one of the nation's largest volume builders. The largest, U.S. Home, builds almost 10 per cent of all the new homes in a low-to-moderate price range in Houston.
Acting on its approach of buying finished losts from developers and building houses only when a buyer is signed, Ryland has been increasing its share of both the Houston and Dallas markets at varied small subdivisions or in existing new towns.
There are some similarities in size, design and housing choices, between Kingwood and Columbia, where Ryland has been the principal builder of single-family houses since that older new town was started 10 years ago. However, Columbia has many more rental apartments and a broader diversity of residents.
Generally, the prices are lower than those of similar houses in the Washington area because of lower lot and building costs in Texas. Washington area homeowners moving to Houston would find house prices and taxes somewhat lower for comparable housing but would face more dependence on auto commuting. Heating bills would be lower because of mild winters but air conditioning costs would be higher because the "cooling season" is far longer.
The long cooling season, lower property taxes and "more house for the money" in the Houston area have been the experience by Cmdr. Donald Aites, a Coast Guard helicopter pilot now stationed at Ellington Air Force Base here. He and his wife and their two children now have a four-bedroom house in a subdivision (Brook Forest) east of Clear Lake City, southeast of Houston and adjacent to Ellington.
"We came here a year ago and had troubled finding a resale house to suit all our needs," he said. "That market is broader in Washington. But then we decided to buy new and settled for a house on a fairly small lot and got a contemporary floor plan inside a convention exterior. We sold a lower-priced house in the Clinton area of Washington, where we had been five years. Our house here is much larger, more expensive too. But we like Houston and don't mind not having a basement. Nobody does."
While Houston continues to build and grow, its developers are becoming increasingly aware of environmental impact statements and flood plane restrictions on development.
But they have an ability to create sewer and water facilities through local jurisdictions and do not face the "no-or-slow growth" syndrome that seems to be dogging some areas of Washington and other cities. CAPTION: Picture 1, New housing in Houston ranges from the $34,000 housein the Forest North subdivision, to the $160,000 home in Kingwood.; Picture 2, the restaurant-lodge complex in the new town of the Woodlands outside Houston., By Richard Pipes for The Washington Post.; Picture 3, no caption, Photos above by Houston Chronicle; Picture 4, Visitors Center for The Woodlands, a new town., By Richard Pipes for The Washington Post