by Betsy Denson
Kara Hagen and her family are not unique in that they were looking to capitalize on a robust real estate market in Oak Forest. They sold their one-story house on Cheshire, zoned for Oak Forest Elementary, to a builder who has since torn it down for a rebuild. It was what they did next though that set them apart.
“We looked for six months around Oak Forest and Timbergrove for another house,” Hagen said. “Even the ones we could afford, we didn’t think were worth it.”
The Hagens wanted a big yard for their two dogs and enough house to accommodate two middle school children. Driving between Pinemont and Tidwell off Ella one day, the family found a potential winner. The house, in Acres Homes, was only about a quarter of a mile from their previous house.
“We liked the house, and we liked the neighbors,” said Hagen. “When we got right down to it, it seemed to be the best choice. We thought if it didn’t work out we could always sell it.”
Two months into their new digs, there is no buyers’ regret.
“I’m really happy,” said Hagen. “We back up to someone’s huge multi-acre property. My husband says it’s so quiet he can’t sleep.”
Another benefit – no door to door salespeople. “When we lived on Cheshire, we had them all the time. Nobody ever knocks on the door here.”
An area with roots
A community that goes back to World War I, Acres Homes is named for the size of the lots that landowners sold to new homeowners, many of whom used their property to raise livestock and plant gardens. The area, which is a little less than 10 square miles, is bordered by West Mount Houston Road to the north; Pinemont Drive to the south; North Shepherd Drive to the east; and Antoine Drive to the west.
According to a 2010 article by the Rice Design Alliance, Acres Homes was once the largest unincorporated African-American community in the Southeastern United States.
Even for people who didn’t care about a rural lifestyle, the area was appealing to people who wanted to live close to downtown. However, public transportation was spotty and the schools weren’t incorporated by the city. This changed in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Houston annexed a large portion of the community. Ironically, or maybe not, this is about the time that some think the appeal of Acres Homes took a dip.
The current affordability of the area is a plus to many. According to HAR’s neighborhood information finder, the average house price for zip codes 77088 and 77091 is $70,400 and $60,400 respectively. It is not unusual for some properties to sit on the market for months. The Hagen’s house for example was a foreclosure.
As a point of comparison, the average house value – not property value –- listed by HAR.com for 77018 (Oak Forest and Garden Oaks) is $97,200 and for 77008, which includes the Heights, it’s $119,700.
The draw of Acres Homes
For Tim White, an employee of the Houston Fire Department who also serves as the Acres Homes Super Neighborhood president, the allure of Acres Homes was family. He now lives in the Garden City Park subdivision.
“I grew up there and came back ten years ago from Spring,” he said. White has noticed a trend in others returning as well. He thinks that the movement on the real estate front is equally split between new builds and existing homes.
“The number one reason people are moving back are the schools, and number two is safety,” he said, noting his group’s partnership with the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Constable and the increase in patrols.
Potential crime was a concern for the Hagens too. “When we looked at the crime stats though, they were no different from Oak Forest,” she said.
At the same time Ken White was moving back, Michael Galbreth was driving around the area looking for property. Galbreth, who is one half of the collaborative artist team The Art Guys, was renting in the Heights and was looking for land to buy. “I was just greedy,” he jokes. “Land is land.”
Galbreth and his wife bought property in Highland Heights section of Acres Homes where they live and where The Art Guys have established their “world headquarters,” a steel framed barn which architectural historian Stephen Fox highlights in his Architectural Guide to Houston.
“It’s beautiful here. The houses are spread out where we are, a lot of the area feels pastoral,” said Galbreth. “We are fortunate to have a fair amount of land.”
He says there are other artists who have moved into the area as well. “There are a number of people up this way, scattered about.”
In the last five years, Galbreth says he’s noticed increased development in the area and hopes it’s done responsibly, but isn’t holding his breath.
“With no zoning, people can pretty much do anything,” he said. “I love it just the way it is.”
In a city which is growing as fast as Houston, Acres Homes is bound to change. For now, most of the growth is happening near the southern boundary of Acres Homes. There are several new subdivisions popping up. One of the builders, Contempo, was in the news last year for their work in the Leland Woods subdivision, a development project initiated by the City of Houston in northeast Houston.
In 2008, Contempo bought eight acres for $150,000 off of Rosslyn Road. Co-owner Julio Fernandez said the plan then was to build 24 homes but they ended up purchasing a few more acres and building more than 90 homes.
The Marbella community at 5402 Rosslyn Road is a gated one. Homes are at least 2,000 square feet and built to Energy Star standards. Fernandez said that sales were “pretty slow for a couple of years, but in 2013 it really picked up.” Now they are sold out.
Contempo bought an additional nine acres on the other side of Rosslyn for “a lot more money” in 2013. They plan to build another housing community, perhaps called Marbella II. Fernandez said they’d be interested in purchasing more land but that “it’s a little more difficult now” due to rising prices.
For now, Acres Homes remains a little bit of a secret to those to the south. “I feel like we got away with something,” said Hagen.
In the future, area realtors might have to play a bit of catch up. Realtor Pat Walker said she once sold a “really nice” house on Creekmont several years back, but that the area is mostly commercial now. She took a drive recently in the area where the Hagens bought and noted that there were some good deals to be had, including some additional foreclosures.
“My opinion is that one should ease their way in right now,” said Walker. “Maybe buying on border streets such as TC Jester or Ella.”