When it comes to Houston real estate, Bill Baldwin, broker and owner of Boulevard Realty, knows what up-and-coming looks like well before most people remotely see the upside. Nearing his 20th year in the business, he cut his teeth in the Heights market before it was even a glimmer in the eye of the retail, residential and restaurant developers who now all want a piece of the pie.
“I very deliberately decided to call the Heights my home because I thought it had enormous potential and was already a great neighborhood despite the fact that it had a less than stellar reputation,” Baldwin explains, reminiscing about when he set roots down in Norhill Heights in the late 1990s. “But I also knew it’d be a lucrative place to sell real estate since a lot of Inner Loop realtors were afraid to set foot in the neighborhood.” Off the record, he might even tell you the names of certain big names in Houston real estate who weren’t even allowed to take listings there.
Fast forward two decades and the Heights is arguably the hottest residential market in the Inner Loop, and it has been since shortly after Baldwin entered the scene. In 2008, he purchased the firm that would become Boulevard Realty, which has roots all the way back to the mid-90s. “I chose the name Boulevard for my rebranding because, while we are about selling great houses, even more importantly, we are about selling great neighborhoods. When people are choosing where they want to live they are really choosing how they want to live. Do you want walkable, historic, urban, quirky? What combination of new and old, indoor and outdoor, public and private is going to best reflect your lifestyle?”
Just as important as where to buy is when to buy, and for Baldwin there is no time like the present. “I can say with a fair degree of confidence that we are experiencing the most balanced market in over a decade. There is always room for negotiation, but I think supply and demand has mostly balanced out, and prices are about where they should be. No one really knows what the future holds, but real estate — as close as you can get to the inner part of Houston, along a greenway or major thoroughfare — is about the safest investment you can make right now.”
Near Northside: Lindale Park, Ryon, Cascara, Montie Beach
There is no great surprise here. With its proximity to the Heights and Downtown, plus the perfect synergy of public and private investment (think: METRORail Fulton Line, White Oak Music Hall), this area is positioned to be the next Heights or Montrose. It’s no happy accident that this area is revitalizing but with its heavily Hispanic flair intact. While organizations like the Greater Northside Management District, Avenue CDC and LISC have been working to improve social equity and opportunity in the area, an idea floating around between TxDOT and the Rice Design Alliance could eventually bring a sprawling signature “deck park” å la Klyde Warren Park in Dallas that would bridge this community with the Greater Heights.
Greater East End: Eastwood, Lawndale/Wayside, Idylwood, Magnolia Park
Similar to the Greater Northside, there has been a push to revitalize these neighborhoods while avoiding the other “G” word — gentrification. “The housing stock is about at that age when a lot of it will turnover, but I think many of us would like to see it handled similar to if not better than we have seen in the Heights. Attractive yet affordable updated single-family housing that is fully in line with the historic character of the neighborhood,” says Bill. “If you already live in these areas, you and your neighbors need to look up two things at City Planning: Minimum Lot Size and Minimum Build Line. Basically, those are development tools that prevent an influx of subdivided lots and out-of-place townhouses. We’ve already seen in areas like Third Ward and EaDo that not only do those cause friction with the established residents, but they don’t even sell all that well when you build too many of them.”
Southwest: Willowbend, Westbury, Maplewood/Robindell, Post Oak Manor
This broad swath of neighborhoods that are just southwest of the Bellaires and West Us of the city — in other words, areas that are far out of reach of most buyers — offers what people are ultimately looking for: a good house at a good price in a good neighborhood. “The neighborhoods in this area really are quaint and quite affordable. Great place to find a ranch-style fixer upper with lots of yard space for your pool, dogs and playsets,” says Bill. With more Bayou Greenway 2020 segments on the way for Braes Bayou and Willow Waterhole’s Master Plan (i.e., the Miller Outdoor Theater of the Southwest side), this is probably the place for young families who have come of age during the tumult of Great Recession to take root with a safe, sensible long-term investment both financially and in terms of quality of life.
Greater Fifth Ward and Kashmere Gardens
This is a longer-term play for Baldwin. “Think of it this way, the closer you are to Houston’s dense urban core, the more expensive the property and then the values start to diffuse throughout the Inner Loop. So the Heights is far more expensive today than it was 20 years ago and the farther away you get from I-10 the more expensive it becomes. Same thing with the gradient from River Oaks to Montrose to Midtown and so on.” An area that is rich with history and culture but hasn’t quite come up on the radar for developers is the Greater Fifth Ward and adjacent Kashmere Gardens. “The City already has their sights set on this area in terms of economic development, so I think the time is right to start to look at how to conscientiously develop in neighborhoods like Denver Harbor that have historically been workforce housing. How do we keep a vast majority of it affordable while broadening the tax base so that we improve the schools, parks and get more City services? I think the answer lies in someone not just looking to get a great deal on some land, but someone who is looking to fall in love with an area and be a part of its next chapter while embracing the history.”