For Laurann Zeitz, the decision to purchase a high-rise condo with her husband last year was an easy one. “I felt like I could skip town without having to worry about anything,” says Zeitz, who often travels in her capacity as owner of Claridge + King, a Houston-based women’s clothing line. “I’d compare it to living in a neighborhood, without all the responsibility of a home and a yard, but with a lot more security.”
Not to mention a view, and a grand one at that. Zeitz’s 2,300-square-foot residence on the 30th floor of Building 14 in Greenway Plaza looks out on an increasingly crowded Houston skyline, one that seems to sprout a new high-rise residential building every few months.
The Bayou City has boasted high-rises for decades, of course, but something’s different now. A tipping point of sorts has been reached. More Houstonians than ever seem willing to give up what once seemed a birthright: the house in the suburbs, the lawn, etc. Why? Maybe it’s the shorter commuting time, maybe it’s the promise of an urban lifestyle. Or maybe it’s just that—as Tim Surratt, an agent at Greenwood King Properties puts it—“Houston is finally becoming a real city.”
Since 2000, according to the commercial real estate firm CBRE Group, more than 30 high-rise buildings have gone up in Houston. All told, 72 high-rises tower over the city, which adds up to about 8,300 units. And even with the increase in supply (hundreds more units are on the way), the median price for a high-rise condo jumped seven percent over the past year, according to Paige Martin, who runs HoustonProperties.com and is a broker for Keller Williams Realty.
In 2012, Martin says, 740 such units were sold. This year, 500 had already been sold by the end of July. Martin attributes this growth to improved credit markets, lower interest rates and, of course, all those new buildings sprouting up.
“There are over 4,000 people relocating to Houston each month,” she says. “Houston high-rises offer an easier, maintenance-free lifestyle with amenities like pools, tennis courts, valet parking and close proximity to the city’s major job centers.”
Most of the new buildings are located around either the Galleria or the Medical Center, with several in River Oaks, Memorial, and downtown. In the Galleria area alone several buildings are in development or under construction, including the 355-unit Hanover Post Oak, which broke ground earlier this year. It sits astride BLVD Place, a partially-completed mixed-use development at Post Oak and San Felipe that when finished (in 2014) will have high-end shopping, office space, and a Whole Foods Market. Well-known developer Randall Davis says he hopes to break ground this year on Astoria, another 28-story residential tower up the street, with 70 units starting at $1 million apiece.
Not far away, developer Giorgio Borlenghi plans to begin construction next year on the Belfiore on Post Oak, a 26-story luxury high-rise opening in 2016 that will house two 4,650-square-foot units on each floor. Marketed toward empty-nesters, the building will also feature its own dog park, private garden, and pool complete with cabanas.
Luxury high-rises are not the exclusive domain of the super rich. At 1625 Main between Bell and Leeland, construction is underway for SkyHouse, a 24-story luxury apartment complex rising upward in the heart of the central business district. Developers are hoping to lure young professionals to the building’s 336 units with floor-to-ceiling glass, communal areas, high-speed wiring and rents starting around $1,600 per month.
“It’s not what we might think of when we think of Houston, but things are changing,” says Surratt, who specializes in high-rise properties. Contributing to that change is an influx of residents from cities like New York, Los Angeles, and London, where high-rise living is commonplace, but longtime Houstonians are entering the market too. “A lot of our local homeowners are selling their homes because they want to move to a place where they can be close to shopping, dining, and culture,” says developer Davis.
And high-rise living really is way less work. “It’s just lock and leave,” says Rosie Meyers, a broker with John Daugherty Realtors who specializes in high-rise properties. “There’s no maintenance. No yard. Factor in the amenities, and it’s an easy lifestyle.” Adds Davis: “It can be a lot more comfortable than living in a house and dealing with all the issues that come with owning a home.”
While many of the new buildings emphasize luxury, middle class buyers are not completely priced out. “You start off at around $200,000 for a one-bedroom at some of the nicer buildings and then go up to $4 million or $5 million, which is probably a penthouse,” says Meyers. “At 2727, you probably can’t walk in the door for less than $1 million-plus.”
By 2727, Meyers means 2727 Kirby, which opened in 2009, and where life resembles nothing so much as the set of the movie Gattaca. The 30-story tower features valet parking and a Chihuly chandelier in the lobby, manned by polite men in suits. The homes have spacious rooms with 12-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and dramatic views of the cityscape. There are huge walk-in closets, fireplaces, kitchens with slab stone countertops and gas ranges, and pricey European appliances.
“Before, most units had all electric kitchens,” says Surratt. “Now we’re seeing big commercial gas ranges in these open-air kitchens that give residents the luxurious feeling they’d get from a big home in the suburbs.”
2727 also features an entertainment area called the Sunset Lounge, a screening room, a temperature-controlled wine cellar, fitness center, and, on the seventh floor, a heated infinity pool overlooking downtown, situated beside a five-cup putting green and another outdoor kitchen. Oh, and there’s a private spa with massage and steam rooms.
As Zeitz says of her home, “You get a full-service building, great neighbors, and a feeling of complete security at all times. The only downside is when you get to the bottom of the elevator and realize you’ve left something upstairs.”