Property Details

Late in 2012 I bought two adjacent properties in Midtown that spanned Holman and Francis streets.

The houses on those two lots--though salvageable--were pretty far gone and functionally obsolete. (A bit too small. 100 yr old plumbing. 100 yr old electrical. No central air or heat. Termites. Rot. General decay. The usual stuff I have to deal with when restoring these old buildings.) But when everything around you has been torn down--or is being torn down--and replaced with new houses and townhouses... there's really not much point--and no particular honor--in being the last man standing... yet again.

Since 1995 I've been buying, restoring--sometimes selling, (but mainly leasing out) historic / vintage properties inside the loop. And one of the reasons I have done this is because I've hated most of what I've seen built in the city of Houston from the 1960s through today. The vast majority of it has been--and still is--cheap, generic crap.

Renovating and restoring is one thing. You take someone else's original ideas... assuming they are decent ideas... and you preserve them (and hopefully improve on them whenever possible). But building from scratch is REALLY putting your money where your mouth is... because you are now putting your own original ideas out there in the forefront and opening yourself up to the same types of criticisms that you've been heaping on other builders for years.

A lot of design work is reductive. In Midtown, we began with 10,000 s.f of land that is 50 ft wide x 200 ft long. That's the starting point. We can't change that size or shape. So we apply the City Planning Ordinance to that lot, in that particular location, with those particular limitations... and from all of the above we end up with a basic site plan... and that site plan gives us the specific footprints for each house.

Step two is taking those specific footprints--in this case roughly 30 feet wide x 30 feet deep--and figuring out how to make all the "necessary things" fit into that footprint. Like a garage. And a front entry. And the stairs. And the mechanical systems. And when it comes down to it, there are only so many ways you can lay out each floor--given the basic site plan and footprint limitations. That's where the reduction comes into play. You place the main / crucial / required elements first... then just fill in everything else around them as functionally, interestingly, and beautifully as possible.

The next big consideration--after you've worked out the site plan and the footprint and the basic layout of each floor--is the "style" issue... which goes hand in hand with the "elevation"--or what the outside of the building will look like. If you're an inexperienced builder--or just a douchebag who doesn't give a damn--you really don't pay much consideration to this question. You build what's easiest and / or what's cheapest to build. Or you build what you "think" will sell--or what you "think" the market wants... or worse yet--what your Realtor tells you is "hot" right now. You don't pay any mind to the houses around you or the neighborhood in general. You build Spanish style villas 5000 miles from Spain. You build Modern / Contemporary style houses in historic, bungalow-filled neighborhoods--or Craftsman reproductions in mid-Century modern neighborhoods.

If you've driven around Houston's inner loop much and seen the new construction of the past 20 to 40 years you will see this type of insanity in every neighborhood--some worse than others. (The Heights, for example, has managed to stay pretty close to its original Arts & Crafts / Bungalow style. Montrose has not been nearly as lucky.)


Back in 1997 I moved to Atlanta (from Salt Lake City) to build houses with a high school friend of mine, Tony Tripoli.

Since high school (mid-80's), our paths had diverged greatly, putting us literally on opposites sides of the country. Tony moved to Jacksonville (FL) in the late 80's (and later to Naples in the early 90's) and got into the home building business almost immediately. I moved to Utah to go college right around the same time. After college I moved to San Diego to start a mortgage company with another friend from Houston.

In the mid 90's, a home building boom in Atlanta brought Tony up from south Florida. By the mid-to-late 90s, Tony had built hundreds of houses for several different big builders and was itching to get out on his own. On the other side of the country, interest rates had ticked up a bit and the refi boom of the 90's was over for a while. And I never really like the mortgage business anyway. So I was looking for a change. I visited ATL for the summer Olympics of 1996 and stayed with Tony and hung out for a couple of weeks. We talked about building houses together and by December of that year I was en route to ATL. Over the next two years we bought infill lots in Midtown and a couple of outlying suburbs and built several houses together that all sold quickly and for a nice return.

Then, in late 1998, on a trip back home to Houston, I bought a 1920s 4-plex in Montrose. (The second Montrose 4plex that I bought in the 90s.) And since the 4-plex needed a LOT of work, I decided to move back to Houston for a while to work on it, restore it, and get it leased up. I kept my house in Atlanta for the time being and figured I'd go back at some point.... I never did. :)

Tony continued building homes in ATL and started doing larger land development deals as well. He went on to be recognized by the local press and his peers as a premier, multi-award winning builder and developer.

Jump forward 10 yrs to 2008 and the financial collapse--and subsequent real estate / construction collapse. Around that time I started talking with Tony about coming back to Houston and picking up some lots here and building some houses together again. But it took almost another five years before things got bad enough in Atlanta--for long enough--to finally get him to pack up and head to Houston. By then the recovery here was in full swing and we were in the middle of another construction boom.

In 2013 we formed The Fine Art of Construction--a joint venture between my main gig (Medusa Properties) and his main gig (Homes by Design). Between the two of us, we've built, renovated, restored, and remodeled well over 500 houses and small apartment buildings--and a few commercial spaces as well. We have over 40 years of continuous real estate, construction, development, and property management experience between us. So I felt pretty confident that these six houses would turn out VERY cool. :)

Over the past few years I've been quietly buying up lots around town as I've had the spare cash and as I've run across great deals. Currently I have four buildable lots in the Heights and six in Midtown. Between those--and the occasional custom build--and misc renovation projects we pick up--we should stay pretty busy.

Holman / Francis
Houston, TX 77004

 Unit 1706 B
 vacant:  No  rent:  $2795
 bedrooms:  3  bathrooms:  4
 sqare feet:  2100
Of the six houses we originally planned for this project, five have been completed and sold.

Mainly for tax purposes, I decided to keep the sixth one and rent it out for a while. Also, I think the market is just going to keep getting stronger and stronger in this area--it has already changed dramatically since I originally bought these lots. In short, I think we sold the first five houses for bit less than should have. (They were all sold / under contract before the first one was even completed.) So, I think two, three, four years down the road, I'll do a lot better selling this house than I would today.

The fee simple houses that we are building on those lots are approximately 2100 square feet of air conditioned space--plus the 2 car garage, porch, attic, etc.

The elevations were inspired by various cool old brick warehouses and industrial buildings we've liked over the years--both here in Houston, in Atlanta and Salt Lake City. We'll put our spin on it of course... and create something unique.

The ground floor has the garage, entry / foyer area, plus a full bed and full bath.

The main / middle floor is one big space that includes kitchen, living area, dining area, plus a 1/2 bath and an outdoor porch area.

The top floor has the master bed / bath / closet, plus another full bed and full bath (guest / office), plus the laundry room.

As with my apartments, the appliance package will be high end / stainless and the HVAC systems will be high-efficiency... and the overall look will be classic "vintage modern".

See pics below for specific finishes, fixtures, etc.

You can do a drive-by any time @ 1707 Holman / 1706 Francis.

* Pics below are of the first unit we completed @ this project.
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