Housting report

Houston rent prices rise as COVID-19 impacts local housing market

Houston rents actually rose in May. Sky Noir Photography by Bill Dickinson/Getty Images

The impact of COVID-19 has not been lost on the Houston housing market, with home sales dipping and rents rising. Here's a look at the current landscape.

Rising rents

In May, single-family home leases were up a solid 12 percent, notes the Houston Board of Realtors. This coincided with rising Houston rents.

According to Abodo's report, the median rent for a one-bedroom unit rose 0.51 percent month-over-month to $1,179, while two-bedroom rents gained 1.24 percent to a median $1,466. While one month's numbers don't necessarily mean a rental price spike, instead of Houston experiencing a COVID-19 price recession, we are currently seeing the opposite.

There are a number of reasons that trend could change, however. First, like potential homebuyers, would-be renters may want to stay safe and out of unfamiliar buildings. There is also anecdotal evidence that some apartment shoppers are worried about COVID-19 spreading in big complexes, and therefore the sprawling apartment complex market may be more negatively impacted than duplexes or other small housing uniques.

Dipping sales

"Houston home sales fell for a second straight month in May as the impact of COVID-19 and related stay-at-home orders continued to play out throughout the market," said the Houston Association of Realtors in its May report. "Homes in every pricing category suffered losses, with the steepest declines at the low and high ends of the market. Homes priced below $100,000 dropped more than 37 percent while those priced above $750,000 plunged more than 56 percent. Year-to-date sales are now running 4.3 percent behind 2019's record pace."

That's grim news, and even though mortgage rates are at record lows — good credit can get you a 15-year loan at 2.94 percent — many potential buyers are staying put. Conversely, some sellers are taking their homes off the market because of COVID-19 concerns.

Going virtual

While virtual tours and property management scheduling and showing tools are helping stay-at-home buyers make some purchasing decisions, very few will make a major home purchase without a careful in-person viewing. In addition, many sellers might struggle with the concept of selling their homes online.

However, renters are open to finding a new place virtually. Research from Abodo shows that "more than 60 percent of renters said that coronavirus has negatively impacted their apartment search. Additionally, 30 percent of renters surveyed stated they'd prefer photos and floorplans in a virtual manner, while pre-recorded videos of units (27 percent), and live personalized unit tours (21 percent) rounded out the pressing desires of renters."

Advances made now in virtual apartment shopping will have a market effect long past the current pandemic, and landlords would be well advised to adding virtual tour capabilities now.

Looking ahead

Some buyers and renters are staying on the sidelines waiting for a market crash, while others are gearing up for a steady recovery. As the pandemic continues, however, Abodo expects the Houston real estate and apartment rental economic activity to be stagnate at best.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

HCC is working on a new center focused on resiliency on its Northeast Campus. Image via HCC

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face,” Seline wrote.

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