New housing developments reflect positive trend in market

Builders are attracted to area's large amount of undeveloped land

As the economy in the Greater Houston area continues to thrive and major energy companies relocate near Tomball and Magnolia, a number of new housing developments are moving forward.

In Tomball, home lots at the Reserve at Spring Lake, located one mile from downtown, will be available for purchase starting in late September. Outside of city limits off Telge Road, Willow Creek Ranch will have high end custom homes ready to move into by mid- to late-2013.

"Houston's economy is one of the best in the nation and with the announcement of the ExxonMobil campus to the east, and the amount of jobs and executive relocation that's going to bring to the area, and other positive economic news we're hearing in northwest Houston from Noble Energy [moving to the area], it's a good time to move forward," said Peter Barnhart, development partner with Caldwell Companies, owner of the Willow Creek Ranch property.

In Magnolia, Magnolia Legacy Trust is moving ahead with plans for a mixed-use commercial and residential housing development on an 1,100-acre site east of the Magnolia Ridge subdivision on FM 1488.

Tomball developments

The Reserve at Spring Lake will include a total of 95 lots, ranging from one-acre to five-acres, with move-ins expected to begin in early 2013, said Bob Allen, developer of the property. Although developers have owned the land for more than four years, they have been waiting for the market to improve before starting construction.

"The market has turned where there's a shortage of quality, high-end lots," Allen said. "The whole area has just busted wide open, and there's a pent up demand for lots in the area due to the fact that The Woodlands will be out of lots in a couple years."

Likewise, Barnhart said Caldwell Companies, which manages a number of housing developments in the Cy-Fair area, is starting to look more at the Tomball area because of the amount of available, undeveloped land.

"I would imagine given the growth of our area, and with the northern end of Cy-Fair getting built out, we'll end up more out here," he said.

Both Allen and Barnhart cited the great reputation of Tomball ISD as another plus to developing in the area.

"We're still trying to see what the next project will be, but I definitely want to stay within the Tomball trade area," Allen said.

Magnolia developments

In November 2011, the 50 landowners making up Magnolia Legacy Trust successfully petitioned the City of Magnolia for the site to be added into the city's extraterritorial jurisdiction. The plan at the time was to wait for market conditions to improve before moving forward with the development.

In July, Magnolia City Council approved Magnolia Legacy Trust's petitions to create two municipal utility districts and a water control and improvement district to provide water, sewer and drainage to the area.

"It looks like they're going to get started sooner than later, and in talking to folks from Legacy Trust, it looks like Exxon moving into the area may be the impetus for them to start a little quicker," Magnolia City Administrator Paul Mendes said.

Roger Galatas, an adviser to Magnolia Legacy Trust, said engineering feasibility studies and market studies are underway to establish a plan for the development.

Also moving forward in Magnolia is the development of Magnolia Ridge, which opened in 2007 but had a slow start. Since hiring a new home builder, Corin Homes, in March, 11 home sites have been purchased, said Danielle Bennight, sales manager for Magnolia Ridge, bringing the total homes sold in the subdivision to 24.

"It shows a positive change in our [buyer] demographics," Bennight said. "With ExxonMobil employees starting to move into the area in 2014, we have a great hope that some of the major players will come look at [Magnolia Ridge]."

Mendes said the city has also been receiving more inquiries from developers interested in the Magnolia area, though no firm plans have been finalized yet.

Rental shortage

Although there are plenty of choices in the Tomball and Magnolia area for buyers looking for large home sites, area Realtors say there is a lack of affordable and varied rental options.

"We get a lot of calls from people looking for home rentals in the $650–$850 price range, and we don't have anything for them," said Barbara Gardner, a realtor with Olde Homestead Properties in Magnolia.

In the Magnolia ISD area, there are 30 homes for rent as of late August, and most are priced at more than $1,200 a month, with a third priced at more than $2,000, she said.

"I have people call all the time [for rentals], and I tell them the best thing to do is drive around and try to find a lease by owner," said Lisa Carswell, owner of Carswell Real Estate in Magnolia. "We definitely need more variety of options."