Galveston: A Piece of the Island

Thinking about acquiring a Galveston getaway home? Better buy now. Island real estate is selling faster than the shrimp kisses at Fisherman’s Wharf.

GViewSandy beaches, bird watching, fresh seafood, a thriving historic and arts district, major attractions like Moody Gardens and the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark: What’s not to love about Galveston?

And love it we do, so much so that the slender island just 45 miles south of Houston is experiencing a renaissance in residential real estate to rival its glory days of the late 19th century. Whether you’re looking for a retirement residence, a second home, or a weekend retreat, you’ll find historic Victorians, MacMansions, high-rises, downtown lofts, beachfront condos, and plenty of new construction.

According to the Galveston Economic Development Partnership, there are currently some $2.4 billion in residential, commercial, and public development underway on the Island, including 6,600 new housing units. Galveston is experiencing a building bonanza not seen since the reconstruction after The Great Storm of 1900.

An historic house for sale on Market represented by Karen Derr & Associates.

“It’s just crazy as can be,” says V.J. Tramonte of Joe Tramonte Realty, a longtime Island business. “Our business is way up since last summer when folks were still hurricane shy. We’re seeing people from all over buying but even more folks from Houston. What with the price of gas, Galveston is just a great place for a second home. And a lot of them are from the GLBT community.”

Businesswoman Kimberly Shockley bought three lots on the West Beach, on the lagoon side. She plans to build her dream vacation home on two and sell the third at a profit.

“If I had bought 10 years ago,” she says, “I could have got the land for five or six times less than what I paid now. But at least I have it now, and it’s only going to go up in price.”

Along with a boom in the beach building, historic properties are also hot.

“It’s the most affordable coastal property in the states,” says Robert Zahn of Karen Derr & Associates Realty . “There are still some great buys here of existing homes. The average one is about a hundred years old and the average price is $118,000—although I saw a cute little house a block from the beach today for $61,500, but it needs a lot of fixing up. On the other hand, the old Dealey Orphanage—the main house is over 15,000 square feet—is listed at $1.69 million. So there’s really something for everyone.”

One of the most exciting areas to locate is the downtown historical district, where developers are converting old buildings into lofts.

A house on Winnie represented by Tramonte Realty.

“Galveston is more into preservation than anywhere on the Gulf Coast,” says Karen Derr, owner of the Houston-based real-estate firm, which has a major presence on the Island. “I love the downtown area. For a small city it’s very urban. You can walk to get coffee or take the trolley to the beach.”

Take the Eibands Building: Constructed in 1870, it was the seat of the Texas Supreme Court from 1875 until 1890 and was the home of the Eibands department store from 1900 and through much of the last century. Now the building houses downtown condos priced under $500,000. And there’s Jackson Square Luxury Condos. The Spanish-style building with red-tile roof and interior courtyard and pool was dedicated in 1924 as the Galveston YWCA. The old Panama Hotel, built in 1912 when the Panama Canal opened, stood vacant for decades until Houstonian Andrew Kaldis developed it as luxury condos. The building is next door to the Art Deco Galveston Railroad Museum and within walking distance of The Strand and all of its art galleries, antique shops, and restaurants.

Of course, if quiet time is what you want, try a traditional canal or beach home on West Galveston. Barbara Zimmerman of Sand & Sea Properties handles both vacation rentals and sales in this popular area.

“It’s so restful here,” Zimmerman says. “This end of the Island has beautiful birds, wetlands, lots of palm tress, and we have great sunsets.” There are several neighborhoods and choices, from the family friendly to the high end, with homes ranging from $100,000 to $3 million. “Something for everyone,” Zimmerman says.

Whether it’s the beach, the eats, The Strand, or just some fresh air, Galveston is the perfect summer getaway for Houstonians. And at just about an hour’s drive away, the Island is being called home for more and more mainland residents.

Marene Gustin profiled the 2007 GLBT Pride Parade grand marshals for our June issue (“Out in Front”).


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.

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