Houston gay couples choose suburban homes over inner-loop life
by Karen Derr
In February of this year, it became apparent that home sales in Houston were starting to slow. However, prices have not gone down significantly, and in fact have risen in some segments. That has real-estate pundits wondering if the slowing is a result of decreased demand or merely the continued low inventory of listings. With few homes to choose from and buyers broadening their search criteria, why shouldn’t LGBT buyers also venture outside of the urban centers that are seen as the last bastions of progressivism in Texas? Why should conservatives and religious zealots get all the quiet cul-de-sacs and fresh air?
OutSmart checked in with three gay couples who have chosen the suburban life around Houston.
In the fall of 2014, Tom Baker, owner and president of CruiseCenter, and his partner, marketing professional Marc Garcia, sold their home in the Houston Heights and moved to Inwood Forest, which is about 20 minutes outside the loop, just off Antoine near West Little York. Inwood Forest has had its ups and downs, but the reasonably priced homes built in the 1970s and ’80s are tempting to buyers who crave lots of green space (on the former Inwood Country Club golf course) and big square footage. “While we loved living in the Heights, we wanted to have a bigger yard and a pool. Inner-loop pricing almost made that prohibitive for us, so we looked elsewhere but did not want to be too far from our favorite restaurants, shopping, and friends,” explains Baker. The couple got over 3,500 square feet in their new home, not including a large apartment over a three-car garage, plus a gazebo and a pool. Homes have been recently offered in Inwood Forest from the $100,000s to the low $300,000s. Some renovation to their new home was necessary, but the couple was up for the challenge and actually relished customizing the interior to complement their large art collection. Baker says, “We absolutely love it here, and so do our dogs!”
Garcia says neighbors are now stopping by to see the renovation. “I must add that we are shocked to learn how many of our LGBT friends live in and around our new neighborhood.”
Cody Grizzoffi and David Lulloff also took the plunge and moved with their young son and daughter to Fall Creek in the Humble school district, near Beltway 8 and highway 59 north. “While living inside the loop was great, a three-story home is not exactly kid-friendly, and we did want a bigger house with a yard,” explains Grizzoffi, a senior loan officer with Academy Mortgage who has helped LGBT clients get into homes in Pearland, Kingwood, Katy, and Sugarland.
Grizzoffi says they love their home that they built new. “We were able to build it the way we wanted and have everything we need in the house. After living inside the loop for 15 years, it was a culture shock at first, because we did not know what to expect or how people would react to us and our family. Surprisingly, everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. Our neighbors are great, and we get together with them for dinners, drinks, etc., just like anyone else would with neighbors they like.” Most of the couple’s new friends in the neighborhood are straight.
“We do get the occasional ‘look’ from people at times, but it does not bother us.” Grizzoffi goes on to say that his life now centers mostly around their children, although they are still involved with Montrose Softball. “We have actually had people come up to us and say, ‘What a beautiful family.’ We always have older people come up to us and say, ‘These are the most well-behaved children.’ This, to us, is the highest compliment because it lets us know we are doing something right.”
Rance Helton and Brian Jeppson moved to The Woodlands area in 2013 from East Texas without even considering living in the inner city. Imperial Oaks, just outside The Woodlands, offers a wide range of prices (100s to 500s) and ages (1980s to brand new). Helton says, “We purchased a home in the Imperial Oaks subdivision and we love it. There are a lot of children in the neighborhood, and it is great when my children are here to visit. I have a boy who is 12 and a daughter who is 10. The neighbors are great, and we are not treated any differently than any other couple on our street. Our home has the large, open floor plan, and that works well for entertaining and for our two dogs—one of those being a Great Dane.”
Helton, who is a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty Woodlands, says he feels the suburbs are often unjustly characterized. “The Woodlands is a great example because of the mixture of such diverse individuals, whether it’s race, religion, nationality, or sexual orientation. We have never felt uncomfortable or had bad experiences in The Woodlands.” The couple is involved with showing horses, so the suburban location affords them quick access to the country and stables. However, they still venture into Montrose for the nightlife. Helton is quick to add, “We also enjoy the amenities that The Woodlands has to offer. There is a great little neighborhood bar, The Ranch Hill Saloon, that we enjoy going to.”
Karen Derr is a Houston-area Realtor and the founder of Karen Derr Realty and Town and Country Properties. She writes and speaks about home and small-business topics.