Article from Houston on the Cheap

Lavender Run in Cypress, Houston Lights Display

Houston is full of neighborhoods decked out in Christmas lights — often synchronized to music. But how do you find these places tucked within a larger community? Word-of-mouth is certainly one way. I took the question to Houston on the Cheap’s Facebook page for readers’ suggestions on their go-to light displays in the area. After doing my own research, too, here is my list of Houston’s don’t-miss Christmas light displays in 2013:

Prestonwood Forest — This is considered the “granddaddy” of Houston neighborhoods with entire streets participating in elaborate light displays since the 1970s. This year lights are on December 7 – December 29 (dusk to 10 pm weekdays and till 11 pm weekends). The 2013 awards have been announced: Best All-Around (13911 Charlynn Oaks), Best House (14510 Ravenhurst), Best Block (8100 Kenmark) and more. Check out the Visitor’s map for details. The neighborhood is off Tomball Parkway (SH249).

Moss Lights (League City) — The Moss family started a static lights display in 2010 and has just been building up each year. 2013 has 80,000 lights synchronized to 9 songs that required 400 hours of programming. The light show is 7 days a week through January 5, 2014. The lights play 5:30 pm – 10:30 pm (Sunday – Thursday) and till 11:30 pm Fridays and Saturdays. Music is transmitted over 107.1 FM. Check out some of its videos online. Located in League City at 540 Southampton Lane. {Thanks to reader Amanda for sharing.}

Lavender Run (Coles Crossing in Cypress) — The Mayer family started a synchronized lights display at their home, 15911 Lavender Run, about six years ago giving 100% of its donations to a new charity each year.

The 25-minute light show runs nightly through January 1 at 7 pm, 7:40 pm, and 8:20 pm. This year, the family linked into seven neighbors’ houses for a full street effect. They also added fun new elements including snow machines, fire machines, bubbles, new laser light effects, and vanilla/strawberry smelling fog in addition to the 60,000 lights! All donations this year go to Make A Wish Foundation. They say it’s the Grand Finale, so don’t miss it! Music is broadcast on 107.1FM. Visit their website at ChristmasInCypress.com. [I visited this display this year and loved it. Can’t wait to take my family…]

Johnson’s Christmas Corner (Cypress) – The Johnson family’s light display (since 2006) features 77,000 lights and nightly themes of music such as Classic Christmas, Modern Classics, and Christmas Mash which plays everything. Kids can visit Santa on Saturday nights. There are snow machines, which the kids love! Music is broadcast on 94.1 FM. Located at 14811 Cypress Meadow.

Dickinson Festival of Lights (Dickinson) – For 16 years, the Dickinson community comes together to create a Dickinson Festival of Lights, a free walk-through lights display at Paul Hopkins Park. Lights will be on nightly through January 1, 6 pm – 9 pm. All parking and shuttle buses are free. Parking on weekends is courtesy the Dickinson Plaza Shopping Center, exit 19, I-45 N feeder. {Thanks to reader Melissa for suggesting…}

Viney Creek light display

Franck’s Christmas Light Show (Copperfield) — The Franck family on Viney Creek shares a neighborhood lights tradition since 2008. Songs are timed to music. The lights show runs nightly from 5:30 pm – 10 pm (Sunday through Thursday) and till 10:30 on weekends. Located at 15923 Viney Creek. Music is broadcast on 89.7 FM. [I visited this display this year and loved it.]

Christmas Katy (Katy) – This home in Pin Oak is celebrating its 7th year of synchronized Christmas lighting. It features 53,000 LED lights, 32 ft. tree, 10 ft. Nutcrackers, and 15 songs in its show. Neighbors are incorporated into the show so it’s a beautiful street. Music is broadcast at 89.9 FM. Hours are 6 pm – 10 pm (Sunday through Thursday) and till 11 pm on weekends. Located at 24603 Stoughton Court off I-10 and Pin Oak in West Houston.

Woodland Heights (Heights)-– This area of the Heights is known for its Christmas lights. This weekend is its Lights in the Heights, Saturday, December 14, 6 pm – 9 pm. Streets are blocked off to enjoy the lighted homes and musical performances — right from the porch!

Pecan Grove (Richmond) — This Fort Bend neighborhood near Richmond is known for its Christmas lights. Hayrides are not uncommon as folks gather up the kids and drive through the many lighted streets. {thanks to readers Reagan, Michelle, and Julie for suggesting…}

River OaksDrive through River Oaks to see the stately homes and huge oaks wrapped in lights. These traditional displays are amazing with dripping lights and more. It’s fun to ogle at the big homes!

Admission fees for lights: The neighborhoods listed above are all free. Houston-area has several paid holiday light displays:

Santa’s Wonderland
Moody Garden’s Festival of Lights
Zoo Lights at Houston Zoo


HoustonHouston renters are feeling the pinch as they face some of the highest price hikes in the country, according to a new report from researchers at Harvard University.

Of the 93 metro areas measured, Houston made it into the top 10 among large cities with rate increases at 4.8%. That’s more than 3 percentage points above inflation. Among all cities nationally, Houston is 15th on the list of rent increases.

Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies says the increases are the price we pay for our buoyant job market as the rises match our well-above-average employment gains.

All those newbies want prime locations, meaning apartment hunters inside the Loop are faring the worst. An average apartment there now almost $200 more than it was two years ago.

“Two years ago, a one bedroom inner Loop/West Greenaway Plaza apartment cost $1,087. Now it’s $1,271,” said Bruce McClenny, from Apartment Data Services. “We just haven’t delivered enough product to meet this demand. We just didn’t build enough fast enough.”

Compare that with the average in the Houston metro area as a whole, which saw an increase of just $100 in two years for a one bedroom, from $662 to $762.

Also making the top 20 fastest-rising rents were Austin and Corpus Christi, which have seen similar employment growth.

Researchers say things may get better as new construction projects are completed, but until then, the best advice may be to stay put rather than move homes.

“You might get a better deal renewing rather than starting out fresh,” says Andy Teas from the Houston Apartment Association. “Landlords want to avoid the costs of finding new tenants.”

heatingNow that temperatures are dropping across the country, its time to think about how you can slash your heating bills for the season. Here are five low-cost and/or no-cost moves to help you save money while staying comfortable at the same time.

1. Add insulation. Adding insulation and weather stripping can slash your annual energy costs up to 30% by keeping out the cold or heat and minimizing the stack effect. Start by sealing large gaps around the chimney, furnace flue, plumbing pipes, ductwork, light fixtures, and soffits in your attic. Then lay insulation between attic-floor joists and on the hatch or door, or add more if it’s already there. Look for insulation that’s become dirty, a sign of air movement that reveals other gaps you must fill. Also, insulate ducts running through the attic.

2. Seal up the leaks. Caulking and weather-stripping cracks and gaps around your home are some of the most cost-effective steps you can take to conserve heat. Focus on the attic, basement, windows, and doorways. Also. check near pipes, vents, or electrical conduits that go through the wall, ceiling, or floor. When sealing leaks, use “no-VOC” or “low-VOC” caulking to minimize potentially harmful indoor gases. Look for these products at your hardware store or online.

3. Program thermostats for savings. Shave up to 20% off your heating costs by lowering the thermostat 5 degrees F at night and 10 degrees F during the day if no one is home. Most electronic setback thermostats let you set different schedules for weekdays and weekends. Some automatically switch from heating to cooling, and many tell you when it’s time to change your furnace or air-conditioner filter.

4. Save money on hot water. Insulating hot-water pipes and lowering the temperature on your water heater from 130 degrees to 120 degrees can help you save up to 5% on your energy bills.

5. Shorten showers. Showers account for two-thirds of your water-heating costs, so even shaving off a few minutes can help. Replacing a showerhead that’s more than 12 years old with a low-flow model can save up to half the hot water used for showering.

house_inspectedHome inspections are a tense time for everyone. Sellers are fervently hoping that
nothing major is wrong with their home that could hold up the transaction.
Buyers are eager to hear that their new house is in prime condition. Whatever the
wishes, one thing is for sure; any news from an inspector is usually bad news.
Home inspectors have a tough job. They have to be trained to spot hundreds of
potential issues with a home and be knowledgeable of local codes, community
restrictions and residential permit parameters.
Stay one step ahead of your home inspector by reading the list of common home
inspection issues below. Then hopefully your inspection won ’t reveal any
unwelcome surprises.
Electrical Wiring
This is a common bubble-busting issue, especially in older homes. Wiring might
have been up to code when the home was built, but it now violates code and is a
fire hazard.
Look for ungrounded outlets, shoddy wiring or a mass of confusing connections
in the electrical panel. Replacing an entire electrical system can be expensive,
but it ’s worth it not to risk a fire.
Look for signs of water damage in the ceilings. This could be a sign that
something above, like a bathtub or sink is leaking into the floor or walls. Look
around toilets and inside kitchen cabinets for traces of wet flooring or wood.
While external leaks are easy enough to fix, interior pipes might require you to rip
up flooring.
Foundation And Framing
Examine the foundation and framing of your home for any structural issues. You
’ll want to keep an eye out for cracking in the foundation due to water runoff or
settling. Also, look for signs of wood rot or termite damage.
These issues affect the framing of your home and could cause scary structural
problems if left unattended.
While it ’s probably too difficult for you to inspect the roof yourself, just stand
back in the yard and see if you can notice any bare spots. Also, check for water
damage around the roofline from rain leaking in. Don ’t get too discouraged about
roof issues. It might not call for a complete replacement, but just a repair on one
These common home inspection issues affect both sellers and buyers. As a
buyer, you ’ll want to keep a eye out for these problems so that you know what
you ’d be getting for your hard-earned money.
As a seller, it ’s good to stay one step ahead of the home inspector so that
whatever price is agreed upon goes through.

Mortgage RatesMortgage rates will likely rise above 5 percent in 2014 and average 5.3 percent by the end of 2015, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s forecast.

That would mark a big jump over where mortgage rates stand now. The MBA reported this week that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.33 percent, the lowest average since June.

The MBA expects that the Federal Reserve will decide to taper its $85-billion per month bond-purchasing program in early 2014 and end it altogether in September 2014. The Fed’s bond buying program has been keeping mortgage rates low. The Fed has hinted in recent months that it will soon be winding down the program.

“As a result, mortgage refinancing will continue to drop, and borrowers seeking to tap the equity in their homes will be more likely to rely on home equity seconds rather than cash-out refinances,” says Jay Brinkmann, the MBA’s chief economist.

The MBA said in its forecast that it expects home purchase applications for mortgages to rise 9 percent next year, following expected continued home sales and price increases.

However, the MBA projects that overall mortgage originations will drop 32 percent in 2014, as the number of refinancing applications post a large drop in the new year due to expected rising interest rates.

While refinancings make up the bulk of home applications today, that trend is expected to reverse next year. Purchase loans are expected to make up 60 percent of originations next year compared to about 38 percent this year.

“We are projecting home purchase originations will increase in 2014 due largely to gains in home sales and home prices,” says Brinkmann. “We expect to see a decline in the share of sales paid for with cash, and higher average LTVs on purchase mortgages, due to the rise in home prices.”

whole-foods-bag_300The Howard Hughes Corporation® (NYSE: HHC) and its wholly-owned subsidiary The Woodlands Development Company (TWDC), recently announced that Whole Foods Market® will soon begin construction in Hughes Landing on Lake Woodlands, a 66-acre mixed-use development within The Woodlands. Hughes Landing is anticipated to be a dynamic environment featuring up to 11 office buildings; shopping, dining and entertainment; an upscale hotel; a fitness center and up to 800 multi-family residences.


“Local residents have long expressed strong interest in having a Whole Foods Market in The Woodlands,” said Paul Layne, Executive Vice President of Master Planned Communities for The Howard Hughes Corporation. “It will be an exceptional destination within Hughes Landing and across The Woodlands, adding to the many benefits of living, working and playing in this vibrant community.”


Founded in 1980 in Austin, TX, Whole Foods Market is the leading natural and organic food retailer. As America’s first national certified organic grocer, Whole Foods Market was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by “Health” magazine. The company’s motto, “Whole Food, Whole People, Whole Planet”™ captures its mission to ensure customer satisfaction and health, Team Member excellence and happiness, enhanced shareholder value, community support and environmental improvement. With 73,000 Team Members, Whole Foods Market has been ranked as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in America by “FORTUNE” magazine for 16 consecutive years. The grocer currently has more than 350 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.


“The Woodlands is a great fit for us,” said Mark Dixon, President of Whole Foods Market’s Southwest Region. “We are excited about the Hughes Landing development and its central location that is easily accessible to residents of The Woodlands and surrounding areas.”


Whole Foods Market plans to open its new 40,000-square-foot store in Hughes Landing in 2015. The main entrance will be situated off Lake Front Circle, near the intersection of Lake Front and Lake Woodlands Drive. Ample surface parking will be located adjacent to the market.




The Woodlands Waterway Trolley, which offers free transportation throughout The Woodlands Town Center, will expand its service during the holiday season.


Beginning November 15, 2013 through January 15, 2014, the Township will operate three trolleys to improve accessibility to shopping, dining and entertainment venues throughout The Woodlands Town Center during the holiday season with continuous daily service from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. The Trolley is expected to be at each stop every 15 minutes.



The service also will add a pick-up and drop-off spot at the Town Center Parking Garage at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, where parking is free during the holidays. However parking may not be available in the Town Center Parking Garage on certain days due to events at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion or The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel & Convention Center.




The Woodlands Waterway Trolley will continue to service passengers at The Woodlands Mall, Landry’s Seafood, Anadarko, Waterway Square, The Woodlands Waterway Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, the South Montgomery County Library and adjacent Community Center, West Lake Robbins Drive, Market Street Central Park, and H-E-B at Market Street.