Energy industry helping drive Houston housing demand

Housing demand in the Houston area has shot up amid additional office development and a coming relocation for thousands of Exxon Mobil Corp. employees.

The world’s largest oil and gas company is building a campus off Interstate 45 at the Hardy Toll Road for some 10,000 workers.

Indeed, the job market is driving the buying frenzy.

In 2012, the median price per square foot for a single-family house was up 4.2 percent over the previous year, to $74.25, according to an analysis of home sales in five area counties commissioned by the Houston Chronicle. That’s slightly higher than when the market peaked in 2007 and a striking increase in a place where the average price typically rises around 2 percent a year.

Experts say this trend will continue as inventory remains low and demand soars.

“We are coming into the really hot selling season,” said Evert Crawford of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business. “It’s going to be a really interesting spring and summer.”

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Prices will continue to climb at an “abnormally high rate for the foreseeable future,” said Crawford, also of Crawford Realty Advisors, who conducted the study.

Houston’s energy-rich economy is filled with companies bringing in out-of-towners who need homes.

Other sectors are contributing to the boom.

Edwin Payne, an Army officer, is moving his family here from Los Angeles for a job near Ellington Airport.

He’s been looking online for houses in the southeast part of town and notices properties selling within days.

“Unlike other cities, especially Los Angeles, it’s a seller’s market, which is shocking for us,” Payne said.

Areawide, home sales were up 10.6 percent in 2012 over the previous year, according to the housing data, which looked at sales in 1,882 Houston-area neighborhoods handled through the Houston Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service.

As the recovery strengthens, the data show pockets of softness.

Although the foreclosure problem is down in Houston, it’s not over.

Population growth: Energy job growth keeping Houston economy healthy

Some areas, particularly east of Interstate 45 and north of South Main, are still experiencing above-average foreclosure rates.

“That is an area where there was an awful lot of the exuberant lending to people who weren’t qualified and they still can’t sell the houses for what they owe on them,” Crawford said.

Still, the growth in real estate is feeding an overall economic recovery.

With values up, more local homeowners are able to refinance and spend money in other ways. Construction employment is accelerating, too, as builders ramp up to meet demand.

Barring a collapse in the energy industry, “there’s no reason right now to have any kind of negative outlook for the next few years,” Gaines said.

“I think you can almost feel it,” he said. “Houston has gone back to that positive feeling.”