GALVESTON – (By Michelle Leigh Smith for RNR) – Galveston’s realty market is surging as buyers retreat to the Gulf of Mexico island town, only 50 miles southeast of Houston – an easy commute and vacation alternative during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Sales are red hot now,” says Claire Reiswerg, co-owner and broker for Galveston-based Sand ‘N Sea Properties. “People want their second home to be closer to home, within driving distance. Homes here go under contract very quickly – one of our agents told me it’s anywhere from three hours to three days. It’s the same with vacation rentals.”
Coronavirus issues had crushed Galveston’s real estate market in March and April, before there was a big upside change in May, says Vincent “VJ” Tramonte, of Joe Tramonte Realty, who also serves as chairman of the Galveston Economic Development Partnership.
“Once the City of Galveston opened up the town, restaurants, beaches and the vacation rentals on May 1st, the real estate market started to pick up tremendously. Many properties are experiencing multiple offers coming in within a short time of it being listed,” Tramonte says. “We all hope this economic boom helps us get out of the COVID doldrums.”
As the pandemic continued through the summer, Galveston gained popularity.
“I think the COVID has made people realize that they may not be going to their favorite vacation destinations this summer of Las Vegas, New York City, New Orleans, Aspen or San Francisco for a very long time,” says Reiswerg of Sand ‘N Sea.
Realty broker Kelly Kelley, co-owner of ReMax Leading Edge, agrees, “They are choosing Galveston over flying internationally. Those who have second homes in Aspen will still go to Aspen.”
Smaller homes, under 1,500 SF are hot items. If you are shopping in Texas as opposed to New York or California, $150-$200 per SF for a fixer upper looks great. A renovated small historic home can fetch upwards of $300 per SF.
The median sales price for all residential on the island for the first six months of 2020 is $310,000, up from $290,000 for the first six months of 2019. For the West End home sales, the median sales price for the first half of 2020 was $405,725, over $370,000 for the comparable time in 2019.
“The inventory is now low across the board – 2.8 months for single family, condos and townhomes across the Island,” says Kelley, who describes her sales as “fast and furious.”
Popular special touches like an elevated pool in the deck that opens to the beachfront, but still provides a welcome buffer to the sand, have attracted buyers. The new stacking patio doors that slide open and allow the living area to spill on to the verandah are much in demand.
“Some of the houses we’re selling are like primary homes – the $400,000 homes go very quickly,” says West End Realtor Carolyn Gaido, a third generation Galvestonian who is part of the family that opened the island’s famed Gaido’s seafood restaurant. “You can’t find anything for less than $300,000 on the west end of the island. Most everything is $500,000 and up. They want swimming pools or beachfront homes, at top dollar. The people who are coming here now are the same ones who were jumping on jets and flying to the Bahamas, and they can’t do that now.”
The other popular area of sales are the houses to the south of Broadway and the north of the seawall. “Buyers are still investing in the smaller re-do homes for personal use since they are so close to the seawall/beaches and there is tremendous need for more vacation rentals,” says Tramonte.
“What’s gratifying is that the sales include all types of properties: condos on the beach, downtown and on the seawall,” says Tramonte. “The large commercial sales have slowed a bit, but investors are still looking at multifamily purchases.”
With a 53,956-base population, the number of people on Galveston Island doubles on any given day due to its commuting workforce, college students, second homeowners and its significant tourism population. Pre-COVID, there were 7.2 million visitors and tourists per year, with 20,000 commuting employees per day.
Galveston’s beach homes now command pretty prices. Regardless of if they are first, second, third row or bay views, prices are higher than a year ago but pale in comparison to West Coast beach homes. Many folks from Houston are spending more and more time in a quieter setting here to avoid COVID issues and they want homes that have a space for the required home office.
New Urbanism by Duany Platter-Zyberk
Beachtown, a development on the east end of Galveston Island, is one of the few places in the South where nature acts to widen the beaches. Beachtown is a walkable resort development is being developed by Tofigh Shirazi. Beachtown was inspired by the Florida Panhandle’s Seaside resort, a hallmark in the wave of New Urbanism. Designed by Duany Platter-Zyberk and cognizant of Galveston’s rich architectural heritage, Beachtown is a place of welcoming porches and time-honored architecture.
Beachtown’s initial plan called for private development of retail space, 306 single-family homes, 200 multifamily units, 250 retirement units and a 150-room hotel, but Hurricanes Katrina and Ike slowed progress at Beachtown. Today, there are around 90 single-family homes and Shirazi is building 12 to 15 new homes per year, beginning at $700,000 to $6 million.
“People are waking up to realize that we are only one hour away from Houston and also, we are right in the middle of an 800-acre nature reserve,” says Shirazi. “People are realizing the value of living in a walkable community.”
Tom Schwenk, who owns Tom’s Galveston Real Estate, notes the influx of younger buyers, many of whom telecommute.
“I’m seeing more and more Islanders by Choice moving here,” he says. It’s always been fluid, but we’re getting more people who want to raise families here and make Galveston their retirement home. Because of COVID, they don’t want to be cooped up in the city.”
The Galveston Historic Foundation reports significant gains on the virtual tour of a few of Galveston’s many historic houses, some of which survived the Great Hurricane of 1900, the deadliest hurricane in U.S. history with over 6,000 fatalities. With the coronavirus problems, the foundation’s historic home tour went virtual in 2020.
“Our virtual homes tour has garnered over 25,000 views of four private homes on our annual home tour and was successful for us,” says Will Wright, Chief Creative Officer for the Galveston Historic Foundation. “Although it can’t replace our in-person tour we hold each year, we had a great response and will likely keep some components moving forward.”
Wright bought his historic Galveston home seven years ago. “I would not want to be buying it now. The market has changed so much and we wouldn’t be able to get the house we now own.”
The unexpected subtext of the COVID-19 pandemic heighted the appeal Galveston Island in 2020. But there’s always been a island allure, long before March of 1969 when Glen Campbell released his all-time great hit bearing the name of “Galveston” – remembering a town which was once the capital of the Republic of Texas and the state’s largest city. Within a year of Campbell’s hit version, Rolling Stone said recordings of “Galveston” had sold 6 million copies, having been cut by 27 different artists, from country star Faron Young to jazz great Dizzy Gillespie.
“It’s a lifestyle change they are seeking,” says Michele F. Hay, Vice President of the Galveston Economic Development Partnership. “Galveston has a slower pace, away from the hustle and bustle.”
Aug. 10, 2020 Realty News Report Copyright 2020
Photo: Courtesy of Galveston Economic Development Partnership
File: Vacation Alternative: Galveston Home