Hurricane Harvey, which slammed into the Texas coast in late August 2017, was a natural disaster of historic proportions. In the Greater Houston area, the tropical cyclone caused as much as $108 billion in property damage and economic loss. It damaged an estimated 203,000 homes, of which 12,700 were destroyed. At the storm’s peak one-third of Houston was flooded, forcing 39,000 people out of their homes and into shelters.
Part of the reason for the severity of the flooding is geography. The Houston-Galveston area occupies the northern portion of the Gulf coastal plain, a 50-mile-wide swath along the Texas Gulf Coast. As you go inland from sea level, the elevation rises only about one foot per mile. Because of the low-lying topography, when trillions of gallons of water falls from the sky, it doesn’t quickly run off—it collects in gigantic pools.
But some counties are higher in elevation than others. If you look at a map of the Greater Houston-Galveston area, you can see that the storm damage, and the resulting impact on the housing market, was not evenly distributed.
One Houston County Fared Better Than Others
The City of Houston lies in three counties: Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. The Greater Houston-Galveston area is also comprised of several other counties including Brazoria, Galveston, Liberty, Waller, and Chambers counties. When it comes to susceptibility to flooding, they’re not created equal.
According to TexasCounties.net, Galveston County lies only seven feet above mean sea level. Brazoria County is only 30 feet above mean sea level, as is Chambers County and Liberty County. Harris County, home of downtown Houston, is 43 feet. To the north, Montgomery County is the highest in the area, at 205 feet. (Just for comparison, the highest county in Texas is Jeff Davis County, at 4,892 feet.)
Meanwhile, Fort Bend County lies 92 feet above mean sea level. Of all the counties immediately surrounding Houston to the west, south, and east, it has the highest elevation. This is not to say the county escaped unscathed. According to the Fort Bend County Office of Emergency Management, no part of the county received less than 20 inches of rain, and some areas received 40 and 50 inches of rain. The Brazos River, San Bernard River and the Barker Reservoir all reached historic water levels. Twenty-two percent of the county was impacted by high water, forcing about 200,000 residents to evacuate their homes.
But by the end of the hurricane, 6,820 homes had been damaged, a number far lower than in surrounding counties. Fort Bend was well positioned for a quick rebound.
The Rebounding Real Estate Market
Overall, the Houston real estate marketed came back quickly, perhaps spurred in part by affected residents urgently seeking undamaged rental and sales homes in familiar communities near their work and schools.
Despite the destruction of Hurricane Harvey, the year 2017 ended strongly. According to reports from the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR), in 2017 sales of all property types totaled 94,726 units, a 3.5% increase over 91,530 posted in 2016. Total dollar volume for single-family homes sold in 2017 rose 6.5 percent to $23 billion.
Fort Bend County is doing particularly well. Perhaps because of its relative safety from the worst flooding potential, Fort Bend has become a good market if you’re a homeowner looking to sell. According to the Houston Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service (MLS), from September through December 2016 (the year before Harvey), Fort Bend saw 3,600 sales with an average sales price of $305,215 and a median sales price of $274,000. A year later, from September through December 2017 (the period immediately after Harvey), the county recorded an increase to 3,800 sales, with the average sales price rising to $308,099 and the median sales price rising to $275,000.
Remember, these are the months immediately following one of the worst hurricanes in American history, with historic flooding in the entire Houston metro area. You’d think people would avoid buying, but the robust economy is spurring record-setting growth. And Fort Bend County is particularly desirable. As the wealthiest county in Texas, it’s ranked as one of the fastest growing counties in the nation with a quality of life that is so sought after by families looking for the right place to call home. It’s also a good place to own a home you hope to sell at a premium price. As the Fort Bend Economic Development Council reports, out of 741,237 residents, 88.5% are high school graduates or higher, 41.4% are college educated, and 83% are families. The dynamic workforce of nearly 306,000 people has attracted numerous new industries to the area including software developers, engineers, and other high-tech businesses, keeping Fort Bend County at the forefront of the phenomenal Greater Houston economic powerhouse. If you have a home to sell in Fort Bend County, the market looks very bright!
Jerome Love is broker and owner of LHS Realty Group and resident of Fort Bend County. A residential listing specialist with more than 20 years of experience, his firm LHS Realty Group works extensively throughout Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Harris County. If you are considering selling your home and interested in a complimentary market analysis please visit www.lhsrealty.com.
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