This morning, a For-Sale sign went up in Kings Harbor on vacant land between Chimichurri’s and the construction I reported in July. Houston Area Realtors (HAR.com) shows this property listed for sale at $1,600,000.00. After Harvey, Harris County Appraisal District valued it at $650,000. Now that most Harvey damage in the area has been repaired and there are few visible reminders of the devastation, you’ll likely see more attempts to cash in like this before flood maps are revised.
Big Money for Flood-Prone Property
Below is the sign that went up this morning.
The Houston Area Realtors website shows that the owner wants $1.6 million for it.
That’s $724,000 per acre! Harris County Appraisal District shows its total value listed at only $700,000.
Rocky Lai and Associates own Sunrise Kings Harbor.
USGS shows the elevation of the property at about 10 feet above the river, which it fronts on. Note the the drop in the elevation profile below.
FEMA shows that the land is currently in the 100- and 500-year floodplains.
Mr. Lai, who reportedly bought the property in foreclosure, must be hoping that people won’t remember the flooding history of this property and that they will fall in love with the view. Since Harvey, the only major thing that has changed is that all visible signs of flooding have been repaired.
Value of Property Tied to Flooding
According to Harris County Appraisal District, Mr. Lai evidently bought the property in 2008. HCAD lists the last five years of appraised value at:
- 2016 $1,003,014
- 2017 $1,200,000
- 2018 $650,000 (Year after Harvey)
- 2019 $697,580
- 2020 $700,319
Note how the appraised value dropped almost 50% after Harvey. Now, Mr. Lai is trying to sell the property for about 2.5X the post-Harvey appraised value – less than three years later. Not enough has changed downstream to reduce flood risk by that much. But many people have forgotten how bad Harvey was by now. And most of the visible scars of the flood have been repaired. So here’s a refresher course for the Kings Harbor area.
In the last 25 years, floods have reached the street level of Mr. Lai’s property three times. Harvey was one of those. Harvey exceeded the height of his property by almost FIVE feet.
Flooding three times in 25 years is a far cry from any true 500-year flood plain.
Flood Maps Being Revised
FEMA last updated flood maps in this area in 2007. Mr. Lai benefited from a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) for his property in 2008, the year he bought it. (See blue notation in floodway map above.) This means the property was likely raised out of the floodway by bringing in fill or moving it from a nearby location.
However, the County and FEMA are in the process of revising flood maps AGAIN in the wake of Harvey. Revisions have not yet been made public and probably won’t be for a year or two. But reportedly, both the 100- and 500-year floodplains are expanding – rumors say by about 50%. That means Mr. Lai’s property could soon be back in the 100-year flood plain. And that may be part of the reason for the sudden desire to sell the property.
Implications for Construction
If reclassified into a different flood zone, different regulations would apply for construction that could raise a buyer’s costs.
After flood map revisions, any buyer of this property would likely be forced to elevate buildings on a pier-and-beam foundation so that water could flow underneath them.
Condos built on adjacent property by Wan Bridge were permitted by the City of Houston because the ground floors were used only for garages. But those permits were issued before flood-map revisions.
Lai’s Kings Harbor property is also on the cut-bank (eroding) side of a large meandering river. If water gets behind the retaining wall, much of his property could wash downstream in the next big flood. (See comparable situation below.)
Several people in the townhomes above narrowly escaped with their lives during Harvey. The flood swept several buildings off their foundations.
Erecting condo or townhome units on Mr. Lai’s property, as has been rumored for several years, would be dangerous. Doing so would likely risk the lives of unsuspecting buyers or renters as well as the principle of investors.
Lives and More Lost in Last Flood
Every apartment building, townhome and business for two miles north of Mr. Lai’s property flooded during Harvey. Twelve seniors died at nearby Kingwood Village Estates as a result of injuries sustained during Harvey evacuations or the heartbreak of losing their homes.
I discussed Mr. Lai’s property with a flood expert. The expert almost came out of his shoes. He said, “Who’s going to evacuate all the families in a flood like Harvey? It would be impossible. Those people would be out of luck.”
- Harvey floodwaters were so strong that the City of Houston is still repairing the West Lake Houston Parkway bridge three years later. That’s only a block away from Mr. Lai’s property.
- The bridge at US59 was knocked out of commission for almost a year. Reportedly, the flood scoured 30 feet down to the base of the piers.
- And the railroad bridge over the West Fork was knocked out for more than 2.5 years.
People love water views so much that they sometimes forget how dangerous floodwaters can be. Buyer beware.
Posted by Bob Rehak on July 31, 2020
1037 Days after Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.