Bicycle Bungalows was started by Bill Riley in 2011 after spending the previous 4 years flipping houses in the Houston Heights as a hobby. His previous career was in shipping having graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy and working up to earning a chief engineer, unlimited horsepower license. He sailed on freighters, passenger ships and tankers. He worked shore side for Coastal Corp and then El Paso Energy and was Director of Marine Assets which included a fleet of oil tankers, oil barges and tugs, ship docking tugs in Aruba and Miami as well as being responsible for the vetting of all chartered ships and barges that carried the company’s products. That party ended when El Paso sold off their refineries and oil trading business.

Bill has had a passion for houses since he first started going to sea. Shortly after graduating from college, he bought a fixed up a Heights 2-1 bungalow with a 2 car garage apartment in the back. It became rental property but gave him an appreciation of the work required on old houses. After getting married and starting a family he bought a large 2 story home built in 1902 that had been in the same family until he bought it. It was in original condition with no heat or air, no sheetrock, washing machine and water heater in the kitchen with 4’ of counter space. He spent the next 10 years rehabbing the house during the evenings and weekends. He said his kids would be geniuses if they didn’t grow up breathing lead paint dust. Having done almost all of the work himself makes him appreciate what it takes to build or remodel a home and knows that he needs to stay out of the way of the professionals. Having maritime experience working with old ships makes him appreciate how relatively simple a house really is.

Bill has purchased over 20 properties in the Heights for construction or remodeling. He’s made some good decisions and some not so good decisions and learned valuable lessons along the way. He has watched various neighborhoods in and around the Heights and has speculated on which will be the next hot area. Fortunately he didn’t invest in some of them.

He bought his first house that needed a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Houston Archeological and Historic Commission (HAHC) in 2008. That project was a simple 500 square foot one story addition at the back plus a detached garage. It was easily approved and commended but gave him an appreciation of what is involved in dealing with the HAHC. He had 14 additional houses that he purchased and received Certificates of Appropriateness. He was denied three times by the HAHC and won on appeal twice. The house for which the appeal was lost had plans revised to a smaller size acceptable to the HAHC but not to the marketplace. All of these experiences have given him an understanding that the HAHC decisions can’t be predicted if you want to build outside of the box.

What we can do:

We really enjoy talking to people about their projects or houses they are considering purchasing and may have under option. We can give very rough estimates on costs but we need plans and time to provide a more accurate bid. If you are looking for another bid to justify using another builder, please don’t contact us.

A typical deal may look like this. You buy a 1200 square foot house in original (crappy) condition for $450,000. You want to end up with a modest sized home that you think you can get through HAHC. You’ve got 3 kids and they need space for their stuff that isn’t always underfoot so a game room would be ideal. You want to have a room on the first floor for aging parents when they visit. You need at least 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, living/dining. You’ll probably need a minimum of 2750 square feet which you hear may be a sweet spot for getting through HAHC. You’ll probably spend $15,000 to $20,000 on plans.

Assume the cost to do the actual work will be $155 per square foot. The cost would be $155 x 2750 = 426,250 + 15,000 + 450,000 = $891,250 or $324 per square foot which is better than the $375 per square foot you bought it for. If you can find an architect that can get plans approved for 3200 square feet, the total cost would be 3200 x 155 = $496,000 + 18,000 + 450,000 = $964,000 / 3200 = $301.25 per square foot. The market is currently around $325 per square foot for a house this size and price range. You would have to include taxes and interest during the construction period.

One obvious conclusion to draw is increasing the square footage of the finished house gives more equity in the house since the construction costs are so much less than the market price of the house. If you don’t build out enough additional square footage, you may be underwater on the property and not be able to get a construction loan. That is our biggest complaint about the HAHC as well as the proposed design guidelines that the City of Houston Planning Department is trying to get passed. There are limits on covered square footage based on the lot size.

We would be happy to spend time with you to discuss your project. Our goal is to build or remodel your house for you as long as you are doing a major remodel and addition and you are looking for a building partner, not an adversary. We’ve had those types of clients and life is too short to deal with them. If that is you, please feel free to contact one of our competitors. We want to have a win-win relationship with our clients. You get a house that will wow your friends and family and we make a few bucks and survive to do another job.