The Insta-Home Challenge: Houston

by Angela on July 18, 2012 · 10 comments

For being the FOURTH most populous city in the United States (behind NYC, LA and Chi-town), it blows my mind that it was so difficult to find housing in Houston. And I started looking back in April. I mean, there are over two million people living in this Texas metropolis. We will be there in the scorching heat of summer. Don’t people flee this place then? There have got to be some great sublets or vacation rentals available, right?

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I have to qualify this with the relative abnormality of my search. You see, we had agreed to shack up with Nick Cordileone (Timon) and his family for this five-week stretch of The Lion King tour, since we had lived so well together back in Orlando and our kids got along famously. In total, we’d have seven occupants in a dwelling — Mike, myself, Max, Nick, Nick’s wife Amy, their daughter Hero, and Amy’s mother Pam, coming to visit for 3 out of the 5 weeks. That being said, here was our wish list:

  • 3+ bedrooms
  • 2 bathrooms
  • Pool & fitness facilities
  • Cat-friendly
  • Maximum $4,000 total rent for the five weeks
  • Close to downtown for the guys’ work commute

Not much to ask, right?

Hah! It was as if the city of Houston collectively snorted in my face. Anything over two bedrooms was rare, or else way over our budget. Some house sublets seemed perfect until — wait, wait — we had to tell them we had one more occupant to account for. Mr. Turkey Taco. Just by adding this little cat, we eliminated about 90% of our viable options in Houston. Arrgggh!  There were numerous calls out to brokers, countless forays into scammy Craigslist ads, and industrious web searches and follow-ups on vacation rental websites like Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and FlipKey. Finding housing was requiring a full-time commitment, leaving me feeling like I deserved a vacation or a raise, or at the very least, a few happy hour drinks.

I finally struck apparent gold on, but we had to concede one thing: our budget. We agreed to go with a 1500 square foot, 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartment in Uptown Houston, in a complex close to the uppity Galleria Mall. It’s the same size as the place we had to ourselves in Greenville but with over double the occupants, and a 15-minute commute for Mike and Nick. While it has amenities galore, we are paying a pretty penny for them — well over our $4k max, with the cleaning fees and pet fees, but we didn’t see many other choices.  At all, really. And now that I’m here, driving around this sprawling city, I am perplexed that I had to struggle to find us a place. There are residences everywhere you look!

Anyhow, we’re here! Welcome to our Houston home.

So the good stuff first: the amenities. We’ve got covered, direct-access parking, which has proven invaluable in this Houston summer heat and rainstorms.  There are two gorgeous tropical pools, one of which we can see from our landing on the 4th floor:

The resort-style pools are stately and feature a fountain at one end and a BBQ grill at the other. In the words of Max: supernice!

Next to the pool is a covered lounge area with a large screen TV and a comfy sectional couch. The other day we came down for a swim, and a woman was crying on the lounge. It seemed like the most natural place within The Montierra to be, if one had to cry.

There’s a two-story workout facility, with cardio on the top level and weights/strength training down on the first floor. Below, Hero contemplates a workout.

The guys in the far row of cardio are Nick and Mike, sweatin’ to the oldies.

The Montierra Clubhouse has a full kitchen (which is conveniently close to one of the pool grills) with plentiful areas to sit or work. There’s wi-fi throughout.

This bar area houses the aforementioned kitchen beyond the door arch, and features one of the coolest amenities…

… a totally free latte machine! You can get instant coffees and lattes, as well as steamed milk and hot chocolate. The machine to the right is a sweetener and flavoring dispenser. Hero is psyched.

The Clubhouse is pretty darn cool — so cool, it makes us dance.

Evidently, there’s also a private movie theater with leather recliners available to the residents, but I have yet to find it. I’m too busy dealing with the little problems we encountered with our actual apartment, which in most vacation rental cases are somewhat excusable; but we were paying a corporate housing company thousands of dollars for an apartment that wasn’t 100% up to snuff. Mama is mad. Check out the list of grievances:

  • Dishwasher broken
  • Only 2 house keys/magnetic fobs supplied, even though I had specifically asked for 3 total
  • Drain clogged and toilet seat broken in master bathroom
  • Sliding closet doors jammed

While the above are still being addressed, let’s get on to the meaty stuff. Here’s the master bedroom that the Hollicks share, full of chunky furniture with not a whole lot of room to spare.

The best thing about the room is the tall, cushy, platformed king-sized bed that we all sink into, including The Turk.

Guess where Max’s GoCrib is housed? In our large walk-in closet. It actually works out perfectly, because it’s his own little room with his toys and stuffed friends. Don’t worry, we don’t ever close the door all the way. No need to call Family Services. I swear he can breathe in there!

Our master bath is pretty large and long, with his/her vanity sinks and a large jetted soaking tub. The water pressure is so intense, you actually feel a little beat up and weary upon exiting your shower.

The kitchen is actually not as big as our Greenville one, and when more than one person flutters around preparing food, there are certain slightly awkward run-ins. There were also many things missing from the kitchen that should have been provided, such as dish towels, baking pans, potholders, a cookie sheet, glassware and some cooking utensils. And that damn dishwasher. With seven people in an apartment, it’s kind of a nightmare washing all the dishes by hand. Again, if we weren’t paying so much for this place, I might not be so picky. Might.

The living room is comfy, with a flat-screen TV, DVD player, cable and even a DVR. The TV is perpetually on the Disney Channel by default. We have probably seen every episode of “Good Luck Charlie,”  “Austin and Ally,” and “Shake It Up” — twice. Never heard of them? Come on over for one afternoon!

The dining room table might be the best part of the whole apartment. It’s solid marble, with a low-hanging lip underneath.

But weirdly, the chairs are too high, and Max’s booster chair is positioned such that the circulation in his legs is cut off for every meal.

The four Cordileones have their own wing, with 2 bedrooms and a hall bath. There’s a laundry room nestled in there as well.

Despite the little grievances, I must say this apartment has been working out really well overall. The pool is definitely invaluable for both Hero and Max, and worth the price of admission. Many of the other cheaper places we found didn’t have this amenity, and now I can’t imagine living in Houston without one. Though it hasn’t quite hit the 100’s (scattered thunderstorms for the week since we’ve arrived), it’s still been steamy and the water has stayed refreshing. Also, the one block jaunt to the gigantic Galleria Mall with its toddler play structure, ice rink, huge food court and almost 400 stores will easily make us two families of (cool) mall rats for the summer.

Now let’s get the rain to stop!

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

steve mccarthy July 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Nice swanky place! The price doesn’t seem bad considering all your getting. Enjoy.


Angela July 30, 2012 at 8:46 pm

We are enjoying it so far Steve! by staying indoors! Dang, it’s hot here.


Jenny P July 18, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Our whole family enjoyed the Lion king last night very much. Welcome to Houston and we hope you like our city! Make sure you check out the natural science museum. Most kids love that place, with the dinosaurs and bug exhibits. Also the Galleria near you has the ice skating. Have a great time!


Angela July 30, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Thanks Jenny! Houston is awesome so far. We’ve hit the Galleria many times and we walked amongst the butterflies at the museum — one of our favorite experiences so far.


ANGELIQUE July 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm



Angela July 30, 2012 at 8:47 pm

You speak truth, Angelique! We gotta go big or go home!


Summer Standish July 19, 2012 at 3:07 am

Love this blog! Welcome to Texas!!!


Angela July 30, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Thanks Summer! We look forward to your comments on our travels!


Jane & Rob Simmons July 20, 2012 at 3:42 am

Hello there, we saw The Lion King last evening with our kids and absolutely loved every minute of it… And we looked up this website and are so intrigued by your lifestyle… We will look forward to reading about your travels as you write from such a unique perspective… While you are here in Houston, try to stay indoors,a s it’s not the best in the summer… The museums are wonderful… best wishes from a “Lion King Fan Family”!


Angela July 30, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Thank you so much for the tips Jane and Rob!


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