Axios Houston

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🌎 Happy Monday. It's Earth Day! And Passover begins at sundown.

β˜€οΈ Today's weather: Sunny with a high of 73.

♣️ Sounds like: "Derailer" by Wine Lips.

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  • Sign up today and you'll be entered to win an Axios swag bundle.
  • Bonus: All members will be entered into a drawing for prizes this week. Rules apply.

Today's newsletter is 887 words β€” a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: πŸ—³οΈ What's on the May 4 ballot

It's time to vote again. Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

Early voting begins today for the May 4 election.

Why it matters: It's expected to be a low-turnout election, although the results could have an outsized impact on property taxes and Houston's representation in Austin.

Driving the news: In Harris County, voters for the first time will elect three board positions for the Harris Central Appraisal District, which determines annual property valuations based on market values, for tax purposes.

  • The change comes after lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2 last year, approved by voters in the fall, creating three elected board seats in counties with populations over 75,000, to increase accountability.

What they're saying: Bill author Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) said the election isn't meant to politicize the board. "Just totally reject that concept," he told the Texas Tribune. "That's utterly false on its face."

  • However, state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) told the Austin Chronicle this month that the appraisal district elections were "a calculated effort to bring in more conservative and Republican viewpoints into the taxation process."

Of note: The seats are nonpartisan, meaning voters will not see party affiliations on the ballot.

Meanwhile, voters in Texas Senate District 15 will choose between community organizer and emergency room nurse Molly Cook and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson to fill new Mayor John Whitmire's vacated Senate seat for the rest of the year.

  • The same two candidates will also square off in the May 28 Democratic primary runoff election to determine who will be on the November ballot for the term that starts in 2025.

What's next: Polls are open for early voting through Tuesday, April 30.

  • Here's a list of Harris County's 25 early voting locations.

2. πŸ”₯ What happens when a Houston home goes viral

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Most people scroll Zillow Gone Wild for entertainment, but more real estate agents in Houston are leveraging social media buzz to attract serious home shoppers to their listings.

Why it matters: "Screen appeal is the new curb appeal," Zillow senior economist Orphe Divounguy tells Axios.

Follow the money: Zillow Gone Wild creator Samir Mezrahi parlayed his popularity into a new HGTV show that cashes in on viewers' nosiness about other people's houses.

  • "When I'm bored on my phone, I like to look at houses everywhere. And I think other people do that, but there wasn't a space for people to talk about that," Mezrahi said at a South by Southwest panel.
  • He posts what he calls "the most interesting homes across America," from castles to brightly colored mansions.

The big picture: More agents are chasing social media clout. TikTok saw a 40% increase in posts tagged #RealEstate during the first two months of 2024 compared with the same period in 2023, Bloomberg reports.

Reality check: Houston Association of Realtors chair Thomas Mouton says social media has really helped local agents get an audience and showcase homes, but he's skeptical.

  • Instagram and TikTok focus on grabbing people's attention, but there's more to buying a home than the price tag seen on the apps, he says.
  • "Once you dive into the reality of going through the process for homeownership, it just may not line up with what's seen" on social media, he tells Axios.

What he found: The iconic Darth Vader house may be cool, but Mouton says buyers are still looking for practical things like dual offices, dual master bedrooms for multigenerational families, and updated outdoor spaces with pools and cooking areas.

Go deeper: Read about how this Houston realtor leverages Instagram to showcase fancy apartments.

Between the lines

3. Bayou Buzz

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

πŸ’΅ State Attorney General Ken Paxton asked an appeals court to stop Harris County from sending $500 to families in need after a judge said last week that the program could move forward. (Houston Chronicle)

🚧 Mayor John Whitmire is holding up the long-planned Montrose Boulevard makeover project, asking the redevelopment authority in charge of the project to reduce sidewalk widths and eliminate pedestrian crossing signals. (Houston Public Media)

πŸ” The mayor of a small city south of Houston allegedly used public funds to pay for a private investigator to probe a City Council member without approval from city leaders. (Houston Landing)

4. πŸ‘― Social Calendar

Take a lap around this Texas-shaped pool under a full moon. Photo: Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

πŸ˜‚ Laugh it up at an open mic comedy night at Near Northside's Bad Astronaut Brewing Co. tonight.

  • Free. Sign-up begins at 8:30pm, and the show starts at 9pm.

πŸŒ• Enjoy the full Moon from downtown's beautiful Marriott Marquis Houston rooftop pool tomorrow.

🎡 Listen to music from singer-songwriter Lola Kirke and country artist Dale Hollow at Midtown's Continental Club tomorrow.

  • Tickets start at $18. Show is at 7pm.

πŸ›οΈ Shop from business-minded kids at the Children's Entrepreneur Market in River Oaks on Wednesday.

  • 4pm-8pm.

πŸ–ΌοΈ Hear from art historians about abstract expressionism and Janet Sobel at the Menil on Wednesday.

  • Free. 6pm-7pm.

5. πŸ₯Ί Support our journalism

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Psst… Did you know you're our favorite reader? Don't tell anyone.

  • If you love us too, this is a great week to become an Axios Houston member because it's giveaway week!

Why it matters: Memberships support local journalism and help us secure more resources to cover the city we love.

Details: You'll score perks like exclusive emails, birthday shoutouts, the satisfaction of helping sustain our newsletter and more.

Today's giveaway is a bundle!

  • That includes some Axios swag like a hat, tote, water bottle and umbrella.
  • All members are automatically entered.

πŸ’— The bottom line: Thank you for your support.

Sweepstakes rules apply.

Thanks to Emma Way for editing and Khalid Adad and Yasmeen Altaji for copy editing this newsletter.

🏺 Shafaq is watching "The Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down."

πŸš‚ Jay is just now learning that Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Starlight Express" exists. Where has this fever dream been all my life?