IN CASE YOU HAVEN’T NOTICED, PARTS of Dallas are getting downright ritzy. Leave town, come back in about a year, and you might mistake Old Preston Hollow for Newport, R.I. or chateau country in northern Delaware, where the Duponts have all built their mansions. Acreage prices have been soaring in the genteel area, and rich folks looking to build a mega-mansion will bulldoze almost anything to get some construction dirt there. Some realtors speculate that portions of Park Lane may ultimately become “billionaire’s row.” But the biggest residential action in town until recently has been down the street from Ross Perot, smack next to Robert Dedman, on fashionable Strait Lane. PageNet founder George M Perrin and his wife, Dominique, built on 10 creekside acres a 45,600-square-foot, Vanderbiltesque megamansion chateau, complete with guard manor house. (By the way, that’s air conditioned footage; it s actually 76,605 square feet total.)
After two years of meticulous planning and construction, activity suddenly halted in June. Then, after reportedly sinking $28 million into what is the biggest, most expensive house ever built in Dallas, Perrin put the incomplete mansion on the market for half-price: $14 million. Rumors traveled faster than beepers: Perrin didn’t have the money to finish. PageNet was in financial straits. The worst rumor: The stress of building the unparalleled home had hurt the Perrin’s marriage. Before the paint was dry on the few finished walls, Perrin sold the home to commercial real estate investor John Lau.
Here is D’s inside tale of the sale.
IT TOOK ARCHITECT ROBBIE Fusch (Fusch, Serold & Partners Inc.) almost two years to design the home, with seven architects on the job. Fusch, one of Dallas1 hottest residential architects- who has three other homes currently under construction on Strait Lane-conceived everything, from floor plans to the decorative scrolls on the hardware. His firm’s fee is normally 7 to 10 percent of construction cost. Fusch has designed homes with bigger budgets, but this was the largest house Fusch has ever done in terms of square footage.
“I had a wide-open palette,” says Fusch. “The Perrins were very open to my ideas.”
Such as the lake directly behind the house. What Fusch and other architects created on paper, builder Tommy Ford materialized in nearly two years of construction.
Ford came to Dallas from Amarillo in 1989 to build T. Boone Pickens’ home on Vassar Drive. He’s built several high-profile homes, most in the ultraluxurious price range of $300 to $500 per square foot. Ford says he has been paid by Perrin for the project to date; it’s about three-quarters complete. Though he traveled to Vancouver, Canada, to buy the lumber, all subcontractors and craftsmen were local-or at least from within a 200-mile radius of Dallas. At times. Ford had 300 people working on the site.
The Perrins, say friends, did not sell for lack of funds. The Strait Lane house simply mushroomed. They own vacation homes across the country, and despite stock slides at PageNet, money was not the issue-lifestyle was. They had already bought most of the furnishings (which were not included in the sale price and are in storage) and planned rooms around them. The Perrins are generous, low-profile family people, according to their friends and everyone who has worked with them. Put up a “for sale” sign and people think a divorce lawyer lurks in the shadows. But no, insist friends: The marriage is not in any trouble at all; the issue was one of downsizing.
But how does a communications multimillionaire downsize? Perrin, who had already sold his Volk Estates home to the offspring of a high-profile Dallasite, was buying a Preston Hollow home in the $5 million-dollar range at press time.
The buyer of the Perrin house is a family man and successful entrepreneur looking for a real estate flip. John Lau, president of JNC Enterprises, LTD, is a former physicist and engineer. Twenty years ago he was laid off by Texas Instruments. He went to work in his garage making robotics, which he then sold back to TI. In 1991, he formed JNC. Lau and investors quietly began buying up raw land in choice locations north and northwest of Dallas and near Alliance Airport.
“When Dallas* finest were barely able to stay out of foreclosure, John Lau was buying up raw land,” says Realtor Pat Truangle. The Perrin property was the first residential acquisition for JNC. Perrin, says Lau, harbored no hard feelings.
“He was a pleasure to deal with,” says the entrepreneur. “He made his decisions rapidly and moved on. I was impressed.”
What apparently made Lau’s offer sweeter than the others on the table was a juicy, earnest-money check and JNC’s cash-rich reputation, which ensured quick closing. Lau seldom discloses how much he pays for any property, much less Perrin’s. though he reportedly paid between $9 million and $11 million. (Appraisers say only one home has sold tor more than $10 million in [he last decade, and no sale over $ 15 million has ever been recorded.) One local real estate investor says Lau offered to sell him the property for $14 million a few days after he closed.
“The land alone,” says Lau, “is worth $8 million. It was a livable deal,”
Builder Ford agrees: “The buyer got a superb deal.”
Pat Truangle got the listing because she was the one who had originally sold the properties to the Perrins. Getting out her Rolodex, Truangle called Lau; she had sold him Richard Rogers’ home in Bent Tree a few years ago. Four other offers on the home also came from past clients she dialed up.
Lau says he will most likely not complete construction on the house since new owners will have their own tastes. But he doesn’t expect the home to be on the market for very long and has, in fact, already shown it to several potential buyers.
Truangle, who pulled off Dallas’ biggest home sale in less than 30 days, won’t be listing it again. Lau will use his own broker, Joe T. Fox of J NC Properties, LLC. “It was the largest home sale of my career,’1 said Truangle. a 25-year real estate veteran who-like always-did her homework.
10330 STRAIT LANE IS REALLY TWO LARGE pieces of property combined to about 10 acres. The home is a telecommunications Mecca. Each room is wired for multiline telephones, so family members could call each other. Relatives won’t visit forever: The house has only four or h ve bedrooms. In addition to formal rooms, there’s the kitchen, breakfast nook, and a media/family room, all with huge 200-year-old beams shipped from a New England warehouse. There is also a mahogany-paneled study and a couple of laundry rooms.
The dimensions of all the rooms are huge, The master bedroom area alone is 3.000 square feet. The child’s room is a two-room suite with study area and Jacuzzi tub. Remodeling is a snap: The home was built without any load-bearing walls on the interior for easy renovation.
There are two main galleries, with hand-scraped wood and limestone floors, and built-in cases for what was supposed to be Mrs. Perrin’s extensive doll collection. A winding staircase from the master suite leads down to the exercise room, which opens to the indoor natatorium (lap poo! and volleyball pool). There are several staircases, but the grandest is the massive limestone staircase in the front foyer/living room. It’s costly though: more than $300,000 alone for the staircase with custom-decorative iron railing. Part of it is on the site ready to install.
Anyone who can afford this home can afford many vehicles. There are 14 garages, one with a wash bay; seven fireplaces (we think-even the architect lost count) for frosty nights; and so many bathrooms the new owner’s housekeeper will need to buy Tidy Bowl weekly by the case. The third floor is partially finished with room for additional bedrooms and baths. In the altic is easy access to three hand-cranked winches-like those in churches-which control not-yet-installed chandeliers, turning them to within one-quarter inch of exactly where the owner wants them to be.
The home has a 17,000-square-foot basement; some neighbors say Ford dug so deeply they thought perhaps a quarry was underway. The basement rests on several feet of native blue limestone. Downstairs is a wine room that has been converted into a game room (the eighth fireplace was boarded over) and staff quarters and lockers.
In fact, the home has four sets of quarters, staff break rooms, and an elevator. Also in the basement are two concrete block pillars-each the size of a small sports utility vehicle-that support the main staircases and guarantee that debutante photos taken on the grand limestone staircase will not blur from the shimmies. State-of-the-art control systems are in the basement-a techie’s delight. These include an elaborate commercial-grade water heating and cooling system, which supplies instant hot and chilled water. Your average handyman will not do unless he previously managed a skyscraper: There are 180 tons of air conditioning (a 5,000-square-foot home typically has 10 tons), enough water heaters to keep several apartment complexes boiling, and a separate, desert-dry air conditioning system just for the natatorium. Lights are a low-voltage system made by Lite Touch, which the builder says can be changed with a computer program and no rewiring. The security system rivals the one at the White House. There’s a sound system throughout the house and grounds, and each room has its own heat and air conditioning controls. Gas fireplaces, heal and air conditioning, lights, and computers can also be turned on by remote control.
Brilliant touches include a wired-for-TV vanity on the “his” side of the master bath so the owner can watch investments on CNN as he comes out of the marble steam shower; a built-in bureau next to “his” commode to house reading material; drip showers for hand washing laundry in both his and her baths and laundry rooms that could double as small dog showers; pocket screens on some windows to let in fresh air; and a well-planned drainage system to prevent flooding.
THE HOME’S EXTERIOR IS WEST TEXAS limestone. Ford says the Perrins were interested in conservation and low maintenance. All doors and windows are custom made of mahogany wood; gutters are lead-coated copper. A crushed-stone pathway outlines the property, which you can tour on foot or by golf cart.
The Perrins had planned to pour a tennis court and build a cabana on the northeast comer of the property, and directly behind the house is excavation for a waterfall lake, with access to boat storage in the basement, Land slopes down to the creek that borders the eastern boundary.
Warren Johnson is the landscape architect, and his crews are still out daily watering rows of yet-to-be planted trees, trying to save other large trees hurt by the construction. The original colonial-style Williams estate, one of the lots Perrin bought for 10330 Strait Lane, was marked by an alley of crepe myrtles that Johnson intends to replant. The trees have been kept alive and nurtured on the grounds.
The first thing most people see from the street is the 2,448-square-foot gatehouse right off Strait Lane, which resembles a French manor guard’s home. It was built to be a potential office, complete with kitchen, laundry, and quarters. For security, this is the spot where all deliveries can be made to the home or where gawkers can wonder when the Napoleonic battles will begin.
The new owner should probably be worth about $500 million and will need a hefty income to maintain the house once he or she closes: Operating costs run at least $1 million per year. Current city taxes, at 1996 tax rates, on the unfinished home are $120,141.97 per year. If the home sells for $20 million, with one homestead exemption, city and school taxes will be $370,038.37-the highest in Dallas County.