|TOWN AND COUNTRY: Allen’s Montgomery Farm boasts a small-town feel with big-city amenties. Too bad for you, this house is taken.|
You can tone down the freak out about the real estate market if you live in Dallas or almost anywhere else in the Lone Star State. “Things here are not nearly as bad as it would seem,” says James P. Gaines, Ph.D. Research Economist, Real Estate Center, Texas A&M University. He says that the negative reports in the national media reflect falling transaction numbers measured against years of abnormally high sales volume fueled by easy money.
It wasn’t just low interest rates.
“Anyone who could fog a mirror got a loan,” Dr. Gaines says. This was especially true in areas where home prices shot up exponentially. Take our favorite poster child for bad behavior, California. High population growth plus restricted housing supply sent California home prices up 15 to 20 percent, and it could not be sustained over time. Pity the last man standing with a $3 million adjusting mortgage on a $2 million home in 2008.
Our story has been entirely different in Dallas. Our home values have remained stable. Things are reminiscent of the years before 2006, before 100 percent stated-income loans, before lines of buyers camped out in front of homes bearing multiple offers. We’ve gone back to selling about 4,847 homes a month, just as we did in June of 2003.
In part, here’s why: 950,000 new residents were added to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the last eight years. Of the top 18 growth areas in the United States, only Atlanta added more home-buying bodies. So though sales volume is down compared to 2006, home values aren’t hurting. Though values were flat in the first quarter of 2008, Dallas homes have enjoyed a one-year value increase of 2 percent in Dallas. And if that doesn’t make you shelve the Ambien, try this: during the last five years, Dallas home prices have risen by a healthy 16.2 percent.
The takeaway here is, yes, lenders are checking financial references. They are turning away those who probably shouldn’t qualify for a mortgage. It’s very much a buyer’s market. So it’s the perfect time to check out these six neighborhoods when flexing your buying power.
[ The Holy Trinity of Real Estate ]
photography by Elizabeth Lavin
Why Shorecrest Terrace? This is a treed, woodsy neighborhood on the periphery of über-hot Briarwood and Bluffview—and there are deals to be found. Raw lots are still out there for $225,000, and teardowns can be had for $250,000-$300,000. Builders saw dollar signs in Briarwood four years ago, when the generous-sized lots were $50,000, and went a bit wild. Turns out some of those builder homes are now going at deep discounts, and on any given Sunday slow-moving drivers scan the area, notebook in hand. Like most neighborhoods, there are a few oversize McMansions and (gasp!) turrets, but most of the new construction tucks in nicely with the cottages and post-WWII ramblers on spacious lots.
Bachman Creek Park is underutilized, say residents, but they’re not complaining. It’s a peaceful place to walk the dog or meditate. As for those who shudder at the strip joints and adults-only stores along Bachman Lake’s north corridor, City Hall has begun to shutter those establishments and is planning a multimillion-dollar overhaul of the lake and its parks.
|“You have your heavily wooded areas, unimproved and improved streets, large houses on large lots, small frame houses on smaller lots, and styles from Spanish to contemporary to everything in between.”
—Cole Blank, Cole Blank Custom Homes
Aside from the great location and the park, there’s also a nearby nature preserve, huge oak trees, winding roads, and interesting topography. “Shorecrest Terrace is a mixture of Bluffview and Briarwood, but smaller,” says Cole Blank of Cole Blank Custom Homes. “You have your heavily wooded areas, unimproved and improved streets, large houses on large lots, small frame houses on smaller lots, and styles from Spanish to contemporary to everything in between.” Bonus: It’s close to Love Field—that’s where the earliest residents worked—but it’s not in the flight path.
|LOCAL HAUNTS: Inwood Village, Celebration, GoodBody’s|
Established: Late 1940s
Population: 346 homes
Old Story: Blue-collar couples in post-war cottages who worked at Love Field, Haggar,
Dr Pepper; run-down rentals abetted by the adult establishments near Bachman Lake.
New Story: Close-in city living for a song.
Average Home Price: $225,000 for teardown cottages; $700,000-$1 million+ for new homes
Average Home Size: 1,400-6,000 square feet
Average Lot Value: $225,000-$550,000
Average Lot Size: 100 by 100 feet-.33 acre or larger
Who’s Buying: The junior set. Young professionals, singles, and couples landing their first jobs but who often get help from parents in the form of a down payment, along with creatives and empty nesters.
[ Clean Country Living ]
photography by Scott Womack
|photography courtesy of Montgomery Farm|
Why Montgomery Farm? This place was green before green became hip, hot, and happening. What began as Frances and Philip O’Bryan’s 500-acre family horse farm north of Dallas is the area’s first meticulously planned, self-sustaining suburban development that puts conservation ahead of profit margins. For many years, the main residence on the farm was a recycled army barracks. As development crept closer to the family land, two Montgomery grandchildren, Philip Williams and Amy Williams Monier, dug in their heels to ensure that the inevitable development would happen under the guidance of the nation’s top conservation brainpower, with input from environmentally sensitive artists, engineers, builders, and landscape architects.
They come by that sense of conservationism honestly; in 1981, their mother, Frances Montgomery Williams, donated 72 farm acres to create one of the state’s first land trusts, the Connemara Conservancy Meadow Preserve.
|Philip Williams and Amy Williams Monier dug in their heels to ensure that the inevitable development would happen under the guidance of the nation’s top conservation brainpower, with input from environmentally sensitive artists, engineers, builders, and landscape architects.|
Montgomery Farm is the residential development that surrounds Connemara, with three distinct neighborhoods, each one a wildly different drummer from standard tract housing. “No more cookie-cutter homes,” is Amy’s mantra. Bethany Road, the main highway through the area, was designed by a collaboration of artists, architects, and engineers.
Liz and Bill Jackson moved from a three-bedroom Tudor in Hollywood Heights to Montgomery Farms last year. They now have a 3,500-square-foot house with four bedrooms and a media room. “Our home was getting too small,” says Liz, who has two small children. “And our son was about to enter public school.”
Conventional new construction did not appeal to the Jacksons. They loved Darling’s Craftsman designs, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired leaded glass doors, and front porches. “We met all of our neighbors the very first day,” Liz says. “Coming from Hollywood Heights, where we had such a strong sense of community, that was very important to us.”
LOCAL HAUNTS: Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm opened in May and is within biking distance. It has water features, terraced rock waterfalls, art, outdoor dining, green spaces, and shopping and dining opportunities typically found south of LBJ, such as Swoozies, Woodlands, Celebrity Bakery & Café, Borders, and Sephora.
photography (left) courtesy of Montgomery Farms
Population: 1,200 homes (planned)
Old Story: You might as well drive to Oklahoma.
New Story: Allen isn’t actually all that far. And if you’re going to live in the suburbs, this is where you should be.
Average Home Price: $300,000-$1 million+
Average Home Size: 3,500-6,000 square feet
Lot Value: $500,000
Lot Size: 50 by 115 feet-.5-acre parcels
Who’s Buying: Young bankers, attorneys, techies, even empty nesters and transplants from Lakewood/Little Forest Hills who are bullish on Allen public schools.
[ A Porch Community Coming Back ]
photography by Elizabeth Lavin
Why Junius Heights? Junius Heights is an older Dallas neighborhood enjoying a regentrification. It’s loaded with history, character, cultural, and lifestyle diversity. It also has one of the stronger neighborhood associations in town. If you wandered into this neighborhood a few years ago, you might have locked the car doors and pined for your derringer. But Junius Heights is quickly returning to what it was in the nascent 20th century: a quiet place to raise a family. Built at what was then the eastern edge of Dallas, the neighborhood was considered far from downtown and was served by the Junius Heights Streetcar during the golden years of trolleys. In the 1970s, it was dissected when Abrams Road was extended from Junius Street to connect with Columbia Avenue.
Folks who move here crave the Craftsman bungalows, huge trees, elevated front yards, big porches, high ceilings, and 1900s-era architecture for—get this—less than $200 a foot. There’s also plenty of neighborhood camaraderie. When Jason Dickson was moving his dining table into his Lowell Street home, he turned to find a neighbor lending a hand at the table’s other end. “He introduced himself,” Dickson says. “He told me his grandparents owned the house next door and he used to play in my house as a child.”
|“Amazingly, these homes are appreciating even in a tough market. We are less than a mile from downtown, and it looks and feels like Fredericksburg.”
Dickson got more than moving assistance—he met his wife here. She owns the house across the street. (The couple is living in one home but have both on the market, to see which sells first.) The sketchy, dilapidated areas are disappearing. “Amazingly, these homes are appreciating even in a tough market,” he says. “We are less than a mile from downtown, and it looks and feels like Fredericksburg.”
Allie Beth Allman real estate agent Bob Edmonson warns that since Junius is a neighborhood in transition, buying here can be tricky. But the crime is dismissed as petty by most Junius residents.
|LOCAL HAUNTS: Legal Grounds, Lakewood Country Club, Matt’s Rancheros. It’s also within jogging distance of White Rock Lake.|
Population: 800 homes
Old Story: Wouldn’t want to be here after dark.
New Story: Affordable alternative to the M Streets.
Average Home Price: $250,000-$500,000
Average Home Size: 1,200-3,400 square feet
Average Lot Value: $250,000
Average Lot Size: 50 by 150 feet
Who’s Buying: Lawyers, designers, artists. Homes are geared for families with one or two children, and there is a large demographic with children counting on Dallas public schools to improve.
Little Forest Hills
[ Fashionably Funky ]
photography by Scott Womack
Why Little Forest Hills? Named by the Dallas Observer in 2000 as the Best Neighborhood in Dallas, Little Forest Hills continues to generate buzz. It sits on the periphery of White Rock Lake and benefits from the many perks the lake offers: picnic areas, jogging and bike paths, the Bath House Cultural Center, and the Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden. It’s only 15 minutes from downtown Dallas.
“The cheapest place you can find close in,” Keller Williams real estate agent Amy Timmerman answers when asked about Little Forest Hills. She recently sold a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house here for less than $200,000.
Another nice thing about the area: “You never know what you’ll get when you walk inside,” says Cathryn Hopkins, who paid $94,500 for her Little Forest Hills house 10 years ago. “It’s one of the last places where a person who is not wealthy can live close in—unless we get taxed out.”
|The homes are small and handcrafted, originally erected as summer cottages for Dallas city dwellers and rum runners.|
This place has trees and topography, and it’s charmingly eclectic. The homes are small and handcrafted, originally erected as summer cottages for Dallas city dwellers and rum runners. That may be one reason Little Forest Hills attracts quirky artists, writers, and old hippies.
Little Forest Hills enjoys jet thrust from big brother Forest Hills, where lots and homes are larger and pricier.
Something else to consider: builders such as Darling and David Weekly are coming through the bushes, and their homes are being snatched up by empty nesters and young couples alike. Little Forest Hills also attracts a new breed of builder, like Alan Hoffman, who built the first LEED-certified house in Dallas. David Hurt is erecting four 2,300-square-foot sustainable homes on Eustis Avenue. The contemporary styles are designed by Gary Cunningham.
|LOCAL HAUNTS: White Rock Lake, El Fenix, Barbec’s, Angelo’s Spaghetti House, Scalini’s Pizza & Pasta, Snow Pea Restaurant, Casa Linda Shopping Center|
Established: Late 1940s
Population: 1,000 homes
Old Story: Urban escape to country lake cottages.
New Story: Baroque backwash or the opposite of suburban sprawl.
Average Home Price: $125,000-$450,000
Average Home Size: 900-4,000 square feet
Average Lot Value: $125,000
Average Lot Size: 55 by 150 feet
Who’s Buying: Newly minted college grads, professionals, empty nesters, artists, creatives, singles young and old.
[ Serious Land, Square Footage, and Money ]
photography by Scott Womack
Why Preston Trails? Preston Trails is almost becoming a north-of-LBJ clone of Preston Hollow’s estate area, with newer homes and North Dallas-like architecture. Considered far North Dallas in the 1970s, now it’s merely the midpoint between Plano and Preston Hollow. And as Dallas has grown, Preston Trails feels more like a shot put’s throw from downtown. Tranquil and shady, the neighborhood benefits from the maturity of trees planted more than 30 years ago. It also boasts a thriving homeowner’s association, nearby golf course, and many influential property owners. With mega square footage, large lots, and low crime, Preston Trails is experiencing resurgence with estate seekers. Virginia Cook’s Jo Pressly says a recent buyer paid more than $2 million for two homes, tore both down, and is erecting one large manse on the now double lot. Famous residents include golfer Jerry Lanston Wadkins Jr.
|Tranquil and shady, the neighborhood benefits from the maturity of trees planted more than 30 years ago. It also boasts a thriving homeowner’s association, nearby golf course, and many influential property owners.|
“In the last eight years, most of the major property sales were undisclosed,” Pressly says. “When the market gets better, there will be a huge demand for properties in this area because this is what people want: the land, the security, the grace.”
|LOCAL HAUNTS: The Shops at Willow Bend, Prestonwood Town Center|
Population: 90 homes
Old Story: Too far north, too much house, too new.
New Story: Spacious lots, great dimensions, practically urban.
Average Home Price: $1.5-$7.99 million
Average Home Size: 6,000-7,000 square feet
Average Lot Value: $900,000+
Average Lot Size: .75-1 acre; some are 2 acres. Lots are diverse; some back up to the golf course.
Who’s Buying? Dot.comers and fund beneficiaries in their 30s and 40s, empty nesters who want a large new home on substantial land.
[ The Treasure ]
photography by Elizabeth Lavin
Why Wynnewood? A treasure nestled just south of downtown, Wynnewood North is among the best values in Dallas real estate, sporting well-designed, high-quality homes by noted designers such as Bud Oglesby and Oschner Hare & Hare. One of Oglesby’s earlier contemporary homes is on Bizerte Drive.
Wynnewood was developed by Dallas oilman Angus Wynne Jr., who acquired the land from his uncle Toddie Lee Wynne Sr. and American Home Realty Company during the post-World War II building boom. Wynnewood became the first packaged suburb in Dallas. At the time, utopians wanted green towns—remote from the inner city—where people could walk or bicycle from home to shopping.
A desire to move closer to the city center has made Wynnewood appealing.
“The midcentury homes are in excellent shape and close to the DART station.”
—Rob Elmore, Keller Williams Real Estate
Unfortunately, America’s love affair with the automobile in the 1950s killed Wynnewood’s utopian dream. “It was not uncommon to see people come to the Wynnewood Shopping Village and move their cars repeatedly for every visit to a shop rather than leaving their cars in one parking space,” says Lance Tatum, a Fredericksburg architect who grew up in Kessler Park and watched Wynnewood develop.
Though areas surrounding Wynnewood declined with the intrusion and expansion of I-35 and Marvin D. Love Freeway and the white flight of the early 1960s, the neighborhood has always held its own and coexisted peacefully with whatever was cropping up outside its boundaries. A desire to move closer to the city center has made Wynnewood appealing. “The midcentury homes are in excellent shape and close to the DART station,” Keller Williams real estate agent Rob Elmore says. And you get a lot of bang for your buck here. Elmore has clients who found a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, with guest quarters (which the new owners converted themselves) and a large saltwater swimming pool for an asking price of $245,000.
|LOCAL HAUNTS: Bishop Arts District|
Population: 350+ homes
Old Story: Scary crime from surrounding housing projects.
New Story: Midcentury homes are a steal—never mind what’s outside the perimeter.
Average Home Price: $225,000
Average Home Size: 2,000 square feet, most with three bedrooms and two baths
Average Lot Value: $25,000
Average Lot Size: .3-.5 acre
Who’s Buying: Young couples, professionals