Rating The Suburbs

Which communities have the best schools, lowest crime rates, and most affordable housing? We studied 50 outlying areas to find the most desirable place to live in Dallas—that’s not actually in Dallas.

You’re cool. Sure, you have a couple of kids, a mortgage, and a car with four doors instead of two. You go to soccer on Saturdays. Your husband has been eyeing a minivan. You contribute more to PBS these days than to the local AIDS charity, and you wonder why you even bother renewing your season tickets to the theater.

But, still, you live inside The Loop. Because you’re cool—despite every appearance to the contrary.

We know people for whom this isn’t true. We’ve heard tales of single people buying houses in Allen. Allen. Aren’t they supposed to be renting on the M Streets? There is something about giving birth to a child (or approaching the age when you’re supposed to) that lures people away to the land of milk and honey, whatever that means.

Then it happens. You venture outside The Loop for a kid’s birthday party or a co-worker’s Sunday barbeque. The air clears a bit. Maybe you drive over a lake. Was that a horse? Your urban kids look quizzically at the suburban kids gleefully riding their bicycles unsupervised through their neighborhood. Neighbors are talking—to each other. On the way home, you look up to the sky. Wow. The stars are still up there.

From that point, you wouldn’t believe how slippery the slope is to suburban life. So grab your kid’s scooter and enjoy the ride.

THE TOP 10
1.  University Park
2.  Highland Park
3.  Murphy
4.  Southlake
5.  Sunnyvale
6. The Colony
7. Grapevine
8. Highland Village
9. Coppell
10. Colleyville

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1. University Park
Estimated population: 23,218
Average annual growth since 1995: 0.2%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $688,666
Median age of residents: 31.2
Downtown commute: 6.4 miles

What city officials say: “A recent citizen survey indicated that the top reasons for choosing University Park as a home were public safety, neighborhood character, and location. Residents can be assured that University Park will maintain its distinguished character and high standards.”
What the demographers say: The median age of 31.2 years here is more than 10 years younger than in Highland Park. It’s still pretty homogenous at 94.3 percent Caucasian. A little more than 56 percent of residents are married, and 40.8 percent have children under 18.
What the residents say: Most people lump the Park Cities into one lovely area, but there are subtle differences. Land here is more plentiful and thus a better deal. And more than a few people are building new instead of refurbishing old. With that comes slight changes in the look and feel of University Park. Case in point: most of the older homes here and in Highland Park have front-entry drives, fostering greater interaction among neighbors. Those newfangled, rear-entry drives of new construction have put a slight dent in community bonding.
What the Realtors say: New-construction sales brought in record sales of more than $2 million on a few homes last year. Good for the tax base but bad for the aesthetics, some say. It’s the oversized lots (ones with more than a 70-foot frontage) that bring in the highest dollar, often $300 a square foot.
What we say: “Suburb” is such a dirty word for this pretty town, which really doesn’t come with any of the trappings of the suburban life. Moving here doesn’t require a meeting with your inner soccer mom. It requires a meeting with your accountant.

2. Highland Park
Estimated population: 8,794
Average annual growth since 1995: -0.6%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $814,092
Median age of residents: 42
Downtown commute: 4.8 miles

What city officials say: The Dallas Convention & Visitors’ Bureau (because Highland Park doesn’t have, or apparently need, a chamber of commerce) describes it thusly: “An enclave of large homes on shady, manicured streets just minutes from downtown Dallas.” Another PR piece on the Web brags: “This is a town where bygone eras rule, far from the ugly intrusions of today’s urban realities.”
What the demographers say: This is a group of people with a wealth of money and a dearth of diversity: 97.3 percent of residents are Caucasian. Considering the excellent reputation of Highland Park schools, it is interesting to note that only 33.6 percent of the households are families with children under 18—the lowest of any in our top 10.
What the residents say: Two things differentiate Highland Park from University Park: you can’t run in the streets of Highland Park (hey, buddy, that’s what sidewalks are for), and the trend of razing quaint older homes to squeeze in new multimillion-dollar mansions on those zero lot lines seems to be slower to take off here than in its sister city. Other than that, it’s all about schools, community, safety, and convenience.
What the Realtors say: Before Sept. 11, the market was so hot here that Realtors had nothing to sell. Now things have slowed, which is a good thing because they finally have a product. Having a scarce commodity means sellers are always on the good end of the deal. “Highland Park is half the size of University Park. You can’t manufacture any more land.”
What we say: Obviously, Highland Park is one of the most beautiful, well-educated, and well-run suburbs surveyed—and we use the term “suburb” begrudgingly. Most of its residents are from old money or huge amounts of new money. Either makes for pretty neighborhoods.

3. Murphy
Estimated population: 3,798
Average annual growth since 1995: 18.1%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $198,813
Median age of residents: 33.9
Downtown commute: 27.2 miles

What city officials say: “Murphy is a small town, its borders enclosing only 3.8 square miles. It was a village before the turn of the century and began the transition to modern Murphy in 1970 when several 1- and 2-acre estate subdivisions were developed. The community supports plans to continue to foster the country-living atmosphere, though with fewer large lots, with minimum lot sizes of 9,000 square feet and the average lot size tending toward 12,000 square feet.”
What the demographers say: A little less than half of its residents (47.1) are families with children under 18. The majority of folks are Caucasian, with 9.5 percent African-American, 9.1 percent Asian, and 4.9 percent Hispanic.
What the residents say: Some say Murphy has lost most of that country feeling. Until about four years ago, most people probably only went through Murphy on their way to Southfork—and probably didn’t notice. But the growth has been controlled, and longtime residents appreciate that. They also appreciate the slow pace, large lots (at least 90 feet wide), wealth of block parties, and Plano schools.
What the Realtors say: The minimum lot size in Murphy is a quarter of an acre. And you can get a lot of house on that, considering the average sales price per square foot is just over $73. Homes range from $140,000 to $400,000. You can get a 4,000-square-foot home here for under $300,000, or maybe a ’70s-era, ranch-style home on a nice piece of land (no, not Southfork) for less than $200,000. And that’s drawing the people in. City planners expect the population to reach 20,000 in the next 10-15 years.
What we say: There really isn’t much out here. Which is probably what’s attracting hoards of families. Unfortunately, although the older neighborhoods have a natural feel, there isn’t a tree past puberty in the new developments. Murphy is full of new versus old, including the quaint wooden First Baptist Church with its elegant steeple and stained-glass window sitting next door to the Fina My T Quick.


4. Southlake
Estimated population: 22,806
Average annual growth since 1995: 11.3%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $420,279
Median age of residents: 36.7
Downtown commute: 24.9 miles

What city officials say: “The City of Southlake is located in the heart of Northeast Tarrant County in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The city is just minutes from DFW International Airport and Alliance Airport. Southlake offers an excellent quality of life in a comfortable suburban setting, with convenient access to Fort Worth, Dallas, and Denton.”
What the demographers say: There are no apartments or condos here. Inside the city’s top-dollar homes, you’ll find that 65 percent of household incomes exceed $250,000, and 60.5 percent of those families have kids under 18. As far as how the residents look, most are Caucasian, with 3.7 percent Hispanic, 1.8 percent Asian, and 1.4 percent African-American.
What the residents say: It’s hard to miss the Dragon fever in this community that supports everything from football to the swim team. What attracts homeowners here is the size of the lots, usually starting at half an acre and going up to as many acres as you can afford. “It’s suburban living with country flair,” says a homeowner who admits he more than flinched when his house payment increased by $475 due to tax increases six months after he bought the place.
What the Realtors say: “Southlake is almost like New Colleyville.” Homes here start at more than $200,000 and go up to about $1.5 million. The market has developed rapidly in the last five years, and all new construction is priced at more than $300,000. Many relocated families move here. While the national average for house turnover is every three years, it’s every 18 to 20 months in Southlake.
What we say: One of the most interesting features of Southlake is the Southlake Town Square, housing all the stores you love—Harold’s, Williams-Sonoma, Talbot’s, The Container Store—side by side, in a unique strip mall of sorts. Each store is done in a different color and slightly different style, making it look more like Amsterdam than North Texas (okay, that’s a stretch).


5. Sunnyvale
Estimated population: 2,898
Average annual growth since 1995: 4.7%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $250,178
Median age of residents: 40.7
Downtown commute: 15.7 miles

What city officials say: “This small, upscale community in eastern Dallas County retains a personality and flavor all its own. Sunnyvale shares borders to the north and west with the larger suburbs of Mesquite and Garland, where shopping, fine dining, and entertainment are only minutes away. The town is also bordered by the peaceful waters of Lake Ray Hubbard and the sprawling, rural expanse of Kaufman County. Sunnyvale is situated to truly benefit from the best of both worlds.”
What the demographers say: Among suburbs, Sunnyvale is fairly diverse, with a mere 88.9 percent of its residents being Caucasian. Another 4.5 percent are of Asian decent, 4 percent are Hispanic, and 2.5 percent are African-American. As for households, 78.8 percent are married and 38.4 percent have children.
What the residents say: “We call it countrypolitan.” People here get a lot of land for their money, all with the convenience of being just 15 minutes outside of Dallas. Homeowners’ groups are popular, bringing neighbors together to work and socialize. One resident was told Sunnyvale is the Highland Park for hicks. There is definitely plenty of money out here and not a lot of attitude.
What the Realtors say: While Sunnyvale grew a reputation on 1-acre-minimum lots, that’s not quite the case anymore—although you wouldn’t know it by looking at the expansive land around the town. Homes here, usually on at least half an acre now but sometimes smaller, sell for a little more than $100 a square foot. It’s a bedroom community jolted out of a deep sleep about three years ago. City services are still trying to catch up.
What we say: Imagine a place where Town East Boulevard lands in the middle of grand spaces, rolling hills, tree-lined streets, ponds, cows, horses, and even quite a few llamas who make themselves at home just around the corner from the town’s public library. East Dallas isn’t known for its upscale, country neighborhoods. Sunnyvale might change that.


6. The Colony
Estimated population: 28,841
Average annual growth since 1995: 4.5%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $131,867
Median age of residents: 30.8
Downtown commute: 28.1 miles

What city officials say: “Located along the southeastern shores of Lake Lewisville, 15 miles from Dallas, in North Central Texas, The Colony is appropriately nicknamed ‘The City by The Lake.’”
What the demographers say: There is some diversity out here, with 13.3 percent Hispanic, 5.2 percent African-American, and 1.7 percent Asian. More than half (53.7 percent) of households have children under 18.
What the residents say: The Colony is a good deal with a good location, which are the reasons cited by most people who move here. Locals fight the stigma that it’s all Fox & Jacobs low-rent housing, but all that started to change about six years ago. You can see how the circles of housing developed: starting with homes that were small, brick, and quite average, building out to well-landscaped custom homes closer to Highway 121. Some residents don’t like the liquor stores lining 121, a fact of life when you’re surrounded by dry areas.
What the Realtors say: Much of the real estate business here is people relocating within The Colony because there are so many levels of homeownership—from apartments to small starter homes to custom homes for $300,000. Because of the economy, however, the homes selling best right now are those priced less than $175,000.
What we say: You can tell The Colony is trying to change its reputation. Coming in from 121, the liquor store is just the first of many businesses built of Austin stone. Pretty classy. But we’ll always remember The Colony for the first national story to come out of the burb, back in 1997: as reported on ABC’s World News Tonight, parents at a youth football game went ballistic over their 4- to 7-year-old girls doing a pompom routine to the song “Barbie Girl,” which featured the lyrics “Kiss me here, touch me there/Hanky-panky.”


7. Grapevine
Estimated population: 42,443
Average annual growth since 1995: 5.1%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $191,466
Median age of residents: 34.3
Downtown commute: 21.8 miles

What city officials say: “The city is located 21 miles northwest of Dallas and 19 miles northeast of Fort Worth, providing convenient access to big-city amenities. But with its own live entertainment, more than 130 restaurants, shopping, golf, theaters, festivals, wineries, etc., residents and visitors alike enjoy the comforts of Grapevine, Texas.”
What the demographers say: While residents are predominantly Caucasian, there is some diversity here, with 11.6 percent of residents being Hispanic, 2.4 percent African-American, and 2.6 percent Asian. Almost 60 percent of residents are married, and slightly more than 42 percent are families with children under 18. The average income here is about $69,000.
What the residents say: Those who moved out here a decade ago trying to claim their piece of the country have had to change their attitude. Developers brought in Grapevine Mills Mall, the Bass Pro Shop, and a nearby hotel to draw visitors to this town by the airport. Older residents like the sense of community (the downtown area is usually crowded, always a good sign), while young families like the prices and the schools.
What the Realtors say: Houses here run between $150,000 and $200,000, and 77 percent of them were built after 1980. The market is good here, mostly because Grapevine has the selling point of great schools like those in Southlake and Colleyville (Grapevine is in the Grapevine/Colleyville ISD) yet more affordable housing.
What we say: The historic downtown is a bonus most suburbs don’t have. Of course, Grapevine Mills Mall is hard to avoid (but we like the new Neiman Marcus Last Call). And it should be noted that Grapevine does actually grow grapes (held every year, GrapeFest is one of Texas’ largest wine festivals). But this town’s true treasure is the neon “hot donut” sign in the front window of the Krispy Kreme bakery.

8. Highland Village
Estimated population: 12,391
Average annual growth since 1995: 3.7%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $239,837
Median age of residents: 37.7
Downtown commute: 29.4 miles

What city officials say: “Keeping a ‘village feel’ remains a focal point for the residents in this small, Texas city bordered by Lewisville Lake and two larger, expanding communities (Flower Mound and Lewisville). With its natural, rolling, wooded terrain, Highland Village…occupies approximately 5.5 square miles. No longer a lakeside hamlet, Highland Village has undergone a metamorphosis into an affluent bedroom community.”
What the demographers say: Like most suburbs, Highland Village lacks diversity. Although the mayor is African-American, only 0.4 percent of the population is, compared to 94.2 percent Caucasian. It’s a family place, with 53.3 percent of households including children under 18. Only 3.2 percent of residents rent.
What the residents say: The residents of Highland Village are its PR machine. They adore their upscale, lakeside town. “A huge majority of people who make up Highland Village are centered around their children. We have some people whose most important asset is their assets. But for most, it’s their children.”
What the Realtors say: While expansive sections of grand, new homes are still being built, many sales are from pre-owned houses in older, established neighborhoods (those that are rumored to be the weekend getaways of Park Cities residents in the 1950s and ’60s). There are few homes here for under $140,000, but you can spend up to $1 million, if so inclined.
What we say: It’s easy to live in Highland Village. Horses live next to the new City Hall facility, which is set up with customer service in mind. They’re building a 12-foot-wide trail throughout the city, tying lakefronts to neighborhoods to schools. Police will leave you a little note if you forget to lock your car or close your garage. And if you’ve ever eaten the portobello mushrooms at Grotto’s, you’ll never need to go back to the big city for fine dining.


9. Coppell
Estimated population: 36,845
Average annual growth since 1995: 8.9%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $240,933
Median age of residents: 33.5
Downtown commute: 19.3 miles

What city officials say: “Coppell is the true definition of a family-oriented community. That’s just another reason why many people move here. Organized sports, special events, and a business community that caters to the family make up the heart of Coppell.”
What the demographers say: More than 80 percent of locals are Caucasian, 9.3 percent Asian, 6.9 percent Hispanic, and 3.3 percent African-American. And a little more than 80 percent of residents are families with children under 18. The median household income is $89,825.
What the residents say: Everything here is new, safe, and family-friendly. “There are a lot of young families, which is great. But if I had a high-schooler or a child going to college, the taxes are high, so maybe I wouldn’t want to live here. You’re definitely going to be sitting next to kids when you eat out.”
What the Realtors say: Most homes here range from $250,000 to $1 million, with the higher end picking up lately, as the economy turns around. Coppell is close to being built out, so a majority of homes on the market are pre-owned. Homes tend to sell quickly and near the original asking price. Most of your space here is inside the house, not outside.
What we say: The entire city looks expensive. A city ordinance mandates that all businesses be finished with red brick—even the columns at the Sonic. Worth noting: Coppell is home to a Republican Club (but not a Democratic Club), as well as the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. Take that as you will.


10. Colleyville
Estimated population: 19,831
Average annual growth since 1995: 4.1%
Average value of homes sold in 2001: $337,444
Median age of residents: 40
Downtown commute: 24.9 miles

What city officials say: “To the average person, Colleyville appears to be no more than 30 years old. In reality, this land has boasted of families, businesses, and community leaders for over 150 years; each generation living, laughing, and loving its atmosphere of beauty and grace.”
What the demographers say: The average household income here is $115,000, and 93 percent of residents are Caucasian, 3 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and 1 percent African-American. More than 85 percent of residents are married, and 50 percent have kids under 18.
What the residents say: Unlike much of North Dallas, Colleyville has a hometown feel where childhood, church, and community top the priority list. City facilities haven’t quite grown into the city’s population, but residents are patient. Being halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth and 20 minutes from the airport has its appeal.
What the Realtors say: There’s still plenty of development going on here, although Southlake now attracts much the same kind of home buyer. The median price of a home here is about $300,000. You won’t find anything less than $250,000, and prices go up above $1 million. As in Southlake, the economy has slowed things down a bit, but sellers haven’t come down on their prices much.
What we say: Unlike many suburbs, Colleyville’s neighborhoods have a warm, established feel. On the other hand, being centrally located to Dallas, Fort Worth, and the airport is a perk—but being able to carefully inspect the landing gear of those low-flying airplanes isn’t.

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HIGHLAND PARK DETHRONED!

Every year that D Magazine has ranked the suburbs, Highland Park has wound up at the top of the list. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Excel spreadsheet this time around. Highland Park came in at number two—in large part because the value of homes in HP actually decreased. According to MLS statistics, from 1999 to 2001, the average sales price of the homes sold in HP decreased 5 percent annually. In terms of home value appreciation, this puts HP at the very bottom of the list (Ennis and Midlothian, take pride!).

“We’ve been in a cycle since 1990,” says Tom Rhodes, a Park Cities Realtor for 26 years. “We’ve been in a 12-year run straight up. And, finally, you reach kind of an exhaustion point. I think what happened to us was we just didn’t have as many people in the marketplace looking, and they weren’t driving the prices up.”

Things have picked up, though. Data from the North Texas Real Estate Information System show that sales of single-family homes in the Park Cities during the first two months of 2002 totaled $78.2 million, or 11 percent higher than the same period last year. And the total number of sales rose 12 percent from the same period a year earlier. The area’s residential market is stronger than it has been in years. So, Highland Park, hang in there. There’s always next time.

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PERCENT POPULATION GROWTH 1995-2001

Most Growth
Little Elm …………….339.9 (1,150-5,059)
Frisco …………….206.9 (13,850-42,511)
Murphy ………………130.2 (1,650-3,798)
McKinney ………..107.7 (28,400-58,986)
Allen …………………79.9 (26,900-48,397)

Least Growth
Highland Park ………..-2.8 (9,050-8,794)
University Park ……0.9 (23,000-23,218)
Hurst ………………….2.2 (35,650-36,452)
Duncanville …………2.6 (35,300-36,206)
Bedford ……………..3.1 (45,900-47,309)

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CRIME RATES

Violent Crime per 1,000 residents
Best
Highland Village 0.3
Coppell  0.3
Ovilla  0.6
University Park  0.6
Sachse  0.7
Worst
Lancaster 7.6
Arlington 6.5
Balch Springs 6.0
DeSoto 5.1
Duncanville 4.7

Nonviolent Crime per 1,000 residents
Best

Ovilla 7.9
Highland Village 10.4
Trophy Club 11.0
Flower Mound 13.1
Southlake 13.8
Worst
Addison 63.3
Arlington 58.0
Hurst 56.2
Sunnyvale 52.3
Waxahachie 52.1

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BEST DEALS ON QUALITY OF LIFE

Here’s another way of looking at the most desirable places to live. We took the top 10 suburbs from our Quality of Life Index (unavailable online). Then we looked at the average price of homes sold in each town last year. We divided that sales price by the town’s weighted Quality of Life Score, giving us the Cost Per Quality of Life Point (CPQLP)—a number that, by itself, is meaningless. But when the CPQLP of one town is compared to that of another, the relationship gives you an idea of which town offers the best value. The results:

                                Home                 Quality of       Price
City                        Sales Price        Life Score      Per Point

1. The Colony          $131,867             3.725                $35,401
2. Murphy                $198,813             3.956                $50,256
3. Grapevine           $191,466             3.710                $51,608
4. Sunnyvale           $250,178             3.867                $64,696
5. Highland Village   $239,837             3.701               $64,803
6. Coppell                $240,933             3.683                $65,418
7. Colleyville            $337,444             3.677                $91,772
8. Southlake            $420,279             3.878              $108,375
9. University Park    $688,666             4.200              $163,968
10. Highland Park    $814,092             3.984              $204,340

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AVERAGE HOME SALES PRICE 2001

Highest
Highland Park $814,092
University Park $688,666
Southlake $420,279
Colleyville $337,444
Sunnyvale $250,178

Lowest
Balch Springs $72,780
Seagoville $82,220
Cockrell Hill $83,000
Lancaster $95,164
Ennis $100,191

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HOW WE DID IT

We know we’re not comparing apples to apples here—more like watermelons to grapes in some instances. So, as best we could, we boiled our comparison of 50 Dallas suburbs down to a fair, statistical assessment—mixed, of course, with just a touch of our own opinion. After hours of statistical gathering and analysis, we crunched the numbers and came up with our rankings. Formulas were constructed to yield a number from one to five in each category. Here is where we got our data and how each category was weighted in our Quality of Life Index.

25% Education: We compiled our score from the percent of students passing the TAAS tests, the mean total SAT scores, the percent of students taking college admissions exams, and the amount of money each district spends on instructional expenses. Data from 1999-2000 statistics from the Texas Education Agency.

20% Housing: We based this score on the percent of owner-occupied homes in a suburb (40 percent) and statistics from the Multiple Listing Services of average home sales in 1999 and 2001 (60 percent). Data from U.S. Census Bureau 2000 statistics and MLS data from the Dallas-based NTREIS.

20% Ambience: Enter subjectivity. We considered everything the other statistics can’t—how it looks, how it feels. We might not be able to define “charm,” but we know it when we see it.

10% Safety: We used crime statistics for seven crimes: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft. We gave twice as much weight to the first four, under the theory that being shot might be more traumatic than having your purse snatched. Data from 2000 statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Dallas County Sheriff’s Office Sunnyvale substation, and Murphy Police Department.

10% Property Taxes: Property taxes (city, county, and school) were figured using the average sales price of homes in each suburb. Data from 2001 figures from the North Texas Council of Governments.

10% Environment: We considered the good and the bad. The good: parkland per 1,000 residents. The bad: landfills, Superfund cleanup sites (federal or state-designated sites deemed the most hazardous), and the number of businesses using hazardous waste. Data from various parks departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

5% Commute: Distance from each suburb to downtown Dallas. Data from Yahoo! Maps.

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