Big Is Back: Living Large in Dallas Real Estate Never Really Went Out of Style

I laugh whenever I read that American homes are getting smaller. Maybe SOME homes. But custom homes for the uber wealthy here and elsewhere are bigger than ever. True, there is my generation of Baby Boomers who are contemplating downsizing. Had lunch with Mickey Munir last week of Sharif-Munir Custom Homes, who told me about a fabulous new zero lot line development for people like me he is developing on Forst Lane called ‘Iris Hollow”. (Details coming soon here on CandysDirt.)

“The Baby Boomers want to downsize, but they still want it all,” says Mickey. “They may want smaller homes, but they want them loaded with more — built in coffee makers, great finishes, specialty rooms, and a pool in the backyard.”

When the 10,000 plus square foot home owners want to downsize, it’s to 6,000 square feet. As for the super wealthy, Mickey says he is still building ginormous 10,000 square foot plus homes despite all the blather about American homes getting smaller.

So I was not at all surprised by the recent story in the Wall Street Journal called “Living Very Large.” In fact, Dallas is sprinkled liberally throughout the article. “You don’t need that much space,” says a Dallas businessman who recently completed building a 28,000-square-foot home for himself and his family. (Who is this?) He says he and his wife planned to build a roughly 13,000-square-foot home, but their plans just kept on growing. The architect was a really good salesman, [and] we just kept dreaming, I guess.”

And it quotes Dallas builder John Sebastian, who is apparently also now building in LA:

In the fall of 2008, clients were saying, “It’s not the right time to do the big house on the hill,” says contractor John Sebastian, president of Dallas-based Sebastian Construction Group, whose current roster of projects in Dallas and Los Angeles spans 13,000 to 24,000 square feet. As those sentiments dried up, business has picked up, he says.

That big house on the hill John is referring to might be his project for the Robert Dedmans, who tore down an Austin stone home at 4930 Park Lane they’d owned since 1992 (I loved this house) and built a gorgeous Preston Hollow estate of almost 24,000 square feet on the 4.14 acres in Sunnybrook Estates. The house is most definitely on a grassy hill, the kind you can just roll down. Mark Molthan, who said he was also interviewed for the WSJ article, is the king builder of enormous castles in Dallas. The economy may have dipped, but Molthan remains busier than ever building manmmoth homes on huge lots and didn’t even stop when the bubble burst to check numbers: his price point was as safe as a pacifier. Mark catapulted into the limelight when he built the Luxe Showcase home in The Creeks of Preston Hollow a few years ago. He also built Veruscha and Thomas Dundon’s 13,000 plus playground on Southbrook that includes a swim park, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, a virtual batting cage and baseball diamond, putting green, go-cart track, a slide from the first floor to the second in the family room Traildust (Steakhouse) style, and an outdoor slide. The pond is also said to be filled with fish, occasionally. They could have also included what many wealthy homeowners have on their list: a shooting ranges (good ventilation is key to avoid inhaling contaminants), underground tunnels to other buildings on the property, underground garages and panic rooms.

Not on the market now, but banker Gerald Ford’s Hunter’s Glen HP home is 25,791 square feet. Tom Hicks home really isn’t all that large — 29,000 square feet — but it has the servants quarters (1400 square feet total) and 25 gorgeous Preston Hollow acres.

In fact, 25,000 is about the average square footage for the Hedge fund kings, investment bankers and succcessful financial titans. They must talk home building at corporate shareholder retreats, exchanging notes over what all you can get for $1000 a square foot. According to the Census Bureau, the average size of a newly completed single-family home peaked in 2007 at 2,521 square feet, falling to 2,392 square feet in 2010. But that’s for us worker bees. The mega rich are building big, like the 49,300-square-foot building designed by an Parisian architecture firm for Hyatt hotel heir Anthony Pritzker. The Wall Street Journal says it, like most of these homes,  involves a “small army of specialized consultants and boasts amenities like a bowling alley, hairdressing area and gym.”

Where’s the closet patterned after the Chanel boutique in Paris? A beauty salon and ballroom? Sounds just like our very own Champs D’Or up there in Hickory Creek, 36,000 plus square feet and on the market forever, asking $35,000,000 now for less land, but I hear the owner will entertain offers coming in at half that.

The Joural piece focuses on how building these monster homes creates jobs and employs networks of artisians, almost becoming a commercial project.

The scope of these projects makes them extremely complex to construct. Finding or assembling the property can take several years, and the design and construction of a super-size project can take up to five years or more, builders say. (These days, lower labor costs in some areas can mean quicker turnaround times or better value.) Just finding parking for the 100 to 200 tradespeople that can be on-site for a big job, compared with the eight to 20 people typically working on a 4,000-square-foot home, can require planning; commandeering church parking lots is one standby. In addition to a general contractor, a 40,000-square-foot home construction might involve a design architect from out of town who comes up with the conceptual design; a local executive architect who deals with the builder; an owner’s representative; a structural engineer; a landscape architect; a landscape attorney; an interior designer and acoustical, lighting and waterproofing consultants.”

Jobs. At every 5,000-square-foot mark, says a New Canaan, Conn. builder, a house becomes something different. 20,000 square feet and above a house is more akin to a commercial than a residential project, requiring industrial components that are tucked away so the home still feels inviting. After completion, you’ll need golf carts for traversing estates (my son used to play on these at the Lacerte, now Kelcy Warren nine plus acre estate on Park Lane), plus elaborate security systems, etc. etc. not to mention domestic labor.

Jobs. And now, in California, it seems publicists are also getting their fingers in on the mega home building budget. One homeowner has hired a publicist to promote opposition to a “70,000-square-foot compound (downsized from 85,000 square feet) for Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud, son of the king of Saudi Arabia.” The homeowner, wife of Oaktree Capital Management founder and billionaire Bruce Karsh, is probably not living in 2400 square feet herself.  She sems to be directing her anger at Peter McCoy, whose Los Angeles-based construction firm, Peter McCoy Construction, is building Mr. Pritzker’s 49,300 square foot home as well as Al Saud’s. She’s stirred up more than 1,500 residents of Benedict Canyon who signed a petition expressing their opposition to the project.

John Sebastian, still sure you want to build in LA?. 


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