From the Archive: Confessions of Dallas High Rise Living: The Good, the Bad, and the HOA

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This is the column that started what would become 99 columns in 2015 (some you’ve not seen yet) for  I’ve been frequently asked how I got started.  It’s simple … revenge!  After attending a particularly egregious HOA meeting, I penned a screed to Candy detailing the insanity of the building I lived in.  Of course she jumped at the chance to “out” some craziness.  By morning, I’d had a rethink about shooting myself in the foot (as you do) and said, perhaps there’s more to me than a one-hit-wonder.  She agreed to give me a shot.

For this first column, I was especially touched by Fabian Hernandez’ comment, “it’s like an accessory you didn’t even know was missing.”

Enjoy.  And here’s to another 99 in 2016!




Jon Anderson

The Good: I love living off the ground.  Obviously, the views are great – I can see dozens of fireworks shows on July 4th from my patio.  And “naked with the drapes open” privacy (pre-drone) is awesome. There’s also something about the lock-and-go lifestyle that appeals to the traveler in me.  Finally, I hate fussing over mundane maintenance:  “Where’s the hot water?” and the “hoe-and-mow” of yard work.

High-rises are ranch homes in the sky, though there are a few multi-story high-rise units in this town.  Single-story living eliminates pesky stairs that ruin the flow and eat up valuable space.  Let’s face it, a 2,000 square foot 3-story townhome nets a solidly usable (albeit narrow) 1,400-ish of poky rooms.  But a more efficient single-level condo uses all 2,000 square feet (minus columns) and they’re generally more than 15’ wide. Remember the views?  I have 50’ of floor to ceiling windows versus your “Where’s Waldo” double-hungs.  High-rises also offer more than the tired garage/bedroom ground floor, living/dining/kitchen second floor, and bedroom/bedroom top floor layout of oh so many boring-ass townhouses.

Of course, there are a few low/mid-rise “flats” in Dallas, but townhouses are the most common newer low-rise construction.

Living Room

The Bad: The hurdle to becoming a high-riser heard most often are the HOA dues (which I’ll cover in detail in a future post).  But the short answer is that it costs money to defy gravity (ask NASA) and all dues are not the same.  Ground-dwellers (groundies) moan that they never spend $XXX dollars every month on maintaining their abode – and they’re sorta correct.  But they do spend in fits and starts on home maintenance when something goes wrong, often the result of water being somewhere it’s not supposed to be. Groundies also don’t have staff salaries, on site gyms and Dean-effing-Fearing delivering breakfast.  Pop Tarts and a dusty, clothes-strewn Nordic Track aren’t the same!

Kidding aside, HOA dues are a chunk of change and it’s up to buyers to understand each building’s HOA dues – what they pay for (be that Fearing’s ministrations, utilities, or a pool) and whether that’s of value.  Because let’s face it, many Realtor’s math skills end at calculating 3% of anything. Can you blame them? One of these days I may invent flash card drills for Realtor commission calculation . Here’s “$374,000?  …the commission is ummmm, $11,220.

The other hurdle to owning a condo can sometimes be overall cost. After all, we all want just a bit more than we can afford.  Older buildings are a bargain but often the décor should’ve been buried along with the previous owner. Factoring in renovations (that’s another future post, been there, done that) can be trickier and more costly in a high-rise.  The alternative is buying into a newer building, but the prices are exponentially higher.

For example, as of this writing, an 1,130 square foot, shop-worn 2 bed/2 bath unit on the 20th floor of Preston Tower with gorgeous views of north Dallas is listed at $177/sft.  Blocks away a renovated 1,379 square foot 2bed/2bath on the 9th floor of the Shelton with gorgeous Tollway views (and noise) is listed at $301/square foot.  A vastly different buyer is needed for $177/square foot needing renovation versus $301/square foot all ready to go.

A buyer with a desire for personalization, elbow grease and a smaller purse might throw $50,000 into Preston Tower and laugh all the way to the bank.  A hearing impaired buyer who valued a hassle-free move-in would opt for the Shelton.

BTW, the HOA dues are nearly identical with Preston Tower paying all utilities while the Shelton unit is 249 square feet larger.

The HOA: Even after deciding on high-rise living, it’s not just buy in the sky  and live happily ever after. There are neighbors and the HOA to consider.  High-rise Homeowners’ Associations have as many intractable fiefdoms as they do residents.  The truism that everyone has an opinion and an asshole must surely have been coined during an HOA meeting.

Like Harry Potter on his first Hogwarts train, it’s up to the new owner to decipher the Weasleys from the Malfoys.  Sometimes it’s the Malfoys who are in charge and who scorch the earth without the proper genuflection.  In my opinion and experience, disagreements can often be traced to age and intelligence.

Some Dallas high-rises tend to be God’s Waiting Rooms for downsized suburbanites and Fox News fans.  While I’ve heard fairy tales of faraway high-rises harboring children and nannies, there are many more wheelchairs than skateboards in most Dallas high-rises.

Is that exclusive to Dallas? I think not. Younger owners think longer-term because, to be honest, they’ll still be alive to live with the consequences.  Getting things done right matters.  Owners living in their last house, driving their last car, using their last box of Poligrip, can have an “It’ll do” attitude that is stronger than the Poligrip.  They operate on short-term savings over long-term vision – which is fine inside their antimacassar festooned homes.

But it’s dangerous when applied to a structure.

And this is precisely the problem of living in a building of the Geritol set. In some pre-1980s high-rises, major systems are beginning to need costly repair and replacement.  Many older buildings in Dallas got trapped by short-term thinking and postponed routine maintenance for years, sometimes decades.  Recently several of these buildings have been forced to undertake costly (usually specially assessed) projects costing many times what the delayed maintenance would have cost had it been done correctly in the first place.

Younger owners are also more in tune with the outside world.  Older owners, sometimes retired for decades, can be selfish in their objection to change coupled with an aesthetic sense mired in decades past. Often it’s adrift old women (single or with diminished husbands) whose interests revolve around God and grandkids who have burst their shackles to call the shots for the first time EVER in their lives.  These unexplored lives lead to a lot of cra-cra.  Honestly, it’s arsenic and old lace.

Case in point: at a recent HOA meeting, our building insurance agent was repeatedly quizzed by our then-president on the critical need for terrorist insurance. I hope she slept through the earthquakes of a few weeks ago. When assessing the best locale for a terror attack, a high-rise in Dallas filled with 75-year-olds and their vast collections of Hummels, crocheted pastel toilet paper covers, and commemorative spoons would NOT top the list!

You can tell I have been to about 20 too many of these board meetings.

At this point., you’re thinking Monty Python’s King Arthur was right…”run away, run away!” and some should.  (Maybe I should!)

But high-rises are cool.  Your friends will be soooo JEL.  Quieter neighbors can’t be found outside a cemetery.  Jesting aside, many older neighbors in my buildings continue to live vibrant lives that add depth and perspective to any social circle.

As for for the rest, keep a black outfit neatly pressed and nearby.

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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