Boutique Real Estate Agencies Serving Ever More Niche Markets On Rise in DFW

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AF 2017 - Main 1

How real estate agencies operate is undergoing a fundamental shift. What began decades ago with neighborhood-centric mom-and-pop agencies were aggregated into city-wide, all-service agencies. Local brokerages, have, in some cases, grown over time into large national and global brands. The internet age has further changed things, adding largely online-based agencies to the mix.

In many walks of life, large conglomerate operations have begun breaking down. Agribusiness is being chipped away by the organic movement that’s given rise to artisanal “this” and heirloom “that.” In part, it’s being driven by a generation dissatisfied with one-size-fits-all products and services.

More darkly, we are witnessing the effects of a fearful society. Alliances and protections put in place after WWII — everything from trade to vaccinations — are fraying. Too dark?

Anyhoo, over the past 18 months I’ve noticed a shift away from larger brokerages and towards boutique real estate operations focusing on very specific niche markets. Some are agencies-within-agencies (within agencies again at times like a matryoshka doll). I’m concerned that at some point the niche becomes so small that it’s impossible to be successful.  But I suppose that’s for time to tell.

In the meantime, I’ve noticed more of these niche agencies being quietly launched. And you know me…let’s talk about them.

AF 2017 - Dandy 1

Back in the day, an about-town man headed to one of the Oaks — either Lawn or Cliff — to be amongst friends (and potential dates). With a growing acceptance by larger society and the advent of proximity apps, many a jaunty man has moved out of the traditional gayborhood and onto the wind. Dandylions was the brainstorm of husbands Derek and Martin Villetto-Polaski as they sought out the school systems of the suburbs for their new gayby Scarlett. Derek noted that there are just so few gay Realtors in North Texas, and they needed help navigating Kindergarten and cocktails. And so, Dandylions was born.


AF 2017 - Strings 1

Millennials understand Millennials. Strings is a new boutique for just that. Depending on whether mom and dad are supplying the down payment or just some lease supplement, Strings is your broker.

Masters-degreed, former-baristas-turned-husband-and-wife team Tyler and Taylor Shipp setup shop just last month. As happens, friends, having seen their new digs, asked them to help find — and fund — their own apartment in Uptown. With a quick draw from mom and dad, the Shipps designed an app to convince parents a stipend is better than a boomerang back to the house.

One unique feature of the app is its reliance on texting.  In fact, millennial-focused Strings uses no verbal communication. Leasing agents report the eerie-ness of showing Strings clients an apartment.  No one speaks, the only sound is the tap, tap, tap of their cellphones. Because of this, leasing agents send in the cleaning crews before a showing to ensure eye-level baseboards and floors are immaculate. One complex reportedly sends in a trained photogenic cat to up the cute-factor.


AF 2017 - WTF 1

Wallis, Tate & Feinstein’s founder, Pamela Wallis, was one of hundreds of trailing spouses whose husband was transferred to Dallas from California for work. The shock of moving from an expensive blue state to a comparatively low-cost red state was jarring.

“On my first house-hunting trip, my Realtor pulled up in an SUV with a Trump bumper sticker,” said Wallis. “I knew then that Louise Tate and Maggie Feinstein would be the perfect partners to ease the transition.”

Wallis’ big break came when her husband’s company asked her to handle all their California relocations. She’s since signed many west coast firms relocating to DFW.  Turns out her clients are also her best resource for adding new agents to the agency.  A horror shared is a horror halved.


AF 2017 - Trophy 1

Recently divorced? Moving on to greener pastures? Trophy is the brokerage for you. Begun by Stephen Boxter, Bill Harley, and Cassie Cougar, the brokerage has grown in a few short months to include 14 agents. And these agents feel your pain. All Trophy associates are required to have worked through their own seven-figure divorce settlements (on either side of the table) at least once.

For their fresh-on-the-dating-scene clients, they’re experts in the Uptown condo scene with a focus on the Azure, W Residences, and The House. Harley said they’re also poised for the rebound when the (next) pre-nup is signed, the wedding date set and the Park Cities call again.


AF 2017 - Flight 1

The good folks at Flight say there are three points in a person’s life. In your 20s (or sometimes 30s or 40s) when you leave your parent’s home for the first time, you head for the bright lights and two-for-one beers of the city. Parenthood boomerangs couples back to the burbs to raise a family. Finally, empty-nest boredom forces a rediscovery of the “arts and eats” scene, gravitationally bringing a more mature buyer back to the city.


AF 2017 - Welcome 1

Finally, DFW is one of the nation’s top markets for immigrants. Given the current political climate, a new agency named Welcome aims to ease the transition into sometimes phobic neighborhoods. Third-generation Texan and Welcome founder Ziba Shalmari knows all too well the assumptions made about actual and perceived immigrants these days. Shalmari told me her college-age daughter is routinely harassed by students. This treatment and last November’s viral story of Justin Normand holding a placard reading, “You belong. Stay strong. Be blessed. We are one America” outside a Muslim Center in Irving led to Welcome’s start.

And if you haven’t figured it out … for better or worse … APRIL FOOLS.  🙂


Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement.  If you’re interested in hosting a Staff Meeting event, I’m your guy. In 2016, my writing was recognized with Bronze and Silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email


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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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