When buying into a high-rise for the first time, there are things you don’t necessarily think about as ground dwellers. Sure there’s the same ol’ “location, location, location” hoo-ha, but for example, while neighborhood matters, actual neighbors matter in a high-rise … what’s the vibe of a building? That’s an individual choice that I can’t help you with.
But there are directions I can point you in to get you started in evaluating your first high-rise.
Back in 2015 I wrote about high-rise demographics and outlined how resident age and income can impact more than just the number of tricycles and walkers in the hallways, but how the HOA is likely to save, spend, and operate. Another demographic is the ratio of homesteaders in each building. This matters because you want to understand the rental component in a building … tenants notoriously don’t care as much as owners. To catch up, click here, here, and here. The information is still valid. In the past two years there have not been any building-wide demographic “great migrations” in Dallas’ high-rise ownership.
In this series, I’ll give you a table of information on each building. I’ll report on each building’s age, size of building, 2016 sale prices per square foot, HOA dues and the amenities those dues pay for. I’ll also report as many special assessments as I can uncover.
I’ve began with this group in particular because they were the first, but also because they were built as apartments in an era where your rent included utilities. As condos, these buildings’ HOA dues still cover all utilities, some even bundling TV and internet into the package. It’s definitely something to factor in as it may represent hundreds of dollars of difference per month.
Another unthought benefit to having utilities centralized is the minimal space taken up by their equipment in your unit. Some buildings, where the owner is responsible for utilities, have water heaters in each unit along with various HVAC equipment. Not so in these older buildings. Sure, some have an air handler, but I’ve seen those buried in walls or ceilings. Compare that with newer buildings that dump a walk-in closet full of gear and gadgetry in each unit … space you pay for and really can’t use … that, and oh, you have to maintain in addition to your dues. In utilities-included buildings, HOA dues cover the costs to repair and maintain these systems. Why they stopped building residential high-rises this way, I’ll never know, although I’m sure money played a part.
Special assessments are a loaded category. Sometimes they pay for unplanned (but great) things like Twenty-One’s $2.5 million assessment in 2008 which paid for double-pane windows that save the building a ton on utility costs. But some are the result of poor savings, deferred maintenance, and other foreseeable expenditures (replacing worn boilers should never be a shock). These are a red flag to anyone who likes their financial outlays stable. When I see multiple, regular, almost scheduled, special assessments, I see HOA dues that are too low. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather pay a few extra bucks a month than get hit every few years with a multi-thousand dollar special assessment.
The surest way to avoid special assessments is for a building to have an extensive, long-range capital plan that lists all the components of the building and their expected life span, coupled with the revenues to pay for upkeep. Demand to see it before you buy. Tip: 10- or 20-year plans are not long-range enough.
When is a Concierge not a Concierge?
When I see lists of building amenities, a few put a twinkle in my eye. Many buildings claim to have a “concierge” but it’s not what the well-traveled consider a concierge. To us, a concierge is someone who could get us a table for eight at the hottest restaurant in town on Valentine’s Day with three-hour’s notice. Condos use the dictionary definition that’s analogous to a porter or doorman, so damn the torpedoes, I’m calling them porters. Oddly, at one point “concierge” and “warden” were interchangeable. I’ll let you noodle on that.
Mary Justice and Lily Law
Finally, it’s also worth tasking your Realtor to ask and search for recent lawsuits involving your intended building. Having recently reported on a spate of lawsuits (here and here) involving HOAs and management companies, it’s definitely worth having a look to make sure you’re not on the hook. You’ll want to ensure you’re not buying into a litigious building or being managed by a company that racks up significant court time either. Why? Ultimately payouts come from all owners’ pockets.
Dallas’ first residential high-rise turns 60 this year, and they’ve been busy refurbishing what had become a dated building. Gone are the 80s disco elevators. Making a return in time for the big 60th bash in October will be the Turtle Room, with its double-height, floor-to-ceiling windows facing Turtle Creek. The building is a conundrum for me. While I’ve named them as having the best floor plans in the city, I’m no fan of the exterior. Word has it the concrete lattice is very attractive to birds and their droppings … something to watch out for (in more many high-rises). I’m also frightened by the HOA dues, but there are a lot of amenities to maintain. If those amenities are of value to you personally, then it’s a win-win. But I don’t have a pet, use pools, saunas or valets, nor have parties bigger than my shower living room.
Twenty-One may have been on the drawing board as low-income housing, but it’s come a long way since then. Units tend to be small but with good closet space. Recent work on the exterior has refreshed the facade and made for a happier building. The double-pane windows cut utility costs but improved temperature control (no summer frying) and also cut noise from Love Field traffic. Win-win-win. Lots of studios and one-bedroom units typically make this a starter-condo with reasonable HOAs considering the utility component. HVAC is two-pipe with either heat or AC on, not both.
Park Towers is my poster child for the consequences of deferred maintenance. In recent years, huge special assessments and big jump in HOA dues convinced many owners to sell. The units are well-sized and the location is pretty sweet adjoining the Katy Trail and Turtle Creek. If the other side of the street gets off its redevelopment butt, it’ll be in the thick of a revitalized area. The other drawback is the ruination of an elegant façade by the haphazard enclosure of balconies.
It’s no secret and no lie that I love the exterior of The Gold Crest. Architect George Dahl did it so well it’s where he chose to live until his death. The complex is smaller with just 56 units, but they’re glorious units with sweeping balconies unmarred by enclosures. As you can see there was just one public sale in 2016. That’s not to say more units didn’t change hands privately. Currently there are two units on the market with Judith Lifson of Dave Perry-Miller (801, 301), doubling last year’s volume.
Another starter condo, Turtle Creek North is a mid-size building with very reasonable HOA dues. It’s worth noting that while the dues pay for utilities, Turtle Creek North operates on another two-pipe building so there will be weeks during the changeover when it’s likely to be a little nippy or sweaty if the weather is unseasonable. The cost per square foot has a wide swing, the result of renovated and unrenovated unit sales. This tells a buyer that renovation can be a good investment.
That ends this first installment. The buildings featured include utilities in their HOA dues which adds another wrinkle to a buyer’s number-crunching. My goal is to cover every high-rise in Dallas … 41 buildings … but I’m finding some buildings are less forthcoming with information. Anyone who can help fill in the blanks for amenities, past special assessments, and pet policies for the following buildings, shoot me an email (email@example.com), I’m all ears.
Bonaventure, Shelton, 8181 Douglas, SOCO Urban Lofts, The Beat, Park Plaza, and Travis @ Knox.
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 Candysdirt.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.