Back in March, I wrote a column about a mystery buyer wanting a partner-in-renovation to separate a double penthouse listing at The Claridge on Turtle Creek. Unit 18 A/B had been on the market for four years with three agents during which it had over $1 million in price reductions. That mystery buyer was me. I’d hoped to find someone interested in separating the units with each of us going our own renovation way – to no avail.
A few were interested in carving up the 5,311-square-foot unit, but they wanted so much space that it made the remaining B-unit unsalable – one wanting to leave me an oversized studio with only a half bath.
So I noodled and penciled for weeks and weeks trying to get someone to see the investment potential. I spoke with a banker to seek an investor or flipper. No dice. So I noodled and penciled some more. In the end, a deal was struck with the help of all parties, including the seller’s agent, Sharon Quist from Dave Perry-Miller Real Estate. We all found a way for me to buy the whole freaking thing. According to Quist, “I’ve never done a deal like this in 40 years.”
So I’m now under contract on a 5,311-square-foot double penthouse on Turtle Creek that hasn’t been lived in for 16 years and left untouched since “Herkie” Herkimer of cheerleading school fame connected the unit shells back in 1994. No expense seemed spared on execution, it’s just that everything is so very dated. Also, a big turn-off to buyers looking at the whole thing was the never-ending floorplan and how to reconfigure it to make sense. I doubt it made a lot of sense in 1994.
I’ve written before about “thick” and “thin” high-rise floorplans and how connecting units often results in bad layouts. This connected unit became clumsy and ultra-thin with every room unendingly connecting to another – it stretches so long the original blueprint is two pages.
In addition to being very long, room locations were sometimes nonsensical. At one end (right) was the B-unit’s original main living/dining space that had been used as the master suite. However, the original master suites were in the center of the floorplan. This meant you had to pass by another bedroom, guest bathroom and office (the former B-master) to get to the master bathroom and closets. And adding to that oddity was the complete, and largely unused kitchen literally behind the master bedroom headboard – to say nothing of the laundry room turned chapel.
Instead of trying to base a renovation on what the unit is today, I went back to the building’s original blueprints to see how it was supposed to be. That made a lot more sense, and after hours poring over and fine-tuning a new configuration, I was convinced to first go after the B-unit, and ultimately the whole thing. (Don’t buy a renovation project without knowing your goals.)
Why Move At All?
When I finally finished my multi-year Athena renovation, I thought I was done renovating for a while. Then this opportunity popped up. Before I bought at the Athena, I was looking exclusively along Turtle Creek, but when I relented and toured the Athena, it offered the most bang for my buck – and I’m all about the bang.
Flash forward, and the opportunity to purchase a Turtle Creek penthouse with 12-foot walls of glass (for roughly the same cost per square foot as I was selling my Athena home for) was too enticing – another bang. Especially when I saw that two sales of renovated units on the penthouse level had sold for between $225 and $325 per square foot more – and another renovated, non-penthouse unit sold in the same ballpark. There was enough of a price gap to make a renovation pay off. Finally, to further buoy my spirits, a dated unit on the second floor recently went under contract listed at $2 more per square foot than I secured for the penthouse. Surely a penthouse is worth more than a dated second-floor unit overlooking Lemmon Avenue, A/C chillers, and power lines?
The View: Here Today, Here Tomorrow
Another thing that made the project tempting was the counterintuitive nature of the view. Units 18 A and B look away from downtown. I think that’s long-term good. My reporting on the Oak Lawn Committee has vividly shown me that there will continue to be a density boom in West Village, Uptown and Oak Lawn.
Between The Claridge and downtown, Turtle Creek Park runs parallel to and even curves slightly away from the city. This means its green carpet doesn’t protect views of the downtown skyline. Heaven forbid that three-story 1980s office building on the left of the Claridge (zoned for 240-feet max) is ever redeveloped.
Proving my point, in addition to the 400-foot Granite tower opposite the Crescent, on July 18 a trio of high-rises was announced in Uptown near the Quadrangle. Bounded by Cedar Springs Road and Routh, Howell, and Fairmount Streets the buildings seem to top out at 22 stories. Expect more information at Oak Lawn Committee meetings for the invariable zoning requests.
However, on the other side of the building, Turtle Creek Park curves in a straighter line away from the building before running into Park Cities (which won’t be building skyscrapers anytime soon). This means that views seem more protected. Also, existing Turtle Creek high-rises offer visual interest with little room for more.
On the other side, West Village continues to become denser, but it’s more “right” of these unit’s view plane. Several nearby lots are zoned for height. The lot immediately “right” has two zoning areas allowing 48 feet furthest away and 90 feet closest to The Claridge. Moving towards Central Expressway and the three blocks are all zoned for heights up to 240-feet. While there’s nothing announced yet, as Dallas grows, it’s only a matter of time. The most recent change was in January 2017 when Gable’s block was rezoned to “three High-Rises”.
On the other hand, the A-corner sees straight up Lemmon Avenue towards Love Field. There’s the potential for more development in this area, but it too will not encroach on the main views – especially with Oak Lawn Park as a constant buffer.
Aside from views, there’s vibrancy Preston Hollow can’t match. I’ll soon be getting a new Central Market at McKinney and Lemmon Avenues. Eatzi’s and Scardello Artisan Cheese are a few blocks away. In addition to all the nearby restaurants (Grimaldi’s!), I’ll not be starved for choice.
… and you know me, being next to the Katy Trail, it’s a much nicer place to walk than sidewalk-less Preston Hollow.
The Math and The Plan
So WTF is a single guy going to do with 5,311 square feet? Easy. Restore it to two units as intended (with a few modifications, natch). Once the A-unit is renovated, it will be sold off.
Aside from not needing 5,311 square feet, that’s how the numbers worked out to get the smaller B-side I’d really wanted all along. Buy both, renovate one, sell it, and live in the other side while I slowly renovate it. Being the poorest person in the building, it’ll take a while to renovate my B-side – a tiny mortgage beats an immediately swanky pad any day.
Oh, and since I’m not nuts, in addition to my own math, I’d provided a lot of numbers to a banker who agreed – at the end of the day, the numbers are great, the problem was getting poor me to the end.
Why am I telling you?
Not being a terrifically showy person, you may be wondering why I’m telling you all this? Easy. You, dear readers, will have a front-row seat for all the heartache, joy, and tear-stained bills. This Penthouse Plunge series will follow my progress from first hammer swing to A-unit sale.
May God have mercy on us all – but especially me. Fingers crossed I make it to closing.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email email@example.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.