10/03/13 2:00pm

Home tour season has heated up and the DFW Solar Tour this Saturday is the hottest of them all.

More than 30 homes and and buildings with solar energy systems will be open to the public across the Dallas area. The self-guided tour organized by the North Texas Renewable Energy Group is part of a larger national grassroots event put on by the American Solar Energy Society that promotes the benefits of sun power. Attendees will see different kinds of solar installations, talk to the homeowners about their experiences, and take a peek at some unique homes in the Dallas area.

Program co-coordinator Lissa Magel says this year’s free event is the biggest she’s seen in its four-year existence. Last year’s event drew a little more than 20 homes and about 400 attendees.

“This year, we’re happy to have more participating homes in Dallas,” she says. “In the past they’ve been mostly in the surrounding areas.”

When it comes to energy trends, solar is sizzling. Globally, it has outpaced all other forms of energy project starts this year. U.S. companies like Solar City, which is chaired by PayPal and Tesla Motor founder Elon Musk, are seeing rapid growth. And locally, Oncor’s solar credits program for 2013 has been drained by North Texas homeowners, including groups like Plano Solar Advocates who have used group purchasing to obtain discounts on residential panels and other equipment.

With all the new interest in this oldest of energy sources, many homeowners dream of converting their home to solar for the cost savings and environmental benefits. The process, however, can be daunting. The Solar Tour is a chance for them to meet people who have actually done it and learn from their experiences.

Tour participant and electrical engineer Bob Litwins says he “took the plunge” and installed a small solar system on his Plano home in 2009, one of the first in the city. He estimates that he gets about a third of his electric power from the system and, combined with other energy reduction measures, has cut his power use by 45 percent.

He placed his home on the tour in 2009 and is back again this year.

“It’s great interacting with people when they’re are here and helping them learn about the practical nature of having solar,” he says.

The question he gets asked most by visitors is, how much does it cost? He estimates that he would spend about $7,500 for a system similar to his. The cost would be reduced by about half by federal tax credits and energy company incentives.

NTREG’s Magel has a few tips for prospective homebuyers who are looking for a house to convert. She suggests they find a property with a southern exposure, preferably in the back yard where rooftop solar panels aren’t noticeable from the street. Ranch and prairie-style homes make good candidates, because their low-angle, continuous rooflines take advantage of light for long periods of the day. And buyers should check with the neighborhood’s home owners association to confirm there are no rules that prohibit solar panels. Legally, it is becoming more difficult for associations to ban the panels, but there are holdouts.

Before homeowners start a solar conversion, Magel suggests they first take a look at ways they can decrease their current energy consumption. Getting rid of duplicate appliances and convenience gadgets, and using energy efficient lighting may provide enough benefits. If homeowners do decide to go solar, they can design a system that provides a percentage of their total energy and expand it later.

To participate in this year’s tour, visit the locations page at DFWSolarTour.org and determine which homes you’d like to visit. Locations are clustered mainly in the northern, western and southern sections of the Dallas area.

The website includes photos of each home, the type of solar installations it has, directions, comments from the homeowners, and information on additional alternative energy projects, such as wind turbines and electric cars. Most locations are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, though a few have different hours, so check carefully.

Highlights of this year’s tour include:

The Allen, McKey (pictured), Shine and Smades houses: This cluster of four single family homes on 10 acres in Oak Leaf is the brainchild of four sisters—Connie, Jan, Elaine and Paula. They’ve essentially built their own “green” subdivision. Visitors will see how each incorporated solar into these homes constructed by green building guru Jim Sargent.

The Smith House: This is a chance to take a look at a classic piece of Dallas residential architecture while learning about solar. This 1961 mid-century modern Dilbeck was completely renovated in 2008. It has a flat roof that’s tailor made for the home’s passive and active solar systems and the DIY homeowners will be happy to talk about how they did it.


The Squyres House: It took three years, but these Flower Mound homeowners have reached net zero—meaning they pay no electricity bill whatsoever. Visitors will learn about how they completed the project in stages. And then take a look at the homeowners hot Tesla electric sports car.

Renner “Off-Grid” House: Weatherford is a hike from Dallas, but it’s worth it to see this homeowner’s effort to reduce his carbon footprint. The home has been completely off the “grid” for 11 months and has a mix of alternative energy features, including solar, wind and rainwater.

Marc LeeMarc Lee is a freelance writer and film buff who loves real estate almost as much as Candy herself. He lives in Dallas. Contact him via marc@marcsclips.com.

09/16/13 4:30pm

The Old Oak Cliff Conservation League has announced the locations for its 2013 home tour, which benefits neighborhoods and nonprofits in the district.

The tour is one of the oldest of its kind in the city. This year, from noon to 6 p.m. on Oct. 12 and 13, visitors can view 12 homes from seven historic neighborhoods. The houses range from solid craftsman homes to stately colonials, post-modern ranches to stunning contemporaries.

“This year’s tour stretches from Kessler to Kiestwood and includes homes from the 1917 to 2007,” said OOCCL president Philip Leven. “We’re especially pleased to have a home in North Cliff which has not been represented on the Tour in several years, and a home in South Winnetka, which is a first-ever for that neighborhood.  Our goal is to showcase the quality and variety of the homes and the neighborhoods of Oak Cliff. You’ll see beautiful historic restoration, repurposed older structures, and sensitive new construction, in everything from a 1,600-square-foot bungalow to a 4,500-square-foot contemporary.”

The OCCL recently announced the beneficiaries of the 2012 home tour, which included neighborhood grants for street sign toppers, sidewalk improvements, school uniforms, crime watch signs, and murals. Oak Cliff nonprofits that received grants included Fort Worth Avenue Development Group for Western Heights Cemetery Maintenance, Hampton-Illinois Library Friends, the Turner House, Friends of Oak Cliff Parks and The Well Community.

Home tour tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for seniors 60 and older on the day of the tour, and can be purchased at W. 7th Street and Bishop Ave in the Bishop Arts District. Discounted advance tickets ($20 adult and $12 senior) are available at Tom Thumb stores located at 315 South Hampton Road, 5809 East Lovers Ln., and 6333 E Mockingbird Ln. You can also buy tickets online at the OOCCL website.

Here are the homes in this year’s tour:

1347 Cedar Hill in East Kessler Park

1347 Cedar Hill in East Kessler Park

1645 Junior in East Kessler Park

1645 Junior in East Kessler Park

1811 Evergreen Hills in Kessler Park

1811 Evergreen Hills in Kessler Park

2916 W. Greenbriar in Kessler Park

2916 W. Greenbriar in Kessler Park

2526 W. Tenth in Kessler Plaza

2526 W. Tenth in Kessler Plaza

2450 Five Mile Circle in Kiestwood

2450 Five Mile Circle in Kiestwood

905 N. Montclair in Kings Hwy

905 N. Montclair in Kings Hwy

1325 Kings Hwy. in Kings Hwy.

1325 Kings Hwy. in Kings Hwy.

2847 Ivandell in North Cliff

2847 Ivandell in North Cliff

701 S. Clinton in South Winnetka

701 S. Clinton in South Winnetka

1910 Marydale in Stevens Park Estates

1910 Marydale in Stevens Park Estates

1939 W. Colorado in in Stevens Park Estates

1939 W. Colorado in Stevens Park Estates

09/09/13 12:30pm

Shopping for a house requires the organizational skills of a master planner. How do you remember every detail of the listing you just looked at—never mind the house from last week or last month?

It can be nerve wracking to say the least. So we’ve put together a list of iPhone apps to help you pull everything together (many are also available for Windows and Android). Arm yourself with these tools and you’ll never forget which charming 60’s ranch house has a water heater in the guest bedroom.

Do you have a favorite app? Let us know about it in the comments.

Snap it, measure it, look it up — owning these apps creates a library in your pocket.

The Real Estate Dictionary

dictionaryMost real estate dictionaries cost between $4 and $10. Some are even $50. This bare-bones, no-cost app stands out among the free options.

Assets: It’s an easy to navigate and comprehensive dictionary of real estate terms—from construction to contract. When your home inspector is blathering on about a cracked collar beam, you can quickly discover just what that is.

Liabilities: There’s no search function, so users have to navigate to a letter tab and then scroll.

Mortgage Calculator Pro

mortcalcThere are a ton of free mortgage calculator apps out there, and you get what you pay for. This is the single non-free app in the survey, but it’s worth every penny of the 99 cents it costs.

Assets: Users can save various loans and loan configurations, so there’s no need to retype the information each time. This makes it easy to add or subtract variables, such as HOA fees, maintenance costs, different interests rates, and play with the numbers. Users can send loan info and amortization schedules to contacts via email. It also has features for auto and other kinds of loans, so it’s not a one-and-done purchase.

Liabilities: There’s no option for interest-only loans, it’s not free, and it’s brown … so much brown.


homesnapHomesnap is a little creepy. It lets users search a map of listings,  just like the major listings-search apps below, but its main feature is to “snap” a photo of any house and dig up its county appraisal and recent sale info. Homesnap also has a “stealth” mode that identifies houses near the user’s GPS location and serves up the same kind of goods.

Assets: Immediately identify the tax appraisal and see other interesting info on homes surrounding any listing.

Liabilities: Immediately feel like a creep.

Magic Plan

magicplanThis app is so good that it should actually cost something. Magic Plan allows a user to capture the dimensions and features of any room in a house. The process is just like taking a series of photos. The app then returns room dimensions and door locations so users can easily determine whether or not they can wedge their grand piano in the study.

Assets: Create a floor plans for multiple houses quickly with photos and notes. Users can email room plans in pdf and jpg formats for free. The app also allows users to send the data to Home Depot flooring departments, share it on social media and more.

Liabilities: It can be difficult to use in narrow spaces like galley kitchens and other oddly shaped rooms.


evernoteWhile not specifically related to house hunting, Evernote is a do-it-all note-taking app that has uses even after the closing papers are signed.


Assets: Evernote is actually a suite of tools that lets users capture web pages, bundle photos, record voice notes, and just type plain old notes. Each can be organized into an individual notebook that can be synched among all of a user’s computers and devices, and shared with friends, whether they are Evernote users or not.

Liabilities: None. Download it now!

These apps all do the same basic thing: They allow you look at homes on the market. Plug in a ZIP Code or a neighborhood, a price range, and parameters such as number of bedrooms and baths, and the apps display the results on a map or on a list. All have websites that synch with the user’s phone, so a search saved on a laptop shows up on the user’s mobile device. All have photo galleries, MLS information and agent info.

What makes one better than the other? Let’s plow through their strengths and weaknesses:


realtorcomAssets: Like other apps of its ilk, realtor.com uses your phone’s GPS to display nearby properties. Its standout feature is that it allows the user to draw a circle, square or any other closed shape on the map and shows only listings within the boundary. Buyers can also share favorite properties and other information with their agent from within the app.

Liabilities: Searches for recently sold listings don’t show prices, but they do show the amount under or over the asking price for which the property sold. Users can’t save sold listings as favorites.

For Sale By Owner

fsboAssets: This is the most useful app to find listings that aren’t on the MLS, and DIYers will find it intuitive to use. Its search results highlight pending sales, new listings and regular sales, and it keeps a history of results, which is handy if you forget to save a favorite.

Liabilities: There is limited information on each property and there are fewer properties to view than on the MLS. The app also doesn’t offer links to schools, tax information or similarly helpful info.


truliaAssets: Trulia’s best feature is its ability to plot neighborhood amenities on a map. Buyers can see the nearest grocery stores, parks, gas stations banks with ratings and reviews from Yelp. Users can also toggle map overlays for information on crime, flooding, earthquakes and more.

Liabilities: Trulia app doesn’t default to residential property searches, so the user will want to dial in specific settings—unless they just happen to like looking at vacant industrial lots. Map overlays for crime are very general “heat maps” and don’t display information on number or type of criminal activities.


redfinAssets: This app includes decent mortgage calculator that allows a user quickly summarize monthly ownership costs, including insurance, taxes, and bills. It also provides the most detailed information on sold properties in its class, including prices. Users can take notes and add their own photos to favorite properties.

Liabilities: Agent features work only with Redfin agents.


zillowAssets: Zillow presents clear, easy-to-skim listing info with multiple graphs and charts that summarize financing estimates and the home’s position on the market, including Zillow’s own estimate of its worth. There are direct links to a property’s listing on the county tax sites, and summary of its tax history in the app. The app also allows users to get custom mortgage quotes from online brokers.

Liabilities: Map icons are subtle and can be difficult differentiate from one another. There is no rental search.


Marc LeeMarc Lee is a freelance writer and film buff who loves real estate almost as much as Candy herself. He lives in Dallas. Contact him via marc@marcsclips.com.

09/03/13 6:00am

(Editors Note: Please welcome Marc Lee to the CandysDirt.com team! Marc is an experienced writer with a love of real estate that makes us girls swoon. Read on for more, and send him a note at marc@marcsclips.com)

1. exterior

Pre-owned homes in desirable southern neighborhoods seem to pop on and off the market as quickly as craft beer bottle caps in the Bishop Arts District.

Only a few years ago, scoring a great deal on a house, like this stuccoed Winnetka Heights craftsman listed at $275,000 by Gia Marshello of Coldwell Banker, seemed almost too easy. But Dallas real estate prices have zoomed past pre-recession highs, according to surveys like the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index, and solo professionals and young families have to keep an eye on value like never before.

4. Liv and fireplace

“Winnetka Heights and Kessler Park are the neighborhoods that people flock to now,” says Marshello. “There are several nice streets and they’re close to downtown.”

This three-bedroom, two-bath 1925 bungalow with breezy wrap-around porch sits on a secluded, shady, tree-lined street that seems miles away from anything urban. But it’s close enough to Oak Cliff’s entertainment districts to hop on a bike and grab a slice of pizza. And it’s an easy pedal over the bridge to work. Children could attend the well-regarded Rosemont Elementary a short walk away, or The Kessler School, a private elementary campus in Kessler Park.

5. entry and study

Two bedrooms and a bath with claw foot tub downstairs belong to kids or guests, while the master suite perches on the second story. Windows on all sides of the bedroom provide sweeping views of the architecturally significant homes in the neighborhood and a green swath of the back yard.

Multiple built-ins, hardwoods, heavy wood-and-glass entry doors, and detailed millwork bring out the historical charm of every one of the home’s 1,921 square feet. But the tile-faced living-room fireplace and its flanking bookshelves make the most elegant statement.

The original kitchen has been replaced and updated with cherry-faced cabinetry, granite countertops, and a matching stainless steel appliance package that will give the new owners a modern place to make a meal. And a study just off the living room — somewhat rare for this kind of house, Marshello says — is a cozy place to pay the bills.

6. kitchen

Back to the nuts-and-bolts of value: The water heater, plumbing, insulation, and HVAC at 218 N. Rosemont Ave. have all been recently replaced or updated over the past few years. While not quite worth their weight in gold, they’re pretty close.

The home’s value has steadily risen, even during the recession years, according to tax assessments and Marshello’s own calculations.

“A year ago, it would have been listed at $235K to $250K,” she says, but compared with similar homes in the neighborhood, it’s priced in a solid middle ground. A quick look at listings of similar properties show prices range from $245,000 to $312,000.

7. master bed

The average sale price for a single family Oak Cliff home is $270,000, according to the latest figures from online real estate database Zillow, down about 7.2% from a year ago. As a comparison, the average sale price for Dallas as a whole is $277,700, up 15% from the same time last year. Oak Cliff seems to have slightly more stable prices than the rest of the city, which is definitely a consideration for buyers if we are caught up in a regional housing bubble.

But it’s all-too-easy to get caught up in the money game and forget about quality of life issues. With its amenities, spacious rooms and proximity to entertainment, schools and jobs, this may be a perfect starter home.

10. downstairs bath

The neighborhood association even has complimentary beer and wine tastings at its meetings. Makes it easy to get to know the neighbors. And get to know the neighborhood better, too.

11. exterior rear