Should this homeowner convert her garage into a living space, or is it a risky investment?

Should this homeowner convert her garage into a living space, or is it a risky investment?

Today we have a really good question for our Realtors and appraisers. A longtime reader, first-time writer from Casa View Haven:

We’ve been talking about converting our garage to a living room and I’m getting concerned about what it might do to our value. We need more space, but don’t know where to start!

I am trying to get answers from the city on the details of permitting, and so far it sounds difficult, time-consuming and expensive — just for the permit.

Well, in our experience, the best place to start is with contractors. We have a short list of the best builders and remodelers in Dallas, which is a great place to launch your home renovation or custom builder search. But what do you think about garage conversions? Will they help or hurt a home’s value?

Mark Cohan

He’s an attorney, she’s in architectural lighting design. They have been looking for a home “in the Loop” for nine months. Every time they find one they like, within their price range, they plunk down an offer and six other offers come in above asking… sometimes even when they have BID ABOVE ASKING.

But, this darling couple really wants to buy a house. Like many Millennials, they are ready, they are more than pre-qualified, and they have a lump sum of $100,000 for a hefty down payment. They are even, even willing to do some work on a less than perfect house if the price reflects that less-than-perfectness.

Dallas used to be the kind of town where young professionals like this could buy a starter home in a New York minute. What happened? Lack of inventory means they are swooped up, and starter homes are the hottest commodity in real estate right now! (more…)


What gives? A reader writes:


I’ve had a couple of recent broker interactions that I found to be strange, and wonder if you could help me out.  The pattern is this:  a property in which I’m interested suddenly sports a for sale sign.  I call the listing broker… then, I never get a call back. Within a week, the property is sold.

What the heck is going on?  Don’t brokers owe a fiduciary duty to their clients to, at the very least, return the phone calls of prospective buyers and test the market?  How are they able to identify and recommend a sale to their clients within just a few days of a property being listed when they don’t even respond to indications of interest?

This doesn’t make sense to me.

Thanks – AP

Dear AP: This is symptomatic of a hot, competitive market where homes go on the market and are sold in DAYS. Did you see our post about the $400,000 starter home in Hollywood heights? 903 Monte Vista. Note the time-line: the home was offered up in January of 2014… listed Jan. 20, 2014, active in MLS February 20, 2014, first contract came in and was executed February 23, back-up February 24. Home had 24 showings and 6 offers, only one below asking, three above list. So it had contracts (multiple) THREE days after hitting MLS.

I think the agents are scrambling busy. They would like to keep a home on the market long enough to get a better price, but in a pressure cooker market like our’s, it simply may not be possible.

OK, anyone else agree with my response. Or disagree? I do think, however, a SMART agent or broker always returns a phone call IF he or she wants a future customer!

open-house-red-arrow-shapedA reader writes:

Candy, we have had our home on the market now with a top-name agent (according to the “Best” lists, not someone I have seen on your blog) who has held a few open houses. Two to be exact. Our home has been on the market for over three months, no nibbles. My question is this: how many people should you expect at an open house?

Isn’t a Real Estate agent’s real horsepower in networking and connecting to lots of other agents who know other agents and buyers who might be interested in buying my home?

We have had 15 people max at each Open House (two). One was cancelled due to the weather.

Is that normal? I really do not know. I wonder if other sellers think about this, too, and hope you can tell me what we should expect in terms of a good turn out that is indicative that our agent is working hard for us. We are inside the 635 Loop. Thank you.

Oh boy, that’s a tough one. It depends on your location, obviously, the further out one lives the fewer lookers you will have in the boonies, say. That’s why you usually don’t see agents jumping to take on far-away ranch properties.

I go to a lot of open houses. The weekend/evening events are the best, and many agents have food, wine, and entertainment. Some will have drawings for gadgets like i-pads, all to draw you in to see their property and spread the word.

I’m going to say that a good agent should be able to pull out 60 to 100 people per open house. Please pipe in and tell me if I am on base, off base, or if the base has taken off for Oz.

Update, 3:21 p.m: agents are calling to tell me I must distinguish between an EVENT for a home, with food, music, booze and maybe some kind of gift, and a regular Joe weekend open house. Depends on high rise or single family prop, too. For these 15 to 20 is an acceptable turn-out. But this discussion is only beginning. Feel free to text, call or email your thoughts.



5314 Swiss Front

A reader writes:

“The homes are so beautiful on Swiss Avenue but seems like the homes for sale have been on market for a long time. Why do these homes take so long to sell and why does it seem like people are trying to move out?”

5314 Swiss Parlor

Let’s start by answering the second half of that question: Why does it seem like people are trying to move out? Of course, there are the same reasons most people move — changing jobs, capitalizing on a profitable market, closing an estate, downsizing — but considering this area, we wanted to find out if there wasn’t another reason. To answer this, we asked Cameron Kinvig, president of the Swiss Avenue Historic District Neighborhood Association, and owner of 4949 Swiss Avenue, the home that was featured in the Mary Ellen’s Will: The Battle for 4949 Swiss series by Lee Hancock.

I can’t tell you much about the homes for sale within the Swiss Avenue Historic District, or what motivates people to move out of the district (although I suspect it’s the same as everywhere else — as you mentioned, relocating for jobs, profitable market, estate issues, downsizing, etc.). I can tell you that the district is a great place to live and raise a family.  We have a great mix of long-time residents and families with young children. The district really shares a sense of community like a small town, and we socialize extensively within the district.  The homes all have character, and the owners all understand the joys and challenges that owning/renovating a historic home can bring.  Renovations are celebrated, and neighbors are always excited to see improvements being made. New neighbors quickly get to know others in the district, and are quickly adopted into the community.  The district really espouses a special sense of “place” within East Dallas, and I can’t recommend highly enough living there, as opposed to elsewhere in Dallas.  The first few months I owned my house I had a steady stream of neighbors from several blocks up Swiss, and on Bryan Parkway and LaVista stopping by to introduce themselves and wish me well.  I think you’d be hard-pressed to find that sense of community elsewhere in Dallas.

5314 Swiss Foyer

So, from Cameron’s perspective, Swiss Avenue is a unique place, but it doesn’t present many more challenges than other historic areas of Dallas, such as Hollywood Heights, Junius Heights, Munger Place, Winnetka Heights — all of which require homeowners to meet specific historic standards when renovating these homes.

5314 Swiss Living

Now, the first part of the question asks why these homes have been on the market for a long time. There are four Swiss Avenue properties listed right now, with the most recent listing having been on the market for just 50 days, and the oldest being on MLS for 291 days. Two of them are listed with Elizabeth Mast and Robby Sturgeon of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage of Lakewood/Northeast Dallas. Here’s what these two Realtors had to say about listing on Swiss Avenue (emphasis added).

We have experienced a large uptick in the real estate market in general, and East Dallas in particular has increased in popularity because of its close proximity to Downtown.  Our recent sales show that homeowners on Swiss Avenue, for many different reasons, are downsizing and are now taking advantage of this robust market.

It may seem that many of these homes are on the market longer than others in the area, but the truth is that these homes appeal to very special buyers; buyers who value the diversification and uniqueness of a historic district, and the architectural detail that cannot not be replicated today.   It’s also important to mention that many of these homes are greatly sought after, and are sold as private sales.

While many of the homes are nearly a century old and require ongoing maintenance, they are always a labor of love for their owners.  It is that very shared interest and passion that brings the Swiss Avenue Historic District together as a neighborhood.  The advantage to marketing an historic district like Swiss Avenue is the opportunity to share with others the history and stories that make each home unlike any other. The incredible sense of community and true neighborhood feel make Swiss Avenue stand apart.

Well, there you have it! I hope we answered your question, reader, and if you’re interested in this incredible home that we’ve shown in this post, it’s 5314 Swiss — a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath beauty marketed by Mast and Sturgeon for a $1.15 million. That’s an absolute steal for a home of this magnitude and in this area.

5314 Swiss Dining 5314 Swiss Master 5314 Swiss Office 5314 Swiss Master Bath 5314 Swiss Garden

For Rent Scam

As more homes hit the market, more rental scams hit CraigsList and other free classified sites, asking for deposits and fees before a potential tenant has seen a contract, or the property for that matter. Scammers are finding plenty of material on home searching sites that they then hijack for their own purposes, which makes this a truly difficult situation for both renters and Realtors.

We asked veteran Realtor, broker and founder of, Colin Lardner, if he had any tips or tricks to help avoid scammers who might poach a listing or photos to bilk an unwitting renter.

“Keep a close tab on the syndicate sites (Trulia, Zillow, etc.) and inform them immediately when you see something wrong,” Lardner offered. “We have also contacted the FBI when we see a poached listing.”

On the flipside, Lardner says that it’s unlikely a scammer will poach listing information from Craigslist. “We have found that higher quality prospects come from other sources,” Lardner said. Still, tenants should watch out for fake listings as “Craigslist seems to get a fair amount of abuse from scam artists.”

But how do homeowners protect themselves from scammers spreading photos and information on their homes all over the Internet? Well, they don’t have too much to worry about, Lardner said, as prospective renters are more often victims of fraud than sellers or homeowners.

“Scammers are putting themselves out there as the owner and taking rent and deposit money from the prospect,” Lardner said, adding that vets all owners and tenants rigorously, filtering through most scam artists and cons.

So, how do Realtors protect themselves from scams? By using MLS, Lardner said.

“MLS is hard to scam. If Realtors are searching for listings there they should be protected from the type of scams we see from people posing as owners,” Lardner said. “We are always available to the Realtor community to facilitate any property management and leasing issues.”

Have other questions about buying, selling, and leasing? Send us an email at

White Rock Crosssing Rendering

White Rock Crossing Cohousing Rendering

For a long time, the lot just across from Redeemer Bible Church and caddy corner to Robert T. Hill Middle School at Easton and East Lake Highlands was a cut-through for drivers too impatient to wait behind cars stopped for pickups at the end of the school day. Today, well, it’s a quiet construction site with a sign that says something to the effect of “Future home of White Rock Crossing.”

But after months of no visible progress at 700 Easton Road, a concerned reader tweets:

Diego Lopez Tweet


We sent a note over to a representative for AndersonSargent Homes, the developer of White Rock Crossing, Julie Duke. She says that the co-housing development is still on track, and that they are preparing to pour streets.

She also said that four of the units are pre-sold, and that there are no plans for speculative construction. And that’s all she said. I was really kind of put off by how abrupt our email conversation was, and how few facts and zero elaboration on the state of White Rock Crossing was provided.

I hope that helps you some, Diego, and if any of our readers have more to add, please give us the dirt in the comments!

130710, FamPic1607 Jensen1

A Reader Writes:

Here is a picture of the fam in front of our townhome. We are still all over the place in terms of where to live and find the perfect neighborhood. When I wrote you last, it was Lake Highlands. A week before that, it was UP. Today, it’s Lakewood.

As you can see from the pic, we need some room for the family. I hope I can convince the hubs to have a 3rd baby by next year. If I prove persuasive enough, we’ll have 3 kiddos. We know we will need space for kids, a nanny, and a good public elementary. Whether that is buying a 4 bedroom in Lake Highlands, building an extra living quarters onto a 3 bedroom in Lakewood, or just sacrificing to get into (a shoebox) in Park Cities is a daily discussion. On top of that, each of those submarkets have micromarkets within. We want some value-add/fixer-upper potential, but to what degree, we are not sure. We just know that we don’t want to commute, and we don’t want to pay for private school.

We still have a lot of soul searching to do, and any advice helps.

What a beautiful family! Please tell your husband you have to have at least one more baby because your children (and y’all) are so beautiful!

Your’s is the classic Dallas dilemma brought on by what has been, in some parts of town, a mediocre public school system for the last 30 years. Of course you’re all over the place because Dallas has so many wonderful neighborhoods close in, but you have children to educate and I’m sure security and safety are also important.

My daughter just moved to Lakewood, submarket Hollywood Heights Santa Monica, because of the great elementary schools and leafy terrain. The great public schools in Lakewood are driving that market up up and away. To a certain extent, the same thing is happening around Kramer Elementary up near JanMar and Northaven, and really around any high-performing public school. Let’s enlist the help of our talented real estate community to help you narrow down the selection, and find you a new home!

PS: I’m with you on Lakewood. Today, at least!