Source: US Census

Yesterday, the U.S. Census released their latest numbers tracking population growth and distribution.  Surprise, surprise! Six of the top 10 largest-gaining counties were in Texas.  Surprise, surprise, surprise! Four of those were in the Metroplex – Collin, Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant. Totted-up, from July 2016 to July 2017, the Metroplex added 146,238 new residents, the most of any metro area. That’s a 12.4 percent gain … year over year!

Still think we’re overbuilding?


Surprisingly, Jon ain’t a big ol’ hypocrite on zoning

I write a bit about development projects that include zoning changes of some sort.  This is mostly because those that don’t require a zoning change just file their plans and they’re off.  There is no public discussion, except after, when we see the usual awfulness that we’re all left to look at.

Some, even’s editor, question me on what are seen as wildly inconsistent opinions with regard to zoning and resulting density.  I thought detailing my thought process would help others in how they think about zoning issues.

Every property is zoned for something.  Anything from Agriculture (AG) all the way up to the tallest skyscraper.  Land within a Planned Development District (PD) also has rules for what can be built on the land.  Land use within a PD may not be defined in the same language or categories as the standard zoning tables, but the documents that created them detail height, lot coverage, uses, etc.

That’s where I begin.


Dallas zoning map. Don’t worry, we’ll zoom in for a closer look.

As the City of Dallas grows, it will grow up and become more dense.  Neighborhoods that were thought to be fully developed aren’t. Streetscapes and views, unchanged for decades, are changing. And honestly, it’s a good thing overall.

The only way to grow and leave everything alone is to continue to build out into the unsustainable money pits of the suburbs.  Their miles and miles of endless roadways, sewers, water pipes, and bridges make these low-density spaces impossible to support from their tax base. If you think Dallas has potholes, visit a built-out, middle-income suburb on its 50th birthday.

Besides, you really want to live inside LBJ, right? And even if you don’t, you still need to understand zoning.



States using Transferable Development Rights (2009)

We all know the city needs to grow.  Unfortunately, all too often the NIMBY response is that development and density would be much better “over there” somewhere. What if it could? What if development goals could be achieved at the same time lower density could be selectively preserved?

There’s this legal thing called Transferable Development Rights and it could be selectively used to deal with the “over there” without impacting overall development.  Here’s how it works …


At last week’s National Association of Real Estate Editors’ conference, unsurprisingly, a lot of time focused on the state of the residential real estate market. The main drivers can be broken down into two large buckets that I’m further breaking down.  Part One focused on people and population issues, while this installment focuses on home construction.

The graphic above is a vivid illustration of all that’s wrong with homebuilding and the effects of extremely tight housing supplies and increasing prices.  For eight years we have built about half the housing units we need. Unfortunately, those were not eight years where humans stopped aging and young adults ceased wanting to get away from their Spiderman and Little Mermaid sheets.


Listening to experts discuss the state of the US housing market at the National Association of Real Estate Editors’ conference last week, two large forces were evident … people trends and building trends.  Put together, we have a good picture of what’s going on in housing. But within these large buckets, there remains a lot of nuance to unpack. This first installment will cover people and population trends.

Population and Housing

Population is broken into manageable, marketable pieces called “generations,” reflected in the graphic above that reports the number of births in a given generation.  Unfortunately for statisticians, the generations are not of equal duration.  One reason the Baby Boomers became the largest was that, as a generation, it’s up to three years the longer and also coupled with a period of increased birth rates.  By contrast, the poor Gen X-ers had lower birth rates but also the shortest “generation” timespan … a double whammy. Had Gen-X been as long as the Boomers, it would have had roughly the same birth size as the Millennials.



So we know what the experts say —  expect 2017 to be a more “normal” real estate market in North Texas and across the nation, with continued softness at the luxury level. Recall it was just in September that Starlight Capital chairman and CEO Barry Sternlicht said you couldn’t give away homes in the rich community of Greenwich, Ct — what he calls the “worst real estate market in the United States”:

“You can’t give away a house in Greenwich,” Sternlicht said Tuesday at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference in New York.

The town — about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of midtown Manhattan and home to some of the country’s largest hedge funds — is seeing a pile-up of houses on the market and prices that are faltering as properties linger. Home sales in the second quarter fell 18 percent from a year earlier to 169 deals, according to appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

At the same time, new listings surged 27 percent. The absorption period, or the time it would take to sell all the homes on the market at the current pace, was 12 months, compared with 7.7 months a year earlier, Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman said.

Greenwich is hurting because the luxury home market is soft. But it’s a totally different story at the other end of the spectrum, the market for affordable homes. North Texas is still so chock full of affordable housing, the folks at crowned us the most searched zip code of the year.

So, as it turns out, deep in the heart of Texas lies serious love for this humble site on behalf of hungry home searchers. The 10 most popular ZIPs of 2016 all hail from the state, and 18 of the top 20 ZIPs are from the biggest state in the lower 48.

I’m even quoted! But hey, we owe a whole lot to these two for boosting North Texas real estate in 2016:


Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper”Photo courtesy of Chip and Joanna Gaines



When many of us hear “no” we double down until we get a “yes” or at least a “maybe” response.  After years of discussions on development being drowned out by the often knee-jerk Not-in-My-Backyard NIMBYs, the YIMBYs are gathering their voice.

“Yes in My Backyard” is a movement that advocates for intelligent urban design that increases density, multi-income housing, public transit, and the resulting ubiquitous walking/biking urban “scene” of more mature cities like New York or Chicago.

In fact, YIMBY goals are really a throwback to how towns and cities used to operate before sprawl and economic xenophobia took root.  Even their term “urban village” harkens to the pre-automobile days when limited transportation required basic living needs to be centralized.  The natural outcome of centralization is proximity to housing that serves the myriad of people supporting those clustered services … from wealthy to worker. For example, the doctor purchased from the grocer who in turn was treated by the doctor.