Building permit (finally) in hand, demolition of the A-unit began on overdrive to make up for lost time. The main concentration was to gut the kitchen and bathrooms on the A-side.  Unless this is your first time reading about the Penthouse Plunge, you know that I purchased a 5,311-square-foot double penthouse at the Claridge on Turtle Creek. My plan is to re-divide the units, renovate and sell the A-unit while I happily live in the B-side.

As you know from my recent donation to Habitat for Humanity, the A-side kitchen had already been disassembled and donated. But there’s more to kitchen demolition than the cabinets and fridge.

In this case, opening the walls revealed their quirks – as they always do.

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Back in 2016, I recognized 3525 Turtle Creek for having the best high-rise floor plans. I said they were pretty fine as-is, but also were very malleable for owners to change with the times. Most of you know this building was built in 1957 as Dallas’ first residential high-rise. Since that column, I’ve often wondered why older buildings generally have better floor plans. I mean, you’d think they’d get better – learn from the past and all that. But they don’t. I’ve quizzed a few architects and come up with a theory.

Too many cooks.  Back in the early days, the architect who designed the exterior also designed the interior – typically at the same time. Working this way enabled one mind to be at work at one point in time. As it is today, the municipal and neighborhood approval processes are so long and cumbersome (and expensive) that all too often the designer of the skin is far removed from whomever eventually completes the interior floor plans after whatever concessions are (or aren’t) made. So while in the olden days the same architect would meld exterior look with interior reality, today’s agreed-upon building envelope constraints (or the unavailability of the original architect) produce sometimes bad interiors – or a few wonky floor plans.

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Blueprint of remodeled Claridge 18-A-unit

I’d sketched enough plans to feel comfortable taking the Penthouse Plunge remodel of a double-penthouse at the Claridge on Turtle Creek. To review,  I’ll be restoring the combined 5,311-square-foot unit back into two infinitely more livable spaces. But my work isn’t good enough for building permits. That’s the subject of this column – getting to permit phase.

Before you begin a major renovation, you need to know what you’re doing – and not just in your head. So you’ll need blueprints prepared by a professional, and not just to get errant thoughts on paper.  First of all, major renovations – especially those in multi-family complexes – will need building permits. The governing HOA will want to know that the work is being inspected by professionals and that plans meet code requirements. With few exceptions, HOAs are not comprised of people in the construction trades.

The second reason for blueprints is to get accurate quotes from tradespeople and contractors. It will also help spec out what things you’ll need to buy – toilets, drawer pulls, tile, etc.

But how do you find the right resources to draw up your plans?  That’s where it gets interesting.

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If you’re looking for a Dallas high-rise home so you can get as far off the ground as possible, be prepared to shell out big bucks or live in close quarters. 

In parts one and two, I outlined how Dallas has relatively few high-rise listings, and because of a lack of new high-rise construction, Dallas isn’t going to have a lot more buildings anytime soon. In this final installment, I break the 133 active units and 11 units under contract and analyze them by what floors they’re on. 

The distribution under the 20th floor is fairly even between 21 and 29 units in each category. For those interested in units above the 20th floor, inventory drops off because a lot of high-rises are under that height overall. Once you’re into the 30s, you’re pretty much at Museum Tower, which might be out of your price range.

But even more than height, the most important buyer criteria revolves around the unit size and overall cost (mortgage, HOA dues, insurance, and taxes). A studio on the 20th floor doesn’t help someone looking for a two-bedroom unit.

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As Dallas becomes more dense, high-rises should become the choice for more residents. The problem is that Dallas isn’t really building for-sale condo high-rises outside the ultra-luxury market. As noted in part one, there are currently just 133 high-rise condos on the market by my count – that’s it from $159,000 to $9.2 million. That’s not a lot of inventory.

The Stoneleigh, Ritz Residences, and Museum Tower may be where the money is, but it’s not where normal people are. As I’ve noted before, Dallas hasn’t built a big, mid-range high-rise in 20 years and it’s not because there isn’t a market. It’s because there is no financing.

And that’s different. When The Renaissance was built in 1998, it wasn’t luxury. Similarly, when 3883 Turtle Creek went up in 1963, it was planned as HUD housing. Preston Tower’s 362 units have always been affordable. All of those projects knew that cost containment came at scale. In addition to Preston Tower’s density, Renaissance has 603 units while 3883 Turtle Creek has 373. The closest in recent memory was the 75 units in The Cedars’ Beat lofts in 2007 – a relatively small project in a then transitional part of town.

I covered those condo buildings in that most-reasonable strata of high-rise living. Units ranged in price from the $150,000s to $700,000. In that range, you were almost certainly in the sub-2,000-square-foot range (perfectly fine for nearly everyone).

From here on out, it’s bonbons and champagne as we look at what you get when the sky’s the limit.

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Dallas hasn’t been a great high-rise condo town when compared to other cities. It seems like Dallas builds a lot of high-rises that come online the day before there’s a huge recession. Many old-timers connect high-rises with recessions as financially troubled properties hit the skids when storm clouds circle. Their touchpoint is the 1980s S&L scandal-driven recession that hit Texas unmercifully hard.

And while it’s true that high-rises took a bigger hit even in the latest recession, the difference was single-digit. And when the economy came back to life, so did high-rises – often with a vengeance. One Turtle Creek high-rise is trading at triple its recession low.  Even had I not renovated my lowly Athena condo, it would have still risen by 75 percent in the six years I owned it.

This is all to say that condos are pretty much as resilient as single-family. Which is good considering Dallas, like the rest of the planet, is becoming more urban. In 2015, the US Census reported that on average, 62.7 percent of US residents lived in cities with Texas reporting 65 to 75 percent urbanization. The Census further reports that 39 percent of Texans live in its top 20 cities – in a state with 41 cities over 100,000 residents. The United Nations’ World Urbanization Prospects say 82 percent of US residents live in urban areas. While there is a 20-point disparity here, likely driven by definitions of “urban,” it’s still a lot.

We all know Texas, and specifically Dallas, is growing rapidly – Texas is one of nine states that account for half of the US population. We also know that a lot of our new arrivals come from markets that are more high-rise markets – e.g. California and New York – and their money goes further in Texas.

What do high-rise buyers have to buy?  Not a lot…

If you total up all the high-rise condos (buildings above 12 stories) for sale at this minute in downtown, Uptown, Victory Park and Turtle Creek, there are 133 by my count.  There are an additional 11 under contract. For reference, The Warrington at 3831 Turtle Creek has 132 units in total. That’s right, the sum total of high-rise buyers’ options would all fit inside one building.

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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.”

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Our Splurge: Sylvia Scott has listed 3401 Lee Parkway Apt 803 for $665,000.

Dallas real estate may be cooling down, but these high-rise condos are hot, hot, hot! For this week’s Splurge vs. Steal we take you downtown to the best that money can buy … on a budget. Which would you choose The Mayfair splurge or The Metropolitan steal? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

Splurge: High-Rise With Views Of Lee Park And Turtle Creek For $665K

This condo caught our eye, not only for the price but for the virtual staging. As it turns out, listing agent Sylvia Scott of Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty showcased those images for good reason.

“I used the virtual images provided by a company who works exclusively for Sotheby’s International Realty and available only to Briggs Freeman locally, to show buyers how a little paint and different furnishings can completely transform the look of the unit, which had been more traditionally furnished by the previous tenant,” Sylvia explains. “I specifically had a client who could not figure out what to do with the alcove in the living room and I was able to show her these photos to give her an idea of what to do with that space. Providing tools like this can help buyers see the potential in an otherwise great opportunity!”

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