The location was exactly what David Waldrep wanted, and the lot size fit his family’s needs perfectly. That the Waldreps would have to tear down the house already occupying the property was only a minor complication.

That’s because the Waldreps wanted to live in Preston Hollow, and these days, tearing down an existing house and building exactly the type of home you want seems to be one of the most popular ways of moving into the neighborhood.

“We live in a contemporary home, and we like contemporary homes, but we couldn’t find a contemporary home to buy that we liked,” says Waldrep, a lawyer by training who runs a multi-media startup.

“So for us it made sense, if we wanted to stay in Preston Hollow, to buy a lot, scrape it and start over from the foundation up.”

Waldrep isn’t alone. Teardowns – buying an older house, tearing it down and building a bigger one in its place – are booming. They’re on the leading edge of what builders, residents and real estate experts call a long overdue reaction against urban sprawl and the flight to the suburbs.

In the southern part of our neighborhood, it’s not unusual to see individual blocks with three, four or even five teardowns in progress.

In fact, teardowns and their attendant remodelings aren’t confined to Preston Hollow. This trend toward moving back to close-in urban areas has seen teardowns and remodelings, as well as new townhouse and condominium construction, proliferate not only here, but in the Park Cities, Oak Lawn, East Dallas, Lakewood and Uptown.

“Where else,” asks Waldrep, “can you get a new home on reasonable property south of LBJ for less than a million dollars?”

A recent history / Drive down some streets in our neighborhood, and the little metal builder’s signs are almost as common as sprinkler systems. Recently, in a one-block stretch of Desco – a reasonably typical neighborhood street one block above Park Lane between Preston and Hillcrest – four builders are involved in five projects. One builder working on a $1.4 million, 5-bedroom, 4 1/2-bath teardown has 13 properties in Preston Hollow. Eight of them are either sold or under contract.

“There are all kinds of reasons for this, but from a real estate perspective, it’s a lot like any inner city area across the country, whether it’s Philadelphia, Baltimore, Houston or Atlanta,” says longtime neighborhood builder Gage Prichard, whose Gage Homes handles 15-18 teardowns in Preston Hollow and the Park Cities every year.

“Every city has this kind of redevelopment going on. The older housing stock becomes obsolete, and it’s time to find a way to redevelop it that makes economic sense.”

The numbers bear this out. Through the end of June, 27 homes in the southern portion of our neighborhood had been torn down as part of rebuilding projects – a pace that would increase this year’s total by one third over 1999’s.

Teardowns have taken root in our neighborhood for several reasons.

One, of course, is the booming economy, which has made it possible to pay for and to finance real estate deals no one would have touched a decade ago. And teardowns are almost always costly projects, usually starting in the high six figures and often breaking the million-dollar threshold. Builders say it’s almost impossible to complete a teardown project for less than $600,000.

“It used to be unheard of to make a home loan for $1 million,” says Dallas National Bank chairman Micheaux Nash, where loans for teardowns and remodelings have increased by 50 percent over the past couple of years.

“Now everyone is eager to do it, because there’s a lot of money for these kinds or projects. And don’t forget that there is so much money out there now, from high-tech, that more people have money to spend on projects like this.”

Ironically, this means many people doing teardowns are paying a premium to live in Preston Hollow – something virtually unheard of a decade ago.

One reason is the growing whiplash reaction to urban sprawl, in which homeowners are rebelling against the idea of moving to Frisco or Trophy Club or northeast Tarrant County and then spending two hours daily driving back and forth to work.

“I think that’s a heavy driver in the process,” Waldrep says. “I’ll give Plano its due, but in one respect all you have out there is upper-end urban blight. They might be expensive houses, but they’re just upper-end row houses.”

The other is Preston Hollow itself. It attracts not only families such as the Waldreps, who have older children, but couples with younger ones as well.

“We love it,” says Amy Roseman, who lives with husband Michael and their young son north of Royal, between Preston and Hillcrest, in a 3-bedroom, 2-bath ranch-style house built in the 1950s.

Ten years ago, the Rosemans might have been tempted by the suburbs, but not today.

“This is my neighborhood,” Roseman says. “We like our neighbors, and we like our home. This is where we want to stay.”

The neighborhood’s attractions include:

  • Returning home. “You get a lot of people who moved away when they were younger, and now that they’re raising families, they want to move back to where they grew up,” Prichard says. “They see a chance to renew themselves and their families.”
  • Shopping and restaurants. Our neighborhood still has quality retail at Preston Center, Preston Forest and Preston Royal – something that’s missing in other prestigious neighborhoods such as Lakewood and Kessler Park and forces their residents to drive to our neighborhood to shop. Says Waldrep: “I can just drive around the corner when I want to go to the store. Do you know how wonderful that is?”
  • A renovated Central Expressway. If Central was rebuilt to better connect the northern suburbs with downtown, it also – and perhaps unintentionally – did a terrific job of connecting our neighborhood with downtown and the North Dallas/Addison corridor. It has made short commutes even shorter, something residents say they appreciate every day about 6 p.m.

Just as important, our neighborhood – with its wooded yards and spacious lots – lends itself to teardowns. Much of the area’s housing grew from subdivisions constructed 40 and 50 years ago, when homes were smaller and lots were larger.

What this means today is that someone who wants to build a 5,000-square-foot house can find the necessary land 15 minutes from downtown instead of 45 minutes away in the suburbs. And if the only obstacle is buying an unwanted smaller as part of the deal, they buy it.

“It just makes sense, especially with the increase in popularity in these areas,” says Stevie Chadwick of Ellen Terry Realtors, who has been selling real estate in Preston Hollow and the Park Cities since 1979, and works with buyers looking for teardowns and remodelings.

“It allows people to live where they want to live, and the price they pay will be reflected in the price when they sell it.”

Neighborhood monsters / Yet this surge in popularity has made many longtime residents wonder if our neighborhood is enjoying too much of a good thing.

Will the new homes maintain the character of the neighborhood, not only architecturally, but culturally? Preston Hollow, says longtime residents, may not be Swiss Avenue, where almost every home is historically significant, but many of its oldest homes are neither too small nor obsolete, and are part of what the neighborhood is today.

And what will happen when someone does a teardown and erects a two-story, 4,500-square-foot house in a neighborhood of one-story, 2,500-square-foot homes? What happens if they uproot huge shade trees in the process?

Not only will the new house seem out of place, towering over its neighbors (without trees to ensure privacy), but some residents worry it could be the first step in forcing them to move. They’re concerned that one teardown on a block means it’s inevitable that more teardowns are coming – making their relatively smaller homes susceptible to being snatched up as part of yet another teardown.

“This is kind of a mixed blessing,” says Leslie Beatty, who 20 years ago bought a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom starter home near Northwest Highway (since demolished as part of a teardown), and today lives near Hillcrest and Royal with husband Rob and their three children.

“Booms are nice, and the new houses are glitzy, but how long will it last? What happens to all of these big houses that are being put up once the boom ends?”

Roseman and Dallas councilwoman Lois Finkelman, whose District 11 includes the northern part of our neighborhood, helped organize a neighborhood meeting last summer to discuss teardowns.

Says Roseman: “A lot of people in our neighborhood had concerns. They wanted to figure out where the trend was going. They didn’t want to put any more time and money into their homes if a 6,000-square-foot house was going to be looming over their home.”

In this, residents such as Beatty and Roseman aren’t alone. Homeowners throughout the country living in cities and neighborhoods such as ours face the same dilemma: Popularity is nice, but what’s the price?

In the Chicago suburb of Naperville, for example, the city council spent much of the spring debating whether to regulate teardowns in the town’s oldest areas. One factor in the deliberations was a petition from residents whose neighborhood near the village’s 100-year-old downtown had been gutted by teardowns.

Nothing like that has happened in Preston Hollow, and few expect it to. One result of the meeting last summer was to calm residents’ fears. Most city zoning prohibits building a home taller than 35 feet (two stories, for all practical purposes), and a city official at the meeting said Dallas was serious about enforcing these rules.

In addition, much of our neighborhood is composed of subdivisions with deed restrictions that often limit the size and type of homes that can be built. And though the city doesn’t enforce deed restrictions, residents say homeowners’ groups can keep a watchful eye on any new construction with deed restrictions in mind.

Home sweet home / Waldrep says he is so excited about our neighborhood that when his original teardown plan fell through, he went looking for a site near his first choice on Northaven between Hillcrest and Preston. That the closest he could come, given his requirements was Northwest Highway and Midway speaks volumes about how competitive the market for teardowns has become.

“What isn’t there to like about Preston Hollow?” he says. “You can pay the same price, and get a property 50 percent bigger than in the Park Cities. Plus you have almost all the other premiums – the same type of close-knit community, proximity to work and shopping. Those are the kinds of things that more people are looking for.”

So what if they have to tear down an existing house to find them?

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