It is a second home — or lot — for now. Remember when I told you that Troy Aikman sold off the Potashnik lot next to his home over there on Highland Drive? The one listed for $11,500,000? I heard that he sold it to the Pratts: Brian and Barbara Pratt. Word on the street was they paid just about tax value ($5,493,000) and as I may have mentioned the lot was never ever in MLS.

Conveniently, the Dallas Central Appraisal District now lists the Pratts as the latest owners of the land at 4419 Highland Drive, and appraised for tax purposes at $5,745,420 million. It includes a cabana, a deck and sport court and 39,239 square feet of dirt to build on, or a hefty Highland Park lot of 159 width by 258 depth.

And Troy Aikman right next door!

Potashnik house

When Troy separated the lot, which he bought from Brian and Cheryl Potashnik for about $5 million in 2008, he lowered the price of his 10,000 plus square foot homestead to $14 million. If he did sell the lot for $5.7, which is the word, good deal: he was able to clear off his mortgage.

current Pratt homestead

Who is Brian Pratt? He’s chairman, president and CEO of Dallas-based Primoris Services Corp, which appears to be a serious commercial infrastructure contractor in engineering and construction consultation and services, with some impressive clients. Oil field services perhaps? Business must be awesomely good.  He and his wife live over on Shenandoah, in a $5,295,000 home they just bought in 2010 with Erin Mathews as their agent. Their son, Ken Pratt, a commercial realtor who would not speak with us, apparently now handles their real estate investments. The Shenandoah home is not yet listed in MLS, but when it does come on the market, it will likely be listed by Ken and be a humdinger: 8800 plus square feet, French provincial style built by Jeff Gilbert with absolutely positively everything, including generous room sizes, light-filled family room and kitchen, keeping room, mucho outdoor living areas with full exterior kitchen, fireplace, pool, master suite with sitting room, his and her baths and closets, elevator to all three floors, ideally located on a corner lot on a “discreet block in Highland Park” and conveniently close to the DCC.


I ask you: is any block in Highland Park discreet?

The Dallas Morning News reports that thus far, the Dallas Central Appraisal District says property values overall are down about 3.5 percent this year…

“…not as bad a slide as last year and a possible sign that the market may be on the upswing, according to figures released Friday.”

Of course, as property owners come in and protest values, that percentage may decline even more. Which reminds me: I did not receive an appraisal in the mail, which means there has been no change in value on my home. The two appraisals I received on investment properties went up, which I am fighting. I have heard from many people that their values went up. So I wonder, whose went down?

The News also says County Budget Director Ryan Brown is anticipating a 4.5 percent overall drop countywide, which is not as much of a drop as last year BUT would still increase the county’s current $25 million budget shortfall by $4 million. So I guess all of us protesting are squeezing the budget.

The sunny side of this is, of course, a possible signal to stabilization of our market, at least in the Appraisal District’s eyes.

May means great weather, less sneezing, and, in North Texas Real Estate parlance, time to grit our teeth over home appraisals. Property tax appraisals went out Friday, so this coming week we should be getting the hard, cold news about property taxes. Dallas rates have gone up. Property values have gone down. Will the Appraisal District reflect this in our bills or look the other way to sop up much-needed revenue?

Do you anticipate your property taxes will go up or down?

Couple things: Jim Schutze over at the Dallas Observer had an interesting article this week on taxes, and the mayoral candidate’s rhetoric that we need to expand the business tax base in Dallas. For what? (To lower our property taxes is the assumption, I guess.) Schutze was another journalist getting hoarse shouting, for the 300,000th time, the inequity that the property tax burden in Texas weighs on the shoulders of homeowners rather than commercial property — I agree:

“What is this crap about the importance of attracting more businesses to the city? They throw it out like a line from the Bible or something — especially mayoral candidates Mike Rawlings and Ron Natinsky. Got to “grow that tax base.” Only way we can grow that tax base is by attracting more businesses, they say.”

The real growth in this city in the last 10 years, he says, has been in residential, which has risen almost 65 percent. Commercial real estate values are up only 31 percent. In 2000, he says, residential was 40 percent of the total tax base. In 2010, it was 47 percent.

“Part of the problem with commercial, of course is that the values at which commercial properties are taxed are often substantially below market values. For whatever reasons (and I think I know what some of them are), the Dallas Central Appraisal District seems to like to low ball commercial values.”

I have long wondered why the tax base has not improved from the flourishing, expanding downtown. The reason is that commercial real estate pays less in taxes. Some argue they should, because businesses use fewer city services — which is news to me. Last time I looked, business created way more waste. But apparently this year, commercial is going to see rates go up.

According to the Dallas County Appraisal District, about 12 percent of residential property values will increase this year, very similar to last year,  according to spokesperson Cheryl Jordan via the Dallas Morning News. But oh boy get ready: more commercial properties will increase in value this year than last. Last year, 4,500 commercial properties had value increases, and this year that number will jump to 22,135.

DCAD anticipates just 23 percent of residential properties will lose value, compared with 34 percent last year.

So you know what that means: our Tax Doctor is back! Tiffany Hamil Mackey will be here to answer your questions as you get your tax bill. I was talking to her last night about what she thinks is coming down the pike, and she thinks the city may decrease land values while increasing improvements to keep appraisals the same. In other words, if your property is valued at $500,000 with $100,000 on improvement and $400,000 on land value, she thinks that they will reduce land to $200,000, but increase improvement value to $300,000 to preserve revenue. This means that the total value of your home goes unchanged, but suddenly your improvement just increased in value 300% in one year?!??! Who’s playing games here?  She’s already noticed whole blocks of areas in Preston Hollow subject to this exact situation.

Even if your taxes have stayed the same, Tiffany says you should fight. So get ready, the Tax Doctor is IN!

This is why it probably pays to subscribe to the Dallas Morning News, who is reporting that Al G. Hill III, descendant of legendary oilman H.L. Hunt, and his wife, Erin Nance Hill, were indicted last week on several felony counts of mortgage fraud.

A grand jury returned three counts of making a false statement to obtain property or credit and one count of securing execution of a document by deception against Al,  age 40. His wife, Erin, age 38, was also charged with two counts of making a false statement and one of securing execution of a document by deception.

This centers on the Hills obtaining a loan for more than $200,000 from OmniAmerican Bank in 2009 by claiming to be sole owners of their Highland Park home, falsifying his income and her assets. Al, for example, claimed a monthly income of $54,341 while Erin claimed to have more than $100,000 in a bank account.

According to the Dallas Central Appraisal District website, the couple owns only 20 percent of their $1.9 million home on Bordeaux. The majority interest is owned by the Albert Hill Trust, whose beneficiary is Al III’s father, Al Hill Jr. And of course father and son have been embroiled in a long, sad, bitter civil suit for several years over the estate, Al III claiming mismanagement and wanting more millions. A confidential source tells me the Hills have pared down their lifestyle somewhat: whereas Erin used to have a nanny for each child and a cook, there is now a house manager who also tends the children, two housekeepers and gardeners. There was a settlement last spring, but last week, Al III filed an appeal in federal court, which the News apparently found.

Mortgage fraud ain’t no laughing manner — you don’t lie or fib on loan applications. The charges are first-degree felonies, with a punishment range of probation or five years to life in the penitentiary.

It is time to dig out an interview I did with Al, Jr. last spring after the settlement. This story is developing.