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Dallas–Fort Worth soon to be third-largest U.S. metro area

Growth markets

Anyone who is interested in American cities, or the South, or real estate, or just great places to live, ought to be watching the sprawling Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex very closely. Many already are.

To give a few examples, New York Times opinion writer Farhad Manjoo recently wrote that “Everyone’s moving to Texas,” and gave plenty of reasons why. Freakonomics podcaster Stephen Dubner flew in from Gotham to find out why for himself. (That trip, in turn, was inspired by the City Journal’s article “Big D is a Big Deal.”) 

And, from the halls of academe, the Kinder Institute for Urban Research proclaimed that “Dallas is poised to dominate America’s heartland.”

There’s good reason for all the attention being paid to the city and to Dallas real estate. DFW’s population, at 7.6 million as of the 2020 Census, has grown three times faster than the average of the nation’s 50 largest metro areas, making it the most populous metro area in the South. That number stood at 6.4 million in 2010, meaning the population grew by a stunning 350 people a day over the decade. 

It’s projected to reach 10 million by the 2030s, at which time it is expected to displace Chicago as the nation’s third-largest metro, behind New York and Los Angeles.

“Seventy-thousand moved into the area last year, and I bet half of them come from California, as well as lots from the Midwest and Northeast,” says Bernard Weinstein, a recently retired economist at the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business. 

Some are fleeing areas with higher taxes and/or lower temperatures, he says, and some are retirees, but most of the growth is linked to jobs. Total employment in Texas, he points out, is above pre-pandemic levels.

Dallas housing prices and population grow

DFW has seen its housing prices make historic leaps during the pandemic, as have many places with reasonable cost of living and low density. 

  • Metro area home prices are up 25.1 percent since February 2020 and by 49 percent since the 2007 housing crash, according to a recent Zillow report. 
  • In Dallas County, the median listing home price in February 2022 was $349,500, up 7.5 percent year over year.
  • Median home sale price in February was near $342,018, up 10.1 percent year-over-year.
  • Median days on market in February was 42, down from 56 a year before.

“Our prices will still go up,” says real estate broker Robyn Bullard, who has lived in the metroplex for 40 years and been in the business since 2008. “There’s only a month’s inventory.”

Dallas real estate is booming, and competition among buyers is keen.

“When houses are listed, it’s insane,” said Bullard. “If you want to buy, you might see 50 houses and make 40 offers and still not have a house. There will be 95 offers, and the terms are unbelievable. That said, it’s still a fabulous place for investors — if they know what they’re doing.”

Indeed, experts expect robust growth to continue making Dallas a good real estate investment. The PwC/Urban Land Institute’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate report for 2022 rates DFW fourth in homebuilding prospects and seventh in overall real estate prospects among American metro areas, classifying it as a “magnet” among the “Super Sun Belt” cities (along with AtlantaPhoenixSan Antonio and Tampa/St. Petersburg).

Dallas' real estate supply isn’t going to catch up with demand any time soon. As the Texas Tribune recently pointed out: “Texas gained the most residents of any state between 2010 and 2020, according to the latest census. It is home to three of the country’s 10 largest cities and four of the fastest-growing. That’s made it difficult for builders to keep up.”

Sky-high prices have left out many would-be buyers across the country, driving up rents. Dallas recently leapt into the number 6 spot for fastest-growing rents in metro areas with a population of 1 million or more, with rents rising by 5 percent.

(Read more: 4 best places to invest in Dallas

Dallas has robust industries of all sorts

While Weinstein talks about the great job market, there is plenty of evidence of that. DFW is home to 24 Fortune 500 headquarters, trailing only New York and Chicago. (Four decades ago, the region had not even a handful.) 

It was already home to Texas Instruments, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines before it recently added Toyota Motor North American, Tenet Healthcare, commercial real estate services titan CBRE, and Charles Schwab. 

The metroplex also ranks as the country’s third-largest banking hub. 

“Dallas has been the financial center of the South for 10 or 15 years, and it’s really accelerating,” says Edward Friedman, an economist with Moody’s. “Capital One has a location in Plano, and Fidelity plans to hire 2,000 people in client-facing roles.” 

Vanguard and Goldman Sachs are both planning to expand in the Dallas market.

“You’ve got a lot of wealth building up in the Southwest,” Friedman said. “That attracts the big banks, which do a lot of banking with mid-market businesses and high-net-worth individuals.” 

A 2021 Wealth X report showed that DFW amassed super-wealthy residents at a rate faster than New York and Los Angeles in 2020.

But economies aren’t driven just by big players and the super-wealthy. As Dubner points out in his podcast, one recent study ranked Dallas the country’s 18th-best place to start a new business. (L.A. ranked 52nd, New York 60th.)

Feeding talent to these employers are the area’s more than 40 colleges and universities, including Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, University of Texas at Dallas and University of Dallas. 

And while Dallas doesn’t have a techy nickname (like “Silicon Hills,” the moniker for Austin, in the southern Texas Hill Country), North Texas has the fifth-largest pool of tech talent in the continent, according to CBRE.

“In terms of high-tech employment,” says Weinstein, “Austin gets the hype, but Dallas–Fort Worth gets the jobs.”

Business depends on a robust transportation infrastructure, and Dallas has that in spades, including the nation’s second-busiest airport, and a well-liked one at that: DFW ranked above average among mega airports in the 2021 J.D. Power North America Airport Satisfaction Study. 

At over 17,000 acres, it’s larger than the island of Manhattan. “You can get anywhere from Dallas,” says Bullard. “DFW airport is very easy to navigate, the schedules are wonderful, and on-time performance is good.”

“We also have good transportation networks in terms of both rail and major interstates, and we’re an inland port, only 300 miles from the Gulf,” notes Weinstein.

Dallas bartender Cooper Neill/Getty Images for Cointreau)

Dallas is known for its frozen margaritas, and generally chill and fun vibe. In this photo, Emily Arsenau makes a drink during the Cointreau Celebrates the Original Margarita and the Art of La Soiree in Dallas. (Photo credit: Cooper Neill/Getty Images for Cointreau)

Dallas culture: Cowboys, rodeos, fine art, and frozen margs

Like any megacity, DFW has a diverse population with diverse interests. 

Sports fans have tons of options. The city’s best-known team is the Dallas Cowboys, (nicknamed America’s Team) who have played in the Super Bowl eight times, won five times, and have the well-known cheerleading squad. Forbes calls it the most valuable sports professional franchise in the world, valued at $4 billion. 

Other professional teams include the Texas Rangers (baseball), the Dallas Mavericks (basketball), the Stars (hockey), and FC Dallas (soccer). 

Others heed the call of the Texas Motor Speedway, with its 1.5-mile-long track and seats for 154,000, home to Big Hoss TV, which, at 218 feet wide, is the world’s largest HD screen — bigger than the Lincoln Memorial. 

Fort Worth, meanwhile, has different sports offerings. Some 1 million visitors flocked to 2022’s annual Stock Show and Rodeo, but cowboys can be found year-round at the Stockyards, and every weekend sees them two-stepping at Billy Bob’s Texas nightclub.

There’s also plenty to attract those with more avant-garde tastes.

All the industrial wealth has made the city a major center for buildings by some of the world’s best-known architects. The 15-story Praetorian Building, erected in 1909, was the first skyscraper west of the Mississippi, and today, downtown is studded with high-rises by superstars like I.M. Pei, Skidmore Owings & Merrill, and Philip Johnson.

The affluence has also resulted in high-caliber art institutions and art collectors. The Dallas Museum of Art anchors the arts district, also home to venues like the Nasher Sculpture Center, which grants one of the world’s largest annual artist awards, at $100,000. The city also added an art fair to its roster in 2009.

Dallasites eat out all the time, and why wouldn’t they? In addition to the familiar dishes (Bullard ticks off a list: chicken fried steak, fried okra, pecan pie, and Fletcher’s Original Corny Dogs), there’s the abundant barbecue, Mexican and Tex-Mex in the city proper and a plethora of cuisines in the suburbs, from familiar ones, like Indian and Chinese, to African, Taiwanese and Persian. 

Soused diners at Mexican restaurants and bars everywhere can thank Dallas restaurateur Mariano Martinez for inventing the frozen Margarita machine, which he developed because the drink was in such demand that his bartenders couldn’t mix them fast enough.

Texas isn’t for everyone

No place can make everyone happy, and DFW does face real challenges. 

Some realtors these days are choosing to be up-front with potential clients about their markets’ downsides so they know what they’re getting themselves into. One straight-talking realtor’s YouTube video Texas Isn't For Everyone has hit about 140,000 views in the nine months since he posted it in June. 

Among the reasons: the flat and boring landscape, sweltering summer temperatures (August average temperatures can hit 95), and the prominence of guns and God.

The sprawling metroplex’s traffic is also notorious. In a 2021 report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the city rose to the no. 8 spot for worst traffic by one key measure.

“There still isn’t a decent deli in Dallas,” gripes Weinstein. “There’s only one really good one in the whole state, and that’s Kenny & Ziggy’s, in Houston.” 

Those moving to Texas from more liberal places might be pained at state legislators’ strong conservative leanings, exemplified by the notorious 2021 law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, and deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets” the procedure. 

On the other hand, the influx of people from the coasts has even led to a slogan among some Lone Star State conservatives: “Don’t California my Texas!”

Weinstein also points out that the government is unrepresentative. 

“The major metro areas are majority-minority, and you would think that would be reflected in the elected officials,” he said, “but the Republican legislature has gerrymandered the districts to ensure a Republican majority in the next decade.” 

Dallas history: Oil, an assassination, and a hit TV show

The metroplex of today grew from a town first laid out in 1844. The origins of its name are unclear. Maybe it was named for a Scottish village. Or for early resident Joseph Dallas. Or for Vice President George Mifflin Dallas.  

Railroads spurred growth in the 1870s, giving rise to a huge wholesale market and retail stores like the now-legendary Neiman-Marcus. (According to a New York Times reporter, co-founder Herbert Marcus’s spirit “remains as venerated in Dallas as the Buddha’s in Tibet.”) 

Grain, leather and cotton fueled early growth, with the insurance and oil industries close behind, followed by automobile plants and a branch of the Federal Reserve System. The first great East Texas oil field made the city an energy industry hub in the 1930s, and aircraft manufacturing fed rapid growth during the Second World War. 

Democratic President John F. Kennedy was assassinated at Dealey Plaza in 1963, which fed Dallas’ reputation as “a city of hate,” earned in part by a seething population of right-wing extremists. 

Visiting Democrats had been met with raucous protests and acid mockery from local businessmen (including Ted Dealey, son of Dealey Plaza’s namesake). Civic leaders worked hard to live down that reputation, desegregating schools and enforcing the Fair Housing Act, which was passed in 1968. 

The runways at DFW International Airport opened in 1974, burnishing the city’s luster, and the 1980s saw an oil boom personified by the fictitious J.R. Ewing, the oilman and rancher in the popular prime-time soap opera named for the city. (He was shot in the show’s third season, giving rise to the catchphrase “Who shot J.R.?,” an ironic echo of conspiracy theories about who really shot JFK. Some 83 million viewers tuned in to the episode that revealed the answer.) 

Though the oil boom ended and the show wound down in 1991, Southfork Ranch, where it was filmed, remains a tourist attraction.

The Dallas Cowboys and their famous cheerleaders brightened the city’s image, as did the sheen of numerous skyscrapers arising from the landscape. The city elected a Black mayor in 1995 following two Jewish women mayors. 

Despite progress, DFW remains quite segregated. A 2015 study by urbanist Richard Florida named the city the seventh-most economically segregated of American metro areas with a population greater than a million, and the second-most segregated of the top 10. Dallas Citizens Council CEO Kelvin Walker calls Southern Dallas “a big gaping economic hole.” 

Dallas lures cowboys and tech millennials

Challenges aside, Dallas remains a magnet, and one that has diverse charms, Bullard notes.

“The first thing I do when someone says they want to move here is to ask: What are you looking for?” Bullard says. “Are you a millennial with a tech job who wants to live in a high rise? You’ll want to live in Dallas. If you’re looking for more space, or more of a cowboy culture, Fort Worth is for you.” 

(And, she notes, where an earlier generation had its Dallas-themed television show, now there’s Yellowstone and its prequel, 1883, set in an unsavory district of Fort Worth known as Hell’s Half Acre.)

“We have so much to offer, with two cities that are so different,” she says. “There’s something for everyone here. 

“I’ve traveled everywhere, but I can’t imagine living elsewhere.”

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