Douglas Newby – Creating Value Since 1976

RE Magazine, October 2003 cover story by Sandy Wright

SW: We asked Douglas Newby how he remains small and yet became the biggest name in real estate for historic and architect designed homes.

DN: (quickly replied with a smile) I have never wavered from my commitment to offer the most important homes in Dallas. I have sold the most expensive home in Dallas, but I have also sold homes that are affordable. Price categories have never been my preoccupation, while quality always has. The unrelenting focus of my business is to offer homes of significance, value and importance and to represent clients who understand and appreciate these qualities. Since I have the opportunity to be in and around distinguished homes, I owe it to the real estate community, buyers and sellers to share and communicate this information.

SW: We ask you provide examples of homes you are offering for sale or have sold from just one era that represent different styles. In this article we are showing five homes built between 1936-1939. What other time periods or style homes do you work with?

DN: I just sold a modern home recently designed and built by architect Bob James for which he won an AIA award. I admire and have been able to offer architect designed homes representing every decade from 1900 to the present. These include very modern homes designed by internationally recognized architects such as Harwell Hamilton Harris and Edward Durrell Stone to Dallas masters such as Hal Thomson and Fooshee and Cheek. Again, my focus is a homes quality of design, its setting and its architectural significance.

SW: Does being a small firm help with that focus?

DN: (smiled and explained) There are 7,000 Realtors in GDAR alone and they all have classic small businesses that rely on and cooperate each other. Many agents have a desk in large companies like Ebby Halliday or Virginia Cook, but the majority of agents work in an office of just one or just a few agents. In either case, every property in MLS is listed with just one agent.

I have the greatest regard and admiration for Ebby Halliday and Virginia Cook and Sheila Rice and the companies they lead. In fact, the Dallas Historical Society will be featuring Ebby Halliday in their Tall Texan and Grand Dame Conversation Series at the Hall of State. Ebby and Virginia and Sheila are cheerleaders not only for their real estate firms, but the entire industry. They make the community of Realtors more congenial, professional and prosperous.

Over the last 27 years, I have also tried to make a contribution to the community and to my fellow Realtors. In the 1970s I was identifying, defining and revitalizing older neighborhoods. In the 1980s I initiated and sponsored the Dallas Annual Restoration House of the Year Award and wrote the book A Guide to the Older Neighborhoods of Dallas for Preservation Dallas. In the 1990s I chaired the Dallas AIA committee, which identified 50 significant homes for their 50th anniversary. These types of projects were ways I could contribute civically and also help Realtors become more fluent with good design and the history of Dallas, which they can communicate to their clients.

SW: You mentioned projects you worked on over the last three decades. What are you working on in the twenty-first century?

DN: This is an exciting time for a number of reasons that pertain to my business and architectural interests. In the last century, technology provided the ability to deliver information fast. In this century everyone is using that technology so it is easy to receive the information fast. Also, people are becoming more interested in architecture and preservation. The Dallas Architecture Forum organizes lectures to sold out crowds, Preservation Park Cities quickly grew to 1,000 members, Greenway Parks has become a conservation district and buyers and sellers are agreeing to deed restrictions to prevent homes from being torn down.

To encourage this interest, I feature on my website the architecturally interesting homes I am offering and provide information on both architectural styles and architects. My goal is to provide an easy way for Realtors to find out more about Dallas history, its architecture and the current great architects. My website is also a resource for Dallas residents to learn more about their community. Most importantly, I have found that people initially not interested in moving to Dallas, become excited about relocating here once they understand Dallas has the best collection of twentieth century architecture in the world.

SW: You are quite passionate about what you do. What prompted you to become real estate agent?

DN: In 1976, Virginia and Lee McAlester and I were setting up a Historic Revolving Fund that would buy properties from absentee landlords and resell them with deed restrictions to individuals who would restore them as single-family homes. We had a great structure in place, a bank willing to help and volunteers to assist. What was missing was a real estate agent who could acquire the properties for the Fund. Virginia was busy on the National Trust for Historic Preservation board, Lee was the dean of Dedman College at SMU, so they looked at me and said why don’t you get your real estate license and put this together. I proceeded to study, took the test and became licensed.

My first transaction was simultaneously negotiating the options to purchase 22 properties with the options staggered over two years from several different absentee owners. These long-term options had to be negotiated all at once so the prices would not escalate. The investment committee that approved these transactions included Ed Beran, a fantastic architect who restored the Adolphus Hotel and designed the Anatole Hotel, and prominent bankers and preservationists. After they reviewed my plan they went through the targeted properties, which were historic, homes divided into four apartments teeming with weekly tenants. The investment committee then gave me the green light. We were successful. The homes were sold to urban pioneers who renovated them and the Historic Preservation League (now Preservation Dallas) made enough profit to hire their first full-time executive director. My first listing was also a Preservation Dallas Revolving Fund home, in which Dick Clements was the cooperating broker who brought the buyer. He was incredibly kind then and remains the great gentleman of Dallas real estate today.

SW: Not only was that a very intense and complicated transaction, it took place in a rough area. What was that like?

DN: The historic area was so run down and considered so undesirable, it was like going to a real estate boot camp. This was the perfect environment to be immersed in the architectural aesthetics of a future historic district and to learn the craft.

SW: What do you mean “real estate boot camp?”

DN: Boot camp in the sense of a spartan environment where I was selling homes in a neighborhood in which no one wanted to live, homes that were not inhabitable and in an area that was redlined so home purchase money was not available.

SW: How in the world did you sell any homes in that environment?

DN: My approach, philosophy and understanding of real estate and strategy for a successful transaction where all forged in those early years. Now, selling beautiful homes in the finest neighborhoods is easy.

SW: What are some of the things you learned in the early years of the Historic District?


1. I saw the difference an enthusiastic and knowledgeable agent can make on a neighborhood, its desirability and value. Prices decline and neighborhoods deteriorate if there is not a real estate agent to develop a marketplace. Neighborhoods go up in value when it has the enthusiasm and endorsement of real estate agents.

2. When buyers were fearful of the neighborhood, skeptical of the investment and didn’t like the location, I realized that the aesthetics and historic value of a home were powerful motivators. This was the only reason people were buying homes in Munger Place in the 1970s.

3. The easier you make it for another agent or for a buyer to understand a property, the easier it becomes to sell that property.

4. If you can give buyers information about a house that they didn’t know or expect, it will increase the likelihood they will want that home.

5. Anticipate the needs of a buyer. If a deteriorated house is overflowing with irresponsible tenants, the real estate agent better have a renovation plan and a contractor’s bid to provide the buyer a vision.

6. The more a buyer knows about a home, the more enjoyment the home will bring them in the future.

7. When an agent helps arrange for a good home to be built or renovated, there is a feeling of authorship and ownership.

8. Homes sometimes get undersold because the seller and buyer don’t fully understand its aesthetic and intrinsic value.

9. Some changes to an architecturally significant home might make it look more current for a few years, but hopelessly outdated with less architectural value in several years.

10. The more a Realtor knows about a home, its design and the neighborhood, the more the Realtor will enjoy the business.

SW: These ideas help explain your enthusiasm for the business. What else do you enjoy about being a Realtor?

DN: Few professions give a person as much opportunity to make a civic contribution. We work long hours on call, but also have some flexibility in our schedule to become involved in the community. Who, more than a real estate agent, knows about the needs and resources of a community.

SW: What are some of your efforts that gave you the most satisfaction?

DN: Initiating and coordinating the single-family rezoning of Old East Dallas. My graduate thesis was Economic Incentives to Revitalize an Inner-City Neighborhood. The key idea was that every property owner in a 100 block area benefited if they gave up their multi-family zoning privileges for single-family zoning. In 1976, this was a very counterintuitive concept with zero initial support. Ultimately, 1,200 property owners, including apartment owners, wrote the city requesting this change. The zoning was changed and FNMA chose this rezoned area for their first inner-city loans in the nation. There has now been $500 million spent on renovation and new construction in this area.

SW: Since Dallas is such a new city, I don’t know if many people were aware that Dallas had the most successful revitalization effort in the country. What are some of the civic organizations in which you have chosen to be involved?

DN: Most of the organizations I have been involved with are related to preservation, planning, history and architecture in Dallas. I have been actively involved on the board of the Dallas Historical Society, Preservation Dallas, Dallas Architecture Foundation, Greater Dallas Planning Council and Preservation Park Cities. When I served on the Board of Directors of GDAR I tried to serve the interest of every agent. For example, agents were unwittingly forfeiting their copyrights to photographs that they supplied to MLS. MLS photographs were being used over and over regardless of who had the property listing or if there were changes made to the property. I initiated at the local and national level an NAR change that stopped this practice. I also initiated a Buyer Representation Agreement Extension form making it easier for agents to continue to protect their interest.

SW: You began your career in Munger Place, where is your primary business now?

DN: The majority of my business is from the Turtle Creek corridor through the Park Cities and Bluffview to Preston Hollow and Mayflower Estates. There are many really important homes in these neighborhoods that have been previously ignored. It is fun to bring attention to these homes in much the same way I did in the Historic District. My goal is to offer distinguished homes that I know other agents will be proud to show and that they can count on their clients responding positively.

SW: What advice would you give a new agent?

DN: Enjoy the people you work with and remember the more you learn about your field, the more joy you will derive from your efforts.