For years, Possum Kingdom Lake has been known for its rough-cut cliffs and Hell’s Gate, the signature rock formation that emerges from the middle of the lake.
Known to the locals as simply “PK,” the lake is about 80 miles northwest of Fort Worth, drawing recreational enthusiasts from the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well as parts of West Texas and Oklahoma.
And the July Fourth weekend, highlighted by a fireworks show at Hell’s Gate which was held Saturday night, is the lake’s busiest time of the year.
But this year’s celebration could also commemorate PK’s firmly putting the devastating wildfires of six years ago and a devastating drought in the rear-view mirror.
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“It’s as though the fires have never happened,” said real estate agent Jackie Fewell of Berkshire Hathaway Pondera Properties. “You really have to look hard to find any evidence of it.”
For Fewell, that’s means interest in lakefront real estate is booming.
Residential units sold have climbed this year 30 percent over the same time in 2016 and the median home price of $285,000 is up 21 percent, according to data provided by Fewell.
Despite the hordes of friends and families descending on the lake, the holiday weekend was exceptionally busy for real estate agents. Dee Dee Jordan, who works with Fewell, started showing homes on Thursday and said she was booked all through the weekend.
At Possum Kingdom, the rebuilding of destroyed homes started immediately after the April 2011 wildfires that, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, were eighth-largest on record in the state. There was another round in August 2011 forcing some residents to again evacuate their homes.
The rush to rebuild was so strong that one homeowner actually called his builder before the structure caught fire just to be at the front of the line.
The rebuilt home and its Texas flag roof has served as symbol for those who live around the lake that PK was recovering, Fewell said.
The Palo Pinto Appraisal District said 88 of the 167 homes that were destroyed have been rebuilt. Most came back far larger. One 1,600-square-foot home was rebuilt to 4,800 square feet, while an 1,100-square-foot residence was replaced with a 3,700-square-foot home.
In 2010, the total market value for the 167 homes was $69 million. Immediately after the fire, that plunged to $30.6 million. This year, the preliminary value for those rebuilt homes has climbed to $77.6 million, though it will likely decrease after protests are heard, said Chuck Lyon, deputy chief appraiser.
By the appraisal district’s count, there are 3,345 homes on the water or near the lake. In 2011, the homes were collectively appraised at $1.05 billion; this year’s values, which are preliminary, have climbed to $1.4 billion, an increase of roughly $350 million, Lyon said.
During the April 2011 wildfires, Fewell and her fellow Pondera agents gained notoriety when they became one of the main news sources about the fire’s path of destruction. For much of the fires, she was evacuated to a Mineral Wells motel room, where Fewell and her colleagues posted information on the company’s website.
After the lake finally filled two years ago, the home buying really began to surge, Fewell said. Once buyers saw the full lake, they were ready to take the plunge.
One of Fewell’s new listings could soon top all the others. It has 9,052 square feet of living space and views of Hell’s Gate cove. It’s listed for a whopping $7 million.
Most of the home buyers aren’t planning to be full-time residents. Many are looking to purchase their second or third vacation home, Fewell said.
Monte and Carolyn Land are an exception. The retired educators have lived on the east side of the lake full time since 2002, witnessing the ups and downs at Possum Kingdom.
The Lands were fortunate in that their side of the lake didn’t burn, but they saw the toll the fires took on the local economy.
Now everything has changed.
“The lake is full and everybody is fat and happy,” Carolyn Land said. “People are building around us, and I think things are doing great.”
It isn’t just Possum Kingdom that’s seeing a surge in interest. Whether it’s home buyers or folks simply wanting to be near the water, this is shaping up as the best summer season in years.
Most North Texas lakes are full but not too full. Boat ramps are open, as are lakeside parks and marinas.
Lakes Grapevine, Granbury, Bridgeport, Lewisville and Ray Roberts, as well as Joe Pool Lake, are full. Others like Eagle Mountain Lake and Lakes Worth, Whitney and Weatherford are nearly full.
The lake levels have hit a sweet spot for places like North Side Marina on Lake Bridgeport, where every cabin and boat was booked for the holiday weekend. It was a similar situation at Augie’s Sunset Cafe on Eagle Mountain Lake, where business has roughly doubled from a year ago.
“I guess everybody is doing OK as far as money,” said Denny Steward of Augie’s. “The conditions for the lake are great. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
The uptick in lakeside real estate is also being felt at Lake Granbury, 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
For real estate agents, this is one of the best years ever, said Vickie Davies of Knieper Realty.
“This is the strongest market I have ever seen in Granbury with the competing offers and the low inventories,” Davies said.
In Hood County, the average sale price for a home on a lakefront lot has climbed to $362,320 from $284,283 in 2015, according to data provided by Davies.
But Lake Granbury, with its proximity to Tarrant County, has many full-time residents who commute to Tarrant County. They also get out-of-state buyers from places like California, Davies said.
“We’re seeing a higher percentage from the Metroplex looking down here,” Davies said. “I think realtors are bringing their clients to these different bedroom communities — Granbury, Weatherford and Cleburne — because of the low inventories in the city.”
Possum Kingdom wildfire
The fire scorched 126,734 acres in April 2011. The Texas A&M Forest Service battled the fire for 34 days in Palo Pinto, Young and Stephens counties. While nearly 170 homes were lost, the Forest Service said 1,249 were saved. At the time, it was considered the eighth-largest wildfire in Texas history.