The folks who record the signs of growth in Parker and Palo Pinto counties are working in a popular neighborhood.
Residential building permits in the cities, new and upgraded septic system applications in unincorporated areas and realty records paint a steady, sometimes dramatic, rise in homebuilding in both counties.
The people who build the homes describe a mix of young families and retirees who are hiring their services, people from the congested urban area to the east along with a mix of newcomers from California and other states.
Christine Acord, in the Weatherford Building Division, has been busy fielding new residential building permits pouring into city hall.
"There have been a lot this year, I can say that," she said. "This year alone, we have done close to 400 …We've still got a few months to go, and we've still got a lot of applications coming in. [Last] week alone we put in, probably, 20 new-builds."
She added the city received 300 residential building permit applications in 2020, and 250 the year before that.
Mineral Wells, too, is seeing a significant increase in new-home construction permit applications. Building Official Robert Turk reports numbers that are smaller than in Weatherford, but that still reflect a 650 percent increase since 2016.
That year brought two applications to the home of Crazy Water, three the next year. Seven were filed in 2018, dropping to four the next year but leaping to 14 in 2020. Turk reported 13 applications so far this year.
Outright land sales in Palo Pinto County are skyrocketing, as County Clerk Janette Green estimates her office has handled between 1,200 and 1,500 more land-sale documents so far this year than during all of 2020. Last year's document count had been passed up by May or June, she added.
"I've had to buy a new plat cabinet for all the new ones coming in," Green said, adding the clerk's office needed just one cabinet for those legal land descriptions until 2012 when it bought a second plat cabinet — that's now filled up, requiring a third.
"The southern part of the county is getting full," she said, describing one new subdivision with 144 lots "sold in one day. The title companies can't keep up."
Texas counties don't issue building permits, but Palo Pinto County Public Works Director David McDonald has a good way of tracking residential growth — septic system permits, which the county issues for the state.
He pins new permit sites to a Google map of the county on his computer, and with the exception of the Possum Kingdom Lake area, those pins point to most new growth occurring south and east of a diagonal line from the county's northeast corner to its southwest extreme.
McDonald pointed out new building near the 7-R Ranch, along Interstate 20 south of Palo Pinto, around Palo Pinto Lake and in clusters surrounding the I-20/U.S. 281 intersection — especially to the south.
"There's subdivisions going on everywhere out here," he said, before pointing north of I-20. "There's two new (subdivisions) in the Santo area. The county's growing so fast."
McDonald's new-permit count had reached 99 by the end of August, with four months left in the calendar year.
For 2020, there were 83 new systems permitted from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. The number for 2019 was 82, while three years earlier there were just 45 processed in 2016, his records show.
Parker County's Permitting Director Ryen Mowery similarly reported a steady rise in septic permit applications since he took the post three years ago.
"We've had record months this year," Mowery said. "Last month was a record, and we may be on track to go past that [in September]. It really seems like in the last year it's really taken off."
On Sept. 13, the Palo Pinto Commissioners Court gave a preliminary OK to developers' plats on the south bank of the Brazos River, one with 103 lots of at least five acres each and a separate plat with a dozen one-acre homesites.
"It's really going to start getting busy, (with) all of these new subdivisions," McDonald said. "We get calls from California, Colorado, all over the country. Palo Pinto County is growing."
New development also surfaced at Possum Kingdom Lake, a spokesperson for the Brazos River Authority, which governs the lake, said.
River authority spokeswoman Judy Pierce, like McDonald, said new and replacement septic system permits are her best way of measuring residential activity.
"There are several new subdivisions going in at Possum Kingdom that are brand new," she added.
Pierce counted 32 septic permits filed in 2019, and 45 in 2020. So far this calendar year, though, 65 have been filed. And those don't yet include developments still holding off on applying for septic permits.
"There will probably be a lot more this next year," she said, speaking from the authority's main office in Waco. "There are a couple of new subdivisions up there."
So, who is building these new homes? Brian Jobe, owner of Jobe Homes, said his Aledo-based business sees both retirees coming from the DFW Metroplex and young families fleeing urban congestion
"But it's mostly young families," he said. "(They are) coming out of Fort Worth, but they are coming out of everywhere."
Another homebuilder, Logan Cross of Cross Country Homes, echoed that observation, adding that couples in their 30s and 40s often are joined later by older family members. That often prompts construction of "in-law suites," he said.
"It's a little of everything," said Cross, whose company builds mainly in Parker County but spills into Wise and Tarrant counties. "(It's) young families. And I would also say it's the whole family. The 30s and 40s, they are coming first, and the whole family's coming next."
Cross said new residents are not only coming from nearby urban areas.
"You've definitely got people coming in from out of state," he said. "And I would say the majority of them are from California."
The Golden State transplants don't appear to be bringing California liberalism to Texas, he added.
"It seems to be the majority of them are conservative," Cross said. "You're bound to get some liberal ones, with some of these corporations that are moving."
Cross said he typically builds "move-up housing" for new arrivals, meaning upscale homes. He added that business has picked up since Texas emerged from COVID lockdown.
"Last year, March was crickets," he said. "There was nothing going on when they shut down. In April, we started getting calls. Literally, May 1 is when it took off."
Data supplied by Texas REALTORS, an advocacy and support association for the real estate industry, shows that closed real estate sales in Parker County rose from 2,657 in 2017 to 3,238 in 2020. There were 1,491 through the first six months of this year.
Active parcels for sale have remained fairly constant at 727 in 2017 to 723 in 2020. That active category, though, picked up the pace this year with 769 through June alone.
In Palo Pinto County, 391 real estate transactions closed in 2017, followed by 407 in 2018. Those dipped in 2019, to 372, but rebounded the next year to 479. Through June of this year, 251 sales closed.
Palo Pinto properties listed as active actually fell during the span, from 340 in 2017 to 175 in 2020. But there were 248 parcels listed as active through June.