Real estate investor takes historic home to new heights

Betty Dillard

Fort Worth businesswoman LaTrice Tatum had always dreamed of becoming a real estate tycoon, the next Donald Trump. As a student at Trimble Technical High School, Tatum became intrigued by Trump’s real estate experiences and how he put together powerful deals. Inspired by the real-life real estate magnate, Tatum attended real estate school after high school graduation, earned a real estate license and began investing in both residential and commercial properties. Her specialty – and passion – is renovating and repurposing distressed properties. “I got my real estate license before I even thought about college. I knew I wanted to go into real estate,” she said. “I always had this thing about real estate. I wanted to be a real estate entrepreneur. I’ve always been excited about seeing an old building and renovating it, turning it into what could be its best potential.” Two years ago Tatum converted a vacant, two-story house built in 1930 and an adjacent barn into an event facility. Renamed Handley Heights Place, the two-acre estate, which formerly housed an antique shop, is located at 7101 E. Lancaster Ave. in the Central Handley Historic District on Fort Worth’s east side. “It looked like a ghost town, like it had been vacant forever. It was so dull and dark. But I was still interested in it,” Tatum said. “I have this gift of being able to walk in a place and envisioning the possibilities and how it would look when renovated. I saw the potential in this house.” Tatum, a single mom and Arlington resident, said she didn’t grow up surrounded by people who owned, developed or renovated their own properties so she avidly attended real estate seminars and training courses while forging key business relationships. Already armed with her real estate license, Tatum graduated from Texas Wesleyan University in 1997 with a degree in psychology. Her plan was to become a high school counselor and later a psychiatrist but “business and real estate were just more interesting,” she said. She went on to earn an MBA in 2002 from the University of Dallas. While at Texas Wesleyan, Tatum worked as an assistant apartment manager, gaining experience in the multifamily sector. Within a month of graduating, she landed a position as land agent with the city of Fort Worth and later was promoted to a supervisory role as a senior land agent. “I had no intention of staying there for 13 years,” she said. “I was going to leave after getting my master’s degree but I didn’t, although my dream was still to be an entrepreneur.” Tatum turned the first house she bought into a rental property. Her big break came when a relative, impressed that she wanted to become the next Trump, gave her a fixer-upper house on Fort Worth’s north side. She rehabbed the house and lived in it while attending college. She later sold the house and began expanding her residential real estate portfolio in Fort Worth and Arlington. Today she operates her real estate investment and property management company from Handley Heights Place. Tatum graduated from the Executive Leadership Development Institute sponsored by the National Forum for Black Public Administrators in 2007 and from Fort Worth’s Successful Supervision Training Program in 2008. She resigned from her job with the city in 2010 to focus entirely on the renovation of Handley Heights Place. The Handley property is Tatum’s first mixed-use development project. Using her own savings as a down payment and a commercial loan, Tatum bought the estate in 2007 from the original owner, who lived in an upstairs apartment. She spent six months transforming the 2,500-square-foot main house into an events center. The extensive facelift included replacement of the plumbing, electric wiring and drywall. The original wood floors and wood ceiling beams remain. A parking lot was added. The 1,500-square-foot barn was just a shell, with no electricity or plumbing. Tatum added finished walls, ceramic floor, restroom, kitchen, air conditioning/heating, wall speakers and an electrical outdoor system for evening events. She recently completed an outdoor courtyard with lighting and a sound system. The indoor and outdoor space can accommodate up to 100 people. Before her new business even had its ribbon cutting two summers ago, Tatum had already booked the first wedding there. “Ninety percent of my business is weddings,” she said. “Wedding season is in full swing now. We’re busy with weddings and are staying busy with anniversary parties, birthday parties and family reunions.” Three businesses operate independently in the two-story house. Hair stylist Vivia Wilkerson runs Lively Hands Salon downstairs. Photographer Michael Winfrey leases the second story for his studio. Thaddaeus Faulkner, an event designer, will hang his shingle downstairs on June 1. There’s also a gift shop in the main building, which offers items and party favors for the bride or bridal party as well as event rentals. “We try to be a one-stop shop. It takes a lot of time to plan a wedding. It’s more convenient for the bride to find everything she needs in one place,” Tatum said. Every second Saturday of the month, Handley Heights Place hosts a vendors market. Recent markets have included body wraps, crafts and retail products. Plans are under way for an art exhibit in conjunction with Weiler House Fine Arts & Antique Gallery, located down the street in Historic Handley. “It’s truly a passion,” Tatum said of her business. “I love doing this. I don’t even consider it a job. And I don’t know why but I cry at everybody’s wedding.”