Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sick Buildings!

St. Louis LoftsNothing new to report here. Buyer's get freaked out when they see lots of places for sale in a given area. Drive down one street in a neighborhood and see two or three houses together with 'For Sale' signs and people start asking what's wrong with the area. Is the Love Canal flowing in back? Is there a crack house on the corner?

The funny thing about downtown is that some buildings go out of there way to force EVERY prospective buyer that walks into their building to see how many units are, or have been on the market based upon the number of lock boxes they see when they walk in the door or as they walk by the building. This is a problem that really should be fixed. Not only does it reflect on the building, but it reflects on downtown as a whole.

Of course, having a buyer's agent like myself, we can explain that there are a number of units that have sold and still have the box there. There are others that may be for rent, and there are still some that just need a lockbox for entry of a utility or service technician. We can also point out that in a building with 100 units, having 10 on the market isn't bad. In the mind of a buyer, no one would want to sell in the building they want. It would be too cool for that.

So this may be another post for the condo board members out there to consider. If the first message a buyer gets out of your building is that a bunch of units are for sale, you have a problem. At a time when re-sale value isn't something we even want to look at, its not a bad time to address the things that will hold back re-sale values in ANY market.

Monday, November 24, 2008

To Live or To Sell!

Downtown st louis lofts for lease
Last month at the Downtown Neighborhood Nights, we ran into one of our clients. With so much for them to do and see, we didn't spend too much time talking except for a few brief minutes. How's your life? Do you enjoy your space? etc.

We found out they had become the Association President too.

That brought up the subject of how they had chosen to implement leadership in the building.

One topic that seems to be coming up lately as a problem for people trying to sell is the creative RENTAL RESTRICTIONS have been implemented in some of the loft buildings downtown.

It seems that buyers, when faced with a decision between two or three lofts will choose one with less restrictive by-laws. Their "short list". That often times one of the determining factors is conveyed like this, "well if I ever needed to rent this one, I could." Of course some loft buyers have every intention of renting out their space at some point of their ownership.

We discussed that with our client. He cited some research that was provided regarding appreciation levels in comparable buildings. One building chose to "manage" its residents affairs with edicts and fines. Another similar building had higher fees with less restrictions. According to the study, in this situation price appreciation was higher in the building with less restrictions. Instead of being heavy handed, the condo association held parties and mixers in the building so that residents could get together and talk about issues in an informal setting.

Of course, I have no idea what study this is or the validity. There could be other factors not made clear in our discussion.

It seems interesting though, that the lofts we are trying to sell with the most difficulty have strict rental restrictions while the units that seem to sell faster have less absolute restrictions regarding rentals or other matters. Since the summer, we've actually sold more units in the Syndicate than any other building. While prices are drastically lower in resale units,

Also interesting to me is that often times condo board members we talk to only cite the negative problems that rentals can cause and seemingly have little or no interest in how restrictions can stiffle resale. Seemingly there are two sides to the matter, and those that believe having strict limits on rentals do so because they are entirely focused on the buildings livability and fear of renters. Selling and resale value tends to not be as high of a consideration. The minority of people selling seem to take up the issue of association restrictions at times, but as people leaving the group, they have little influence. As a realtor, of course, we'd like to think we focus on the "big picture" but my primary interest with buyer's is usually resale.

Condo assocations to have to consider the number of leases allowed in a building to keep the building "warrantable". Usually that number is a maximum of 40-49% leased units. The former giant Pyramid had a brilliant scheme: to only allow rentals for "original owners" creating a noble class within their buildings. This really was a scheme that allowed them to sell with less trouble, and to reduce competition for them down downt the road. Members of the noble class always seem to embrace this right. Sometimes those affected by strict rules talk lawsuit: forcing the will of one onto the many. That doesn't seem like the way things should be handled either.

No matter how this issue is viewed, or any other, one thing clear is that setting policy in condo associations can be a delicate matter. No training or education is required to be elected to the board or to lease, but having some collective wisdom or case studies available to those who serve would be nice.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Help Design Lucas Park TONIGHT!

Downtown St. Louis Lucas Park
In just 30 minutes from now, a "design charette" will be held at Crepes in the City, 500 N 14th St. It should last until about 9. Plenty of discussion has led up to this event in hopes to transform the current space into a more useful and welcoming park for all the city residents.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One Holiday Thought.........SHOP DOWNTOWN!

downtown st louis santa

A Big topic of discussion this year is holiday retail shopping. Turn on the news. There's talk of the economy and its effects on how much a person will spend on gifts this season. Our thoughts aren't how much, but where our money is spent.

Growing up in suburbia, no one really had to worry where they shopped. Most shops were owned by big business paying minimum wage to its employees. My wife, on the other hand, grew up not far from me but had an entirely different outlook. There were the malls and all the big box retailers, but there were a few strip malls nearby her home with mostly independent businesses. It was important to her to support them because without LOCAL SUPPORT, the storefronts that made up that community would be empty.

Looking at the downtown streetscape, what's different? Particularly around the residential areas, take out the Sprint store and what's left? Small, locally owned and operated independent businesses; many of which are owned by downtown residents!

There was a big increase in store openings in the past year which really helps everyone. Turning around empty or unsightly street level retail does more to change public perception of an area than having 100 occupied lofts sitting above them.

Earlier in the year, we posted about shopping downtown. That was more about the city not being supportive of the downtown retail district.

This is the call to all city and downtown residents and workers. With the economy suffering and retail sales lagging, it's more important than EVER to take care of your own neighborhood by SHOPPING THERE! From my experience as a realtor, downtown residents always get excited by stores and restaurants opening up in and around their building. The thought of these same residents leaving the downtown area to shop would be a disappointment.

Last week, Mrs. G was out with a friend from Springfield MO, enjoying THE LONDON TEA ROOM and Sushi at Wasabi when they did a little window shopping at the new ladies accessory shop D'Elegance, someone pulled them inside and they began holiday shopping. Do your part by adding your "wish list" items from stores downtown and supporting them! Not only will it benefit the owners, the local residents but also will keep tax revenue in the city. SHOP DOWNTOWN!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Our National Audience

Urban Core
Last week, setting the record for audiences at the Gateway Arch Grounds was a nice day of publicity for our otherwise HO-HUM National Park.

Not that the Arch isn't great, but really, outside of some good scenery, what is it?

Today's cover article on talked a bit about the little struggle we have going over the hope for revisions of the arch grounds.

According to the NPS, they can't just listen to what St. Louisans want. It has to be opened up for a national competition, similar to the one that Eero Saarinen was in. Seems respectable, huh?

This was posted back in April, the last time the media covered it.

Three concerns I have now. 1. The Arch Grounds are a National Park and should be treated accordingly....BUT we have to live with it year in and year out. Plans should be something that takes into account the city's desire for a world class destination, not just a quick makeover.

2. The actual plan that Saarinen submitted for his original contest victory was more involved. What we have is a stripped down version. Original plans include a theater a levee restaurant, an architectural museum and a history museum. Also the grounds would be forested and the Old Rock House would have been re-built from original materials. The NPS had an opportunity to get it right already. It makes a hell of a fairground, but is it something that brings people downtown?

3. My hope was for a call to action from within the city. Contact your Congressman! Of course, saving the economy has been a bit more pressing, but this should be a close second!

Claims that its National Historic Site should prevent local pressure to make improvements is NONSENSE! I would understand if it was Arlington National Cemetery or something of historical significance but c'mon! Everything historic was razed for the modern art, grassy landscaping and westward expansion museum. Nice, but historic? I might even be swayed by a bit more history on the part of the city that was destroyed to plant the Arch.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Party in the Park

Downtown St. Louis EventsLots of talks have taken place about what can be done with Lucas Park. What happened in the past month or so is really fantastic....the talk turned (quickly) to action. Who is to say what the best use of the park is, or how it figures into the neighborhood, but having it cleaned up is fantastic!

Support the efforts and show up!


St. Louis Lofts realtorsLast week, Warren Buffet said something that really hit home with me about his investment choices. He said he follows a simple rule, to "be fearful when others are greedy and be greedy when others are fearful." As a believer in home ownership, it wasn't disconcerting back in 2004 or 2005 when many buyer's came to me wanting to find a home. Buying was a foregone conclusion in those days. At the Ely Walker Lofts release party, I remember some people that tried to reserve several lofts. Stories of huge profits from flipping lofts were legendary then and people wanted to cash in that night. I think about that evening often.

When the market really tanked in Florida, I thought about the launch party at Ely. I heard stories of people getting stuck with multiple units and not knowing what to do. Greed really reared its ugly side.

Despite the markets in many locations being turned upsides down and many of the builders downtown having to drastically change their business plans, the market isn't as horrible as we hear on the news.

One presidential candidate is going around saying that the housing market has "collapsed". When the stock market collapsed during the great depression, it lost nearly 90% of its value. In contrast, our housing appreciation has mostly just flattened out with slight drops or slight appreciation based on market demand.

Other things I keep hearing is that the credit markets are frozen. No one can get a loan. "You watch too much TV!!" was what one mortgage lender told me. I had called him to ask if they'd be able to fund a loan set for closing last month. Of course, there are limitations. Some good, some not so good. Most of what industry professionals called "exotic loans" are a thing of the past. Also, much of the lending going on is in the form of loans that can be sold on the secondary market or otherwise insured by FHA or VA.

So thoughts about the world today are that the news media is spewing bad advice, engendering terror and paralyzing the community. People that buy homes right now are following the most fundamental rule in investing: buy low and sell high. Had I not gone on my buying spree last year, I'd be greedy right now.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The End of an Era

The last time I had something stolen from me in Downtown St. Louis, I was different, downtown was different, and the scenario was different.

Back in 1994, I was a student at UMSL. It was finals week and I was studying all afternoon and evening. I stopped off at Club EVOLUTION to relieve some stress, parked at 13th and Washington and returned about an hour later to find my car window was smashed and my backpack with all my books and notes had been stolen. ON FINALS WEEK! I searched around for at least 30 minutes looking in dumpsters until I found my books strewn across a dumpster full of broken beer and liquor bottles. Wearing only my well worn Birkenstocks, I climbed in and retreived everything except a microcassette recorder. My encounter that morning was likely caused by a person looking to survive in abject property.

Last night, I was enjoying myself at a table set up on Washington Avenue, about 3 blocks from where my last incident occured so long ago. A call came in from Howard McCauliffe, an agent with us that was holding open the City Museum Loft 509W (incidentally, one of the best deals around). He said a middle age, brown hair but balding man, about 5'9", came into his open house and told him that he wasn't allowed to hold an open house that evening. They discussed it, they seemed to agree that it was acceptable to hold an open house (who ever heard of a building that prevented you from reselling your loft?) Then about a half an hour later, a fellow loft owner came in and told him that his(our) sign had been taken.

After a day of calling trying to get our sign back the only option was to call the police.

The funny thing is that in the current market, these lofts probably won't sell anyway. They're priced above market and are in a building that has limited financing options. Even getting a loft to appraise out at over $200 per square foot would require an exceptional space in a building that supports that type of sale. Lastly, in this market or any, it seems odd that anyone wanting to sell housing inventory would shoot themselves in the foot by (allegedly) conducting such a selfish act directed at someone who specializes in selling their product.

As for crime in the city goes though, our last sign to be stolen was a month ago in West County. Go figure.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Downtown Neighborhood Nights

St. Louis Printer's Lofts
A couple weeks ago, the idea of hanging out downtown in the evening at the first ever "Neighborhood Nights" seemed idiotic. Sleep deprived, wanting to watch Sarah and Joe duke it out from Wash U. I could think of too many reasons not to be there. Afterwards, all I can say was that I was wrong.

Traditionally the Downtown St. Louis Partnership (recently renamed "Partnership for Downtown St. Louis")held a spring and fall loft tour. Each year, the tour became bigger and wider--going from the small cluster of a few buildings to sprawled out between Jefferson down to Broadway taking two full days to see everything. Still, even with all the hoopla that surrounded the loft tour, it just seemed like something was missing. Tours were usually held during weekends downtown where there wasn't much happening. Residents seemed like they wanted to avoid the whole thing. Whether the crowd was good or not, the normal hustle and bustle of the city seemed to be slowed down and covered up.

St. Louis real estate
At the first Neighborhood Nights, covering the Old Post Office District east of Tucker, I saw what I wanted to see at the preceding tours, the typical buzz of downtown. City lights. A different feel.

This Thursday we'll be there again. The starting point will be at the English Living furniture store at 15th and Washington. Our table (weather permitting) will be a block west on the Corner. We have some great listings at the Printers Lofts open as well as several downtown agents to provide information.

We hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Is Now a Good Time to Buy?"

bargain real estateLately I've become a bit of a CNN junkie. All the politics and economy talk seem to get me every time.

With the economy on the ropes people are looking for serious advice.

Well don't start stuffing the mattress just yet.

Based on the news, I wouldn't think it was feasible to get a home loan right now. "You watch too much TV!!" was what one lender told me when I asked if they had any money to lend. The question made sense. All we hear about lately is frozen credit markets, blah blah blah. Restrictions and changes keep coming, yes. So far though, it seems like qualified borrowers haven't been denied.

Rates continuet to drop. Lenders are still lending and home prices, though fairly stable, do continue to favor buyers. The way it looks, the housing market may help pull us all out of the recession.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Boom Downtown

Downtown St. Louis residentsLoft style has become mainstream in America. Black Granite, high ceilings, slab cabinets, modern decor. Tre Chic. Many loft buyers take this modern style and make their loft space into an attempt at self-expression. Stylish artwork, photos, great designs and modern furniture.

A few years down the road, a different style can evolve. Cool ultra modern stuff begins to share the space with more pastels. Bright colored objects stashed around the floors. Mobiles. Rubber duckies in the spa-like master baths. They become "baby-fied".

With our traditional St. Louis values, some people decide to move away. But what if they don't? Is it acceptable to have children in downtown St. Louis?

Fair housing laws were established in 1968 to protect the rights of people to live where they want regardless of who they were. Race, Color, National Origin, Religion, Sex, Familial Status, or handicap are the "protected classes" in the US.

Recently I heard of a couple that was being harassed by neighbors due to their child crying at night. The condo president got involved, trying to be helpful and resolve the matter. What actually resulted was clearly discriminatory.

They decided to sell their loft because they didn't feel welcome in their building.

One thing about downtown St. Louis, we have our very own office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Discussing this situation with the investigators, they advised that any attempt to control the behavior or living conditions of an individual or couple based on the fact that they have a child is discriminatory and violates the rights of a protected class of people (familial status). Regarding this situation, they told me that the intent of the person making discriminatory actions was less important than the perceptions of the persons being discriminated against.

In light of this situation, it might not be a bad idea for several of the downtown loft condo boards to hold a joint informational meeting on this topic. The folks at the HUD office seemed very open to meeting to talk about Fair Housing matters and to educate those who may be involved. While downtown residents may establish expectations about fellow residents, they should always remember that the neighborhood is open to everyone and the last thing a condo association needs is for its board members to waste time and money dealing with complaints from HUD.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

So That's What's Happening?

downtown st louis demographic inversion
Working in many city neighbhorhoods gives me a picture of St. Louis that is optimistic. I remember in my former occupation when a client of mine was buying a home in Lafayette Square. He was excited about all the development and changes going on. It was 1997. I just didn't see it.

Now Lafayette Square is a vital urban neighborhood that has stimulated progress in surrounding areas (Old City Hospital, the Gate District, etc.).

Urban sprawl still takes place, but at a much less forceful rate than it has in the past. Also, the people I've worked with looking in places like Wentzville are generally in the entry level price range where the average suburban home buyer in the 1970's was often time able to afford significantly more than what home prices were going for in the urban core.

Other than gentrification, revitalization or adaptive re-use, there is a term that is used to describe what has been happening in St. Louis and other inner city areas in the past few decades. This article in the New Republic describes the process as "demographic inversion". It was a good read; worth sharing. In a times like today when massive amount of development drastically slows down, the false conclusion that there is a problem with downtown. This article reminds me that the trends underlying the shifts in population are still active, and are much more subtle than the amazing transformation that has taken place in such a short time downtown and elsewhere in the city.

The subject of demographic inversion isn't always perceived as positive though. So much talk of displacement of the poor disenfranchised citizens seems to be present when areas are gentrified. The problem (poverty, crime) still remains but just moves elsewhere. Some agree on this point, but another observation is that while gentrification often gradually changes the demographics of a neighborhood, the areas where the poor relocate vary and are never as concentrated as what took place when the inner cities were summarily abandonded by the middle class.

More will be revealed as time goes on. Progress in St. Louis keeps moving.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Today's Action

Between the Cardinals game this afternoon and my open house at the Banker's lofts from 12-2, one wouldn't think there was room for anything else downtown, but what does one know?
Downtown st louis events
Metropolis is an organization that is hosting "The Lot" and a worthy event it is. Who would want to miss the Funky Butt Blues Band?

Really though, the mission of Metropolis has always inspired me in that St. Louis should never have become a place where entire generations sole focus is to move away. While it seems that the city and downtown's re-birth seems to be happening naturally by participation of several types of entities (government, quasi-government, developers, businesses and residents), the voice of Metropolis has been a positive force throughout the past decade worth hearing.

Happy Birthday to Metropolis and Come on out and enjoy the LOT!!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Buy Here!

St. Louis real estateHomevestors, a nationwide company working mostly in residential real estate ranked St. Louis as the eight best city for real estate investment according to this weeks Business Journal Update. This is really no suprise. Predicting the success of any investment is tough, but with the combination of low home prices and tremendous amount of infrastructure improvements in the area, the opportunity to find great investments is definately out there.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

It's a Neighborhood Stupid!

There was plenty of stories about downtown in this weeks St. Louis Business Journal. Downtown's biggest critic (Post Dispatch parent co Lee Enterprises) has hit an all time low, Ballpark Village might be coming together, a new branch of Lindenwood College is coming to
1409 Washington

The article that stood out for some reason was about the decrease in loft sales over a record 2007.

Its not a bad article, really. It just states the facts. It talks about how some builders plans are changing in response to the market.

What's nutty, is that there is an implication that lofts are supposed to be like barrels of Budweiser. "Condo Sales Lag". Building lofts and condos downtown should be more about quality than quantity. Stories about the neigbhorhood should focus on how things come together, and how they add to the area, not look at homes sold like they're a commodity.

Most strange is that everyone knew the day would come when the developers would fade away and refocus on other types of construction or other areas. Most people knew that all the condo units projected to be built would be limited by the market. By comparison, the city of Creve Coeur has a larger population of approximately 16,500. Creve Coeur only had 307 homes sell last year (per the MLS). Why no write-up for Creve Coeur? The reasons are obvious: 1. Sales of homes everywhere are lagging and 2. It's ok for a neighborhood to stabilize.

It's great to hear about Ballpark Village and Lindenwood College. Downtown progress isn't over by a long shot. The great surge in owner occupied residences in since the turn of the century may be coming to an end, but the foundation has been laid for much growth and prosperity in the future.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Online Free Downtown

downtown st louis amenitiesI heard on KMOX this morning that the new free wireless access was available today. I didn't see any news online about it, so I decided to log on when I had a chance.

Having just been on a trip, I really value having this service here.

It only took me a couple minutes while parked at 9th and St. Charles to not only create an account but to add this post. In adding the account, look for "STLMETROFREE" networks. There were about 5 of them to choose from. There's also the opportunity to buy a membership for faster access, VPN ability and no ads. (although the ads are just a large bar on the top of the screen, hardly a nuisance).

Only 19 hours left, but still nice for the occasional need to access the web while on the run in downtown St. Louis.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Day at the FHA: part 2

downpayment assistanceFinding out that the Knickerbocker lofts are the only lofts in downtown St. Louis that have undergone the full FHA approval process was disconcerting. It makes perfect sense though.

A visit to the FHA office in the Robert A. Young Federal Building would clear up all my questions about getting more loft buildings FHA approved.

Getting an FHA loan on a condo doesn't require it to be previously "FHA Approved". The "spot approval" process works to get an individual unit approved. This usually means less work for the lender and a speedy resolution; both important when obtaining financing.

The only problem is that the next time a lender tries to get an FHA loan in that building, the 'spot approval' process must be done again, and again.......

Discussing the situation with lenders, its been said that if one unit in a building is approved, in a perfect world, all other units would also be FHA approved. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

So that's the problem in a nutshell.

My first thought is, if the buildings and the residents benefit from easier, smoother or more available financing through FHA, can they participate in getting thier buildings on the FHA approved list?

That was a question that seemed to confuse our friends at the FHA office. "The lender gets the buildings approved, " is what I was told. My reply, "why are lenders choosing to do "spot approvals then?"

The truth is, lenders don't have the time, money, access to condo association records, and really, any motivation to get buildings approved unless it adds to their bottom line. That's just how the system works.

My second thought involes adding to the workload of the condo board members and board presidents out there. The last thing I would want to suggest. Being on a condo board is often a thankless job that must be done for the good of the building. Adding the task of assisting an FHA approved lender at getting the qualified buildings on the FHA Approved Condo List may mean more "up front" work but may reduce the overall workload down the road.

With an increase in market share projected in the neighborhood of 45%, it makes sense for condo associations to start working with lenders and encouraging them to approve the building.

It also is worth a call to your local Congressman to find out why FHA financing is limited to condo projects with less than 30% commercial use. That provision is biased against urban "mixed use" projects and is not something the fine folks at the FHA are even able to explain.

FHA loans are a program that got left in the dust of the mortgage boom of the past decade. Its terms weren't as easy to deal with and there were better options available in the conventional marketplace. With FHA streamlining its programs and making them more "user friendly" combined with the current lending crisis on our hands, it just makes sense to hop on the bandwagon or else suffer the fate of buyer's being steered away from downtown.

Monday, May 26, 2008

My Day at the FHA; part 1

Federal Loft Buying Assistance
Rapid changes in the financing markets have me thinking quite a bit lately. Last week a lender advised a client that if she wanted a loft downtown, she should check a list of FHA Approved Condominium projects in St. Louis FHA%20approved%20St.%20Louis%20Condos.pdf

"FHA loans" are really bank loans that are insured by the federal government. They were created in the great depression as a way to encourage home ownership by those unable to make the substantial downpayment required to own a home (providing 97% loan to value (LTV) instead of 80% loans to value). For about the past 8 years, FHA loans were nearly obsolete with the availability of "piggyback" loans that allowed for two loans equaling 100% of the purchase price. Due to the corrections going on each day in the lending markets, the Federal Housing Administration estimates that the percentage share in the market of FHA loans will jump from 2% in 2007 to 48% in 2008.

With conventional lenders pulling most loan products off the shelf and the federal government anticipating the increase in FHA loans, one interested in downtown real estate may wonder why only 1 Loft building is FHA approved and what can be done about it.

That information to follow.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Coming Soon To MacroSun

Downtown St. Louis merchants
Gil Williams, owner of Macrosun, stopped in the Washinton Ave Post on Friday. He spoke of his long trip to the far east. Buying jewelry apparel and home furnishings from places like Indonesia and Tibet has a tremendous amount of logistics involved. He expects his large cargo shipments to be arriving with some great new material starting in late May or early June. Check it out!

Friday, May 16, 2008

What's up with Tony's?

St. Louis real estate
The last month, news about the floundering Busch's Grove in Ladue has suggested that Vince Bommarito saving the historic restaurant with hints of uncertainty for downtowns Tony's.

This week, Vince made an offer and hinted about the possible changing of the guard at Tony's in an article that included talk about suitors to Pyramid's projects.

Developing the Arcade under a different plan would be a great thing for the city for several reasons. For starters, the ultra-luxury plan envisioned by Pyramid wasn't marketable. Even the developer's have to remember that St. Louis is still a conservative midwestern city. Many "high end" buyer's start out looking for the penthouse and end up spending less.

The next phase of developers that take on downtown will hopefully stick to a more realistic business plan. As admirable as John Steffen and Pyramid are, it seemed that the past year or two that operations were more based on a fantasy than on a business plan. Many other developer's seemed to be caught up in the same notion. Of course, that's just an outsider's perspective. It was an issue that came up with each buyer and seller I worked with.

With the brakes slammed on so many projects downtown, it will give the market a chance to settle down. Despite all the hoopla, progress is being made and downtown is still in business!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The True Lofts

St. Louis lofts
The history of lofts is fascinating. Not a SOHO History expert, past reading talks of the starving artist--unable to afford residential apartments--rents out "space" in the largely abandonded structures zoned and equipped for commercial use. So began the attraction of the loft. A subversive element. A Soho Lofts website had this to say about the original lofts, "Most of these spaces were also used illegally as living space, being neither zoned nor equipped for residential use, but this was ignored for a long period because the occupants were using space that would probably have been dormant or abandoned..."

The beauty of these spaces involves personality.

In the mid 60's and into the 70's, getting a loft space in soho took on the personality of the occupant. The challenge was to make the space "yours" without having to add traditional building of walls and halls. Creativity and unconventional style was born and nurtured. The concept in various forms has spread and evolved.

Most of today's lofts from St. Louis loft builders don't have as much in common with the spaces in Soho. Here, the developer is the main source of creativity. Modern elements are produced in mass. Most loft dwellers today don't have the time for the creative lifestyle. The mostly open large spaces are being carved up into classy apartments with more conventional 2 and 3 bedroom units. The loft concept has evolved into the mainstream here and in many other towns.

Enter the King Bee Building. Located at 1709 Washington, the building resembles a converted commercial structure because that's what it is. Spaces rented out as office or artist studios were subdivided and sold as condos. The building and the lofts within are the closest thing to the Real Thing that downtown has to offer.

This weeks RFT highlighted a long brewing controversy within the building in its typical melodramatic and one sided approach. The article seemed to paint the "King Bee 9" as blameless victims. They may be. What seemed evident was the details conveniently left out of the story.

One thing that has been evident is that not everyone should live downtown. High density living favors people that can "play nice in the sandbox" with the patience and sincerity to work towards resolution. Various disputes in condo associations everywhere repeatedly confirm this fact.

Good luck to all at the King Bee for a amicable end to the story.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Urban Beauty

The Urban Roots planting days are today and tomorrow.

According to the Downtown St. Louis Residents website, meeting location for tomorrow is at the South sidewalk along Kiener Plaza. Show up at 8 and put in some time to make Downtown St. Louis a more attractive place to live, work and visit!

Another event set up to make downtown more beautiful is a fundraiser tonight at
Railway Lofts unit 901. For a long time, there have been various grass roots attempts at beautification of Lucas Park. One group was more or less dismantled after Pyramid (in its free time) was going to use MODESSA state tax credits to recreate the landscape of the park. The next group is fully active and organized to get things moving.

Lastly, yesterday the story broke that the National Park Service is beginning the process to re-evaluate the use of the Arch Grounds. The St. Louis Business Journal article discussed the process in the most detail. Most importantly, the public is being asked for its support and guidance throughout the process. Meetings will be held and input is being solicited. As has been said all along, good public support will go a long way into turning the riverfront into a world class destination.

If you love downtown, now is the time to remember we're in the "Show Me" state.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Calmer Tour

St. Louis real estate
This year's loft tour was 'right sized.'

Each year it seems the loft tour is more and more hyped, with more and more new projects to see. Gimmicks, promotions, and lots of hooplah surrounded the fact that a neighborhood is being built. This year was calmer, except for the street level tension of having so many misguided cubs fans walking our streets.

According to Matt Schindler at the Downtown St. Louis Partnership,St. Louis real estate 900 people officially registered for the tour. My guess, based on the number of wrist-bands and blue bags full of information, was that about half the people "touring" had registered for the tour. Many people were just down, walking around, and trying to hit all the open houses. The overall experience is that as each year passes and downtown surges forward, more of the attendees are seriously considering a move downtown. I guess now that there's a Schnucks, its not such a novelty.

Also shared was that the fall tour will most likely be a 1 day event. Welcome news.

This year, my take on the tour changed slightly after being more actively involved with the Downtown St. Louis Partnership. The tour represents a big welcome mat, even for Cubs fans, to see what our downtown living in St. Louis has to offer. I take for granted that people know how great it is to be downtown and what urban living is like. In reality, people judge "what downtown is like" based on experiences they might have had decades ago. Just like being born a Cubs fan, that's just not fair.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

St. Louis Loft Sales in April

St. Louis real estate
Lately it seems like things have really been picking up. Downtown is buzzing, sidewalk cafe's are going, foot traffic is increasing, the Cardinals are playing. All the things I love about Spring in Downtown St. Louis.

Loft sales may have been a drop off from last month. More will be revealed as the next few days go by.

Speaking of the next few days.....The Annual Spring Downtown Living Tour is being held this Saturday and Sunday. It should be a great tour this time. Weather will be ideal for long walks and downtown will put its best foot forward.

We hope to see lots of friendly faces this weekend!

Here are the current sales for April. (Updated 5/5)

210 N 17th St #308------------427-----79,900
210 N 17th St #1408------------------82,400
210 N 17th St #1106------------------139,140
1123 Washington #710-----------------144,000
2020 Washington Ave #307---1198----155,000
2020 Washington Ave #413---1300----157,000
721 N 17th St. #405------------1285----182,500
2201 Washington Ave #302---1358----192,635
314 N Broadway #1108-------968-----239,900
901 Washington Ave #411-----1711----242,500
1619 Washington #201-------2268----267,000
1611 Locust #703-----------2062-----312,000
1015 Washington #702-------2532----558,535

"Did You Hear....."

St. Louis real estate
The month of April 2008 will henceforth be known as the "Did you hear about Pyramid?" month. I must have been asked that question 500 times in 3 days, followed of course by "What do you think?".

There are a whole lot of bad things about Pyramid closing. I can go on forever. Seeing so many really good people with such dedication and vision finding themselves out of work in these times is terribly depressing. I hope and pray that they all land on thier feet.

Aside from the personal side, I can't help but say that the whole thing happening wasn't a big suprise. How it happened yes. Anyone following downtown development was skeptical about their ability to pull off so much work. My thought all along was that they had a good "poker face" and that they would eventually shelve or change plans. The way things were going was just too wierd. It didn't make sense.

When John Steffen was quoted in the St. Louis Business Journal, saying that he was just doing deals because banks wanted to work with him, I was confused. Banks are always wanting to do deals with me. I get 20 credit card offers per week it seems. When I bought my first multi-family apartment building, I was approved to buy 6 of them. That would have been a recipe for disaster for sure.

As far as downtown real estate goes, despite the way things happened, its a good thing for these projects to slow down or go away for a time. Getting more focus on improving the quality of life downtown and attracting more businesses is best for downtown and the region. Getting more residences is needed, but not yesterday. Having hundreds of vacant condos sitting around won't help anyone.

Yesterday I was working with a buyer wanting to live downtown. We spoke of the advantages to living downtown as we walked into the Printer's Lofts building. As we walked in I saw a medical transport van from Mt. Vernon Missouri parked out in front. "Steve must be coming back home!" I thought. Today I read his blog post. Hearing his simple endorsement of downtown living is a wonderful focal point to consider regarding downtown development. That's what is important to me.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Propaganda Dispatch

The biggest failure downtown is the continued failed attempts at journalism coming from the Post Disgrace.

The old saying, "maybe if we ignore them, they'll go away" seems apropos here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Down By The River

Talk has gone on about the state of the riverfront, but not enough.

The topic that sporadically comes up in the news was brought up again a few weeks ago on the Mayor's Blog Hoping to wrest control over some of the 91 acres in order to establish a better landmark that, in the words of Former Senator Danforth, "We want something that transforms our image of ourselves and transforms the rest of the world's image of St. Louis."

Presently, the Gateway Arch grounds are controlled by the National Park Service. Most St. Louisan's have been there at some point or another. The Museum, a trip up to the observatory. The visit would normally take a few hours. Without sounding too critical, it doesn't really transform the image of St. Louis much.

A tremendous landmark, the Arch can become the focal point of so much more that it presently is.

Currently, local Mayors and the Danforth Foundation are calling for more local control of the arch grounds. Even the ability to control and enhance a fraction of the arch grounds could benefit the city and our central focal point. Gaining this local control of the Arch grounds won't be easy.

According to the article from the Post Dispatch, gaining local control will require broad level support from the community, not just a few in power.

William Lacy ClaySt. Louis City office:
625 North Euclid Street, Suite #326
St. Louis, MO 63108
Phone: (314) 367-1970
FAX: (314) 367-1341
Office Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Out Like a Lion

Lofts St Louis
As busy as things were in March, it was looking like the monthly sales were not going to reflect the newly active market. Seven lofts closed on the last week of the month.

So things are starting to pick up; most notably in the price column. Sales in the range of $250,000 to $600,000 accounted for eight of seventeen sales last month.

Maybe all the flooding is starting to encourage vertical moves. Here are the St. Louis Loft Sales from March 2008

210 N 17th St #1410----------427----------$84,890
210 N 17th St #210------------419----------$87,650
507 N 13th St #209--------------------------$131,000
210 N 17th St #912--------------------------$135,400
1501 Locust St #501-----------980---------$139,000
2201 Washington #307--------911---------$140,203
2020 Washington #307-------1198---------$155,000
1511 Locust St #302----------1235---------$160,000
1501 Locust St #903----------1053---------$161,000
1511 Locust St #106----------1343---------$190,000
721 N 17th St #502------------1236---------$202,000
1015 Washington #309-------1499---------$211,372
1635 Washington #312--------1105--------$229,000
2201 Washington #310--------1442--------$248,306
1123 Washington #513----------------------$255,000
1619 Washington #604--------1595--------$260,000
314 N Broadway #1602-------1126--------$285,000
1015 Washington #604--------1965--------$325,000
507 N 13th St #410-------------2700--------$395,000
1015 Washington #701--------2109--------$459,825
1015 Washington #703--------2523--------$486,604
1015 Washington #702--------2532--------$558,535

Saturday, March 29, 2008

St. Louisans Bitch

St. Louis real estate
The concept of Ballpark Village was one that was tough to understand. So we have this stadium with about 80 games per year--then we have a entertainment, retail living center nearby. Baseball heaven maybe?

So the whole idea has gone through some changes. First Condos, then corporate headquarters, who knows what's next. A corporate hub seemed to be the most attractive of the options.

The day Centene announced it's intentions to move downtown, we rejoiced. One big pat on the back for the downtown revitalization. No one seems to know their plans today. They could stay in Clayton, they could move out of state, they could find another place to move downtown.

What sort of baffles me is the whining and negativity surrounding this deal not coming together.

Who really cares if Centene and Busch Stadium are neighbors? Sure it would give some useful density to the project, but is it vital to the project? It wasn't originally in the plans, so it mustn't be that important.

Listening to Charlie Brennan on Thursday the skeptics were crawling out of the woodwork. Maybe they're always out of the woodwork, talk radio is rarely in my schedule. Suddenly, the City, the Cardinals, Cordish, and anyone else involved was corrupt, spineless, failures that should be banished. The fact that so many people needed Centene to be a part of Ballpark Village was confusing. Should it have been re-named "Health Care Village?"

Bill McClellan put his usual anti-development spin on his column and made some good points about local business not getting the same favoritism being granted to Ballpark Village. The comparison to Ballpark Village to St. Louis Center is a tired cliche though. He should just come out and admit that he prefers the downtown of 1990 over the one of today.

After reading Bill's column though, something seemed to come into focus that had never been so clear about Ballpark Village. It's being built for him. Ballpark Village is being created as a suburban oasis in the heart of the City. It will bring comfort to those looking for a bit of home in downtown. It will still happen.

While the naysayers still ponder the fate of Ballpark Village, downtown development moves on. I can't shake my optimism about the right thing happening for the beloved "hole by Busch stadium". St. Louis shouldn't be so impatient and cynical. It casts a negative shadow on the immense progress and the bright future of our downtown. These major projects deserve time, attention, and the opportunity to tweak the plans until the right concept evolves.

Let's face it, the Cardinals are easily the number one attraction (besides work) downtown. Let's stand behind their goals to make the baseball experience more fulfiling in Downtown St. Louis.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Shop Downtown!

Shop Downtown
Right now there's an underlying competition going on. It's been going on for a while now.

In April 2006, the previously slated "Ballpark Village" plans were unveiled. Bill DeWitt III of the Cardinals and Chase Martin of Cordish explained a new city center with entertainment and upscale shopping. "National Brands" without a presence in St. Louis would be there. It would be a thriving part of the revitalized downtown-a destination point for shoppers. Sounds good.

Last year, John Steffen and the Pyramid Crew came up with a similar sounding plan, Mercantile Exchange. At the lunch meeting promoting the project, it was described as a mix between local independent stores and national brands with entertainment and free parking. A very impressive plan, but I couldn't help but draw parallels with Ballpark Village.

Shopping Downtown is how it should be. For years, downtown was the focal point for local area shoppers. Generations of St. Louisan's remember big shopping trips in downtown. St. Louis was a relevant major city then.Enter suburban sprawl, overall decline of downtown and the major shopping mall. Most attempts (St. Louis Centre) to reverse the trend were unsuccessful. Many argue that St. Louis Centre's attempt to bring suburbia into the inner city was what killed it. It's overall lack of authenticity.

Now, the building blocks are in place. Downtown is growing. People really want to be here to live work and play. They are wanting the services and opportunities that Ballpark Village and the Mercantile Exchange will offer.

Who could possibly screw this up? Enter in City Government.

OK, so nothing has happened yet. But in an article in today's Post, it describes a clandestine real estate acquisition by the city that city development leaders have planned for a new shopping center. As Rodney Crimm (viewed above at the Lee J's expansion ribbon cutting) put it, so residents can shop in the City instead of going to the county. It cites the projects location, having good interstate access between 40/64 and 44 (doesn't downtown have good enough highway access?)

The thing that is disturbing is not that downtown projects have competition. Obviously we live in a society where competition is a central paradigm. What is frustrating is that this appears to be a project not born out of free enterprise, but some secret deal between the city and MSD that no one seems to be asking for. Why should bureaucracy compete with free enterprise? As Mr. Crimm puts it, to compete for the tax dollars that are lost to the county. Why can't the city just work hard to be a great city and stop trying to be a suburban knock-off?

St. Louisan's are ready for a "5th Avenue" (New York) or "magnificent mile" (Chicago); an authentic urban shopping area. We just have to be ourselves and work to build our great city.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Anti-Frigid Sales

St. Louis Lofts
So the winter months aren't supposed to be the ideal time for home shopping. Winter was over this weekend when almost 30 people came to our open house, but now winter must be back.

That could really be ok.

This year the real estate market was alive and well during the winter months. The market has changed, buyer's are more savvy and demanding. Writing an offer doesn't always mean a buyer is committed to a property. Things are different but they keep moving forward. Looking at properties under contract, it appears that seller's are allowing buyer's to extend closing dates for longer periods. Much of the winter activity still has yet to officially close.

The Syndicate has started move ins since the beginning of the year. While those sales weren't all included in the MLS, it's great to see a long dormant building with a new life.

Here are the Downtown St. Louis Loft Sales for January and February 2008.

210 N 17th St #309----------------------------------------------------79,900
210 N 17th St #307----------------------------------------------------81,200
1501 Locust St #902--------------------------------------------------125,000
210 N 17th St #305---------------------------------------------------126,100
1511 Locust #104-----------------------------------------------------160,000
2201 Washington Ave #504---------------------------------------------164,600
1709 Washington Ave #801---------------------------------------------165,000
901 Washington Ave #508----------------------------------------------195,000
314 N Broadway #1704-------------------------------------------------199,900
1015 Washington Ave #301---------------------------------------------213,436
2201 Locust St #305--------------------------------------------------222,000
1123 Washington Ave #707---------------------------------------------232,500
1015 Washington Ave #403---------------------------------------------240,900
1015 Washington Ave #501---------------------------------------------243,153
1136 Washington Ave #605---------------------------------------------260,000
315 N 11th St #801---------------------------------------------------270,000
901 Washington Ave #607----------------------------------------------272,000
1015 Washington Ave #406---------------------------------------------273,600
400 S 14th St #1115 -------------------------------------------------535,000

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Got Financing?

St. Louis real estate
A lot has been said about the state of credit in the past 6 months.

Too much.

In the past weeks, two people have mentioned to me that it's impossible to get a loan these days.

What do those two people have in common? Do they have bad credit? A recent foreclosure? No income?

No, no, and no. They are simply not looking to buy a place.

It's been stunning to hear that the public perception out of all the negative hype is that people are unable to buy; which couldn't be further than the truth.

The credit crunch is doing something good for the financing markets. It's making them more honest and appropriate. It's making the true professionals in the business stand out from the charlatans.

Financing lofts has always been a bit tricky. Many loan officers or brokers do loans on condos only on occasion. Being able to correctly choose a good lending program for a specific loft is a serious matter. Back in 2005, we posted on what a Warrantable and Non-Warrantable loft was and how it can affect financing . One aspect to downtown lofts that isn't typical to most condo associations is that the association shares it's space with commercial or retail entities. Sometimes that excludes some lending options. When we've had problems with lenders unable to finance a condo for any reason, a good lender has been able to pick up the ball and get the deal done.

Looking to buy? Contact a realtor to find a home. Looking for a good professional lender--ask the realtor.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Downtown St. Louis amenities
One of the most desirable features of living in a neighborhood like Downtown St. Louis is the ability to walk or take public transportation to many destinations. However, in modern society everyone needs to use a car from time to time. Now there is a solution for people who don’t want own car, but want to have access to one for certain specialized functions such as large grocery purchases, a trip to the country, or driving to visit a friend in the far suburbs.
The Downtown St. Louis Partnership and St. Louis Car Sharing Cooperative* invite you to attend the official launching and ribbon cutting for WeCar in downtown St. Louis. WeCar, a program of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, is a convenient, environmentally friendly car sharing program that is a great alternative for those wanting to reduce reliance on a personal automobile. WeCar is a membership-based program with nine downtown locations.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
at 11:30 am

Metropolitan Square
(211 North Broadway)
Corner of 6th & Pine Streets

Mayor Francis Slay, City of St. Louis
Larry Williams, Treasurer, City of St. Louis
Phyllis Young, Alderwoman 7th Ward, City of St. Louis
Kacie Starr Triplett, Alderwoman 6th Ward, City of St. Louis
Sarah Stewart, Lawrence Group, Program Supporter/Car User

Tony Moise, Vice President & General Manager, Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Tom Shrout, Executive Director, Citizens for Modern Transit
To RSVP, click here.
(Vehicle demonstrations will be held by WeCar representatives)

*The St. Louis Car Sharing Cooperative is a collaboration of downtown WeCar sponsors including: Citizens for Modern Transit; Pyramid - Spinnaker, LLC; LoftWorks; The Syndicate; Trivers Architects; Lawrence Group 1, Inc.; and the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement District.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

New York Style.....coming right up!

restaurant developments downtown St. Louis
Last year around this time, a gentleman with big plans to open up a New York style pizzaria with a totally unique style discussed his vision with me at a loft showing. This weeks St. Louis Business Journal mentioned it in the Shoptalk section. Scheduled to open up April 1, the location will be at 1131 Washington. That seems to be in the Washington Avenue Apartments building or next door to the Flamingo Bowl. Earlier talks of a 24 hour diner located at that location sounded great too. Having both would really be awesome.

The most attractive part of the concept is that the new pizzaria will sell a good amount of "pizza by the slice." Having a place that caters to the immense amount of foot traffic on Tucker and Washington will be a phenomenal success as well as a benefit to the area.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Adapting to the Real Estate Boom

Real Estate Lofts
Since the real estate market has begun its decent, we hear a good deal about what went wrong, who is to blame, etc. What some forget is that between 1998-2005, most areas had a real estate boom. This boom had an affect on the public perception about real estate. How we adapted to the boom is one small part of the problem, and its lingering effects are what home sellers and agents must contend with today. The list below describes a few observations on assumptions that the general public seems to have as a result of the boom years.

1. Real Estate Appraised Values are Genuine

Many homeowners refinanced or set up credit lines based on equity during the boom. Anyone that pulled equity out in the form of this type of loan has to remember that the so called equity was based on appraisals in a boom market. Additionally, they are assuming that the appraisal was an actual estimate of value. In many cases, these appraisals had more to do with what the home needed to appraise at to make the refinance deal possible. Placing the monetary incentive on the loan officer to make the deal happen was usually transferred directly to the appraiser. After all, how many lenders would re-use an appraiser that cost them a deal? All and all, even an honest appraisal is just that, an estimate of what someone would pay for a property. True value is better determined when a property is actually placed on the market and sold.

2. Financing is a non issue

Ok, most buyer's can get financing. The changes to the lending industry aren't as extreme as the headlines might indicate. But subtle changes have occured that will continue to affect buyer behavior. Public perception prior to the year 2000 was that if one were to purchase a home, they would need a downpayment. What?!?#@! A downpayment? Buyer's in the past 5 years have often times purchased only if they could do so with no money down, with sellers ponying up for a bulk of closing costs. Now, even asking a buyer to come up with 5% can make a big difference in what they can afford. Additionally, sellers of properties in excess of $417,000 are seeing that buyer's are having more difficulties obtaining this type of JUMBO financing. Additionally, the cost has gone up on JUMBO loans, increasing the payments and giving buyer's reasons to avoid this price range now.

3. Real Estate is Liquid

Before the real estate market boom, people seemed to have more respect for buying a home, including realtors. As prices rose and investors jumped into the market with zest, it seemed that everyone thought that buying suddenly became a no-brainer. Some buyer's purchased without knowing or accepting the risk. Some bought badly--buying in areas where the developers were saturating the market. Some people needing to resell in this down market are finding out fast that the person who happily signed them up is their #1 competition; still selling at builder pricing and sometimes undercutting the re-sale prices to move inventory.

The biggest problem with this topic is that people think they can buy and then sell almost immediately and still make a profit. This could happen during the boom, but is less likely to happen today. Sometimes it appears that new homeowners have adopted the assumption that real estate is liquid; which is true if a purchase is made at a undermarket price. Unfortunately for many, the purchases made during the tail end of a real estate boom aren't made undermarket.

The good thing, and one not to forget, is that Rome wasn't built in a day, and the renaissance in Downtown St. Louis continues to move forward block by block.

Reaching Out to Fellow Residents

Downtown residents
When the Blues moved to the Scottrade Center downtown, it seemed like a good thing. Memories of the games at the Old Barn were fond, but state of the art it was not. The past few years, breaking our streak of consecutive playoff berths and the strike seemed to greatly diminish interest from the community at large, so the Blues front office has gotten aggressive.

One thing that makes sense is to reach out to the growing downtown population. So that's what they're doing.

Feb. 1 is the first ever "Downtown St. Louis Resident's Night" at the Scottrade Center. And if the hockey game isn't enough of a contest, the additional contest between buildings to see who can bring the most support is an additional incentive to show up. See the attached file for the specifics. See you at the game!Blues%20Downtown%20Residents%20Night.pdfblues%20residents%20night%2001%2008.pdf

Friday, January 25, 2008

To Forget or Not to Forget 2007

Real Estate in St. Louis
For the typical real estate professional, 2007 was like getting bashed in the face with a baseball bat. "Business as usual" took a much needed hit.

For years it seemed like certain things were happening that deviated from normal real estate and historical practice. Double digit appreciation was one thing. 100% financing for just about anyone was another. Things were happening for years that didn't really make much sense, and people were getting pretty comforatble with it.

One thing that hasn't been derailed by the housing and credit slump of 2007 was growth in the fantastic downtown neighborhood. This past year more than any, the actual sales were much greater than what my data source, the Multiple Listing Service, shows. The new "thing" for some developer's is to list only the model type and provide no record of sales in the MLS despite using the system to promote the buildings. Since all prior years are based on the MLS, it made sense to continue with this data.

Year--#Sold-------$/Sq Ft----Ave.Days on Market-------Ave.Price

While the sensationalism by journalists continues, looking at the "big picture" of our downtown growth is encouraging. One additional plus in looking at this material is that there are a few large buildings that are early in the completion phase with buyer's set to move into downtown. Interest rates have continued to stay low with this weeks average mortgage rate hiting a 4 year low.