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.