Thursday, February 26, 2009

Love To Hate

st louis real estateChecking out the site tonight, I happened to notice the bottom right corner of my screen had the most commented upon stories. Whaddya know. LOFT DISTRICT was #1!

The story isn't new, but the article was from today. The Washington Avenue Apartments are housing veterans that were formerly homeless through some St. Patricks Center program[Project HERO].

The whole deal sounds good except for two small things. 1. When a group of any potentially risky people move into ANY neighborhood, there will be concerns and complaints. Inadequate notice and information seems to have been provided. 2. There is plenty of space in the City of St. Louis, Downtown has an inordinately large percentage of the special services for homeless.

All & all, the program sounds well thought out and managed. Not being an expert on programs to assist former homeless people, I was impressed with the operation as it was portrayed in the Post Dispatch article. There were several restrictions (no sex offenders, no dishonorable discharged veterans) and other checks and balances (weekly sobriety checks, on site supervision).

Unfortunately not all parties were portrayed in such a positive light.

The news stories that have been on the wire for the past Washington Avenue St Louis
few days have the central theme that Downtown residents are outraged about this wonderful program for the formerly homeless veterans. Ironically, aside from the news stations & paper, the subject hasn't come up in any of my conversations with downtown residents this week.

What really inspired this post isn't my opinion of social programs for veterans but the negative perceptions that seem to exist for downtown residents. Read the comments after the story, its hideous! After a couple minutes, I was thinking that downtown residents need to hire downtown PR Firm Fleishman Hilliard or Weber Shandwick to improve thier image. Sincerely! Now, reading the comments after PD stories often makes about as much sense as what my 3 year old tells me. But I really started to question whether such a negative perception is common and if so, what affect it has on the growth and prosperity of downtown. Based on many of the comments, I would say the perception of Downtown St. Louis residents is an unpatriotic affluent yuppie with a sense of entitlement and a hatred for their fellow man.

Interestingly, I never thought of St. Louis as a 'military town,' but in my experience assisting people buying and selling downtown real estate, I've worked with 8 active military clients in the past, with two active military clients currently working with me and a few veteran contractors that work for the military as civilians. Statistically, the military is the largest employer of my clients, so the assault on downtown residents having "never served their country" is bogus.

Another total false-hood is that downtown residents as a whole can't live near the homeless. Obviously this topic isn't new. My very first client downtown lived in the Knickerbocker with a view into Lucas Park. Then and now; I've heard it all. Summing up everything though, most downtown residents are more concerned that 1. a small percentage of the homeless feel that rules don't apply to them, don't appear to be trying to improve their situation and are simply BAD NEIGHBORS, and 2. that as a society in general, and in several cases specifically, services to the homeless can be illegally handled and poorly appropriated. As an observer, things seem to have improved drastically since 2004, especially the overall appearance of Lucas Park. [Thanks, by the way, to all the Selfish entitled unpatriotic commie yuppie jerk downtown residents that spent thier weekends picking up trash and cleaning up after the homeless in Lucas Park back in the Fall.] (Had my bride and I not been in the middle of having our 3rd child, we would have helped.)

The bottom line, thanks again, in no small part to the Post Disgrace, people seem to "love to hate" downtown residents. Unlike T.O., in this case there's no basis in fact. (They were even ripping on Downtown residents for not having a grocer nearby. What's wrong with City Grocers?!?) Interestingly, the article cited two downtown residents that had opposition to the project. Both had business interests in downtown as well. Then two people that were in the Project HERO. So apparently that's all it takes to really get people ticked off and hating downtown is 2 people out of 11,000. I can't imagine that 0.018% of the population anywhere else has controversial opinion the Post can write about. Good luck to the men in HERO. Enjoy downtown!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Syndicate Motel

This weekend I left my home as some guy was hammering a sign at the corner, "RENT YOUR HOME FOR $5000 DURING THE ALL-STAR GAME". (My illustrious block captain has since removed the sign). The thought did cross my mind. Who couldn't use an extra Five Grand these days.

Then I got an email this morning from a client who had purchased a loft last year who had read the Post Dispatch story on how downtown residents are looking to cash in. "Can I rent my place out for the weekend?"

Having read through many condo by-laws, this subject is usually addressed early on. Having my own personal CONDOMINIUM DOCUMENT library, I thumbed through a few different associations. My question is where do they find people to write these things? Its almost like the same person writes it. "No Residential Unit may be leased or subleased for transient or hotel purposes or for an initial term of less than one (1) year for residential units;"
Each building had some form of that sentence.

The thought actually is scary what downtown buidings could be like if this activity were allowed. Hotels have 24 hour security, maintenance, and all kinds of administration to make sure that people can do what they came for. A loft building would be a whole different operation. It would be psycho!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Business is Business

Lately business hasn't been great. Not necessarily real estate, but any business. Consumer's are tightening their belts, businesses are doing the same, and a whole chain reaction follows. News of the present economic challenges are everywhere, why loftsinthelou?

Last week I was in two places I would consider prime business locations. At Meramec & Carondelet, adjacent to the St. Louis County Government Center and Courthouse in the heart of Clayton and at West County Mall in Des Peres. Noticing that J Bucks closed its West County Mall location and another restraunt closed at the corner of Meramec and Carondelet, it was a sign that the economic woes are everywhere. Even at arguably some of the best locations in the region, businesses are struggling.

Even some well managed businesses are failing. My rants are always about poorly managed companies or bad business plans. Some companies that are run successfully for many years just don't have the reserves to withstand the adverse climate.

What's the point? The businesses in Downtown need our support. Also, there still seems like there's a negative bias about the ability of stores to survive downtown and that when a shop closes downtown or moves out of downtown that its because of the area and not all the other factors.

One news source that seems to always represent downtown well is the St. Louis Business Journal. This weeks issue's special section "Doing Business Downtown" talked a great deal about some of the factors facing downtown.

One thing that was sort of annoying was an article talking about condo projects going rental. It does happen, but a quote from one developer talked about the tax credit advantages of going rental like they were really benefiting from the whole thing. Nutty really, considering the same developer had 5 or 6 mechanics liens published a few pages later for unpaid bills to a contractor. Condo buildings that have gone rental have done so ONLY to avoid eminent foreclosure. What would have been an improvement would be if they also addressed the implications that these developers actions had on their owner occupied units and thier ability to re-sell. I guess that every angle can't be covered. That may come up in next years issue.

Things keep moving forward though and downtown St. Louis will be one area that continues to grow during these tough times.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

FHA Approval and Buying a Loft

Ballpark Lofts are FHA APPROVED
We had our open house at the Ballpark Lofts yesterday and for a while it seemed as if the housing market was back in full swing! Getting so much interest there was almost enough excitement to make up for having to postpone our trip to Cancun scheduled for today.

Someone asked me a question that I take for granted as a realtor and someone who specializes in St. Louis lofts: "So how does this being 'FHA approved' benefit me?"

Back in May 2008, when all of the sudden FHA loans were a big deal in lending again, we did 2 posts to Lofts in the Lou (My Day at the FHA part 1, My Day at the FHA part 2 )that addressed some aspects of FHA financing and some of the flaws in the approval process.

The basics of getting any loan that seems to be more relevant today is that the money lender has to approve of 3 things before loaning money: the borrower, the buy, and the reason. To get any home mortgage, the bank begins the process by approving the borrower (checking credit, income, assets & liabilities). Once the buyer selects a home, regardless of it being a house or condo, the lender must approve the property too. This usually comes with an appraisal.

Condominiums can be complicated. Appraisers don't have the time or access to obtain enough information about the condominium association, its funding, etc. so the bank usually takes care of that. It can be difficult at times. There are several different types of bank reviews that occur when dealing with a condo, but the two basic options are "limited review" and "full review". Buying a condo or loft in a previously FHA APPROVED building helps the process because then your lender would be able to obtain a speedy approval through a limited review.

Most home sales take roughly 30 days to complete. Often times home buyer's think that the process of getting a loan mostly involves shopping for the best rate and everything else falls into place. NOT TRUE! The process of getting financing is only begining during the initial consultations. Usually a good lender can make the process seem like everything falls into place. Getting lenders not fully competent in financing condos can make the process seem like an arduous nightmare.

So my answer to the buyer's question: "How does FHA approval benefit me?" would be that having one fairly big piece of the puzzle already in place will give a borrower more options in financing, a smoother transaction, significantly less down-payment required, and an assumable loan (another story, but a great benefit when selling).

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Get Down to the Ballpark!

St. Louis Ballpark Lofts
Last month we were able to list the Ballpark Lofts! A Blue Urban project, these lofts were long thought to be sold out within 1 day. An NFL style draft was a great concept, but did, combined with the recession, didn't work out past the theory. As downtown specialists, never heard until recently that there were some units that didn't close that had come back on the market.

So today, the buildings completed. The units are spectacular, many having views of the stadium, Stan Musials statue and the Gateway Arch. Spring training starts next week, and in a short time the area surrounding Busch Stadium will take on a new life as it does every year.

We're holding the lofts open today for the first time and we have a special buyer's incentive! Any unit reserved today will receive a custom paint package at closing!

The open house will be from 12pm to 3! We hope to see you there!