Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life As We Know It

Downtown St Louis saw an investment of 4.4 billion dollars in reinvestment between 1999 and 2008.  During most of that time, the acronym "FHA" used in conjunction with home loans was mostly unheard of (see My Day at the FHA part 1 and Part 2).  Having been developed during that time, there was no percieved need for loft buildings to be "FHA Approved" at that time.

FHA insured home loans have always treated condominiums different than single family homes, having an complicated approval process.  Once approved, FHA loans could be done on a building with "limited review," meaning that the underwriting was simplified and minimal information from the association was required to complete the loan. IN THE PAST, if a condo buildning wasn't approved, but was acceptable, it could go through the SPOT APPROVAL process, by which most loans downtown were done.

In life, the only guarantee is change.

In a past life, watching the ripple effects of government decisions trickle down often meant watching how the affected businesses would respond to the governments mandates.  When the FHA changed thier guildelines, it seemed as if they were trying to make things easier overall.  After all, why should EVERYONE wanting to buy a condo in an acceptable building have to go through a "spot approval" process over and over instead of just doing a bit more work and approving the whole building?  Their goal was to simplify the approval process, stating that any Direct Endorsement lender could do the approval.  What we're hearing is that these same Direct Endorsement lenders are passing the buck to condominium associations. 

In 2008, when I visited the FHA offices, I asked why a condo association or realtor couldn't just arrange for the approval.   My question seemed to be confusing.  "Why can't the lender just do it?" was the confused response.  Of course, knowing lenders, I couldn't think of too many lenders that wanted to go through the public service of having a whole buildng approved just to do one loan. 

The attached picture file shows the requirments needed and most of the buildings downtown should do EVERYTHING THEY CAN to try to comply with these requirements to get thier building FHA APPROVED!  

Looking at the requirements I have some questions.  More will be revealed when I get the answers. 

The basic fact that seemingly alludes condo associations is that the more difficult a condominium is to purchase, the longer it can take to sell and the stronger the buyer's chances of getting a better deal

While some buildings will have more buyers looking for FHA loans than others, it would benefit ALL buildings and downtown as a whole if condominium associations act now to get FHA approval for the next two years.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Downtown Farmer's Market?

Old Post Office Plaza was completed downtown, my feelings about it were that it could be a great part of the city, or not.

With the sculpture in it, I thought of the public plazas in Greece where Plato was taught by Socrates. I envisioned Tai Chi and farmers markets.

I've been hearing rumors about the later use and am hoping for the best.

My own neighborhood has a very nice farmer's market in Tower Grove Park that has become a weekly event for many of the neighborhoods surrounding the park (Shaw, Tower Grove South, Tower Grove East, Compton Heights & Southwest Garden). They've done a great job of not only presenting a nice market with entertainment, food and refreshments, but have also promoted the event to have a sizable following.

Having a farmer's market downtown really is a win-win. Lots of Downtown residents go to Soulard Market, but having the market move to Downtown could be a potentially good thing for Downtown workers and visitors too.

The real benefit of a Farmer's Market Downtown is the community aspect. Something needed downtown. Just a decade ago, downtown's residents were viewed more like a parasitic entity. News stories would refer to the "loft dwellers" and not the downtown neighborhood. Lots of community exists downtown, that's one of the major selling points to living there. It exists within buildings and at restaurants, bars and coffee shops. What a Farmer's Market could potentially do is bring the community out into the open.

When the Partnership for Downtown St Louis hired its new President, Maggie Campbell, I reviewed the news clips promoting her past experience. One of the items was a Farmer's Market. At the time, I figured that with Soulard Market being so close, that it wasn't likely for downtown, but did think about either Schlafly Tap Room's parking lot and / or the Old Post Office Plaza as being good locations.

Right now, things are just rumored.  The idea seems like it would work if it gets the support in needs by the residents. 

Friday, February 05, 2010

Bad News for the Cynics

For years, I was as negative as the best of them. St Louis was a town I was somehow stuck in and my feelings were well known. Growing up here, I just knew there was someplace else for me.

I'll have to admit, the changes citywide that have taken place, as well as my lifestyle and age, all have a fair amount to do with my change of heart. St Louis is still a work in progress.

Working as a realtor, we see lots of 'outsiders'. I'll never forget meeting my friend who moved here from choice! Were they crazy?!? Who could leave the beach to come here? In the past several years, its less and less suprising to hear people moving to St Louis and really loving it.

This month, St Louis made the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2010 Dozen Distinctive Destinations. Visitors to the site can register and vote for thier favorite destination. There are some nice places, but St Louis has my vote.

Obviously, historic buildings aren't for everyone, and so everyone might have differing values, but as a person aware of the phenomenal collection of preserved and restored buildings throughout the St Louis area; particularly downtown. We've heard on this blog and many others about some of the same resources we've squandered over the years, but what we have left is certainly worth celebrating. Visiting the Old Post Office, Union Station, The Cathedral Basilica, The Fox, The Continental Life Building, and EVERY loft building downtown is something that can be taken for granted. Any St Louisan that hasn't visited those places and taken a tour should consider a staycation and check it all out. What's hard about St Louis in comparison to the other 'distinctive destinations' is that we just have too much to consider. The past decade and the Missouri legislature has helped our cause by creating incentives for the development of historic structures and districts.

Making the list is great, but as a St Louisan, show your support for the great things being done here and vote for St Louis as the top distinctive destination by visiting the National Trust website today.