What Makes a Great City?

St Louis CityEarly in my real estate career, one of my mentors told me an analogy. “Neighborhoods are like mutual funds and individual homes are like stocks,” he explained further, “values rise and fall independently but they all have an effect on the overall quality of the neighborhood.” By the same reasoning, the overall value of the City of St Louis can be based on the quality of the individual neighborhoods.

One thing that’s interesting about the urban renaissance in St Louis is when people are looking to relocate to St Louis City from the surrounding area, its amazing how little they know about the options they have. Working with buyer’s Downtown and in the Central West End, there are some folks that start by looking at the chic urban condo or loft. In the process of looking, we talk and start to uncover that they really aren’t wanting the “community lifestyle” of a condominium project, but still want a walkable, urban experience. That’s when the fun begins! Putting on the tour guide hat and helping people learn about what neighborhoods are out there and what sort of feel they want. It was the lack of knowledge about city neighborhoods that was really what inspired the creation of this blog.

One time, a St Louis County resident that grew up in Dutchtown was with me in the car. I asked them, “what do you think about Compton Heights?” They replied that they hadn’t ever seen the neighborhood. Having grown up exactly 2 miles away, and living in St Louis their whole life, I was both suprised and frustrated. We took a drive through the neighborhoood and they were amazed by the stunning mansions and beatifully winding streets. They weren’t looking to buy a mansion, but now they know that they exist in South City.

Last week I was showing homes in the Skinker-DeBallievere neighborhood when I passed Greg Freeman Park. I was glad to see a park named in his honor in his neighborhood. I was reminded of a truly motivating speech he had given about the need for city residents to identify and embrace the diverse groups of neighborhoods in Saint Louis City. At the time, most city residents couldn’t readily identify more than a few specific neighborhoods. Rather than St Louis neighborhoods, overall regions, “Southside”, Northside” were used. Since that presentation, public knowledge of the different neighborhoods and their gentrification have increased. Still a lack of understanding exists.

Lately, in selling St Louis City Real Estate, we cross neighborhood lines, and do our best to explain where we are and what makes that neighborhood special. We’ve also been working with many folks that work hard within their own neighborhoods to make things better every day. Our goal in the next year is to work to highlight these city neighborhoods and the activity going on to rebuild them and make them more livable for all St Louisans. That is the point of our ongoing series ‘City Neighborhoods 101.’

Look for more information coming soon!


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Seven and a Half Ain’t Bad

St Louis attractionsCity residents response to our presence in the media often ranges from frustration, to angst to sarcastic humor.

Interestingly, the folks that seem the most suprised by the negative perception of St Louis are newer residents.  They hear all these negative viewpoints, then move here and enjoy the lower cost of real estate, lower taxes, and finally find that the negative slant is less than realistic.

Of late, the city has had better press.  St Louis has won awards for being a top Midwestern destination for the past 2 years, and folks are seemingly starting to appreciate what this town has to offer.

Last week me and the family took a mini vacation to Chicago for a few days.  It was nice, and Chicago is an urban town that has a lot to offer.  For some of the time there though, mostly while sitting in traffic, I thought, “wouldn’t it have just been nice to have a stay-cation?”   After all, as a busy professional, father, & husband, rarely do I have time to stop, hang out, go to night clubs, catch plays, etc. etc.  My professional life involves me talking about everything there is to do here, but I just find it hard to do it.

Today, a CNN reporter published his report on his family vacation to St Louis.  What started off with some skepticism seemed to result in a great time.    It seemed like there were a lot of things they still didn’t get a chance to do.  My observation was that it seemed that most of what they did was in the city.   Not that its a big suprise, people like the city because there’s a lot to do there.  Not that the surrounding areas don’t have things to do either.   The article was nice.

The urban renaissance is ongoing, and I started thinking about the things that area still in the pipeline that will make St Louis even better down the road, like the Arch Grounds project, the South Grand Great Streets Initiative, the Loop Trolley and the Blues Museum Downtown, just to name a few.

What makes St Louis a great place to visit is also what makes it a great place to live.  As the article said, there’s plenty to do that’s “pretty cool”.

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Census Data Coming Soon

St Louis urban renaissanceWe got a call today from the Post-Dispatch wanting to do a series on City Neighborhoods as the 2010 Census data released today should reflect what many urban residents have long known.

The “Field of Dreams” approach of “Build it and they will come” has been particularly relevant to the City of St Louis. When I graduated from High School in the late 80’s, most of my classmates were anxious to get out of town. There was nothing “cool” about living in St Louis. The interesting architecture that is often associated with the city was mostly known for being underutilized and abandoned. Washington Avenue was best known as a place to get a hooker, and the young professionals that did reside in the region were mostly attracted to suburban apartment and condo complexes with little personality or character. The notion of rebuilding the city was out there, but it seemed to be a task that was insurmountable.

The past decade or so has seen some valuable changes. It started with pioneers that came into the city and saw the value in individual homes in places like Lafayette Square, and some larger developers like Craig Heller and Kevin McGowan taking on larger projects downtown. This group of pioneers were the foundations of the changes we’ve seen to date. It was the beginning of the urban renaissance in St Louis. They made it possible for urban living to be “en vogue” and mainstream. Now when someone makes the decision to live urban, they aren’t alone.

The Urban Affairs Committee of the St Louis Association of Realtors met last month and some of the attendees there commented about being at the very first Urban Affairs committee meeting about 20 years ago. That committee now has a regular attendance of at least 20 people with an additional 20-30 members in abstentia. It started with 4 or 5 people. 5 years ago, I gained clients that would tell me stories of trying to work with Realtors but were pushed into not to living in the city (in Missouri, this activity, called “steering” is illegal). Now, I’m encouraged by agents of all types of experience that call for help in understanding the urban market.

The Census itself is a valuable information tool. Estimates of population are often disputed and inconclusive. While it may not be for everyone, City Living is making a comeback. At this point, we’ve gotten farther into the “build it” phase than anyone would have expected. Seeing projects completed each year as well as some of the new ones in the pipeline (Archgrounds, Ballpark Village), we’re witnessing a conversion of an urban area that has been remarkable, and we’re also just beginning to see the “and they will come” phase. Regardless of the census data recieved today, we’re confident that we’re only seeing the beginning of what will be a giant shift in population and and a paradigm shift in how people choose their residence.

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Let’s Make the ‘Burbs More Like the City

Downtown St Louis Condos

The Syndicate is a popular Residential / Retail Mixed Use Development

Hmmm. More transit. More density. Less Parking. Sounds sort of ….urban.

This article from the Post Dispatch was refreshing. One of the most frustrating things about suburbia is being in malls and strip malls with hideous amounts of unused parking. These sterile asphalt tundras fill up maybe a few times a year. As the internet takes a bigger chunk out of the shoppers those days, its likely that the need for so much vacant pavement is a thing of the past entirely.

The thought that County government is becoming more conscious of the benefits of increased density, those ideas are becoming more mainstream. If that’s the case, then maybe banks will have to start looking more favorably at mixed used developments. While enjoyable to live in, banks have strict lending limits on mixed use developments that hinder their development and occupancy in some cases. FHA limits are a generous 25% commercial, while Fannie Mae limits are at 15% commercial.

In reality, these changes in county codes discussed won’t change the ‘burbs much. Its nice to see them looking in the right direction though. The county codes would only apply to unincorporated parts of the county, and would only apply to new developments. Since these areas are mostly developed already (thus the need for more density) we’re really not talking about much.

St Louis real estate is our specialty! Visit us online at 4SaleStLouis.comIf you’re looking for real estate anywhere in the St Louis, MO area, including St Louis City, St Louis County, St Charles, Ballwin, Chesterfield, Kirkwood, Webster Groves, or one of the other areas we serve, simply click the “Search St Louis Real Estate” link at the top or bottom of this page to begin your home search

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Tower Grove East Home For Sale

Check out this fantastic and affordable Tower Grove East home. Rennovated recently with modern touches over its historic structure.

Priced to Sell at $119,900

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Buyer “Demand Lists”

St Louis metroWorking as a buyer’s agent in St Louis is a great experience.  As a life long St Louisan, serving as a person or family’s “greeting committee” and ambassador to St Louis is very fulfilling.  Growing up, I always had a negative view of St Louis.  It wasn’t until I started growing up and realizing that there are people in just about every city that had the same negative view about their town as I had about mine.  Many people I’ve met over the years are excited about living here, and I should be too.

Working with buyers, they give “wish lists” and “demand lists” about features they want in their new home.  One common stipulation I get from out of town buyers is that they want to be in close proximity to public transportation.

Having worked in some type of sales job for all of my adult life, I’ve always depended upon driving.  Public transportation wasn’t a priority of mine until recently.  Seeing the number of home buyer’s moving to the St Louis area that depend upon public transportation and base thier home decisions on proximity to bus or metrolink lines was a big motivator.  Last week I had that experience.

I worked with a man who’s family was relocating here for his new job.  The idea of buying a second car just so it can sit in a garage while he works didn’t make sense.  Several homes in south county had to be taken off his list because of possible cuts in transit that would result in the failure of our community to pass Proposition A this Tuesday. 

In thinking about this experience, I was curious to see what other perspectives people had about this.  I visited the a website and heard several different perspectives of current metro riders, from the new residents living in other more ‘transit friendly’ towns to the disabled, to those that simply ride it by choice.  In watching the videos and reading the stories, I considered the impact of so many additional drivers on the highway and how it would affect traffic and the environment.

Individual stories may not justify a ‘yes’ vote for many people, but the big picture of our metropolitan area is more of a motivating factore for me.   The negative folks that I’ve heard for years criticize our city for not being a Chicago or New York usually have a lot to say.  Having a “second-tier” or worse transit system as a result of our own short sightedness and inability to jusify funding would have a negative impact on our city, its businesses, and residents far worse than the money it would cost to fund this service.  

Its always nice to hear great things about our city from new prospective home buyers,  Please consider supporting Proposition A this Tuesday so that “our lack of decent pubic transportation” isn’t the prospective buyer’s first impression of St Louis, or even worse, a prospective business CEO considering a move to St Louis. 


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Shift to Sustainability

decaying suburban homeThis Holiday Season I had some interesting experiences about sustainable neighborhoods. First Off, I finished the book, “Tower Grove”, by local historian Mark Abbott. Since I live in Tower Grove and have my business there too, it was at the top of my limited reading list. I love studying history and also love all the books with pictures of how things appeared throughout history. (Incidentally, Tower Grove is looking pretty good right now, but that’s besides the point.) The book was a nice short read. I also noticed that a sustainable neighborhood lecture was being held in March by the Friends of Tower Grove Park organization and featuring Mark Abbott as the presenter. Lastly, I drove through my old suburban neighborhood and spoke to our old neighbor briefly about the condition of the neighborhood. Things seemed nice when we bought our first home, but had slowly started deteriorating. The number of vacant homes and rental property were increasing. Property conditions were on the decline. This neighborhood was built in the early 1960’s and has been appreciating in value, is in a very good school district with very good highway access and access to community services. It makes me wonder about sustainability. That topic seems to come up when discussing urban neighborhoods, but not in suburban areas. In looking at history, homes were often times individually built very well. Looking at the building practices between 1960 and 1990, most of the suburbs were built in St Louis and St Charles county. Time will tell how well the homes hold up and how well neighborhoods hold together. I’m curious to know what will happen when these suburban communities face the same challenges as the older neighborhoods in the city and inner-ring suburbs. Most suburban homes built between 1960-1990 don’t have features that inspire people to restore homes such as custom wood-work, 10′ ceilings, built in pantry’s, etc. There is an aspect of “interchangeability” that are associated with newer homes, it will be interesting to see how things change. Some believe that due to environmental and energy reasons, that cities will continue to make a comeback. Whatever the case is, I’m looking forward to the seminar. As a realtor and as a ‘housing enthusiast’, I believe that sustainability of a neighborhood is mostly due to the care of the home owners in the area followed by the design of an area and its homes. Some obsolescence can come from design (lack of inside plumbing, lack of off street parking, etc. but much of that can be overcome. As I look around the St Louis metropolitan area, I am convinced that much of our areas development has taken place because of the abundance of land and the belief that we can continue to move away from our problems into the next new community. While that has always been the case, now that the borders of the St Louis area continue to push outward, there seems to be a change in many peoples perspective towards choosing neighborhood sustainability over neighborhood replacement.

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