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. 


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.

Plenty of Great Things This Weekend!

Juggling fun opportunities in St. LouisThis weekend is an awesome weekend to be in St. Louis! There are some great things to do and not enough time to do everything 😦 (unless you’re the Funky Butt Brass Band)

My first pick is Taste of St. Louis downtown. It started today and runs through Sunday. Beyond the typical Foodie event, there’s tons of Art and Music too. On my trips downtown I ‘ve been watching them get ready for this for nearly a week now. I’ll be disappointed if I can’t make it over on Sunday!!

I’m mostly excited about another event, partially because its new and partly because its practically in my back yard. The Morganford Music & Street Festival is only one day, Saturday. On a side note, its exciting because I remember when this section of Morganford consisted of mostly board up run down ugly buildings with a 7-11 and a ratty car wash. Now the ratty car wash and 7-11 are surrounded by an up and coming walkable community. Grocer, cafe’s, barbers, some great restaurants & bars and ending with the beautiful Marti’s Garden ( a memorial garden for St. Louis activist and St. Louis City Realtor Marti Frumhoff).

I noticed that the Funky Butt Brass Band (a very cool local act) will be on Morganford in the Afternoon and then Downtown at 7:30pm. What a day! Since I’ll be out of the area for the morning and most of the afternoon, I won’t be able to make it until Javier Mendoza goes on at 7. Since they don’t have a website, the fun is located at Juniata and Morganford in the Tower Grove South Neighborhood from 12pm to 9pm.

Lastly, the Historic Shaw Art Fair is not just another Art Fair. Growing up in the suburbs, I would attend art fairs on some vacant school parking lot and didn’t get too excited. Going to the Historic Shaw Art Fair is nothing like that! Set in the street of Flora Place surrounded by gorgeous historic mansions, great entertainment and plenty of great HOMEGROWN ART, Its an event I attend annually. When the real estate market picks up, I look forward to an art buying spree there. Maybe next year 🙂 This year I’ll just have fun with my kids and start to scope out possibilities.

Why City?

suburbian transportTonight after work, my wife, my three boys and I walked a couple blocks from home to the newest Sushi restaurant in town, Cafe Mochi, to order some “to go” for dinner.  While we waited, we walked up another block to the Gelateria del Leone for some awesome gelato (As a waiter I was told by many women, the feminine approach to life is dessert before dinner).  We then walked back to Mochi, grabbed our sushi and walked a short 2 blocks home.  After dinner and putting the kids to bed, I walked back over to meet some friends and then proceeded to City Diner for more camraderie.

In a listing appointment yesterday, someone commented about living in the city.  They couldn’t understand why someone would want to live in the city. WHAT!?!?

Obviously the city isn’t for everyone.  Some people like suburbia.  Others like rural.   As a Realtor, I work with people to find what they want, so this blog isn’t about converting those folks.  Obviously.  I sometimes have to abandon my values completely when my clients want to live somewhere that I wouldn’t.

Living in Suburbia, my fantastic experience this evening would have been totally dissimilar.   Loading up the kids and driving.  Unloading.  Ordering.  Loading. Driving. Unloading.  Getting ice cream (only Dairy Queen or Ice Cream in the burbs, no place as cool as the Gelateria are out there). Loading.  Driving. Unloading. Getting Sushi.  Loading.  Driving. Unloading.  Eating…….you get the point.  St. Louis City can be so family friendly and you don’t have to own a mini van.

Where’s the Morgan Ford neighborhood?

MorganfordOne thing I’ve truly enjoyed seeing since we’ve moved to Tower Grove South is the resurgence of commerce on Morganford in our neighborhood.  Until today, it was our little secret.  As the less popular destination, I’ve always tried to support the restaurants since South Grand seems to get so much traffic already. 

I rarely give credit to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, but they did have a nice pictoral _ _and video on the improvements on Morganford.  Now I might see my friends from Des Peres and Chesterfield lurking around 3 Monkeys to check out the new hip place in town.

Spring Sales Data: Some Hot, Some Not

Spring 2009 is recent history, and real estate business in St. Louis City experienced a welcome increase. Tower Grove, Holly Hills, Lindenwood Park and South Hampton seemed to experience some of the best activity in the areas I was working as buyer’s seemed to favor a more conservative location compared to past hot spots Lafayette Square, Benton Park and Downtown.

Leading the spring surge was the long absent first time home buyer segment. Scared away from buying for some time, this group was largely more pragmatic than thier counterparts from past years. Receiving the $8000 tax credit was a big factor in buying, as well as the great selection and lower interest rates. One thing facing today’s first time buyer’s is the need for a downpayment, which for most people in 2003-2007 was unnecessary. Today’s buyer’s can still get 96.5% FHA loans as long as they qualify, but in some cases, FHA loans aren’t an option.

Tower Grove & Holly Hills (63116 zip code)

St Louis spring sales Tower Grove and Holly Hills
St Louis spring sales Tower Grove and Holly Hills

South Hampton, North Hampton, Lindenwood Park (63109, 63139 zip codes)

market analysis lindenwood park and south hampton spring 09
Lindenwood Park, South Hampton and North Hampton Spring Sales Data

Comparatively, the condo market in the downtown area appears statistically close to the above groups of neighborhoods except in one key catagory:  homes sold. 

Downtown, Lafayette Square, Soulard, Compton Heights Condos

Downtown, Soulard, Lafayette Square Sales  Spring 09
Downtown, Soulard, Lafayette Square Sales Spring 09

This data, compared to the 2006 Spring when the market was just beginning to slow down shows about a 50% decrease in sales and a 100% increase in days on market. 

One positive thing that is evident when looking at practically any facet of the St Louis real estate market, is that things aren’ t as good as they have been, but they aren’t that far off.  The rush of first time buyer’s is expected to continue through the late fall since the $8000 Federal First Time Buyer credit is not presently scheduled to continue into next year.

The Urban Shift: One More Source

Growing Up in the St. Louis suburbs, suburban sprawl seemed to be an active force. The #1 fastest growing county in the Country was St. Charles, and both the City of St. Louis and much of the inner ring suburbs were rough. Despite the trend, I wondered how that trend could be self-sustaining. When would enough be enough. Would it ever end?

Sources are pointing to the end in a general way. This portion of the TIME article dealing with current changes seems premature in predicting the demise of suburbia for some reason. In St. Louis metro, suburbia is so vast in comparison to the city itself. Even if the population numbers of inner ring municipalities of Clayton, Webster Groves, Shrewsbury and Maplewood were considered, the suburbs still account for a huge percentage of the local areas population.

As a realtor, I work with people looking in the city as well as the suburbs. For some the ‘burbs fit. Working with more people for whom it doesn’t makes me wonder if the population will ever reach a balance again between the city and the county. urban-balance Another thought, considering the speculation that exists saying that urbanization is a general trend, to what extent does the massive urban renaissance in St. Louis add to the trend locally?

Working with so many students of this current shift back into cities, there are as many opinions that exist as people to give them. One thing that is certain, the City has come a long way in a short time. Watching it happen is fantastic. Having a job that basically shows off how far St. Louis City has come in the past decade is a true blessing.

It Takes A Village

One of the worst memories I have from my move into the city was from a conversation with a colleague.   A fellow realtor, we were in the middle of a deal and had a good rapport with one another.  Occasionally we would converse about personal information like family.  I mentioned that we were moving into the city one day and her response floored me.  “What are you going to do with your kids?!?!”

Her question was reasonable in itself, but her tone was anxious and concerned.  It was if she was asking if we were going to put our kids in foster care so we could live in the city.

Of course, I knew what she was getting at.  St. Louis Public Schools have been a media scapegoat for years, and for good reason.  I guess I personally just hold my fellow realtors to a higher standard when it comes to being informed about the city.  Clearly she was not.

I thought about her today at the St. Louis Association of Realtors Urban Affairs Committee meeting today.  We met at Soda Fountain Square and the topic was education.  Mayor Slay , Robbyn Wahby and Sharon Gerken were the speakers.

The Mayor’s position on giving parents good options to choose from in choosing a school is well documented.  There was talk on Charter Schools, Magnet Schools, After school programs, and private schools.  We heard about partnerships between different entities and making a quality education available.   I learned about the Knowledge is Power Program and how they, along with Washington University would be opening their own charter school geared mainly toward disadvantaged youths.   In one hour, I was flooded with information that assured me that children in the city do have opportunities to get a quality education and that our leaders are working hard in solving that problem.

As a parent of 3 boys, I know quality education is available.  St. Margaret of Scottland School has been a very warm and impressive place for my kindergardener.

The bottom line: Good Schools Happen in St. Louis City!