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The Value of Walkable Neighborhoods

As a real estate agent I often hear people say they’d live in the city but they get more house for the money in the exurbs.  True enough, if you count number of rooms (or garage spaces), square footage and so on you do get more on the edge.  They have to offer something to get people out there. The more is more driving.

With home prices bottoming out in many areas nationally, people are looking for any way to get more for their homes. For some, there is a ray of hope….walkability. A new study says that if you want more dough for your house (tell us if anyone says no) it helps to be in a walkable neighborhood.

That’s the conclusion of the analysis from CEOs for Cities that reveals that homes in more walkable neighborhoods are worth more than similar homes in less-walkable neighborhoods.

The report, “Walking the Walk: How Walkability Raises Housing Values in U.S. Cities” by Joseph Cortright, analyzed data from 94,000 real estate transactions in 15 major markets provided by ZipRealty and found that in 13 of the 15 markets, higher levels of walkability, as measured by Walk Score, were directly linked to higher home values.

Key findings include:

  • In 13 out of 15 metro areas studied, higher levels of walkability were directly linked to higher home values.
  • In the typical metropolitan area, a one point increase in Walk Score was associated with an increase in value ranging from $700 to $3,000. Gains were larger in denser, urban areas and smaller in less dense markets.
  • In the typical areas studied, the premium commanded for neighborhoods with above-average Walk Scores ranged from about $4,000 to $34,000.

(source | study-PDF)

To many of us this is common sense.  I’m willing to pay more or at least make trade offs to be in an environment where walking is an option.  Walkable inner-ring suburbs have the same relationship as the core, less house but more walkability.  You could not pay me enough money to live in the fanciest McMansion in a drivable (non-walkable) area.

Schools, ah yes, schools.  Many correctly point out that older districts suck when it comes to test scores.  Well, the sucking sound is caused by caring parents who should be contributing money & their time to established districts rather than continually creating new edge school districts.  There is value in your child having classmates from different economic classes.  The ability of your chilld to learn to walk to the store, alone, to get a loaf of bread cannot be traded for a media room.

I’m not suggesting everyone needs to live downtown.  Single family detached with a yard and everything between that and my loft is fine.  But understand that walkability adds value to homes.  By buying a home in a drivable area you are saying you don’t value walkability.  At least not enough to pay for it.

– Steve Patterson


Brick by Brick: 2857 Cherokee Street

At the West end of the Cherokee Station Business District lies a three story brick storefront property. Ruined by years of neglect, this rotting structure stands in defiance of being utterly forgotten by its owners.

2857 Cherokee

2857 Cherokee

The city finally issued a condemnation notice last week. The door had been kicked in by vagrants, unmasking the internal ruin. This debris-filled stairwell degrades right inside of the front doorway. Plainly visible to any passerby; and enticing to anyone needing a free place to stay the night.

Saint Louis doesn’t need to be losing any more buildings, that goes especially for 107 year old brick storefronts. South City has done a remarkable job of avoiding the wholesale tear-downs that ravaged North City. South City has thoroughly rejected bulldozers and the McKee’s that circle over them. Thanks to dedicated landlords, an undaunted Alderman, energetic entrepreneurs and activists, and a sprinkling of idealistic artists Cherokee Street has managed to save, restore, and invigorate its numerous historic buildings.

2857 is the only building within the mixed-use/commercial district in the shape it’s in.

20th Ward Alderman Craig Schmid, once contacted about the property’s condemnation, committed to finding what resources the city has in getting the property into the hands of a responsible developer.

The situation is ripe for a community-driven rehab project. As a resident and proprietor on Cherokee Street, I have a vested interest in seeing this building reconstructed. Other stakeholders, business owners and residents, have expressed interest in pooling what resources they have to save this building.

To be sure, this is a major job. The structural report states plainly that whole walls will need to be relaid. Internal damage is severe, water has had nearly every window open to its invasion. Plants have managed to grow from the windowsills and a tree has sprung out of the garage.

This post is a call for more involvement. Brick by Brick Saint Louis needs to be preserved. If you are a rehabber, a member of the Cherokee Street community, or simply a fellow Saint Louisan dedicated to the preservation of architectural history I ask that you join this project.

For more information on how to get involved please contact me.   With enough volunteers we can start putting together an organization and a plan to save this building.

Update: Before I’ve even managed to post the first installment, new developments have arisen. On Saturday, June 20th, workmen were spotted making superficial fixes on the building. A real door has been placed in the front; no other changes are visible.

Photos provided by Cranky Yellow’s photographer Amanda Beard; www.amandabeardphotography.com. All rights reserved.

– Angelo Stege


KMOX NewsRadio Used My Photo Without Attribution (Updated 2X)

When I first read KMOX’s May 13th story, Paul McKee — What’s his plan for north St. Louis? I thought something, the image used, looked familiar.  Here is how the story looked on KMOX’s website:

I reviewed my 160+ published images from an August 16, 2007 bus tour of Paul McKee’s properties and there was the image used in KMOX’s online story:

I published the above image and the others from the bus tour to Flickr that same day, 8/16/2007.  On August 21, 2007 I published  Bus Tour of Dilapitated McKee-owned Properties Ignored Other Issues using 20 images from the 160 I took that day.  The above image was among the 20 used.

I have 15,000+ images published on the photo sharing site Flickr, all using a Creative Commons license which grants the right to use the image provided attribution is listed:

Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

But CBS-owned KMOX 1120AM used my photo as if it was their own with no attribution to the source.

My photos are part of my work.  I want them used but I want the credit.

I’ve emailed numerous persons on KMOX’s website asking for attribution or for them to cease using my image.    Hopefully they will see fit to give me credit.

UPDATE 5/18/09 @ 9:10AM — In the last hour KMOX has removed my image from their story.

UPDATE 5/18/09 @10:30AM — Just received phone call from KMOX Reporter Kevin Killeen apologizing for the uncredited use of my image.


Home Ownership & Mortgages

This post is two posts in one.  The first part is a guest piece by regular reader Jim Zavist.  The second part is a press release about a related event at SLU this Friday.


The Mortgage Crisis

A guest editorial by Jim Zavist, AIA

The current mortgage “crisis” has generated a lot of discussion and created a lot of potential “solutions”.  I’m also old enough to remember the previous “crisis”, the Savings and Loan Meltdown of the 1980’s, and I’m seeing one big difference between then and now.  The biggest change now is that there seems to be an assumption that homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages somehow “deserve” to be given a way to stay in “their” homes.  Back in the ’80’s, homes were foreclosed, people were evicted, and because the S&L’s couldn’t deal with the volume of foreclosed properties, the federal Resolution Trust Agency ended up with a lot of properties that were resold at whatever the market said they were worth.  So, while some people lost their homes, just as many people got some great deals and were able to start down their path to the American Dream.

Bottom line, if you’re still able to make either your original or your current mortgage payment, you won’t be living on the street.  Yes, you’ll probably be paying rent instead of a mortgage, but guess what, if you can’t sell your home and you can’t refinance your home, because its value has dropped, maybe substantially, you don’t have any equity!  Whatever money you put down and whatever you invested in improving the property is gone.  It’s the big downside to investing in anything – sometimes things go poorly and you lose some or all of your investment!  Sure, it affects your credit rating negatively if you have to give up your home to foreclosure or a short sale.  It may even seem that it’s not “fair”.  But it’s part of being an adult – it’s time to cut your losses and move on.

As has been noted multiple times in the media over the past few days, 92% of the mortgage holders today are still making their payments on time – only 8% are falling behind.  I’m one of those 92%.  I’ve been making mortgage payments for 25 years; unfortunately, not all on the same property (otherwise it could be close to being paid off).  But, before I bought my first place, I became educated.  I’ve always put at least 10% down and always had a fixed-rate mortgage (including one at 12%!), so I’ve never had to face rates that adjusted upwards, as many ARM’s are apparently prepared to do soon.  I also never bought into refinancing every time the rates dropped half a point or to finance extraneous luxuries (like a car or a cruise) by pulling out the last couple of years’ appreciation.  And I’m not alone – 9 out of 10 people are riding out the current drop/correction in home values, even though it may mean cutting back in other areas.  Real estate shouldn’t be viewed as a piggy bank.  It should be viewed as a long-term investment, one that will, hopefully, eventually be completely paid off.

With the clarity of 20/20 hindsight, we’re relatively fortunate that the St. Louis area didn’t see the huge increases in home values that other parts of the country experienced, since we’re not seeing a huge drop, either.  Sure, we have pockets where too many property owners succumbed to the lure of easy money, but, overall, we don’t seem to being hit nearly as hard as places like, say, Tampa, where property values are down nearly 40%.  Because of that, and even though I agree the government needs to do “something” to “fix” the economy, I’m not all that comfortable with several of the President’s proposals to “help people stay in their homes”.  The fundamental problem is that home values simply became higher than actual buyers were willing to pay.  They will continue to fall until buyers are willing to buy.  And while there are concerns being expressed about the availability of credit, in the world of home buying, if you have good credit and an appropriate down payment and you want to buy a home around here, you can do it!  Realistically, there is no “right” to home ownership.  It’s something that’s earned, and we’re all learning a hard lesson.

Jim Zavist

Local Architect Jim Zavist was born in upstate New York, raised in Louisville KY, spent 30 years in Denver Colorado and relocated to St. Louis in 2005.

Property Ownership and Economic Stability Focus of Symposium
at Saint Louis University School of Law

WHO: Saint Louis University School of Law and Saint Louis University Public Law Review

WHAT: Property  Ownership and Economic Stability: A Necessary Relationship? This symposium brings together a group of leading scholars and practitioners to examine the relationship between property ownership and economic stability.

WHEN: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday, Feb. 27, 2009

WHERE: Saint Louis University School of Law, William H. Kniep Courtroom, 3700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108

WHY: The recent instability in America’s housing markets has demonstrated the complex relationship between property ownership and economic stability for lower-income families. Until recently, many experts argued that low-income families could not hope to achieve the “American dream” without owning their own homes. Increasingly, events from the past year are calling the assumptions underlying these assertions into question.

Leading scholars from prestigious law schools across the country join real estate and urban planning experts — including Richard Baron of McCormack Baron Salazar — to discuss an array of pressing property ownership issues, including barriers to creating affordable housing, property rights in the international context and the changing definition of property ownership in the United States.

The symposium offers 6.0 CLE credits in Missouri.

For a detailed schedule of speakers and topics or to register, go to law.slu.edu/news/conferences/property.


For Rent: Downtown St Louis

In the past two months we’ve seen the collapse of John Steffen’s over-extended Pyramid Companies and now we have changes to a few high profile downtown projects by other developers. Blue Urban’s stunningly orange GEW project at Washington And Jefferson has switched from for sale units to rental units. The Lawrence Group’s Park Pacific remake of the former Union Pacific building has also gone rental with buyers getting their deposits returned. These adjustments are a good thing in the long term.

A number of downtown projects have been rentals for years such as the Merchandise Mart and more recently several floors of the Marquette, among many others. However the developers usually figure out the mix well in advance of announcing their project. Still the demand for rental units appears strong and by going rental it allows these buildings to get done. I think we’ll see some of Pyramid’s foreclosed projects go rental so the investors can complete the projects and recoup their investments.

By switching all these units to rentals it takes that many potential condos off the market, a very good thing.  By going rental we’ll still get these buildings renovated and occupied.  People are people whether they own or rent.  They still have to buy groceries & other goods.   With fewer new condos coming online we’ll see a renewed interest in existing units that are on the market.  Many renters eventually become buyers.

As long as we continue to renovate old buildings  and add new residents we’ll be fine downtown.