Below is a quick interview with Jason Stone, one of the company’s partners.
What inspired you to go GREEN in STL?
I wish I could take credit, but the idea to go green was Rick Hunterâ€™s. You would think that one of the leading green builders in St. Louis would have been the inspiration of some hyper-environmentally conscious group, but that just wasnâ€™t the case. Rick and Mike Greene (along with Realtor Sebastian Bautz) saw that there was a shortage of high quality new construction in St. Louis City. Green building simply proved to be an extension of better quality building. The more we learned about going green, the more it made sense to us. We didnâ€™t fully grasp the importance of the environmental component until we had immersed ourselves in the building science and techniques. Iâ€™m embarrassed to say that I didnâ€™t even recycle until late last year, but now that I know what I know I feel guilty throwing away anything at all. Go listen to someone like Ed Mazria talk and it will really open your eyes.
Next monthâ€™s newsletter (get the newsletter by emailing to email@example.com) will likely be about the environmental component of what we do. Oddly enough, itâ€™s usually one of the last reasons mainstream buyers end up choosing to go green, but itâ€™s the most important and the most rewarding.
What is your past development experience?
All of the partners in the company have historic renovation backgrounds. Itâ€™s how we all met and know one another. We cut our teeth on restoring old homes in the City. We grew our individual development businesses on the state historic tax credit programs, so the transition to the 3rd party certification process of green was like old hat to us.
How many current projects and where?
As of today, we have seven homes under development. Everything weâ€™re doing has to be a certified green project, either through the HBA GBI or USGBCâ€™s LEED. Projects include the two in Dogtown (one of which just made the news for being the first home in the City ever certified green under the HBA GBI guidelines, the other is under contract and going under roof next week), four in Tower Grove South (The Gustine Townhomes are quickly becoming known as the â€œBoulder Housesâ€ among the neighbors for all the landscaping walls â€“ all salvaged limestone and granite taken from the excavation of the site the homes now sit on â€“ howâ€™s that for a recycling effort?), and the show stopper, the Owens Corning sponsored NZEH (near zero energy home) in Creve Coeur. Rick and Mike did interviews for NBC Nightly News on the house when it was featured on the National Association of Homebuilders Green Building Conference Builderâ€™s Tour. To get attention like that you know it has to be truly special home. It features all kinds of great green concepts and products including solar, geothermal, insulated concrete forms, and more. It doesnâ€™t hurt that itâ€™s a great looking house to boot â€“ right out of a story book (thank you designer Jeff Day!).
The “Boulder Houses” on Gustine in Tower Grove South
What’s in store for next year?
I think people are excited about the idea that our houses donâ€™t necessarily look green, but perform green (energy efficient, better for your health, lower maintenance, etc.). These days weâ€™re getting a ton of inquires on our custom builds, so next year will probably have us focused on some exciting custom projects. Weâ€™re also looking at a number of smaller commercial projects. The St. Louis green commercial market is one of the best in the country (technically, itâ€™s been listed as #7), so the hope is that we have something tangible underway within the next twelve months. If any of your readers are looking for green commercial space to lease, they should give us a call asap.
In Massachusetts, foreclosure filings have nearly doubled over the past year due to mortgage payments becoming too high for homeowners. Those who face foreclosure rallied at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday. They’re asking Gov. Deval Patrick for a moratorium on foreclosures. Patrick is a former director of Ameriquest, one of the nation’s largest subprime lenders.
This was a the story I heard this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition. It got me thinking about a foreclosure property in my neighborhood; I can walk there in less than 5 minutes. It’s a really a good deal right now for a homebuyer….
But I can’t help wondering about the former owners. How did they end up in foreclosure? How were they approved for a mortgage that in less than 3 years they would be unable to afford? Did they over estimate their ability to handle it all? Did someone lose a job? Did they use an ARM for the original mortgage and were then unable to afford the rate adjustment? Or were they ill-advised in the beginning? Did they work with a mortgage broker who directed to them higher-interest loan? Was there actual fraud?
Since the early 2000′s home prices have been escalating and with rising prices, lenders have been more comfortable lending to buyer’s who historically might not have qualified which was great as that increased the home-ownership rate to 69% by 2004. But the fall out of that is many buyers paid full market value and sometimes more (borrowing up to 103% of value to cover closing costs and down payments) and are now unable to maintain the payments along with rising energy costs. According to the article on the NPR website nationwide the foreclosure rate increased by 47% in March 07 compared to March 06.
Because I stay in contact with my past clients, I know that none of them have gone into foreclosure.However, most of my clients have been first time buyers and few of them have had a down payment. Without looking through all my records I would bet that over 75% of my buyer clients financed 100% of their mortgages. I am not a lender and do not pretend to know all there is to know about financing but I do try to help my buyers through this process by sitting down with them in the beginning and going over my Buyer’s Packet. I suggest that they interview several lenders and I give them a list of 14 questions to ask their lenders. I also caution them that in my experience if they have good credit and good credit history a lender will qualify them for much more than they can truly afford. I caution them to really think about what they are going to be comfortable paying out each month for their living expenses and tell them to stick to their budget and I only show them houses over their range if I believe I can bridge that gap in the initial negotiation. So in this respect I hope I help them find a situation that will be truly beneficial rather than finding themselves struggling to make their payments.
And in the course of my vacation research, I found an incredible experiment in urban planning and sustainability. VIIKKI, Helsinki, Finland
The general guidelines for Viikki designs were governed by sustainablity: they required a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from building materials and pure water consumption, 10% less waste on building sites during construction and needed to provide residents the opportunity to grow their own food.
By employing alternative sources of energy, Viikkii designs are helping to reduce consumption by 60%. The development is designed to generate solar and wind power, direct rainwater to communal gardens and preserve marshland all while housing 13,000 residents, 6000 jobs and 6000 students just 7km from the city’s downtown. Situated by the subway line and accessible by several bus lines it is a veritable utopia with fruit and vegetable gardens stretched between buildings.
There are many ways to fund a renovation project. Mr. White, a man who renovates smaller projects around South City, said to me a while ago when I asked his secret, “CASH.”
Well, not everybody has CASH and for those who have never even owned a home, there isn’t even equity. Never fear… there is always a way to finance your dream home even if you are a first time buyer or rehabber. In the case that you have never owned a home and have no experience doing any sort of renovation, there is still a way to buy a building that needs a considerable amount of work and not get in over your head.
The loan product is called an FHA 203K and the beauty of it is that while the property is under construction you don’t have to the pay the mortgage (although like anything else you will end up paying) and it is designed for a person without any renovation experience. There are many checks and balances to make sure that the borrower is doing the necessary planning and is working with reputable contractors. Before any money is lent the project undergoes a full review including inspection, appraisal of after-improved value and renovation plan. But don’t take my word for it. Below is a copy of a Q & A I had with a former client.
Kirsten is web designer with a passion for letterpress design. She needed a very unique space for her studio and she found that in an old brick building that was originally used as a horse stable for a St. Louis Police Station.
How did you know this was the building for you?
Because I have a lot of heavy equipment that would fit perfectly on the first floor of the space.
Did you have any $ for down payment?
Did you have any experience in renovation?
How did you finance the project?
The best thing about it was not having to pay on the loan for the first 6 months. I suppose the con would be that you have to borrow a bit extra, but other than that I didn’t really see any downfalls, as it allowed us to get the project done.
Can you explain the 203K process?
HA! I would have to look through my paperwork again.. But basically an inspector has to come out and verify that the property will be worth the amount that they are lending to you once you are done before they will lend the $ that you need for the renovation.
In retrospect do you think you could have accomplished the project without the 203K?
How did you find contractors?
Word of mouth.
What were some of the biggest hurdles in the process?
Communication with the contractor was pretty tough, and a lot of times they dont show when they say they will, etc… There were some hurdles to work through with the subcontractors as well, and disputes between the subcontractors and the contractor at times.
Is it finished or still a work in progress?
Very much a work in progress.
What did you splurge on?
What did you skimp on?
Did you do any of the work yourself?
Yes, we did some custom ceiling work, installed fancy trim, tiled the kitchen counter, and some of the work on the deck and all the demolition. If you can take on the demolition on your own, it’s great because it saved us about 7,000$ to do it ourselves. It’s dirty and not fun, but you can’t really screw it up.
Any advice to other other first time rehabbers?
Find a good contractor!!!! And don’t be wimpy when dealing with them. I think I was too easy-going, and didn’t communicate a sense of urgency enough to the contractor. It seems with those guys the squeaky wheels get the most attention, as with most things, and I always tried to be pretty nice about stuff, but it ended up that a lot didn’t get done until the 9th hour.
Spring has finally arrived and with it many opportunities to get involved in the St. Louis Community.
Saturday, April 21:Rebuilding Day. Come rain or come shine over 2500 volunteers in the St. Louis area will be working to help elderly and disabled homeowners maintain the residences. It is too late to sign up for Rebuilding Day, but not too late to get involved with Rebuilding Together-STL.
Saturday and Sunday, April 21 & 22:The Grand South Grand House Tour. Tour begins at 11am and ends at 5pm each day. This is the yearly opportunity to peak inside homes and gardens in the 5 residential neighborhoods linked by South Grand: Compton Heights, Compton Hill Reservoir Square, Shaw, Tower Grove East and Tower Grove Heights. Tour the Fleur-de-Lys Mansion Bed and Breakfast (pictured below) on Russell Blvd. Then walk across the street to get a 360 degree view of the city from the top of the Water Tower in Compton Hill Reservoir Park.
Sunday, April 22: Earth Day Festival This year’s theme is LIVING GREEN and will be held in Forest Park and on the Muny grounds from 11 AM- 6PM. Highlights include entertainment on 2 stages, healthy choice food offerings, farmer’s market and electronic recycling collection.
Can you find the new construction in Lafayette Square? I have been driving by Mississippi Place all winter and the other day as I rounded the corner at Mississippi and Lafayette, I was shocked to see the progress. I am really impressed with how well these blend into the surrounding neighborhood.
Inspired by my last post the Perfect $100,000 House in St. Louis, I decide to follow up on the properties I saw that were listed in the MLS under $100,000 but needed to be taken down to the studs (and in some cases even further).
My original search turned up over 144 listings. Many were HUGE homes that needed to be taken down to the studs. That, I think, is another post. For now I wanted to find places that weren’t just livable but striking and updated. I didn’t put any limitations on beds, baths or square footage but most of them appear to be 1 bedroom/ 1 bath places ranging between 600-1000 square feet. Some of them I chose because they have been totally reworked with very smart design choices others I might not have liked as much in terms of the interior but the location in relation to parks and public transportation is unbeatable.
By using “Zillow’s database of historical home valuations, we [the article's author] identified the neighborhood in each city that saw the most median home-value appreciation in the past five years, excluding neighborhoods where the median home value was currently above the median home value for the city.”
(Grand Avenue Bridge, former landmark near the Tiffany neighborhood, destroyed in 1962)
For now I am going to concentrate on Tiffany, so here is a sample of some of the current listings in the area.
The article states that there is usually more behind the increased value in the areas cited than the mere increase in property values nationwide. However it doesn’t detail the contributing factors for any of the specific neighborhood cited in the article. However, the article does give a general guide on what to look for in “up and coming neighborhoods“: Transportation Infrastructure, Commercial Infrastructure, Zoning Laws and Local Politics. I will venture to parse the predicted/evident success of Tiffany accordingly.
Transportation Infrastructure: Tiffany is centered in the city just between I-64/40 and I-44, a respectable and bikable distance to downtown and walking distance to the MetroLink.
Commercial Infrastructure: Areas surrounding Tiffany include South Grand Business District, the eclectic restaurants, night spots and shops on Manchester near Vandeventer, the Saint Louis University campus and hospital.
Zoning Laws: Appear to be geared toward single family developments. Just to the west is a new construction development where prices range from the mid 130′s to the high 300′s. Botanical Heights, if somewhat controversial and suburban in nature, is still a factor in increased value for the area.
More Single Families: Just across I-44, Millennium Restoration and Development Corporation is beginning its very respectable new construction development, DeTonty Place, where single family homes, all sides brick will start in the mid 300′s.
Local Politics: Father Biondi has been working tirelessly and progressively on the area for nearly two decades, acquiring and improving many properties around the university and is even in the process of developing a Silver-LEED certified Health Sciences Center at the corner of Chouteau and Grand.
Realtor Rhetoric or not, St. Louis’ Tiffany Neighborhood appears to be “on the rise.”
I’m an experienced Saint Louis Realtor specializing in St. Louis City as well as neighborhoods like Webster Groves, Maplewood, Clayton, University City and Ladue. With an undergraduate degree in Education and Master's in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development — I have the heart of teacher.
I have been immersed in Residential Real Estate, helping home buyers and sellers understand the market, manage the ambiguities and negotiate the best terms for themselves. I am consistently voted a 5-Star Agent by clients and featured as one of St. Louis' Best Agents in Saint Louis Magazine.