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BEHOLD THE TRANSFORMATION of a neighborhood before your very eyes. That’s what a walk around parts of Philadelphia’s Kensington is like. Whenever I visit, every two months or so, there’s new development, and it’s spreading fast.
In 2008, when I bought a tiny row house (above right) in the area, it was bleak. Neighboring lots were vacant, nearby houses were falling down. Now, on my one-block block, there’s a new condo building on the corner, the weed-choked lot next door has been cleared for 17 new townhouses, and foundations for two more new townhouses have been poured directly across the street. My house has become the most rundown on the block, and I hope to address that come spring.
Fan out to neighboring streets, and there are warehouse conversions everywhere (that’s Oxford Mills, above). In the 19th century, Kensington was a district of textile mills called Little England. Those that have survived are being converted to housing for an influx of mostly young people (some priced out, perhaps, of New York City).
Frankford Avenue, which divides the neighborhood from further-along Fishtown, has been in the throes of commercial development for a few years now (La Colombe, a coffee roaster/cafe, and Fette Sau, a Korean barbecue restaurant, are two of the big-capital investments).
More recently, Front Street, along which runs the El, has become a desirable location for restaurants, too (Good Spoon Soupery, Front Street Cafe, above).
The architecture of the new residential construction is not much to my liking, but for some reason this same look has taken hold all over north Philadelphia. Wherever there’s a vacant lot, Mondrian-esque low-rise buildings comprised of colored boxes seem to fly up.
Kensington is currently in the running for the grand prize in Curbed Philadelphia’s (pretty silly) annual best-neighborhood contest. Here’s how they describe Kensington’s advantages:
Kensington (7)—This North Philly neighborhood—which encompasses a series of sub-neighborhoods, including East, Lower, and West Kensington—is feeling the heat from Fishtown. As housing prices continue to rise in that hipster haven, more first-time home owners have looked to Kensington for more affordable options. And developers have noticed: Postgreen Homes has established plenty of their projects in the mostly industrial area, filling once-vacant lots with modern homes. Other signs of revitalization: The opening of New Liberty Distillery in the Crane Arts complex, the continued growth ofGreensgrow Farms on E. Cumberland St., and the annual Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby & Arts Festival.
The neighborhood still looks pretty bleak, as these photos taken on a gray Sunday after Christmas attest. The main pocket of greenery is Norris Park, a square of majestic trees. The surrounding streets are full of small row houses, used as workers’ housing 150 years ago, bearing ‘For Sale’ signs. Some have been renovated, perhaps well, perhaps in a slapdash way; others are being offered as-is.
The double-wide beaut, above, on East Norris Street, has been converted to condos.
On a single block of Martha Street, I counted at least four houses for sale, at prices Brooklyn hasn’t seen for years, but a lot more than they would have asked a while back.
#2031 Martha St., above, renovated, 229K
#2061 Martha St., left, 159K; #2059, right, 339K
I’m not as confident a real-estate investor as I was a few years back when I started this blog. I’ve over-stretched, had to do more repairs and renovation than anticipated on all my properties, and rents are a bit soft.
But my experience as a landlord in Kensington has been good. It’s been relatively easy to rent my two units, and it’s getting easier. And I love being involved, in a small way, in something that’s so tangibly happening.
I’M MORE BULLISH THAN EVER on Kensington, the Philadelphia neighborhood north of Center City where I bought a small row house for investment in 2007. Eight years ago, the area was full of crumbling, sagging buildings. Now it’s being spiffed up and built up everywhere, with new low-rise residential construction in formerly vacant lots, and the conversion of the area’s many disused textile mills and factories into rentals and condos.
In Philly this week, I wanted to see the area around Norris Square, above, a leafy park I remembered as sketchy several years ago, when small row houses near the park were going for well under 100K. They’re a bit more now (though still under 150K), but the area felt cleaned up and more friendly on a walking tour of the neighborhood with my son Max and his dog Roma.
We ambled up Hancock Street and down Front, under the elevated train, where industrial buildings are being renovated left and right for commercial and residential use. Here, in approximately this order, is what we saw.
The carriage houses that carry tourists around Center City are stabled on Hancock. In the background, one of the many brick factory buildings that have been converted for residential use.
This former feather company building is being developed after a community battle to save it from demolition.
Admiring the newly painted signage on a Hancock Street building, we were invited in for a look. Federal Distilling is a vodka distillery, soon to open with a bar selling house-made products.
The area’s row-house architecture is very similar to that of nearby Fishtown.
Right around Norris Square, the houses are larger and more detailed. Must have been elegant in their day.
Something afoot here on Front in what looks like an old bank building.
Oxford Mills is a mammoth rental building completed a couple of years ago in the shell of a former textile family. Public school teachers get a break on rent.
On this block of Jefferson Street, a typical mix: some old row houses, a couple of modern interventions, and a former casket factory developed as apartments.
The side of my property is visible, covered with ivy, in the photo above. The new construction across the street was a vacant lot two years ago. The grassy field has been sold to developers and will become 17 new townhouses. The brick building behind mine is one of the neighborhood’s earliest loft conversions.
Lunch was here, in the shadow of the El, at the Good Spoon Soupery (they have salads and sandwiches, too) on the corner of Front and Master — a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
A REMINDER OF THE VAST SPACES and great bargains still available in bucolic Delaware County, this mid-19th century farmhouse, currently owned by an artist and writer, was once the centerpiece of a farm called “The Overlook,” and it does indeed sit on a hill above the hamlet of Meridale, N.Y. The 6-bedroom, 2-bath house is just one of a complex of buildings, including a massive barn and a charming old storefront, not to mention nearly 30 acres of pastureland. Taxes not bad either — under $5,000/year.
I can’t say it better than Lynne Resch of Two Stones Realty, who has the listing right here, where you’ll also find more photos to dream on. See below for Lynne’s words:
Not unlike the nearby Hanford Mills Museum, this charming homestead is “intact”. This is how folks lived in the 19th century. A complex of buildings servicing their needs in a cozy, contained environment. Very much, if not exactly as it was when it was the engine of “The Overlook” Farm. And the property does indeed ‘overlook’ the charming hamlet of Meridale.Full disclosure… I am in love with the store… having passed it, and its enormous turn-of-the-century crock on the porch, hundreds of times on the way to Oneonta.The immediate live/work complex with big red barn would be satisfying enough. But the nearly 30 acres includes pastures and long-range views that put this offering at the top of the list. Spectacular views and open meadows hosted the owner’s own wedding and could provide the ideal for weddings to come.The location is perfect for work or play… for a Catskills entrepreneur to a NYC expat/escapee. Keep an eye on the store while rocking on the porch, toiling in the studio, negotiating that wedding party, or tending the flock and herd in the barns. The options satisfy a wide range of interests. Literally midway between two college towns… Delhi (15 mins) and Oneonta (15 mins) you will want for nothing. Mere walking distance to Greenane Farms’ bounty, their amazing CSA, The Dutch Deli for that quart of milk and the charming hamlet of Meridale’s Post Office.Area attractions nearby include The Hanford Museum, The West Kortright Centre, Stone & Thistle with Fable Dining, Harmony Hill, and the entire Western Catskills. 3 hours from NYC, easy access to Delhi and Oneonta, area attractions from The Hudson Valley to the Glimmerglass Opera, Fenimore Art Museum, and not-to-be-missed Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, make “Wedding Hill” a base for any dream.And yes, a Trailways bus stop, cell phone service, high-speed internet!… pinch me!
THIS IS THE GENUINE ARTICLE for old-house fanatics — a true Colonial from the 1720s, when Connecticut was an actual colony. It looks to my eye like Dutch-style architecture, with that gambrel roof shape.
It’s on six-tenths of an acre in a National Register Historic District, in Rocky Hill, central Connecticut, with a bit of a river view. At 1,600 square feet plus basement and porch, with three bedrooms and two baths, it’s neither tiny nor overscaled. Just right.
I was alerted to the listing by an email from the National Trust for Historic Preservation site. Their listing says — and to judge by the photos, there’s no reason to doubt it — that the house has original flooring, paneling, plaster, doors, and fireplaces. It all looks startlingly original, like a historic house museum. It also looks like someone took renovations to a certain point, then gave up.
An exterior paint job (love the green) is evidently part of the completed work, along with other major items, including upgraded electrical, structural fixes, new heat, plumbing, an upstairs bathroom, and attic insulation. The work left to do perhaps explains what seems like an awfully low asking price.
The Coldwell Banker listing has 35 photos online.
Anyone besides me think this looks like a great project (for someone else)?
STEPS — NO, REALLY — STEPS TO BEACH. Lots of real estate listings say it. In this case, it’s true. This is the third house in from the water at Maidstone Beach, East Hampton, below, a long sandy crescent on Gardiner’s Bay that I never get tired of touting as the Hamptons’ best-kept secret (actually there are a couple of other equally well-kept secrets, but it’s one of the top three).
The house (at left in photo at top) is a shingled cottage from the 1950s, probably, with a glassed-in front room that probably used to be an open porch, and a garage out back. Two bedrooms, two baths, a working fireplace, and a whole lot of clutter, which I hope you can see through.
It’s been on the market for about two months, which surprises me. I should have thought it would be gone by now.
You can see the listing, with more photos, here.