Friday, December 29, 2006

Tears for Teardowns

One of the saddest architectural consequences that came out of the housing boom was the rising trend of teardowns. When big money could be made in razing old historic homes in order to build massive, multi-dollar ‘McMansions’, thousands of America’s most beautiful homes faced the bulldozer. With the burst of the housing bubble, however, architectural preservationists have found an unlikely ally in the fight to sustain historic buildings: the economy. Evan Thoreau Heigert reports from Chicago, one of the hardest hit areas in the country.


“The neighborhood of Roscoe Village, on the Northside of Chicago, is renown for its quiet streets, old oak trees, and turn of the century architecture. However, in the past few years a disturbing trend has developed. Between the classic Chicago bungalows and prairie-style walk-ups, ultra-modern four or five story condos have sprung up like glass and steel weeds.

I also call this neighborhood home. In the past four months, I’ve watched as an eighty-year home across the street was demolished and the subsequent five story concrete skeleton of a condo unit has begun to take its place. On either side, 1920’s era brick houses look on nervously, wondering when their time will come.

But the trend is hardly limited to this small Northside neighborhood. Chicago ranks alongside San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Washington D.C. as the most active areas for teardowns and subsequent re-development.

A recent story was published about the western Chicago suburb of Hinsdale. This quiet, affluent community has been rocked by the onslaught of teardowns in recent years, when nearly 30 percent of the city’s 4,700 homes were razed to accommodate larger, more modern structures. Other cities start sweating when the teardown rate reaches 10%.

The reason for the rise in teardowns is clear. Chicago is full of wealthy professionals who face huge pricetags when trying to purchase land in the sprawling suburbs. By tearing down what they consider to be older, outdated structures and building larger, more luxurious homes, they can increase the profitability of their investment, with apparent disregard for the historic value of the existing home.

Preservationists see it a different way, particularly in the City of Broad Shoulders, which gave rise to the modern skyscraper, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, the prairie style, and American Bauhaus designs. These lovers of architecture see the inherent (and no doubt financial) benefit of restoring and preserving old historic structures and the preservationist movement here has taken an epic stance. Take for example an 82-year-old redstone cottage that faced demolition in Hinsdale last month. The preservationist society and the village managed to purchase the structure itself and move it two miles away to land donated by the park service. In Kenilworth, IL on Chicago’s elite North Shore (which consistently ranks as one of America’s top five richest towns), a home designed by legendary architect Daniel Burnham nearly met its maker last year before a local aficionado purchased it for $2 million.

But there is good news. The recent burst of the housing market has given preservationists hope. Nationwide the rate of teardowns has decreased by 20% in the past year. Homeowners are beginning to feel the burden of expensive construction contracts and doubt over the ability to cash in on their investments. This is leading many to see the historic value of their home as a benefit rather than a hindrance. By carefully renovating these century-old structures, many homeowners can create a beautiful home and investment that will pay off financially and morally in the long run.

And in a city like Chicago, where the wind blows cold and the heart’s of developers can be even colder, that is a very good thing.”



As always find out more about the state of affairs in the real estate market here in Seattle and around the country with our Seattle real estate news and keep up-to-the-minute with real estate tools and trackers found only at

Happy New Years everyone!


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Food For Thought

I can’t stop thinking about those friends of mine that don’t accept that this form of global warming is anything but ordinary. Think about some of these numbers and statistics gleaned straight from the National Geographic experts below. There is no topic for debate. As Al Gore says, the very idea that global warming is a subject of discussion is ludicrous and derived directly from propaganda bought by oil companies, loggers, and big business. This thing is real, the numbers don’t lie.

• Over the last century, global temperatures rose by about 1 degree across the board.

• Modern weather records have kept been for a variety of statistics, dating back to the mid 19th century. To date, the warmest years on record stand in this order: 1998, 2002, 2003, 2001, and 1997. Coincidence?

• In the Northern Hemisphere, the fall freeze now starts about ten days later than it did a century-and-a-half ago and the spring thaw comes at least nine days early.

• In Barrow, Alaska, the average yearly temperature has risen almost five degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years.

• Arctic icebergs have shrunk by nine percent since 1978 and half will be gone by this century’s end.

• Where will all this water go, you ask? Well, the ice sheets on Greenland alone hold enough water to raise world sea levels 23 feet. No need buying real estate in London, New York, Miami or Cape Cod. The vast majority of these areas would be sea floor by this time. You can watch South Beach and downtown Miami get a good ol’ fashioned global warming welcome here.

• Which brings up a sore issue… weather. Higher sea levels result in more destructive storms that are able to reach even further inland and cause vastly more damage. And you thought Katrina was bad for New Orleans? Wait until we’re seeing hurricanes reaching Chicago.

• A rise of just 1.5 inches of sea level corresponds to a typical coastline retreat of about 150 feet. What would 23 feet in rise do?

• European plants now flower and average of a week earlier now than they did in the 1950s. Those beautiful linden trees that flank Parisian boulevards now lose their leaves five days later.

These statistics are designed to shock. Unfortunately, for most people it’s not enough. So that’s when Mother Nature decides to show us her displeasure of our harmful ways with wake up calls in the name of Katrina, Tsunami, Rita.

Get the facts. Get moving. Get ready, because it’s time for a change.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Where's That Damn Lorax When You Need Him?

I just got done watching the new Al Gore movie and the inspiration is flowing, the questions are growing. What if we made this great ‘new’ invention, put it out there, slap a pricetag on it, tell everyone it will save your life, save your grandkids, save the planet. Will they buy our T.R.E.E.?

Where to start? That’s the question of eternity. Where can I start? We (Americans) are 30% of the Global Warming problem. I tell Evan, my editor in Chicago, “Take the L man, leave the car at home!” I took my Piaggio scooter out today for Starbucks instead of my Volvo. I’d like to say it’s nice to get out into the fresh air, but what polite adjectives can you think of for foul smog?

Why does no one believe what’s going on here? It’s not a lie. I talked to five or six friends in the past week who think this is just normal, cyclical stuff. A million people without power in Seattle? Half as many homeless in New Orleans? Thousands drowned, battered, forlorn across in Southeast Asia? Ask them if this is normal.

People need to wake up and smell the air, not just their steamed mocha latte! How embarrassing that Seattle is not on Al Gore’s list of cities with ‘forward-thinking’ energy solutions. Is this the Emerald City or the Hypocritical City?

Everyone is into bumper stickers, t-shirts, car magnets these days. Let’s give them some food for thought:











I can’t stop! My keyboard has got me, it’s got me! I need to give a shout out to They’re here for us to HEAR! The time is now. We have to take space and time and energy from this blog now and then to raise these issues, to talk them over. I want to bring in some experts to help us peel the facts from the death grips of the government, of big tobacco, of big oil, of the Bushes and the Cheneys!

But, you ask, how does this have anything to do with real estate? It has everything to do with real estate, I tell you. Without humanity, without our big Blue Planet, your four square blocks in midtown Manhattan is going to be worth zilch.

Where’s that Lorax? We need his help!


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Holiday Sweets to Holiday Treats

It’s normal to want ‘stuff’. It’s human nature. We all have expectations, hopes, dreams. It’s also natural that we won’t always get what we want. Usually I don’t what I want, often nothing close to it. Reality bites sometimes; small business owners struggle to make ends meet, hard working stiffs sometimes can’t work hard enough. So what does all this have to do real estate? Nothing. Well, something.

A couple days ago I had a couple college kids over to see my house. They were shocked by the amazing view just three blocks away that overlooks downtown Seattle, Space Needle and all. The Queen Anne view blew them away, and honestly, it blows me away too, every morning when I walk my dog, Logan. I love my house, my home, my neighborhood. I love it more than I thought I ever could love a home; it’s more than I ever thought I would have. Growing up in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, I never imagined I could find myself in such a place. But the beauty part is, it happened. I didn’t get what I wanted; I got what I never thought I’d need.

In talking with an agent friend of mine, I found out how worried he was about the holiday slump. I decided to help him find some leads, not because it was my business to do so, but because he was my friend and I knew I could help him with my knowledge of the Internet and the market. I did it because that’s what I want to do here, I want to help those open their eyes to the possibilities that are out there.

I want to help those who don’t know what they want; I want to help those find those things that they never thought they’d ever love.


Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas Story. Well, Sort of.

The holidays are a time to gather together. And if your family is anything like mine, you can be sure that plenty of stories from the old timers get passed along (even if you’ve heard them a dozen times before). We may roll our eyes at Grandpa’s thirtieth rendition of his 1932 sandlot grand slam, but truth being truth, there’s something to be learned from those old yarns.

I saw a funny cartoon the other day. The premise was Santa Claus before and after the technological revolution. The ‘before’ shots show Old Saint Nick sweating and swearing to get gifts to all the good little girls and boys the world over. The ‘after’ shots show Santa 2006 relying on GPS systems, jet propulsion, and ‘smart’ bomb technology to deliver the presents in a fraction of the time with minimal effort. It was a good parody of our modern life.

I laughed. And then I thought a second about this blog and the shift we have witnessed in the real estate industry in the past five to ten years, mainly due to this information revolution. So I went back to the old timers in my ‘professional family’; the Old Saint Nicks, if you will, that got the job done by sweat and hard work, before you could boot up a computer and have a house on the market in seconds.

They related to me a Christmas tale of sorts, that even I, who lived through the ‘dark ages’ of real estate listings, could hardly remember. We talked about the times when listings didn’t refresh every thirty minutes on a webpage. When you had to find clients through referral networks, snail-mail flyers, and (gasp) Open Houses. In those days, the agents were the only ones with access to the MLS listing books – actual ink and paper tomes that had to be updated and distributed constantly between offices, MLS listing agencies, and agents via hard copy and fax. And yes, there were some agents that – whether intentionally or unintentionally – would pocket their precious leads to throw others off the scent. But dubious practices aside, the shear effort of data collection made listing collection slow as a sloth. Many of us dread remembering the act of physically going down to the City Planning and Zoning Office, sorting through microfiche and tax records, waiting in line, and spending hours in damp, dark government basements. No wonder the whole process took so long. Can you even imagine keeping in contact with hundreds of clients, agents, and prospects without email? The dark ages for sure. Like Old Saint Nick, those real estate wise men were the workhorses of the real estate industry. Now nearly all information is available to the public, as well as to agents.

So does this mean that the role of the agent is worthless today? HARDLY. The new challenge has become what to do with all the gigabytes of information that is available. Buyers and sellers need someone who can filter, comprehend, and pass on the vital information hidden in the avalanche of B.S., broken promises, and esoteric data. Smart real estate agents have the tools and know-how to make you more money than ever before. They are the real estate versions of Santa Claus 2006, the ones that know how to use the right buttons and gizmos to bring your gift-laden sleigh gliding in for a smooth landing.

Happy Holidays to you and yours – and always listen to those good ol’ boys and their wealth of stories. You never know what presents lie within. Merry Christmas!