Monday, February 27, 2012

Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles

Looking eerily like a landing pad for a Vulcan Space Ship, solar panels have shown up on top of the Discovery Place garage to provide power to charge Electric Vehicles.  A similar station has been constructed on top of the parking garage for the Government Center.  Add these to the stations located in the parking lot across from Rock Bottom, and you get the start of a trend.

Granted, it is a very small trend at this point, but to encourage people to use Electric Vehicles (EV's) there needs to be a way to recharge them.  Sounds reminiscent of "Field of Dreams" "If you build it, they will come!"

In previous articles I have highlighted Brooks Agnew of Vision Motor Cars who is about to go into production in Michigan of his Electric Delivery Vehicle.  It is a fascinating concept especially here in Charlotte where all our natural sunlight will be providing enough power to keep the vehicle going at highway speeds for FREE!  This truck, called the Everest, joins the ranks of the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf, as well as others now coming on the market.

The ability to recharge vehicles while at work will speed the adoption of these vehicles.  The adoption will lead to obvious benefits, no emissions and lower operating costs. 

In the February 27th edition of the Charlotte Observer, Bill Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Henry Ford, talked about the time when his great-grandfather started Ford how people seldom went 25 miles from their homes, and how the automobile gave them the freedom to travel. Density, by it's nature, encourages a lifestyle that would normally not exceed 25 miles!

The coming of EV's will certainly highlight that smaller traveling radius and make living in a densely populated city more attractive.  As that becomes attractive, our property values will rise.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

More Information About Rentals

There has been a flurry of activity in the rental market recently.  Here is a map created by one of the frequent posters to Urban Planet.  This map shows the new apartment complexes that have been announced, and their location on a map.

There is no surprise that a lot are clustered around the LYNX Blue Line in the SouthEnd.  Whole new communities are popping up, and the existing projects all have pretty good reputations.  It is reflective of two things; people still being unsure of their situation, and developers finding that financing for apartment complexes is far easier than condos.  With condos, a developer needs to have a certain number of units presold to get the financing needed.

They are not always welcomed however.  I wrote earlier this week about the Mercury project in the NoDa area.  Area residents are not all that happy about how it will change the fabric of the neighborhood.  The developments in the SouthEnd were basically being put in areas that were undeveloped, and other than some empty buildings, there were no one to object. 

In some areas, large developments have caused a significant drop in property values for their neighbors.  An example is Fifth & Poplar.  The units on the Pine Street side of the building have all lost significant value, approximately 40%, when The VUE was built.

The one thing that is for sure is that as the LYNX line is extended to UNCC, all stops along the way will be getting interest from developers.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Following Up On Electric Vehicles

A few weeks ago I wrote about Brooks Agnew and his company, Vision Motor Cars.  Brooks was kind enough to follow up with me and provided a video with more information about the Everest light urban delivery truck, what his production plans are, and what the future may hold for a automobile version of this car.  Go Here to see the video.

The truly incredible part of this technology is that the vehicle can be configured to include solar cells that will recharge the vehicle.  Imagine never running out of fuel again, especially here in sunny North Carolina.

Check out the link, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Who Is Right?

A friend of mine lives in NoDa, and is being faced with a serious dilemma.  The issue in question is for the Mercury Development around the Neighborhood Theatre on approximately 3.5 acres.  Go here to see the site plan.  It calls for the construction of up to 260 apartment units to be built on that site. 

Density in NoDa is certainly something that the city wants, as there will be a light rail stop nearby on 36th Street.  Funny, the coming of rail to this town reminds me a bit of the movie "Blazing Saddles", and the rush to get the right land.

The issues here are several.  First, on the corner of the parcel in question is a house that has a deed restriction prohibiting it from being altered on the exterior, or moved.  The owner has the prospect of looking out the kitchen window into a 4 story parking garage.  Not too cool.  The developer has requested the Historic Landmark Commission make an exception and allow this house to be moved.  A potential suitable site within a few blocks has been found that could be suitable.  The Historic Landmarks Commission has passed a motion to not allow the house to be moved.

The next issue involves the property values of the houses directly across from the development.  Many are mill houses that owners have invested significant money to upgrade and restore.  The ambiance of a single family neighborhood will be eliminated by a structure up to four stories that will prohibit sunlight from being available in the afternoons to these owners.  The streets in question will become significantly more crowded with the potential insertion of up to 400 residential vehicles, not to mention the vehicles of guests.

The next issue is how does a property owner deal with the loss of the value of their investment?  One solution is to sell below market value and get out.  A second solution is to rent out the property and hope for a better market in the future.  No offense to renters, but they tend to not add to the fabric of a community as they are highly transitional.  So, does the developers rights to a financial gain from his investment come from the loss of value of the neighborhood?

The next issue involves "The Next Dilworth" principle.  That moniker has been applied to Plaza Midwood, Wesley Heights, Noda and Wilmore.  Driving through the streets will show that homes have been upgraded, some significantly, but all in a way that shows individual reinvestment in a  community that was in disrepair.  The rail line may very well tip the balance in favor of NoDa being that "Next Dilworth". 

The next issue will be sound issues.  The Neighborhood Theatre is not known for its sound containment.  An apartment complex surrounding that facility will certainly bring many complaints.  Speaking of The Neighborhood Theatre, the developer is going way out of his way to make sure the character of the commercial establishments remains intact, perhaps at the expense of the neighborhood.

This is a Downtown Blog, so what does this have to do with downtown, and what does this have to do with property values?  Everything!

When downtown was reinventing itself, the Fourth Ward went through as similar process.  As we look at the neighborhood today, we see a vibrant, walkable, livable neighborhood that shares high density with 23 single family homes.  The development was smart, and well thought out, with density located at the edges.  There is room for both. 

It is this balance of growth and respect for neighborhoods that contribute most to property values.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Changing Face Of Retail

Well, actually that headline is a bit misleading, but go here to read an article from the New York Times that discusses reusing retail space for other purposes..

The lead paragraph in the article discusses a mall project opened in Cleveland over 20 years ago to try to bring retail, and traditional retail mall thinking, back into a downtown area.  Now, being from Cleveland, I have some familiarity with that project.  I recall walking into it back in the early 90's and marveling at the scope of the project.  Those of you who are familiar with Cleveland might recall the similarity of The Galleria to the Arcade between Euclid and Superior.

I recall wondering how the Galleria could maintain it's momentum.  It was located in the base of an office building, which might give it some life around lunch time or dinner time, but had no residential impact around it.  It was inconvenient for someone to go there from the suburbs, and why bother, all the stores there were located out in the suburbs as well.

But, getting back to the headline, this article goes on to say that many traditional merchants are closing some of their less productive locations, and are not adding, at least in a traditional sense, more new locations.  Our shopping habits have also changed.  It is pretty easy to order staple merchandise, such as office supplies, underwear, etc. on line and have it delivered at no charge to our doors.  When I was a buyer for a department store, and budgets were tight, I could always get an order passed for basic merchandise, because it was the basic merchandise that brought people in regularly.

If you take away the basic need to go shopping by using the Internet, merchants need to create other methods to bring you into their stores, the endless sales with inflated regular prices being slashed to show a big deal to buy at their sale prices.  There is always a sale!

So, the article discusses re-uses for traditional retail malls, and even Eastland is mentioned.  The reuse almost always turns to creating mini-downtown's in their spaces, town centers if you will.  These efforts are designed to create reasons to bring people there.  The article also alludes to the fact that stores now see the ability to walk in off the street is preferable to walking in through a mall.

Could this be the advent of the return of Retail to downtown Charlotte?  Maybe, but not the way it was in the past.  For years I have been advocating taking the banks, doctors offices, brokerage houses, copy centers, etc. off the street level access it currently enjoys, and putting those things in the Overstreet Mall.  I would then take the merchants and restaurants from the Overstreet Mall and put them on ground level.  Return street life to Charlotte.

Downtown Charlotte already has the town center.  As this expands, we will all see our property values once again increase.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Good-Bye Downtown Donnie

For over 25 years, Donnie and his hot dog cart have been gracing the sidewalks of Tryon Street selling dogs, sausages, soft drinks and chips.  Most recently Downtown Donnie has been on the corner of South Tryon and Third Streets, that is where I met him.

In addition to being a fixture on Tryon, Donnie also does special events.  Several years ago, I engaged Donnie to bring his cart to a Friends of Fourth Ward meeting when we were discussing the on going saga of bringing the Charlotte Knights to the downtown area.

Donnie has also worked other events, grand openings, parties, open houses, etc.  Donnie will be continuing those special events.

So, as time continues to march on, we will miss seeing Donnie's weathered face as he feeds Charlotte.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Time To Buy Is Now

This is taken from John Talbot the author of The Coming Crash in the Housing Market and Sell Now! The End of the Housing Bubble, both written before 2005.  He is currently talking about the reasons that make right now the best time to buy, and here are excerpts from his article;

Home prices are off anywhere from 10% to more than 60% in cities across the country. There is no reason to believe that prices were "fair" during the bubble as we have seen they were largely caused by loose and aggressive lending by banks and non-banks And by my calculations, in most cities across the country, real prices adjusted for inflation have just about come into line with where prices were in 1997

Homes in many cities across the country are now selling for as little as $60 to $70 a square foot. Depending on the quality of construction and the underlying land value, this represents a 50% to 65% discount to the costs you would incur if you tried to build a similar home today in these cities.

During the peak years of the housing bubble, entire cities like San Diego were seeing their homes priced on average at 11 times the area's median family income. Now, homes in many cities are changing hands at three to four times average family incomes.

We still talk about home prices in dollar terms, which is silly because the dollar has lost 98% of its purchasing power relative to a more stable asset like gold over the last fifty years. If instead of pricing houses in dollars, we look and see what a home would cost in ounces of gold, we see that houses today are a real bargain.

You might argue that this is because gold is priced highly today. I would argue that gold's purchasing power has changed very little over time, it is the dollar that is depreciating and thus giving the appearance that the price of gold is rising. Actually, gold is quite stable relative to other assets and commodities and it is the dollar that is highly volatile and declining in value due to the US funding its deficits by printing dollars.

John R. Talbott, previously a Goldman Sachs investment banker, is a best selling author and economic consultant to families. You can read more about his books, the accuracy of his predictions and his family consulting activities at

I will augment this article by relating that of the last 4 contracts I have written, 3 have had multiple offers, and while my clients all bid over the asking price, we were not the highest bidder on any of the 3 contracts.  Hardly a coincidence.

While stories in the Charlotte Observer and other media outlets tell the tale of the price of homes sold is still dropping, they do not report that the number of non distressed properties on the market is lower than it has been for at least 10 years.  It stands to reason that if the market is made up of low end houses that the market will be reflective of those lower prices.