Viewing online home listings when you’re supposed to be working? You’re not alone

online home listingby Dan Rafter

If you’ve been around long enough, you remember a time when home buyers scoured real estate listings in thick magazines published each month or in the classifieds sections of their local newspapers. Buyers can still do this, of course, but it feels pretty old-fashioned.

Today, most consumers browse for homes through online listings. It’s safe to say that the Internet — which has changed so much of the way we lead our lives — has completely disrupted the home-selling industry, in a way that’s made consumers more powerful and informed.

A new survey by Discover Home Loans illustrates just how much of an impact technology has had on residential real estate. According to the survey, 89 percent of home buyers use some form of technology to help them through the process of finding and buying homes. The survey found, too, that 76 percent of buyers felt smarter thanks to this technology, while 69 percent added that it made them more confident in the home-buying process.

That’s the good. There’s a flip side to all this, too. Browsing online home listings has become a bit of an addiction for many people, even those who aren’t even ready to buy a new home. According to the Discover survey, two-thirds of buyers say that looking at online home listings has reached the point of becoming addictive.

And many of these home-listing addicts are scanning and other sites during their work hours. A total of 78 percent of survey respondents admitted that they spent time at work looking at online home listings.

Don’t expect this to stop anytime soon. Most home shoppers report that technology has been a help to them as they search for a new place to live. The Discover survey found that 47 percent of home buyers reported that using technology saved them money. A total of 92 percent said that technology saved them time.

With numbers like that, don’t be surprised if you catch your co-workers glued to later today, it is Friday, after all.

Posted in national commercial real estate, residential real estate | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A pre-Thanksgiving break: Midwesterners love their green-bean casserole

Looks good! (Photo courtesy of Del Monte)

Looks good! (Photo courtesy of Del Monte)

by Dan Rafter

We’re now a week away from Thanksgiving. For commercial real estate pros the holiday is that rare chance to step away from work. Thanksgiving is no time to close a real estate deal (unless it’s a really big one).

In that spirit, here’s a break from commercial real estate news: Midwest residents really like the Thanksgiving staple of green-bean casserole.

Says who, you might ask. None other than Del Monte, the national grower and distributor of green beans. The company recently asked 1,500 U.S. residents to rate how much they liked the classic green-bean casserole. The company then ranked states in how much they liked this dish.

To no one’s surprise, Midwestern states dominated the list of 20 states that love this dish.

Kentucky took home the top spot, with 78 percent of residents telling Del Monte that they really like or love the side dish.

Three other Midwest states followed close behind, with Wisconsin taking the second spot (77 percent of residents really like or love green-bean casserole), Missouri the third (76 percent) and Iowa the fourth (75 percent).

Other Midwest states in the top-20 list are Kansas at spot 13 (66 percent), Ohio at number 16 (63 percent), Illinois at 18 (61 percent) and Michigan at 19 (60 percent).

So remember this Thanksgiving when you put down your smartphone and dig into your green-bean casserole, you’re in good company in enjoying this combo of green beans, fried onions and mushroom soup.

Posted in Illinois, Iowa commercial real estate, Kansas Commercial real estate, Kentucky commercial real estate, Michigan commercial real estate, Ohio commercial real estate, Wisconsin commercial real estate | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marcus & Millichap: Surge in apartment deliveries will boost multi-family vacancy rate in Milwaukee

milwaukee rent trendsby Dan Rafter

The Milwaukee multi-family market will be a strong one in 2015 and beyond. But real estate pros should expect vacancies in this sector to rise next year. Why? Developers have flocked to Milwaukee to build new apartment properties.

This flood of apartment deliveries — many of which will open their doors in the fourth milwaukee vacancy rate trendsquarter of this year — will nudge vacancy rates up.

That’s the takeaway from Marcus & Millichap’s fourth-quarter Milwaukee apartment report. According to the report, even though vacancies in the Milwaukee multi-family market will rise in 2015, they should stay in the 4-percent range, a solid figure even with the increase.

Marcus & Millichap predicts that developers will complete nearly 1,000 apartment units in the final quarter of 2014. The majority of these units will be in the city itself. For all of 2014, the Milwaukee market will see about 1,300 new units. That’s up from 900 new apartment units delivered in 2013.

In the last two years, then, developers will have added about 2,200 new apartment units to the Milwaukee market.

This surge in inventory will result in vacancy rates inching up to 4.2 percent during the fourth quarter. That would be an increase of 10 basis points from the fourth quarter of 2013.

But as demand for Milwaukee apartment units increases, so will the rents that landlords can charge. Marcus & Millichap says that effective rents will rise 2.7 percent this year to $940 a month. Most of this gain took place in the first quarter. In 2013, effective apartment rents rose 1.9 percent.

Why so many new apartments in Milwaukee? As the Marcus & Millichap report says, unemployment is down and retailers are increasingly targeting this metropolitan area. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Millennials want to live in urban downtowns, and that Milwaukee’s downtown is seeing more commercial activity.

Marcus reports that the unemployment rate in the Milwaukee area has fallen to 6 percent. During the past four quarters, 17,100 jobs have been created here.

At the same time, big-name retailers are opening new locations in the region. Meijer and Costco are among these retailers opening multiple stores in the Milwaukee market.

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Detroit’s Green Grocer Program helping store owners rejuvenate their groceries

green grocer2

by Dan Rafter

Retail is slowly bouncing back after the days of the recession. And there’s one segment that’s particularly strong today: grocery stores.

It makes sense, then, that the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. is investing dollars in refurbishing grocery stores throughout Detroit. This Midwest city is still recovering from its bankruptcy filing. What better way to spur along this recovery then by providing a boost to the city’s grocery stores?

In the latest effort, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation’s Green Grocer Project has approved the applications from 16 grocers seeking matching grants to improve the appearance of thier stores. The Green Grocer Project is contributing $500,000 toward a total of $5.3 million that grocers are expected to spend at these 16 stores.

“We had remarkable participation from Detroit’s independent grocers, who are investing far more in these facelifts than we anticipated,” said Mimi Pledl, program manager for the Green Grocer Project, in a written statement. “Store owners are excited about the renewed interest in shopping centers close to home at neighborhood stores, and we are happy to help them.”

The grocer program requires a one-to-one match for every grant dollar provided by the Green Grocer Program. But the average for all the participating grocers has been much higher, a match of more than nine-to-one.

Suhel Kizi is a good example of the kind of grocer helped by the program. She is the owner of Family Foods at 700 Chene St. in Lafayette Park, a neighborhood just east of downtown Detroit. Kizi is receiving $200,000 from the Green Grocer Program to renovate the entrance to her store.

The goal, Kizi said in a written statement, is to “create an open, welcoming appearance that our customers expect and deserve.”

What kind of improvements are being made at the 16 grocery stores? Some owners are replacing old facades, while others are adding seasonal landscaping and new signs and awnings. Still others are repaving parking lots and adding new lighting.

Posted in Detroit commercial real estate, Michigan commercial real estate, retail | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

VanTrust Real Estate: A culture that breeds success

The Village Mission Farms in Overland Park, Kansas, ranks as one of VanTrust Real Estate's signature projects.

The Village Mission Farms in Overland Park, Kansas, ranks as one of VanTrust Real Estate’s signature projects.

by Dan Rafter

What makes for a successful real estate development company today? The leaders of Kansas City, Mo.-based VanTrust Real Estate don’t have any secret formulas for success. But they do know why their company is thriving today: The real estate professionals at VanTrust work hard, research their markets and provide top customer service. Midwest Real Estate News recently spoke with Dave Harrison, president of VanTrust; Rich Muller, vice president of Kansas City development; and Bret Sheffield, vice president of development services about the success that VanTrust is enjoying today.

Midwest Real Estate News: This is a big, broad question, but why do you think VanTrust Real Estate is succeeding today, even in a commercial real estate industry that is growing more competitive?
Dave Harrison: Clearly one of the most important components to our success is that we have our own internal capital source available to us. This means that we always have the appropriate amount of capital readily available, internally, to us to allow us to fulfill our business objectives. That is an important advantage. We have great capital matched with great lending relationships matched with the great professionals who work here. Then there’s our culture. We expect people to work hard and smart here. We have a culture here that breeds success.
And there’s one more advantage: We have formed great relationships with the brokerage community in our markets. That helps, too. When you add it all together: the capital we have, the lenders we work with, the relationships we have with the community and the knowledge of our internal folks, it really is a four-legged stool that supports us.

MREN: You mention the culture at VanTrust. What do you look for when adding new commercial real estate professionals to your staff to maintain that culture?
Bret Sheffield: As we’ve grown over the last several years we have added several people. We really try to make the right fit culturally for our company. We want people who will buy in to what we are trying to do. At the same time, we have also targeted specific subject-matter experts in different fields to make sure that we have a strong, balanced team. As we’ve grown, the team members that we’ve brought on have been true professionals.
Rich Muller: Building upon what Bret and David have said, we do have a lot of all-stars in this office. We put a real premium on responsibility and accountability. It’s an internal thing here. It’s a great feeling when you are surrounded by best-in-class people whom you can rely on, people who are all working in the same direction toward a common goal. It’s easy to have fun when you’re working with people like that. We all work hard to do the best job that we can. Having fun along the way is an important piece of that. We are fortunate to work in this environment.

MREN: Do you follow a formula when hiring people?
Harrison: We don’t have a real formalized process. We do have a lot of folks who come to us, and many of the people we consider we know already because of their strong reputations in the marketplace. For every open position that we have, we have prospective hires come to our campus and meet with virtually everyone in our office to make sure it is a good match. There are a lot of real smart people in the world and in our industry. If that was the only gauge, it’d be real simple. But we guard our culture very closely. We make sure that the smart people we hire fit into our culture, too. We are judged on doing the right thing. We are not judged on quarterly distributions. We have to do great real estate and do what’s right. That is our strength. We are given that opportunity and that flexibility because we do have our own source of internal capita.

MREN: When taking on a real estate project or transaction, what do you look for to make sure it is the right real estate move for your company?
Harrison: Any project that we do has to satisfy the employees or tenants that will be in that building. It also has to satisfy the end user or customer. The math has to work. And it has to improve the community in which the project goes. It has to raise the other boats in the harbor, so to say. The community should be better off after a project hits than it was before. We want to be able to take our grandkids to the projects we’ve worked on and be happy to show them what we’ve done.
Sheffield: As David alluded to, if you can take your family by a project and be proud of it, then you know it’s been a successful project. We want to be successful for the contractor and the city, for the design team, too. We want to look at a project and say it was a success for them, too, that everyone who is a part of the project, all the way up and down the line, felt that it was worthwhile and that it was a success.

The Plaza Vista office tower has made a positive impact on the Kansas City market.

The Plaza Vista office tower has made a positive impact on the Kansas City market.

MREN: Are there any projects you look at that make you particularly proud?
Harrison: There are many. The Village at Mission Farms, a 212-unit luxury apartment complex with retail in Overland Park, Kansas, has been very well-received. It has won a number of awards from our peers. We also have achieved strong rents relative to the market. The Plaza Vista Office Tower, in Kansas City, with that new office space and hotel, is another project that we are very proud of. That was the most challenging project that any of us has ever touched. The end result and the positive impact it has had on the neighborhood and community has been rewarding. The Urban Land Institute and the American Institute of Architects have viewed this as a quality project. It has won important industry awards. That project was a milestone for us. We have just broken ground on the Burns-McDonnell headquarters expansion in Kansas City, too. That will be another significant office building, one that will better serve the employees at Burns-McDonnell, the community and the state.
Muller: There has been such a variety of projects that we have worked on. We are fortunate to have the ability to impact neighborhoods with infill projects. A lot of the work we are doing today is very much urban projects on very challenging sites. These are sites that have laid fallow for reasons of their own for long periods of time. We’ve been able to come in and add as much value to the neighborhood as possible. These projects range from mixed-use to multi-family projects to civic projects. It’s an awful lot of fun to work on so many important projects.

Posted in Kansas City commercial real estate, Kansas Commercial real estate, Missouri commercial real estate, multi-family, office, retail | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cityscape Residential’s Lawrence: Midwest downtowns continue to attract renters of all ages

cityscape 1

By Dan Rafter

The trend is happening in downtowns across the Midwest: Young people want to live in urban areas, so they’re choosing to rent in the hearts of such cities as Indianapolis, Louisville, Minneapolis and Columbus. Kelli Lawrence, partner with Indianapolis-based multi-family development and construction firm Cityscape Residential, recently spoke with Midwest Real Estate News about this growing trend and what’s behind it.

Midwest Real Estate News: What is bringing Millennials – or all renters, really – to the urban centers of such markets as Indianapolis, Louisville and Kentucky, three markets in which your company is active?
Kelli Lawrence: It’s similar to what is happening in the larger urban markets like Chicago and New York City. People want to live in the urban centers of places like Indianapolis and Louisville for the same reasons that they want to live in the downtowns of larger markets. That is where the energy is at. That’s where the nightlife is at. It’s where the new restaurants and bars open up. Regardless of the size of the market, people are drawn to that excitement. They want to live close to the activities and amenities that are important for their lifestyle.

MREN: I’ve heard from many commercial real estate pros that they are seeing a lot of investment in their downtowns. It almost doesn’t matter in what city these people work. They all say that money is being put into their downtowns, and that this is bringing new people to them.
Lawrence: I can say that this is true with us, too. All of the communities that we are working in have invested heavily in their downtowns. They’ve all added bicycle and pedestrian amenities to help people get around, so that they don’t have to depend on their cars. They are all working to make their downtowns walkable. They are also providing development incentives for projects like the ones we develop. The goal is to help bring new residents downtown.

cityscape 2MREN: What is behind this trend?
Lawrence: One of the important things is that all of these Midwest urban centers have strong histories behind them. They have an engaged group of longtime residents who are working to always improve them. They have the civic and business leaders that you need. The areas in which we work are all successful. They are all growing and thriving. They are attracting residents and businesses at a steady rate.

MREN: What are renters looking for in a downtown, urban apartment building?
Lawrence: We make sure that all of our projects feature top-of-the-line interior finishes. The finishes have to be condo quality. All of our urban buildings feature extensive bicycle parking and maintenance areas. Bicycling is important in the markets in which we work. Pet-care areas are important, too. Covered parking areas are important. We try to utilize our outdoor space in unique ways. We provide courtyards with semi-private spaces. And we also offer public gathering spaces in these courtyard areas. In some of our properties where there is a vibrant art scene in the neighborhood, we’ll invite local artists to be part of our clubhouse and amenity areas. And we do have a pool at all of our locations. That is something that people want.

cityscape 3MREN: We usually talk about Millennials heading to the urban areas. But it’s really not just younger people who are interested in renting in these areas today, is it?
Lawrence: No. This kind of lifestyle is appealing to all generations. There is an interest among all generations in spending less time in the car and enjoying more of life. There’s an interest in living close to the restaurants you like to eat at and the shops you like to shop at. All of our developments are close to urban parks. That appeals to people of all ages. Time is a valuable resource. Everyone’s time is so valuable. You don’t want to spend that time sitting in a car. You want to enjoy the lifestyle amenities that you work for.

MREN: What kind of changes is this trend toward urban living bringing to the commercial real estate industry?
Lawrence: I know that we are looking more intently for those urban in-fill opportunities. We are looking at sites that we might have once thought were on the fringes. They aren’t on the fringes anymore because there is such a demand for urban settings. That opens development opportunities in parts of the downtown areas that were not targeted for as much development in the past. Of course, this applies to all property types, not just to apartments. We are seeing retailers moving into downtown areas that they previously did not look at. They are developing properties in areas that once were not hubs of activity. The trend of urban living is changing the way we are looking at what properties are ready for development.

Posted in multi-family, Indianapolis commercial real estate, Louisville commercial real estate, Kentucky commercial real estate, Kansas City commercial real estate, Missouri commercial real estate, Indiana commercial real estate | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hot spots: These four Midwest markets are bringing in the Millennials

by Dan Rafter

Don Lawby, president of Real Property Management in Salt Lake City, Utah, doesn’t argue that Millennials aren’t embracing home ownership. He agrees that renting holds a greater lure for these young consumers.

But Lawby doesn’t agree that the narrative is a simple one. There are many reasons — and often complicated reasons — why Millennials are renting and not buying. It’s too easy, and inaccurate, to say that these younger consumers simply prefer renting.

“This is not just about a new generation of consumers who simply changed their minds about housing choices,” Lawby said during an interview with Midwest Real Estate News. “This new generation didn’t just wake up and say that they prefered renting to buying. That’s not it at all. There are many things at play here.”

Lawby points to a host of factors: The economy is still shaky. Many Millennials worry that their jobs aren’t secure. It doesn’t make sense, then, for them to take out a big mortgage payment. Others have graduated from college with loads of student debt. They can’t afford down payments, and they worry about taking on even more debt.

At the same time, Millennials are getting married later. They’re starting families later. Without children, there isn’t as much drive for the backyards and extra space that come with owning a home.

Commercial real estate pros certainly know that the multi-family market remains hot across the Midwest. Whatever their reasons, Millennials are turning to renting more often than did other generations.

But where are these young renters living? Many of them are flocking to the urban hearts of cities across the country. And for those who want to stay in the Midwest, there are plenty of options.

Here is a look at four Midwest markets — and the high-end apartment projects in these cities — that are attracting young renters.

1. Chicago

Of course Chicago had to top the list. This is the biggest city in the Midwest. And its downtown neighborhoods are filled with shops, restaurants, bars, parks and theaters. The public transportation system — despite the complaints of long-time residents — is a major bonus, too.

The new 73 East Lake apartments are a good example of the many high-end multi-family projects popping up across Chicago.


2. Minneapolis/St. Paul

Yes, it gets cold here. But the multi-famil market is sizzling. Why? The Twin Cities offers plenty of entertainment, eating and shopping options, but at far lower prices than you’ll find in Chicago. It helps, too, that the University of Minnesota boasts a downtown campus. The Downtown East mixed-use project, which will develop the neighborhood around the new Vikings stadium, promises to bring even more entertainment and shopping options to downtown.

Minneapolis is no slouch when it comes to high-quality apartment projects. The Nic on Fifth is a good example.


3. St. Louis

There’s more to St. Louis than its arch. Just ask the Millennials that are moving to the city’s downtown. St. Louis does face its own challenges. But the downtown is in the middle of a rebirth. Evidence of this? The Cortona at Forest Park, a still-new luxury apartment community. Residents here can enjoy all the amenities you’d expect in bigger urban markets.


4. Kansas City, Mo.

Yes, another top center for Millennials in Missouri. Kansas City has its own flavor, a different one than St. Louis boasts. But it has all the amenities — restaurants, major pro teams, shops, green space and night-life options — that young people want. Plus, it’s an affordable place to live. The Opus Group is almost ready to wrap construction on 51 Main, a new luxury apartment project in the city. The video below provides an interesting time-lapse view of the developer’s progress.



Posted in Chicago Commercial Real Estate, Illinois, Illinois real estate, Kansas City commercial real estate, Minneapolis commercial real estate, Minnesota real estate, Missouri commercial real estate, multi-family, St. Louis real estate, St. Paul commercial real estate | Tagged , , | Leave a comment