For sale: accessibility, walkability and some neighborhood pride

If you live in St. Anthony Park, Como Park, Lauderdale or Falcon Heights, you know the appeal of living in the area.

Flanked by Como Lake to the east and the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus to the west, these charming communities are dotted with welcoming coffee shops, chef-driven restaurants, Mom-and-Pop purveyors, good schools and beautiful parks. Conveniently located near the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses, as well as right between the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the area has excellent bus connections to both.

This easy accessibility is one of the many things that appeal to buyers, according to realtors Peggy Sparr and her son, Peter, who work with Edina Realty.

Accessibility and walkability, current real estate buzzwords, are “a desirable perk for buyers,” explained Peter Sparr.

Walkability is an intangible benefit that adds to the village vibe many buyers love about the area. Intangibles, the way a place makes a buyer feel, are often what sets apart one neighborhood from others. Realtors can point to the slightly larger lots in St. Anthony Park or wider streets in Falcon Heights, but it’s the intangibles that make this area alluring for many people.

“There are things about [this area] that slow people down,” Peter said. “It’s the curvy streets, the mature trees, the well-tended flower beds.”

“It’s all about neighborhood pride,” Peggy added.

Neighborhood pride manifests itself through community-building events such as the annual arts festival and Fourth of July parade in St. Anthony Park, or the strong environmental ethic in the Como Park neighborhood that includes extensive tree plantings and community gardens. The robust diversity of residents thanks to its proximity to the U of M is also an intangible appeal to many buyers and a point of pride for locals. Peggy Sparr believes the welcoming nature of area residents comes from the exposure to a variety of cultures that living by the U offers.

Diversity of home styles is another attractive factor. More than 46 percent of homes in St. Anthony Park, for example, were built before 1939.

“There is a misperception about [St. Anthony Park] that all the houses are huge,” explained Peggy. “But that is not the case. There is a huge variety with many smaller, adorable homes in the area.”

The variety of housing styles, sizes and price points bodes well for the area in today’s tight real estate market. Although inventory is currently low, things are looking up.

According to the St. Paul Area Association of Realtors, recent price gains should continue to add inventory, giving buyers more choices. Additionally, in the period spanning August 2012 to July 2013, pending sales in the Twin Cities were up 11.8 percent overall. The price range with the largest sales gain in the last year was $350,001 to $500,000, where pending sales increased by 41.5 percent. The price range that tended to sell the quickest, however, was $190,001 to $250,000, which stood at 84 days, while the price range that tended to sell the slowest was the $1,000,001 and above at 246 days.

Many homes in St. Anthony Park, Como Park and Falcon Heights fall into the $200,000 to $500,000 price ranges, potentially adding to the neighborhoods’ future inventory.

Exclusivity or urban myth?

St. Anthony Park seems to have an aura of exclusivity that is backed by anecdotal tales of houses selling to friends of friends without ever hitting the open market. But is that just an urban myth?

Private sales, those that happen between seller and buyer without the use of a realtor or the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), are tough to track. Records of all sales are kept by Ramsey County, but they are often six months behind. Sales would then need to be reconciled against MLS records to know which sale was actually private.

Yet, “under the radar” sales—those that involve a realtor but do not go on the open market—are in fact on the rise around the country. “It’s a sign of the market that there is more of this going on because of lack of inventory,” according to Peter Sparr.

“It’s not just St. Anthony Park or St. Paul. In California, for instance, around 40 percent of sales are under the radar.”

There are several reasons why a seller may choose not to officially list a home. Privacy is the No. 1 reason sellers cite, according to Peggy Sparr. Sellers may also believe that showing their home through a realtor without being on the market may be easier. A buyer seeing a home before it is officially on the market may have lower expectations for the condition on the home. Buyers may be more understanding if the home hasn’t been professionally cleaned or if new appliances have not been installed.

This lower expectation buys the seller more time to update a home while getting a jump on showings.

On the other hand, the exposure offered by listing on the MLS cannot be underestimated, Peter stressed. “If a seller expresses interest in showing their home before it hits the MLS, we want them to understand the pros and cons of trying to sell under the radar. Even though it costs the realtor more money to list a home on the open market due to things like hiring professional photographers and renting the signs, we believe it is in the sellers’ best interest to officially list their home. It’s really all about exposure.”

“We’ll do what our sellers want, but we really always want what is best for them,” added Peggy.

Ultimately, it may not be as difficult to get into a desirable neighborhood like St. Anthony Park as it may seem. The key is patience in this tight market and a keen eye for the subtle perks that each neighborhood has to offer.

Alex Lodner is a freelance writer who lives in the Como Park neighborhood.

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