As home sales slow in Charlotte, condo developers are trying to become more innovative and market sensitive.
That's especially important as the city copes with the nation's financial turmoil and Wachovia's anticipated loss of thousands of banking jobs.
Three developers are responding locally with business approaches that could become Next Big Things.
Insite Residential, for example, is planning in south Charlotte what it believes would be the state's first “green” townhome development.
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Developer ASPTH LLC is taking the unusual step of selling the remaining condos in the 16-unit The Abbott South End through an online auction.
And for Chicago-based MCL Cos., a slow start might have provided the Vue a strategy for marketing the rest of the units in the 50-story condo tower when housing sales rebound.
Insite Residential is selling “green” townhomes in 10-unit Rea Gardens, planned on Rea Road next to a plant nursery and across from Colony Place shopping center.
The developers became inspired to go green, said principal David Smoots, as they created a stormwater and runoff control plan for the 1.8 acres.
Insite will seek certification through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's relatively new green initiative program for homes.
Smoots said the developers need five pre-sales to get approval from their lender to start work on the $5.4 million project, hopefully by the end of the year.
Units, nearly 2,000 square feet to about 2,800 square feet, are priced from $450,000.
“We don't see a green townhome project in the market now that offers buyers immediate savings on the efficiency side,” Smoots said.
The green features Insite is incorporating include energy- saving appliances, insulation and low-flow toilets, faucets and showers; sustainable wood flooring such as bamboo; and formaldehyde-free cabinets, interior trim and flooring.
Units are designed to maximize day lighting. Rainwater will be reclaimed for irrigation, and native, drought-tolerant plant species will be planted.
The team: Cluck Design Collaborative, architect; Gail Brinn Wilkins Interiors, interior design; Coleman Burnett Landscaping, landscape design; Cox-Schepp Construction, builder.
Sales: Eric Locher, Cottingham-Chalk & Associates.
The Abbott South End
MECA Properties' Tony Pressley is a South End pioneer who's always looking for new ways to market the district.
Now, as a spokesman for and an investor in the development entity that owns The Abbott South End, he has helped arrange something unusual for Charlotte: an online auction.
Potential buyers can go to Freedom Realty Exchange (www.fre.com) and place a bid anytime on one of 14 units for sale. The deadline is Oct. 30.
“We hired the auction company to see where the market really is,” Pressley said. “You can cut prices, or you can let the market speak.”
Auction company spokeswoman Kelly Lovegrove said about 90 percent of the listings, mainly new developments, sell through the Web site.
“Auctions get people off the fence,” she said. “You get anybody from anywhere to buy.”
When bidding ends, offers are submitted to the seller, but “the seller can reject or accept the bids,” Pressley said. The minimum bid on The Abbott is $269,000.
MECA Properties earlier marketed units in The Abbott for prices starting in the $400,000s.
The live-work condos, 1,700 to 1,800 square feet, have offices and garages on the first level, living rooms on the second and bedrooms on the third.
In an effort to boost sales earlier this year, Pressley offered to invest $25,000 in a qualified buyer's business as an incentive. That idea fizzled, he said.
Pressley expects to see more developers turn to online auctions to sell homes in this tough housing market.
The condo tower that now looks like it will be Charlotte's tallest (50 stories) got off to a slow start after it was announced in spring 2005.
But it picked up speed when Dan McLean's MCL Cos. of Chicago took control about two years later.
The building at Fifth and Pine streets in Fourth Ward is up to five stories and soon will start climbing at the rate of one floor every five days.
McLean said 50 percent of the 409 condos are sold. The rest are priced from just over $300,000 to $2 million-plus.
The first residents could move in September 2010. McLean expects the building to be finished by late 2010.
Since the Vue was unveiled, two towers – including 210 Trade, which also was to be 50 stories – have stalled. Two other projects have been postponed.
The outlook doesn't look good for any uptown project. Condo sales will take a hit from massive layoffs anticipated as a result of Citigroup's acquiring Wachovia's banking operations.
The Vue is still selling, but it's also looking beyond today's soft market to the future. “We probably will be the only high-rise product in 2010,” McLean said. “I can't see another starting for a year or two.”
With competitors out of the picture, the Vue (www.vuecharlotte.com) should be the only one with condos ready when the housing market rebounds, he said. It will have a 24-hour doorman, health club, pool, lounge and media room.