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Fall could be a catalyst for new condo's success

The Uptown condo market has suffered setbacks over the past few months, but that apparently isn't scaring buyers away.

The Catalyst, a 27-story tower under construction on South Church Street, has sold 58 one- and two-bedroom units during its first three weeks on the market.

It does have a ways to go – the project includes 462 residences priced from the $180,000s to more than $300,000 – but given the season and the economic climate, Atlanta developer Novare Group is pleased.

“Fall is always a good time in uptown Charlotte,” said Wendy Field, who leads the sales and marketing team. “If we are doing this well now, we feel good about where we will be then.”

Condo developers are selling in the face of some of the worst news the uptown housing market has seen since the center city high-rise boom began about four years ago. Two towers are postponed, one is in foreclosure and another is stalled by a legal dispute.

Developers are reluctant to try new high-rise projects, as lenders aren't interested in financing them until the economy improves.

Yet “inventory is line with a healthy market,” said multifamily analyst Emma Littlejohn of the Littlejohn Group. “The problem is with delivery.”

Littlejohn said about 1,200 high-rise and mid-rise units are under construction or in the pre-sale stage in the center city, and more than half of those are under contract for sale.

The central Charlotte area that includes uptown is performing better on sales and resales than the overall residential market, she said.

With four major projects now in doubt, Littlejohn said, a bigger issue for the center city could be a potential undersupply of high-rise condos.

She wasn't surprised to see an initial surge in demand at Catalyst. “People are out there on the sidelines,” she said. “They still need a place to live.”

Field said buyers today are less impulsive and more likely to secure financing before making an offer.

Catalyst, unlike most condo projects, was started without a pre-sales campaign and is expected to open early next year.

“It gives people more confidence to know they don't have to wait two years,” Field said.

Novare targets 25- to 40-year-old buyers with a predominance of one-bedroom units and amenities packages that include a fitness center, a club room, a pool, an Internet cafe and concierge service. About 65 percent of Catalyst's condos are one bedroom.

A good mix of one- and two-bedroom units have sold, Field said, with the project being typical for a high-rise: “The most expensive and least expensive tend to sell right away.”

Catalyst (catalystcharlotte.com) will overlook a planned uptown park, and that was a lure for many of the initial buyers, Field said.

Also a factor: gas prices. “Many of the people who come in are asking where the light-rail stop is in relation to the project,” she said.

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