Category Archives: Condo High Rise Minneapolis

Buying a Minneapolis Condo–then rehabbing it…

  There are 2 types of buyers in the Minneapolis Condo market right now.  Buyers looking for a move in ready look where the future owner merely has to unpack their items without any updates to the space.  Then there are buyers looking for a bank owned condo that will likely need a fair amount of elbow grease.  As the inventory in Minneapolis shrinks for move in ready product it becomes increasingly interesting to see some how some of the bank owned units and those in sub par condition (i.e. estate sales or investor buys) become targets for buyers looking to start with a blank slate and work with an architect and builder to customize the space.

  Going this route in a condo purchase is not an easy one.  It takes the right team of individuals to source out a condo and create a plan for the rehab that fits within a budget.  Safe to say 95% of buyers out there come to the market looking to stick within a budget!

   Depending on the size and scope, working with an architect to design the layout and create a set of plans for the build could be advantageous and mitigate a fair amount of stress in the project.  Having a builder work closely with the architect to understand what is to be built along with putting together a scope of materials used to keep the budget on par is essential.  Finding an architect who was worked with a builder and had success is critical you having a good experience.

  Once a buyer finds a condo, successfully negotiates and closes they are left with signing a contract with the builder to demo and build out the space.   What we are finding in the Minneapolis condo market is that there are a fair amount of architects out there that will take on projects on an hourly basis so as not to absorb more than 3-5% of the total budget for the build out.

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Lending Guidelines for Condos

Having a good job, steady income and good credit will go a long way in helping borrowers secure a home mortgage, but they may not be enough when it comes to buying or refinancing in certain condominium buildings.  Stricter guidelines that govern which buildings are approved for conventional mortgages — rolled out by three government agencies in stages since December 2008 — are locking out thousands of buildings nationwide. States like Florida and Arizona are especially hard hit; mortgage brokers say that some buildings in the New York area have also been affected.  The guidelines and approvals come from Fannie Mae, the buyer of home mortgages; Freddie Mac, its smaller competitor; and the Federal Housing Administration, which insures loans. The rules were meant to help strengthen their balance sheets as they faced a surge of loan defaults in the condo market.

“If a condo project is not approved, it makes it very difficult to get financing for a first-time purchase or refinancing,” said David Adamo, the chief executive of the Luxury Mortgage Corporation in Stamford, Conn.

The National Association of Realtors estimates that 23,000 condominium projects nationwide are on the verge of losing their F.H.A. approval by spring. Some 2,200 buildings with older approvals lost their status in December. Last month, though, the F.H.A. granted extensions.

Lists of approved buildings are available online at Fannie Mae and the F.H.A.Fannie Mae’s guidelines typically preclude it from buying a new-purchase condo loan from a lender if more than 15 percent of the owners in the condo development are 30 days or more late on monthly maintenance fees. (The provision doesn’t apply to an owner seeking to refinance a Fannie Mae loan.)

Other hurdles: Condo associations are required to set aside 10 percent of their budgets for maintenance and “reserves”; and new developments are ineligible for Fannie-backed financing unless 70 percent of their units have sold or are under contract (the threshold used to be 51 percent). Freddie Mac adopted similar guidelines last year.

There are exceptions. “We do entertain waivers on our condo criteria, depending on the nature and circumstance,” said Janis Smith, a Fannie Mae spokeswoman, “when the lender makes a rational, fact-based request for the exception.” Last year, Fannie approved 93 percent of the 1,700 condo buildings in New York that applied for waivers.

The F.H.A., meanwhile, requires that at least 50 percent of a building’s units belong to owners who occupy their units, and that no more than 10 percent be owned by a single investor. The agency requires that a homeowners’ association set aside 10 percent of its budget for maintenance and capital expenditures. If the budget does not meet those requirements, the lender can request a reserves study to gauge the building’s financial stability.

New buildings are ineligible for F.H.A. financing unless 30 percent of their units have sold.

“The biggest problem we’re running into now is that a lot of condos are not meeting the minimum reserve requirements,” said John Manning, a mortgage broker in Brooklyn.

In addition, he said, homeowners unable to sell their condos have been subletting them, particularly in Battery Park City, a move that could lower the owner-occupied ratio below the agency minimum. “We have a lot of buildings that are teetering on the brink” of eligibility, he said.

Steven Campbell, a loan officer at the Mortgage Assistance Company in Plainville, Conn., says that condo owners thinking of refinancing should ask their homeowners’ association for copies of the budget and its financial questionnaire, a detailed form consumers submit to lenders for a loan or refinancing.

If a building is not yet approved, owners can hire a real estate lawyer or broker to submit the required paperwork, said Graham Lefloch, a broker at WC Financial in Stamford, Conn.

By LYNNLEY BROWNING from the New York Times

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Demand for apartments could be the solution for condo oversupply in many U.S. downtowns.

It's rentals to the rescue (© Kelly Redinger/Jupiterimages)

Busted condo projects have stalled downtown revitalization efforts throughout the country. But help is on the way as these developments get restructured and are converted to rentals.

Take the case of San Jose, Calif., which has been trying to develop a vibrant downtown since the mid-1980s. Over the years, roughly 4,500 rentals and condominiums have been built downtown. The San Jose Sharks, a National Hockey League team, began playing there in 1993. Restaurants have opened, and a theater has been refurbished for opera.

But the downturn waylaid one of the critical pieces of the revitalization effort. A luxury 23-story condominium tower, which officials had hoped would help bring a critical mass of residents downtown, was originally slated to be finished by 2009, according to Harry Mavrogenes, executive director of the San Jose Redevelopment Agency.

Construction costs ran over budget, however, and developers couldn’t sell units in the $750,000 price range as hoped. Now, the curvy Three Sixty Residences is still empty after completion in early 2010, Mavrogenes says.

The gridlock is now set to ease as a Beverly Hills, Calif., real-estate company has cut a deal to buy the property’s $119 million construction loan at a discount from U.S. Bank. If the deal is successful, real-estate investment firm Kennedy Wilson plans to foreclose on the property and convert it into a rental, Mavrogenes says.

That would likely be good for San Jose. Although buyers are arguably more desirable residents than renters, getting more bodies downtown is paramount to keep the revitalization energized.

“Empty buildings stop revitalization cold,” says John McIlwain, a senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute. “You want to get it occupied so you can get the people in there who can support the stores.”

Similar stories are playing out in downtowns throughout the country that are suffering from a glut of empty condos. These projects failed because developers couldn’t sell at the prices they needed to pay off their construction loans.

But opportunistic investors who buy that debt at a discount or take over the projects in another way typically can make a profit renting out units at market rates. 

Victor Calanog of Reis Inc., a real-estate research firm, says busted condos have hit Phoenix, Miami and other overbuilt housing markets the hardest. He estimates that about 6,300 failed condo units were converted to apartments from 2008 to the third quarter of 2010 nationally and that an additional 10,000 former condos are expected to be added in the next two years.

The conversion strategy is working partly because the rental market is faring better than most other commercial property types. Average vacancies in the major apartment markets nationwide fell to 7.1% in the third quarter of 2010, from 7.9% in the same period in 2009, and average monthly asking rents increased 0.5% from the second quarter to $1,037, Reis says. At the same time, U.S. office, retail and warehouse vacancies and rents are still deteriorating or stabilizing.

Part of the reason for this strong performance is that new development of rental apartments has been limited in recent years.

New supply is coming on the market from busted condos and single-family homes now for rent. But in many cities, this source of supply hasn’t been enough to halt rising rents, given the size of the market. There are an estimated 10 million apartment units in major U.S. cities, Reis says.

“In many markets, the recovery is just powering through the repurposed condos,” Calanog says.

Kennedy Wilson is betting that San Jose will be one of those markets. The San Jose rental market does look particularly promising: At 3.9%, its third-quarter vacancy rate is the third-lowest of the nation’s major metro areas. It also reported the 10th-strongest asking-rent growth, rising 1.1% from the previous quarter to average $1,515.50 a month, Reis says.

By contrast, the median sale price for resold condos in San Jose’s Santa Clara County fell 4.5% to $320,000 in October from about $335,000 in October 2009, and sales volume fell about 25.9% in the same period, according to MDA Dataquick.

Three Sixty Residences was built by Mesa Development LLC of Chicago. The project is one of the most luxurious apartment buildings downtown, with a pool, kitchens featuring Italian cabinetry and views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Analysts predict two-bedroom units could fetch between $2,600 and $3,200 a month as rentals.

It is also one of four downtown condo towers that were conceived near the peak of the housing boom and that bring more than 800 units to the market. But those projects are faring somewhat better. A spokesman for the 88, one of the other new downtown towers, says more than 55% of its units have sold.

By Maura Webber Sadovi of The Wall Street Journal

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Snow in the City

Its no small feat that Minneapolis was able to clear itself from one of the biggest winter storms to hit the Midwest is quite some time.  Below are the photos to give you an idea if you are planning to make Minneapolis your future home.  It makes underground heated parking in any Minneapolis condo look really attractive right now!

Photos courtesy of Mark VanCleve.

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The Elusive Measure Known as the Square Foot

In the condo real estate market the tape measure does not lie.

But when it comes to measuring the square footage of apartments, the tale told by the tape can be exaggerated, massaged, misrepresented and manipulated.

There are willful — and legal — tactics to make a space appear bigger on paper, like including common spaces and elevator shafts in the calculation of an apartment’s size. There are also honest mistakes that derive from historical inaccuracies, differences in how condominiums and co-ops are measured, advances in measuring technology, changes in measuring standards, and unusual layouts. Then there are outright misrepresentations.

It can all add up to confusion or worse.

Buyers may be saddled with an apartment that the bank finds to be less valuable than assumed, because it is smaller than was thought. Deals can be delayed or even denied if lenders calculate a square footage different from the one listed, which can lower the appraised value. And developers who grossly overestimate square footage in an offering plan may find themselves being sued or losing deposits if the attorney general finds they acted in bad faith.

“There is an implied precision,” said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the Miller Samuel appraisal firm. He prepares the quarterly market reports for Prudential Douglas Elliman, which track prices per square foot, among other indicators. In reality, he said, the measurements are anything but precise.

Mr. Miller, who said he had calculated square footage for more than 7,000 New York City apartments, estimates that measurements vary by about 10 percent industrywide. Dimensions are generally taken with a laser device, the latest in a long line of tools used to gauge the size of apartments. But the laser is only as good as the person wielding it. And sometimes the stated square footage is a willful exaggeration.

“I remember seeing a condo unit and being told it was 600 square feet,” Mr. Miller said. “And I immediately thought, if this is 600 feet, I am blind.”

Brokers are often accused of overestimating. Bank assessors, on the other hand, are widely thought to underestimate. Even when estimates are in agreement, owners are likely to resist any change that will decrease the size, and therefore the value, of an apartment.

Official oversight of square footage measurements is limited, real estate lawyers said. Condo developments are required to say how they calculate square footage in their offering plans, which are filed with the state Office of the Attorney General. But there is no similar requirement for co-ops. And even in newer condos, as the property changes hands over the years, small inflations may morph into architectural tall tales.

Brokers are often careful to say they take no responsibility for listed square footage, and owners may honestly not know how large their home is. So, often, there is no obviously responsible party when discrepancies are found.

Steven Wagner, a real estate lawyer, says he encourages anyone thinking about buying an apartment in a new building to hire a lawyer to read the offering plan closely in order to determine whether the square footage measurements include common space like elevator shafts and hallways — adding them in is legal in some cases, but that is not common knowledge. He said buyers of resales would be wise to have an architect or engineer measure the place before any contract is signed.

Mr. Wagner said it was more than two decades ago, when many buildings were being converted to co-ops, that he began noticing that the square footage numbers were being cooked.

“Some of the sponsors converting the buildings started measuring not from the interior wall, but from the exterior wall,” he said. “Of course, that does not work very well unless you plan on living inside the brick wall itself.”

While a certain amount of variation is tolerated, Mr. Wagner said, “the standard for fraud is a misrepresentation of material fact.”

“There comes a point where it is not O.K.,” he said. “But I can’t tell you whether it is 2 percent or 20 percent.”

One buyer, Glenn Evans, a senior vice president of Estée Lauder, is sure that he was defrauded. When Mr. Evans and his partner, Calvin Poon, moved back to New York from Shanghai in 2009, they told their broker that they wanted a place with more than 2,000 square feet.

“I must have showed them 40 or 50 apartments,” said Robert Beacham, a broker at the Real Estate Group of New York.

But it was not until they walked into a two-bedroom co-op apartment at 1200 Broadway, a former hotel built just after the Civil War, that they knew they had found their new home. The building’s mansard roof, ornate windows and high ceilings were all part of the draw. But so was the price per square foot. Mr. Evans said that the apartment was listed at 2,170 square feet.

“We did all our calculations based on the price per square foot,” he said. At the time, the broker representing the seller — who could not be reached recently for comment — insisted that the price per square foot was well below market value.

The seller was asking for $1.749 million, and Mr. Evans countered with an offer of $1.65 million, which was accepted. But as part of the loan-approval process, the bank did two appraisals, both of which flabbergasted Mr. Evans. The bank found that the apartment was either 1,634 square feet or 1,741 square feet. Admittedly, the place has an odd layout that makes it difficult to measure. But nobody was coming up with anything near 2,170 square feet. Mr. Evans hired an architect to check again. The third measurement came in at nearly 1,800 square feet, convincing him that he had been deceived.

When Mr. Evans tried to negotiate a lower price based on the bank’s assessment, the seller refused. Mr. Evans said he was told he would lose his 10 percent deposit if he backed out.

He sued the seller and the brokerage firm, Prudential Douglas Elliman. Mr. Evans claimed that the selling broker knew the apartment was not 2,170 square feet — a size given in past transactions — but continued to use the inflated figure.

“We just felt we were misled,” he said. “There was a deliberate, coordinated action by these people to rip us off.”

The case against the seller was dismissed when a judge determined that the seller had had nothing to do with the marketing of the apartment. Prudential Douglas Elliman contested the suit, which Mr. Evans recently dropped because it would have been too costly to continue, he said. A spokeswoman for Prudential Douglas Elliman said it never comments on litigation involving the company.

Mr. Evans and Mr. Poon went through with the deal. Although they say they love the apartment, they are still bitter about the experience.

“They were fighting this like a class-action suit,” Mr. Evans said of the brokerage. “It would open a whole Pandora’s box of liability.”

Because brokers are generally careful to list square footage as an “estimate” or “approximation,” there is often little recourse for buyers.

For that and other reasons it is unwise to place too much emphasis on square feet as a basis for comparison, said Douglas Heddings, the president of the Heddings Property Group.

“First and foremost,” Mr. Heddings said, “I think all the weight that is put on price per square foot, especially in Manhattan, is ludicrous.” He is particularly skeptical of comparing apartments in different buildings based on their listed square footage.

“Very rarely can you compare two units unless they are units that are in the same building and were measured using the same standards,” he said.

Frances Katzen, an executive vice president of Elliman, said a number of her clients had bought apartments that turned out to be smaller than they had been told. She counsels her clients to focus not on square footage, but on what similar properties in the same building have sold for in the past.

She is currently showing a duplex apartment at 468 West 23rd Street. The owners, who have moved to Australia, bought the place several years ago without the help of a broker. They paid $2.1 million, thinking that the apartment had 2,100 square feet. The size estimate included the 700-square-foot backyard.

When they went to sell, Ms. Katzen said, the owners were disappointed to learn that outdoor space is not typically counted as part of overall square footage. So instead of 2,100 square feet, the apartment is listed at 1,400 square feet, and priced at $1.85 million.

Renters are often swayed by square-footage figures, said Clifford Finn, the managing director for new developments at CitiHabitats.

“Renters don’t necessarily calculate the rent based on price per square foot,” he said. “But often, they will come in with a very specific idea of how much square footage they need.”

However, more often than not, neither the renter nor the landlord in older buildings has any idea of the true size of an apartment.

“In more than half the walk-up apartments in Manhattan,” he said, “no one knows the true square footage. And renters will come in saying they cannot live in less than 750 square feet, but will have no idea what 750 square feet is. You show them something that is 640 feet and they are like, ‘This is great.’ ”

Even for professionals, square footage can still hold surprises.

Pamela Liebman, the chief executive of the Corcoran Group, said that when her company was renewing its lease on office space in SoHo, the landlord came to her with unexpected news.

“We were paying rent based on 12,000 square feet,” Ms. Liebman recalled. “He said, ‘Your space is now measured at 14,000 square feet.’ ”

The landlord wanted to charge more based on the new calculation. Ms. Liebman replied that the space had not magically grown 2,000 feet overnight.

“We had a war over it,” she said. The landlord eventually relented.

Although it was commercial real estate — which has a different set of rules when it comes to measuring square footage, as well as its own, often more egregious, variations in measurements — it offered a reminder of just how unreliable size estimates can be.

“I think we have all become too obsessed with dollars per square foot,” Ms. Liebman said. “Smart buyers should look carefully at the offering plans or have the apartment measured themselves.” And, she added, always keep in mind that “everyone seems to have a different tape measure.”

Authored by Marc Santora of the New York Times.

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