Redeveloping Old Towns

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The New York Times Magazine profiled Greg O'Connell, a retired cop who is developing this small town in upstate New York. He made a fortune buying up old buildings in Red Hook at bargain prices, before the gentrifiers got there. Now, he's cleaning up Mount Morris, NY trying to revitalize the sagging downtown.

God, I would love to do that. I've had a ball fixing up our old house and getting involved in community life. But I'm still scarred by the real estate bust. I've seen too many people eagerly renovating old buildings and homes only to lose their shirts when it was time to resell. It's hard to establish the community spirit that O'Connell wants to foster when there are too many forces pushing back. 

14 thoughts on “Redeveloping Old Towns

  1. You have to have significant deep pockets in order to even think about doing something like that. It’s an interesting realization I’ve had about investment, and the degree of risk/reward you can take on. If you have 100 million dollars, really, you can loose 20 million, and your life won’t really change. Most of us don’t have 20 million to loose. But, others can loose 10K, 100K without really feeling it, and some can loose 1M. Those numbers mean that you can take on a project like Red Hook or Mount Morris if you’re rich enough to start of with.
    (Now, someone who isn’t, who’d be good at it? well, they might consider working for someone like O’Connell. You should write to him, Laura)

  2. I was doing one of my periodic house hunting prowls yesterday in a nice older neighborhood near downtown and made a couple of interesting discoveries.
    1) I walked by a house that was for sale for $200k for a while and then went off the market. This time, I noticed that there’s a Christmas tree still up, nearly three months after Christmas. ????
    2) Later last night, I was looking at Zillow and discovered that a very nice (but not flippered-up) 2700 sq. ft. 1950s house is now in foreclosure. Looking at the sales history, the price started out at $270k and oscillated between that and $245k for a couple of years, but there were no really big cuts. They had about half a dozen different realtors over the past two or so years. I wonder what happened.
    This is a very well-known and desirable neighborhood locally, so I’m finding this rather shocking, even though I’ve been a housing bear since around 2006 or 2007.

  3. They had about half a dozen different realtors over the past two or so years. I wonder what happened.
    Serial killer or mold?

  4. If the yard has been dug up near the house, it may mean mold and they’ve been trying to fix it with foundation work. If the yard has been dug up in the middle….

  5. “Serial killer or mold?”
    I don’t know. I remember noticing that there was a sticker for a local technical college on the window of a modest car (an instructor?) and the garage was impeccably organized. It is an attractive, well-maintained home, and there were no signs of flipperishness anywhere (no granite, no marble, no travertine, no stainless steel). There are a couple of other houses that I fully expect to go into foreclosure (HGTV/Home Depot decor, flippers who don’t live in town anymore and who “need” a particular price, etc.), but this one surprised me.

  6. Speaking of developments, there’s a small contracting company in town that is very respected for their work in renovating older homes. Anyway, they’ve got a project underway right now to put up a gated community of about 40 of what they call “garden homes” (I think that means that the homeowner owns only the house itself, not the landscaping, so there are HOA fees). The one house they show on the website looks from the outside very similar to the sort of brick cottages that were built a lot here in the 1920s–very cute. The location is in the city, which is unusual for such a substantial new development. I’m kind of interested, kind of nervous, after all the stuff I’ve read about failed developments and what happens to a neighborhood after a lot of people stop paying their HOA fees.

  7. Around here, “garden homes” means that plus a one level house, I think. Old people are having trouble with stairs.

  8. Their sample image shows a two-story house, with lots of gables, a bay window (swoon!), and a rounded door (I don’t know what you call those–they’re typical of nicer 1920s homes). It looks really cute. It’s actually kind of brilliant to build new houses that really do look like older homes from the outside, but with presumably a more contemporary interior (actual closets and kitchens that two people can be in at the same time).

  9. That is nice. If somebody would build one here, I’d like one (although I am a veteran of three level living and remember it without much fondness).

  10. Lack of parking would be a bigger issue for me. Townhouses, probablg filled with two car couples, and not one driveway.

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