More GREAT news for the city/area!!! Those news anchors from 21 sure love the city, eh (that's two now that bought houses in the city; see the 2nd article below)?
Damn, this area is just booming right now...so this
is why the housing prices around here are quickly skyrocketing...
"To me, just philosophically, it's a real turning point in the city's life when these homes start coming back."
Sunday, March 13, 2005
BY ELLEN LYON
Of The Patriot-News
Alex Hartzler hadn't planned to make a sideline of rehabilitating city houses and reselling them. It happened by chance after he moved to Harrisburg in 1995.
The Lancaster County native bought a house in the 900 block of Green Street, where all the houses had been fixed up except for the one in the middle of the row. It was owned by an absentee landlord.
Hartzler, an executive vice president at the Harrisburg online advertising agency Webclients.net, said he grew tired of friends teasing him about living so close to a "slum." So he bought the blighted property in 1998 for about $50,000.
He put about $30,000 of work into the house and resold it, making a $6,000 profit on the sale, he said.
With many houses in the city selling for much less than those in the suburbs,
Hartzler suddenly saw the business possibilities. Since then he has purchased nearly 20 midtown and uptown properties on Green, Boas, Forster, North Second and Susquehanna streets, rehabilitated them and sold them.
All the properties Hartzler bought were originally built as single-family homes in the early 20th century and later partitioned into offices, apartments or other kinds of rental properties in the 1970s and '80s.
Hartzler has converted all but two of the properties back to owner-occupied, single-family homes, which many real estate observers say is key to the revitalization of city neighborhoods.
"To me, just philosophically, it's a real turning point in the city's life when these homes start coming back," Hartzler said.
Steve Batdorf, facilities manager at Webclients.net, has lived for years along the stretch of North Second Street where Hartzler has rehabilitated several properties.
"I've seen a big difference in the neighborhood," Batdorf said. "It was a bunch of renters. There's less renters today."
The city's zoning code was changed in 1994 to prohibit the conversion of any more single-family homes into multiple units, according to Randy King, spokesman for Mayor Stephen R. Reed.
"It was an effort on the mayor's part to reduce blight and decrease parking congestion and other neighborhood problems," King said.
According to Hartzler, among the homes he has rehabilitated is one where Reed grew up and one that was once owned by the late state Senate President Pro Tempore M. Harvey Taylor, after whom the nearby bridge is named.
Hartzler turned one house into his own home. "When I bought it, it had orange shag carpeting and about a half-dozen squirrels living there," he said.
Hartzler, 35, is committed to city living. He was one of five founders of Harrisburg Young Professionals in 1998 and served as the organization's first president.
Hartzler is renovating three houses on North Second Street, two of them with partners Josh Gray and Scott Piotroski, his colleagues at Webclients.net. Two others he renovated on Green Street were done with friend and former neighbor Bob Murray.
"There have been some losses. I'm thankful there's only been two or three. And I'm thankful they weren't my first ones or I probably would have stopped," he said. The losses occurred because "I paid too much for homes that had more structural problems than I had anticipated, so it is tricky."
Hartzler, who describes himself as a real estate investor and marketer, said he is happy to make a profit of 6 percent to 10 percent on each house.
With experience, he has developed a sense of how much rehabilitation each house will require. He also takes his friend Dave Leaman, owner of Renovations Company Inc., who does the actual construction work, to see the properties before he buys them.
With the hot real estate market and renewed interest in the city, he has had no trouble reselling the houses.
"Recently, most of them have been sold before I'm finished or within the first month," Hartzler said.
Single people, married couples with children and childless couples have been among the buyers, he said.
"It started out being all young professionals and now it's young professionals and young families with children," Hartzler observed.
"A lot of people are moving in from out of the area, buying some higher-priced renovated homes in the historic district," said Realtor Ray Davis of RE/MAX Realty Associates in Camp Hill, who does about 40 percent of his business in the city and has worked with Hartzler. "They come to our market feeling everything is such a bargain."
Many house hunters like the city because it's convenient to work and recreation, and many of the homes have "charm and character" at a lower price than you'd find in the suburbs, Davis said.
When Hartzler and Leaman rehabilitate a house, it's often a "complete gut and redo," including restoring original stained-glass windows, wood banisters and other charming touches that were hidden when it was converted for other use, Hartzler said.
These are houses with large rooms, big windows, vaulted ceilings and hardwood floors, features that would cost much more in a new suburban home, he noted.
"We try to re-create as much of the original as possible, keeping in mind there are cost constraints," Leaman said.
Those who might want to copy Hartzler's idea will find that market conditions have already changed, with fewer houses available and housing prices on the rise.
Davis said that in the early 1990s, it wasn't unusual for houses to sit on the market for three to six months. Now they can go in three to six weeks, he said.
Houses in the city notoriously took longer to sell and didn't appreciate in value as fast as suburban homes, but that's no longer true, according to Davis.
Leaman has seen the market for rehabilitated city homes "really take off" in the past five years. When he started working in the city about 15 years ago, he said, you could find a property to buy almost every day.
"Now you really have to hunt," he said. "It's definitely getting harder because more people are seeing the opportunities."
Davis said he has "never had so many calls from investors, both local and outside the area," looking to buy properties in the city.
He said he tells them "pickings are slim and be patient because there's a high demand and low supply."
With renovations,house becomes haven
Sunday, March 13, 2005
BY ELLEN LYON
Of The Patriot-News
Last week, three kids had a friendly snowball fight along North Second Street in Harrisburg, near the home of Patty Kim and John Sider.
The kids and the couple are both signs of this uptown neighborhood's continuing revival.
Kim and Sider bought their home last year after Alex Hartzler renovated it.
"When I bought this house it was a complete disaster," said Hartzler, an executive vice president at Webclients.net, an online advertising agency in Harrisburg.
Hartzler fixes up houses on the side. He paid $85,000 for the North Second Street house and spent six months rehabilitating it.
The 1920s-era house was in "disastrous" condition and needed a new roof, windows, wiring, floors, plumbing and drywall, Hartzler said.
Now "it's a brand-new house in the old frame," he said. "I put a little more in it than I expected. I miscalculated a little bit."
It's one of only a few of about 20 properties that Hartzler has bought, rehabilitated and sold that he didn't make a profit on.
Kim and Sider said they bought it for $148,000 when Kim was nine months pregnant with their daughter Brielle, who is now 9 months old.
Kim said she and her husband were "desperate for a bigger house" and fell in love with this 2,525-square-foot duplex when they saw it.
"To be honest, we were looking outside the city, thinking we needed a big yard," Kim said.
But the couple also were going down to one income. Kim, a TV reporter at Channel 21, was about to become a stay-at-home mom. Now she's running for a seat on City Council.
This three-floor, three-bedroom house with three bathrooms was twice the size for half the price of what they were finding in the suburbs, she said. It also had a fireplace, hardwood floors, high ceilings, solid-wood doors and lots of big windows.
"They don't build them like this any more," said Sider, who works for Community First Fund. "We probably looked at three dozen houses, and as soon as we walked in this one it was done. It was like buying a new house because all the systems are new. ... But it still maintains the old character."
The house, a half-block from the Susquehanna River, also is down the street from Hartzler's home, another property that he rehabilitated.
"Our neighbors are great. It's a real community," Sider said.
On warm evenings the couple like to serve dinner to guests on their back porch and then walk along the river.
"That's a package you can't get in a lot of places," Sider said.
One drawback to buying in the city for young families has been the troubled public school system.
With Mayor Stephen R. Reed's takeover of the schools four years ago and the opening of a new Sci-Tech high school, "there's a lot of progress being made," Sider said. "To me a lot of good things are happening. There's options." He mentions charter and private schools.
"I think all the best real estate is in the city," Sider said.