Profile of a Young Local Developer

By age 24, most people have settled into the “9 to 5” and have an initial experience with working life. Every so often you find someone who has taken a non-traditional path and seems to be blazing new ones. This week I met with one of these refreshing individuals, real estate developer Pete Marsele. His first major project, Woodland Lofts, was announced earlier this week in the Hartford Business Journal.

So how did Marsele, who is only 24, get to the point of owning a $700,000 building that will soon be worth, hopefully, $6,000,000? Well, it seems to be attributable to a combination of self-awareness, positive attitude, hard work, and networking. Pete admits he had a desk job, but that only lasted a month; it just wasn’t for him. He ended up getting his real estate sales license, which gave him more flexibility and freedom in his career. Marsele’s preferred work structure is learning by doing and real estate allows you to “make it and make a difference.”

And that’s just what he’s doing. His project to build New York City loft-style condominiums in Hartford’s Asylum Hill neighborhood will bring home ownership opportunities to an area that is currently dominated by rentals. However, getting his project done is going to be a long and difficult road- even after he’s achieved some significant milestones.

Pete looked at several dozen opportunities before he found his current project, each of which required significant thought and financial analysis, honing his analytical skills. He heard “that will never work” more often than not, but kept plugging away. At the same time, he was pounding the pavement trying to find a financial backer to fund his vision. Although many people that he met were not interested in providing him financing for his current project, Marsele feels one of the most important outcomes was building relationships and keeping doors open for future development opportunities.

A mentor and financial backer revealed itself in one of Pete’s extended family members. His wife’s uncle, Todd Talbot, was experienced in residential rehab in several states out West. Through Todd, Marsele has gained valuable experience in working with hard money lending. Additionally, the zoning process has been the biggest learning curve. Marsele admits that it’s difficult to make everyone happy; the city, the developer, the residents of the neighborhood. There is a lot of compromising that must be done, while also trying to maintain a project’s viability and profitability from the developer’s standpoint. The zoning process took twice as long as projected in Pete’s project plan, but he’s happy with the final result.

Marsele’s excitement shines through when describing his current project, which will result in 28 condos that each have 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. The 3-story building, previously home to the Austin Organ Company, will feature exposed brick walls, 15 foot ceilings, large windows, exposed wood beams, hardwood floors, modern kitchens with granite countertops, and tiled baths. Square footage will range from approximately 1000-1600 square feet per unit and pricing is projected to come in around $250,000-$300,000 per unit.

The coming months of the Woodland Lofts build-out will provide numerous new learning opportunities for Pete Marsele. Undoubtedly there will be challenges for him to face, but he plans to be in development for the long haul. When asked what others should consider when thinking about getting into development, Pete offers these nuggets…

1. Start part-time and jump in full time when you can. This requires financial support, like a spouse’s second income, and emotional support from family and friends.

2. Network and keep doors open. You might not have the right opportunity for someone today, but you never know what will happen down the line.

3. Don’t let people intimidate you with industry-speak. Ask questions. It builds your knowledge and your credibility with that person because they know you are genuinely interested in the process.

Huh? Local Condo Sales Down, But Prices are Up?

There was an interesting article published in the Hartford Business Journal yesterday regarding local condo sales. For the first six months of this year, condo sales are off by more than 16% in Hartford County compared to 2006. However, the median price is up 1.5% over 2006. Huh? With more inventory sitting out there longer, why aren’t buyers paying less?

My guess is that we are talking median sales price vs. mean sales price. I ran a quick MLS search, and if you compare condo sales prices for the first half of 2006 to the first half of 2007 in Hartford County, the average (mean) sales price is down .5% in 2007. By using the median measurement (half the values below the middle point and half above the middle point), you are able to paint a positive picture.

Moral of this story: always question statistics because they can almost always be spun in a positive or negative light… And if you’re a condo buyer right now, you should have some leverage negotiating a better price. There’s a lot of inventory out there to choose from and sellers are sitting on their condos longer.

Newington Ridge Town Homes

Yesterday a client and I visited the Newington Ridge town homes, a new Toll Brothers community of 72 town homes off of Routes 5 and 15 in Newington. Sales of the first phase are moving quickly and they will be deciding in the next few days if they will continue construction to build out the entire 72 units.

Newington Ridge offers five different floor plans, with 2 and 3 bedrooms, an option of the master bedroom on the first or second floor, and a standard 2.5 baths. While floor plans are somewhat fixed, I was impressed with the flexible options available to meet buyer’s needs. For example, if a buyer wants a master bath with a tub and shower, some plans were flexible enough to accommodate this.

Floor plans are open and airy. The square footage ranges from 1520 to 2298 square feet, depending on the model. Base pricing for the homes we saw ranged from $282,975 to $350,975. The features in the base models are well appointed, with additional trim packages and extras available that move towards the extravagant. It seems that any buyer’s needs could be met.

Finally, I would like to mention the helpful staff at the community. We were escorted through various models, both finished and under construction, so my client could see all of the options available. Our guide mentioned how they were able to alter various units to meet specific buyer needs. It’s always refreshing to see that the cookie cutter approach is not taken and client’s needs and wants are heard and can be realized.

I would recommend visiting this town home community if you are looking for newer construction in the Hartford area.