Paying Attention to Your Surroundings

When you’re looking at a property, how much time do you spend outside looking at the surroundings? What are the adjacent properties? How do they look? Are you near a major road? Are there commercial or other non-residential parcels near you? Is there a farm or undeveloped land abutting or near the property?

When we view homes with buyers we try to spend some time evaluating the adjoining and nearby spaces. This isn’t necessarily to figure out if they’re going to have good neighbors or not. It’s to understand if there is the potential for change to the landscape around them.

Orchard

For example, a few months ago I was showing some clients property that abutted a farm. The listing agent took care to advertise that it was adjacent to the farm and used this as a selling feature because it was peaceful and scenic. But what if some day the farm isn’t a farm anymore? What if someday the farm land is sold? What does it become? Most likely residential usage, but that’s not always guaranteed. I pointed out to the buyers that the house we were looking at used to be part of the farm too, but at some point some of the farm land was sold to build this development. That could happen in the future and there could then be additional development that’s in the currently tranquil backyard.

We’ve seen some examples recently of local homeowners contesting development to open land that abuts or is near their residential developments. In West Hartford, residents are speaking out against the proposed sale of 9 acres of land by the American School for the Deaf (ASD) to a home builder. In this instance, people bought houses that backed to a non-residential use property. That non-residential use property has decided to change the use of their land. They would like to sell it to a developer. But what would have happened if ASD simply expanded on their own campus? What if they grew their school and built more buildings, parking lots or playing fields on their undeveloped property? The neighboring properties would have been impacted by that as well.

With a changing real estate landscape, we see these development conflicts come up all of the time. The West End of Hartford faced a similar development challenge in 2012 when the University of Hartford wanted to sell part of its campus to CREC for a new elementary school to be developed, which backed to residential development. I would expect a lot of back and forth between the Town of West Hartford and the University of Connecticut when UConn divests of its West Hartford campus in the upcoming months. What will become of that property, which is located in a residential area? How will that change the landscape for current property owners near the campus?

The point I’m trying to make here, and that we make when we’re showing buyers homes, is that what you see near here today may not be the same down the line. Some properties face more opportunities of a changing landscape than others. The change in landscape around you may actually help your property values. They aren’t always a negative. Think of what Blue Back Square has done to help West Hartford Center- there was a positive impact on residential property values in the Center because of it. That being said, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of change because not all change will be viewed as positive. Don’t just focus on the interior of a property, spend some time thinking about the outside and its surroundings.

UConn on Scarborough

The UConn Foundation has bought a single-family home on Hartford’s Scarborough Street for UConn President Susan Herbst to use as both a part-time residence and for entertaining.

61 Scarborough, Hartford

Jon Lender’s reporting on the sale for the Hartford Courant has provided more details about how the UConn Foundation plans to use the property. UConn Foundation President Josh Newton makes it clear that the point of buying the house is to accelerate UConn Foundation fundraising efforts by specifically focusing on high-end donors. Mr. Lender reports that, “The way he [Mr. Newton] sees it, Herbst may stay in the Hartford house a half-dozen nights a month. She may hold a dinner party before a UConn basketball game or some other event at one of the school’s Hartford-area facilities, or she may stay there when she has business at the state Capitol or one of UConn’s Hartford-area campuses.”

The announcement has set off a flurry of conversations that are all headed in different directions. One issue is particularly interesting to us, the future property taxes.

The UConn Foundation is a tax-exempt entity, so one concern is that the City will lose out on tax revenue. City records show that the property has been assigned a “Market Value” of $724,800 and is scheduled to pay $15,722.80 in property taxes during the current fiscal year, so that’s the baseline annual value of the home to Hartford.

The State pays municipalities something called PILOT (Payment in lieu of taxes) for certain types of properties to help make up for lost revenue. If the UConn Foundation is considered part of UConn, then the state is supposed to pay 45% of the theoretical tax bill. At a recent meeting of the Hartford Property Tax Task Force it was noted that the legislature has only funded the PILOT program at about 45% at a statewide level. In total, the City would expect to collect about 45% * 45% = 20% of what is “owed.”

There is one extra twist in how Hartford would calculate what is owed. While researching a different property, we learned that it is the practice of the City to mark all tax-exempt properties at a 70% assessment ratio independent of their actual use. Readers may recall that the City has a split assessment ratio system, so 70% is a major increase from the typical residential assessment.


Taxes Owed: $724,800 * (70%) * (74.29/1000) = $37,691.77

PILOT Projected: $37,691.77 * (45% for State Owned) * (45% Funded) = $7,630

Once the property formally transitions from a privately owned residence to a State owned parcel subject to the PILOT program, we estimate that the City revenue associated with the home will decrease by about $8,000. The State’s PILOT program will prevent revenue from going all the way to zero, but PILOT will not make up the entire difference.

Building Stuff in Downtown Hartford

There has a been a noticeable increase in the discussion of new construction in Downtown Hartford over the past couple weeks. It started with the revelation that UConn would consider building a facility, and continued with word that the City of Hartford was thinking about building a new City Hall to consolidate office space.

Ken Gosselin has worked feverishly to ferret out as many of the thirteen of the proposals submitted to UConn as he can confirm (Travelers Education Building, One Talcott Plaza, Downtown North, Hartford Times Building, Broadcast House site). And Dennis House got the scoop from Mayor Segarra about the City’s thinking.

Hartford Skyline

All the talk is exciting. Putting up new buildings is sexy. But we need to be smart about it since there are not only a lot of empty lots available for construction, but also numerous existing structures that could be redeveloped. The discussion gives us an opportunity to share some of our thoughts about Downtown development.

Build office space near transportation hubs.

Office space attracts commuters, like it or not, so it makes sense to position those properties along the highway. Since we need those commuters to come into the City, let’s have them get off the interstate and quickly find their parking spot (ideally in an underground garage). This should not only make the commuters happier, but should also reduce the traffic burden on the City streets to the benefit of pedestrians and residents.

Build residential along Bushnell Park.

Bushnell Park is a terrific public space and makes a wonderful front yard for all of Downtown’s residents. Interestingly, many of the neighborhood’s residential buildings are within a block or two of the park already. If we continue to add residents, we’ll reach the critical mass needed to support the retail stores that just can’t make it right now.

Build retail between the office and residential.

Putting the retail between the office and residential buildings allows those entrepreneurs to tap into both the 9-to-5 office worker market and the nights-and-weekends residential consumers.

This is overly simplistic, of course. Retail is generally ground floor space in both office and residential buildings, so all three are mixed together to some degree. And having a good mix of office and residential helps keep the activity level of a block or street consistent 24-7 (versus “ghost town” after/during business hours).

So what about these two specific projects?

I like the idea of UConn in the Hartford Times building as the final piece of the Front Street development. The positives of this location are that the site is accessible via highway for commuting students and faculty, is in close proximity to entertainment, museums & City library, and is in a fully built out area. Hopefully that location would draw well from the surrounding communities.

If the City of Hartford decides to build a new City Hall, then they should put it on one of the vacant lots north of Interstate 84 near the new Public Safety Complex. Let’s use a public building like City Hall as an anchor to build critical mass in Downtown North. And let’s save the most valuable lots in other parts of Downtown for taxable development.

So we’re agreed? Great, let’s build some stuff!

Weekend Plans: Apr 16th 2011

If you’re looking to spend some time outside this weekend, consider helping the Knox Parks Foundation. The Greater Hartford Green Team is working with Trees for Hartford Neighborhoods to plant over 50 new trees in the City. The event runs from 9am to 1pm on Saturday, 4/16. Everyone will meet at the Niles Street Garden, at 17 Niles Street, to get a brief demo and then head out to the different planting sites. Volunteers need to register in advance with Charmaine Craig (CharmaineC@knoxparks.org or 860-951-7694). Breakfast, lunch, and live music will be provided.

UConn Huskies!Grab some fresh air on Sunday and cheer our returning local heros, the 2010-2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champions – your UConn Huskies! After some initial hand-wringing, enough private donations have been collected to hold the parade. It will step off at 3pm from the State Capitol, and head north on Trinity. The celebration continues with a rally that is scheduled for about 4:15, a little after the parade ends. It will be held on the North steps of the State Capitol Building and is expected to last for 30 – 45 minutes. The Pep Band and Cheerleaders will be there, and the speaker lineup includes Coach Calhoun and Kemba Walker. The Courant is reporting that the Hartford Parking Authority is offering free parking at the Morgan Street garage, and a discounted flat rate of $6.50 in its two Church Street garages, but I can’t find any reference to it on their website. As always, check the news for last minute changes before heading downtown.

Open Houses

10 Walbridge, West Hartford - front patio10 Walbridge Road, West Hartford, $559,000, Sun 4/17 from 1:00 to 3:00
Speaking of spending time outside, 10 Walbridge has the perfect place to relax and watch the world go by. Pour a nice lemonade and pull up and Adirondack chair on their professionally designed front patio. Bring a book, or just talk with the neighbors walking along the tree-lined street that leads directly to Elizabeth Park. More details and a photo tour are available.

 

65 Westerly Terrace, Hartford - Spacious Back Yard65 Westerly Terrace, Hartford, $325,000, Sun 4/17 from 1:00 to 3:00
Who says you can’t have a fantastic yard in the City for a reasonable price? 65 Westerly is set on a private, 0.37 acre lot, featuring a fully fenced, level, back yard. You could hold a bocce tournament back there, or put up a volleyball net, or design an epic croquet course. Should I continue? Yes. Play fetch with the dog, or catch with the kids. Oh … I know … giant trampoline! Who doesn’t love a trampoline? More details and a photo tour are available.

What Else?

Send Kyle (KyleB@KyleB-RE.com) a quick note if you know of other events we should include … thanks!

Weekend Plans: Apr 2nd 2011

UConn UConn UConn, UConn UConn. Did U(Conn) know that the Huskies are in the Final Four? Both the Men’s team and the Women’s team? Thankfully they will not be playing on Sunday afternoon, because that would simply ruin our plans for the day. Make a complete mess of them! UConn UConn UConn!

Events & Activities

On Thursday, March 31st, the Hartford Preservation Alliance (HPA) is holding an Open House to celebrate their recent accomplishments. Go check out their newly expanded office space, the new branding, and meet the team. They do a lot of great work for the City and the community and we’re proud to support their efforts. The event will be held at the HPA offices at 56 Arbor Street in Hartford, and begins at 5:30. Admission is $25, and rsvps are appreciated.

Open Houses

Since we’re definitely in the Final Four frame of mind, this week we’re featuring two homes with fantastic spaces for watching the big games.

38 Goodwin Circle, Hartford, $475,000, Sun 1:00 to 3:00
At 38 Goodwin Circle, the finished lower level (shown above) is an ideal family room. It’s a wide open room with plenty of space for all your favorite activities. Break out the big TV with surround sound and you’re all set to catch this weekend’s action. More details and a photo tour are available.

83 Kenyon Street, Hartford, $310,000, Sun 1:00 to 3:00
The third floor media room at 83 Kenyon Street takes the entertainment experience to another level. Soaring ceilings, plenty of seating, and the kitchenette make this the sort of space you don’t want to (or need to) leave. That big screen is for the projector … 100+ inches of basketball excitement! More details and a photo tour are available.

What Else?

Send Kyle (KyleB@KyleB-RE.com) a quick note if you know of other events we should include … thanks!

Update
Brooks reminds us that this is an electronics recycling weekend, with collection in West Hartford. Saturday 4/2/2011 from 9:00 to 1:00 at 17 Brixton Street. There is also paper shredding – which is something I need – going on at the same time at the nearby Home Depot parking lot at 503 New Park Ave, West Hartford. Thanks, Brooks … maybe I’ll see you there!