Balancing Features, Price, and Having it All

For the last two years I’ve been driving an Infiniti sedan, loaded with luxury features. I didn’t realize just how “nice” it was until last month. That’s when my lease ended and I got a great big dose of sticker shock.

Leasing the car was similar to renting an apartment where you may get lots of amenities, but you’re really just borrowing the item from someone else who owns it. In my case, Infiniti Financial still owned the car, and I needed to give it back.

I had been planning for the purchase and had set aside money to buy a car instead of leasing again. I could have bought a lot of perfectly fine cars, brand new, with the cash I had, but I didn’t want a Mazda or a Honda or a Toyota. I wanted a Mercedes or a Lexus or a BMW.

My biggest issue was that I needed an in-dash navigation system for my real estate work, and that option adds thousands of dollars onto the price. The navigation was important because I have absolutely no innate directional abilities. To keep everyone’s stress level down, I need that little computer voice telling me to: “Prepare. To. Turn. Left. In. 500. Feet.”

So in the budget I had (and that I did not want to go over) I had two options:

Option 1) Get a “luxury” car without the navigation system.

Option 2) Get a “practical” car that had a navigation system and that was loaded with features.

I test drove an Acura and a Volvo and I liked them both. But the models I drove did not have navigation, and I really couldn’t get past this. I even tested out models that did have the in-dash navigation to see if it would be worth breaking my budget, but I was shocked at how terrible the navigation systems were. I was used to the Infiniti system with is touch-screen and easy to use. The Acura and Volvo systems both looked like old Atari consoles, with buttons and knobs and an unnecessarily time-consuming interface. Still, I almost bought the Volvo because I liked it so much, but then I decided to at least test drive the very last option on my list – a Nissan SUV. It was on my radar because it had everything I wanted, except for the brand cachet.

I’ve never had an SUV and the only time I’ve driven one is when a date has gotten drunk and I end up driving his car home. (Yes, this has happened multiple times, with multiple dates, in multiple SUVs. But that’s a whole other blog post…) I was surprised at how much I liked the elevated seating and spaciousness.

The Nissan had heated seats, a sunroof, surround cameras, an upgraded Bose stereo, AWD, Bluetooth connectivity, and my beloved IN DASH NAVIGATION. But this navigation system was touch screen and highly intuitive. (Nissan makes Infiniti, so maybe that may be why I connected with the car, too.) So I surprised myself and left the lot with this:

Nissan - House Cat

Why am I sharing the story of my recent car purchase on my real estate blog? Because I see a lot of people (myself included) who get temporarily discouraged when they aren’t able to buy exactly what they envision for themselves. But here I am, a couple of weeks later, and I love my car.

I’ve been hauling clients around in it, and it’s spacious, has a very nice interior, and the navigation system hasn’t let me down. Plus, my bank account is still fat and happy.

So when we’re looking at properties, remember what’s really important to you. For me, that navigation system was the one thing that I just had to have. If you really need a stepless ranch, or to be in a certain school district, or acreage – let’s start with that. Let’s look at every possibility in that all-important “one thing you must have” search, and you might be surprised at what you like. And often, your must-have feature is an easy add-on: Fenced-in yard for the pup. Covered parking. An additional bedroom or bathroom. All these things can often be added after the sale. So if you can’t find exactly what you want, you can make exactly what you want.


Red Robin REALTORSI’m an agent with Red Robin REALTORS® one of Atlanta’s premier boutique real estate brokerages. Contact me at lynn@redrobingroup.com or 404-247-9981.

My Guidelines for Great Neighborhoods, and Why I’m Disappointed by What’s Developing Around the Beltline Westside Trail

I want to state upfront that this is an opinion piece.  It does not reflect the views of my brokerage.  It does reflect upon what I experienced last Saturday when I participated in the Invest Atlanta and Atlanta Beltline Westside Trail Open House Walking Tour, which showcased affordable housing options in Adair Park, Capitol View, Capitol View Manor, Pittsburgh and Sylvan Hills.  (Also known as Southwest Atlanta – aka SWATL.)  On the tour I learned that the area’s 30310 zip code was the hardest hit in the US by foreclosure and fraud during the real estate downturn, and there are currently 1,000 vacant houses available.  So 1,000+ new residents could move in without displacing any of the current residents.

I am a licensed real estate agent, but I’m also a potential homebuyer.  I will likely be purchasing a new home and moving sometime in the next 24 months, so right now I’m on a personal fact-finding mission, and I’m focusing on narrowing my search to neighborhoods that I can envision myself living in.

I currently own and live on the other side of the Beltline – the Eastside Trail – and I’ve seen that stretch go from weeds and dirt, to being the hottest real estate strip in Atlanta.  But the Beltline itself is not what makes that stretch so desirable, it’s the restaurants, shops, grocery stores and green spaces that line each side, and that the Beltline connects.  It’s the ability to walk or bike from Old 4th Ward to Piedmont Park (over 2 miles) without ever crossing a street.  And on your walk you can stop for coffee or frozen yogurt or a beer.  Get lunch at a dozen different restaurants.  Or shop for unique antiques in a Parisian-inspired warehouse.  Again, this is the Eastside Trail.  Now let’s talk about what’s happening on the Westside Trail…

One of my best friends owned a house in Capitol View about 15 years ago when the neighborhood was pretty sketchy (IMO) and she would give directions to her house by cracking jokes like, “Then you take a left at the hooker on crutches, and that’s my street!”  Back then, I visited her often, but she no longer owns that house, and it’s been a few years since I’ve been that way.  Even though there was a possibility I’d be hit on by a hooker on crutches, I still liked the area, and I loved my friend’s house.  I always thought the architecture of the neighborhood was a huge asset, because the houses each had a unique charm, and most are brick (my personal preference).

At the time that my friend was living in Capitol View, I was living in Ormewood Park – the neighborhood in between Grant Park and East Atlanta.  This is the pre-grocery store incarnation of Ormewood Park, Grant Park, and East Atlanta.  I think the Kroger on Ponce was our nearest grocery store (it’s about 4 miles and 25 minutes away).  But we had the shops and bars in the village area of East Atlanta, a couple of neighborhood restaurants on Cherokee and on Memorial, and pockets of development sprouting up. It was enough to make the neighborhood interesting, but not enough to make it super-desirable, so I was able to buy a move-in ready 2/2 bungalow with a loft for $203k.  Even a dozen year ago, this was really reasonable for a 1450 square foot home.

I’m giving you this backstory to help illustrate that I seek out areas that are a little on the fringe. (After Ormewood I lived on Memorial Drive and then Old 4th Ward – and when I bought each of those places they were practically giving properties away.  No one wanted to be in either area.  Except me, it seems.)

So, back to SWATL, I had this area on my personal radar because I’m currently in a loft, and I’m ready to move back into a single-family home, and I kind of want to be a little out of the way of the hustle and bustle.  The Invest Atlanta and Atlanta Beltline Westside Trail Open House Walking Tour was a very nice event, and I enjoyed the shuttle bus tour and walking through the open houses.  The houses presented still needed work, but were mostly in the $99k to $179k range.  (I thought some were overpriced, but you gotta go out of the gate big, so I understand some agents reaching.)

Here are some photos of houses that I was wild about, (not for sale, just cute houses!) I’m telling you there are gems in this area because they haven’t been “updated”:

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Capital View, Capital View Manor

But that may be where the love fest ends, because when I got home I read the literature that was given to me by the rep from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a non-profit who owns a 31-acre site directly on the Westside Trail.  It’s an amazing location, south of Pittsburgh and north of Capitol View Manor.  I knew about the tract of land and that developers were currently courting the foundation with proposals, but I incorrectly assumed they would build something INTERESTING there because of the high-profile, walkable, bike-friendly location.  And by interesting I mean something that will catch the neighbors’ attention, and the attention of other developers, like a grocery store to service the insane food desert that surrounds that area, maybe with a coffee shop next door, or mixed use for restaurants and retail, and general services for this under-served area.  But nope, that’s not what they’re putting there.  This is directly lifted from the handouts I received:

The Foundation plans to select a master developer to create a plan for the site that incorporates one or a combination of potential uses identified through the market study. Some possibilities include:

  • a distribution hub and sorting facility
  • an integrated service center that includes supply warehouses, laundry, storage and other offsite functions for regional hospitals and medical centers
  • facilities for activities such as for payroll and billing, packaging and record keeping
  • industrial, commercial or electronic equipment repair
  • incubator space, workshops and labs
  • consulting for design and manufacturing

Further…

With a lack of stores in the surrounding area, residents have expressed interest in seeing retail on the site, and the market indicates this is economically feasible, though not recommended as a primary use. The Foundation hopes new workers and customers connected with the site’s commercial development will generate enough demand to encourage retail development in the surrounding neighborhoods.

So residents want one thing, but it sounds like the Foundation is giving them something else – more industrial and warehouse space – in an area littered with abandoned industrial and warehouse space.  I understand the desire to create jobs (the Foundation is focused on economic development for the site) but wouldn’t a large grocery store create jobs?  The Beltline is there to promote walkable and bikeable communities, but does anyone really want to bike to a “distribution hub and sorting facility”?  In short: No.

On the positive side, the Beltline anticipates that stretch being paved and fully developed within 5 to 8 years.  But will anyone use the Westside Trail if all it does is connect green spaces?  I mean, it’s nice for a walk, but in addition to exercise, the Eastside Trail is used for commutes, and for entertainment.

And there’s also the debacle (IMO) of handing nearby Fort McPherson to Tyler Perry for use as a movie studio, but that’s a whole other post.  For now, I’m left saddened and shaking my head at the missed opportunities for the area.  So, I’ve still got SWATL on my personal radar, but it’s been moved down the list a bit.


Red Robin REALTORSI’m an agent with Red Robin REALTORS® one of Atlanta’s premier boutique real estate brokerages. Contact me at lynn@redrobingroup.com or 404-247-9981.

Even Ugly Houses Can Feel Like Home

My parents lived in the same house for over 50 years. They bought the land and built a one-story brick ranch in an undeveloped area of a mid-size southern town. My mother used to talk about how chickens (that did not belong to my parents) would run around untethered. Pat and Irene were newlyweds and buying a 3/4 acre lot, hiring a builder, and moving a new family were all big endeavors. But when you’re young, somehow change seems easier and you are more open to experiments.

The lot they bought was in a capital city that was also home to a state university. So despite the free-range chickens, my parents were urban pioneers who broke ground in an undesirable area.

House Cat Real Estate
Under construction. 1958.

 

And when the house was built and the family was moved in, I guess my parents felt like the house was “done.” And I mean “done” because they never made any changes or updates to the house. And I seriously mean no changes. Same pink bathroom. Same green bathroom. Linoleum in the kitchen. A wood-panel den. Exterior doors with hand-crank louver glass panels. A tin roof patio. Two car carport.  We never owned a dishwasher.  And the kitchen cabinets, countertops and sink were all original.

I was the youngest in the family and by the time I came along my parents had been living in the house they built for almost 20 years. And as I grew older, the house grew older with me.

I remember sitting alone in my bedroom as a teenager, among the hand-me-down furniture that my two older sisters had already used, and I would dream of how my own space would look when I could finally get out of there and make my own decisions. And in my mind it looked NOTHING like that house.  I hated the architecture and the furnishings and everything about it.

And now that I’m on my own, living in a loft right on the Atlanta Beltline, do you know what my space looks like?

It looks like my childhood home.

When we emptied my parents’ house, I took every porcelain bird knickknack, ugly lamp, and worn piece of furniture I could haul back to Atlanta. I even took their rotary dial telephone. (It still works. I’m not kidding.)

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Can you find my parent’s pieces scattered through my loft? Hint: look for electric orange and avocado green.

 

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Velvet barrel back chairs. (Note: Orange Cat is not vintage. Circa mid-2000’s!)

 

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An “earth tone” acrylic painting and green lamps (you may not be able to see it, but the gold bases light up, too.)

 

My parents are gone and my time capsule childhood home is gone. But they live in my memories. And pieces of them live with me. But now I embrace the ugly because it’s what make my own space feel like home.

If you want to see how I’ve integrated my mother’s questionable taste (and I write that with so much love) into an industrial live/work space in Old Fourth Ward (O4W) come by my office in Studioplex for a tour and a cup of coffee from Mom’s percolator.  I’d love to help you find a house that makes you feel like you’re truly at home, too.


Red Robin REALTORSI’m an agent with Red Robin REALTORS® one of Atlanta’s premier boutique real estate brokerages. Contact me at lynn@redrobingroup.com or 404-247-9981.

Real Estate Q & A, Frenemy Style

Here’s a question I was asked a couple of weeks ago:

Is your copywriting business so bad that you now have to sell real estate?
— Neighborhood Frenemy

I mean, I get it.  I understand the confusion.  I’ve been a freelance writer for a couple of decades, and real estate doesn’t seem to fit neatly into the industry I’m already known for.  But actually, it all does make sense and go together.  First, I’ve easily connected my professions by starting this site, HOUSE CAT REAL ESTATE – a blog about my personal and professional house hunting adventures that wraps my writing and real estate talents together.  And in my first post I am going to publicly answer my frenemy’s question.  Let’s take a look:

Q. Is your copywriting business so bad that you now have to sell real estate?

A. My copywriting business, which has been around for 18 years, is more than fine. Last month I delivered 5 video scripts to Johnson & Johnson, and I have ongoing work with AT&T and the American Cancer Society.  But real estate is a continuous interest of mine that I haven’t fully explored. So here I am, introducing myself as a Georgia REALTOR® based out of Atlanta.

I bought my first property, a two-bedroom condo in the 30305 area of Buckhead, 18 years ago. (Yes, at the same time I started my copywriting business – when I go in, I go all in and I knew the more responsibility I took on, the more I would push myself toward success. It worked.)

Since then I’ve owned 6 properties (3 single family homes, 1 condo, 1 residential loft, 1 mixed use loft).  At two points in my life I owned 3 properties at the same time, although right now I only have 2.  I stay in a live/work loft located in a renovated factory in Old Fourth Ward, and I lease out a LEED-certified loft I own in Grant Park.

I’m truly fascinated by the tangible and intangible aspects of real estate, everything from architecture styles to population migration. In particular I love niche properties with live/work zoning, unexpected locations, or unique features.  So if you already know me from my copywriting business or other endeavors (did someone say sock puppet film noir or the Feline Film Fest?), let me now say hello as Lynn Lamousin, licensed Georgia REALTOR®.

I may be newly “official” but I have almost two decades of property ownership, contract, and landlord experience.  So let’s talk about your dream home. Or dream office.  Or dream second home.  I have those dreams too and I’ve owned all kinds of properties – I’d love to share my experience with you.


Red Robin REALTORSI’m an agent with Red Robin REALTORS® one of Atlanta’s premier boutique real estate brokerages. Contact me at lynn@redrobingroup.com or 404-247-9981.