Sunday, July 22, 2007

Royal Palms Resot and Spa History and News

In the early 1920’s, New York financier Delos Cooke pursued his dream to build a winter home in Phoenix and commissioned the building of a mansion in the grand Spanish colonial style. A world traveler, Delos and his wife, Florence, filled their mansion with wondrous treasures from their travels around the world.

After Cooke’s untimely death in 1931, the home was sold to a series of private parties, who added various rooms, including an in-house chapel. After World War II, a group of investors purchased the Cooke property with the intention of developing a first class resort. A new era for the estate began.

Named for the regal, towering trees lining each side of the entryway, the Royal Palms Inn opened to guests in the winter of 1948. It became a destination of choice for discriminating travelers from around the world, including celebrities such as Groucho Marx and Helena Rubenstein.

In 1995, local Arizona businessman Fred Unger purchased the landmark property, and went about the task of restoring Royal Palms to its original charm and elegance. Today, after a multi-million dollar restoration, the preservation of this historic property has been assured.

To search for a historic home near this resrt or in or around Downtown Phoenix, AZ, call Laura B. today at 602.400.0008 or to a FREE ARIZONA MLS search her historic Phoenix homes districts website here.

Make Your Downtown Phoenix Condo Purchase A Smart One

Make Your Downtown Phoenix Condo Purchase A Smart One

By Laura Boyajian

Downtown Phoenix and Historic Downtown Phoenix is soaring with new high-rises. Spring is the busiest season for condominium sales. There are many reasons for buying a condo instead of a house. They make great affordable first homes. They also make great “last homes” if you are downsizing from a large family house to a smaller residence.

Although condos are no longer the “ugly ducklings” of housing since they now often appreciate in market value about the same as comparable single-family detached houses, there are special questions condo buyers should ask to avoid buying a “bad condo.” Buying a condo can be more complicated than buying a house.

Condo Advantages

The many reasons for buying a condo instead of a house include (1) usually less expensive than buying a similarly sized single-family house; (2) exterior maintenance is the responsibility of the condo homeowner’s association; (3) the security of leaving your condo for an extended period without worry (called “lock and leave”); (4) homeowner tax benefits similar to houses; (5) pride of ownership from being an owner rather than a renter; and (6) potential resale profit as the condo appreciates in market value. However, local supply and demand greatly affects this last potential advantage.

Condo Disadvantages

Depending on your viewpoint, potential condo disadvantages might include (1) being subject to the rules of the condo homeowner’s association; (2) unexpected increases in monthly fees and special assessments for maintenance costs; (3) policies and rules you don’t like -- such as no pets or no rentals; (4) poor-quality maintenance or management which affect enjoyment and resale values; (5) poor soundproofing (the number one complaint of condo owners); (6) lack of freedom to do as you wish, such as have noisy parties; and (7) neighbors you don’t like or who don’t like you.

Ask Key Questions to Avoid Buying a Bad Condo

To minimize chances of buying a bad condo, which you will later regret, here are the seven key questions to ask to avoid buying a bad condo:

1. What is the financial condition of the condo association? If you are considering purchase of a brand-new condo, to attract buyers the developer has probably set the monthly condo fees very low. Watch out for inadequate allocations for replacement reserves which are sure to increase in future years as the building ages and needs repairs.

If you are considering buying an older condo, study the replacement reserves. Depending on the building’s age and anticipated replacements, such as a new roof every 15 to 20 years, if reserves are inadequate a large special assessment might be levied on each owner when an unexpected cost arises.

There is no minimum replacement reserve guideline, but two standards are (a) at least $2,000 to $3,000 per unit, and/or (b) 25 percent of the annual gross income for the homeowner’s association should be in the reserve account.

Smart condo buyers ask if there are any major replacements anticipated in the next 12 months and if there will be a special assessment. Review the board of director’s meeting minutes for the last six months to determine what issues are being discussed.

2. How do the monthly fees compare with comparable nearby condo complexes? The answer is important not only to your wallet, but to the resaleability of the condo. When the condo fees are very high compared to the competition, that holds down the market value of condos in that complex. Be sure to inquire what services are included, such as central heat and air conditioning.
3. Is the condo association professionally managed? Unless it is a small condo building of five units or less, professional management is a good sign. The cost usually pays for itself because an experienced condo manager knows where to get repair discounts that often “save” the equivalent of the professional manager’s fee.

A related question to ask is how long the professional manager has been managing the complex. The right answer is: the longer, the better. That indicates the condo owners are satisfied.

For example, in the condo complex where I own a unit, the management company has been there over 30 years and the current manager has been with us over 20 years (after his father retired). Needless to say, we are very pleased with the service quality.

4. How good is the soundproofing? Because poor soundproofing is the number one complaint of condo owners (especially for buildings converted from apartments), when you focus on buying a specific unit, it pays to test the soundproofing.

This can easily be done by asking the upstairs, downstairs, and adjacent neighbors to turn on their TVs and stereos to normal levels and see if you can hear them in the unit. Also, check for upstairs noisy floors, especially in wood construction buildings if the upstairs neighbors don’t have carpets with heavy padding.

5. What is the percentage of renters? Mortgage lenders know the risk of foreclosure default in condo complexes with more than 20 percent to 30 percent renters is very high. Many lenders either refuse to finance units in such complexes, or they charge above-normal interest rates.

The reasons are absentee landlords often have little interest in properly maintaining the condo complex and their renters aren’t as considerate as owner-occupants. The result can be declining maintenance quality.

Condo complexes with anti-renter rules are considered very desirable for owner-occupants and often bring premium resale prices.

6. Has the condo unit been professionally inspected and did the seller provide a defect disclosure report? Most states now have laws and court decisions requiring condo and house sellers to disclose know defects. Smart buyers carefully study these written disclosure forms before making purchase offers.

In addition, savvy buyers include in their condo purchase offers a contingency approval clause for a professional inspection of the unit after the offer is accepted. The buyer should always accompany the inspector to discuss any undisclosed defects discovered.

7. Ask current residents, "What do you like best and least living here?" Or you might prefer to ask, "Would you buy a condo here again?"

Most condo owner-occupants are friendly and willing to share their good and bad experiences. Be sure to talk with several residents just to be sure you aren’t talking with a "bad apple," professional complainer. Just to verify your soundproofing test of the unit you are considering for purchase, casually ask, "How is the soundproofing here?"

To view and/or purchace a downtown Phoenix condo, call condo specialist Laura B. today at 602.400.0008. You can also begin your FREE online search for condos here.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Urban redo: Brothers creating infill projects in historic Phoenix neighborhoods

Urban redo: Brothers creating infill projects in historic Phoenix neighborhoods
The Business Journal of Phoenix ~ April 27, 2007
by Jan Buchholz

The Business Journal

Jag Development, a Phoenix-based urban infill developer, has broken ground on an ultra-modern, multifamily project northeast of downtown in the North Garfield Historic District.

The Portland 38 project at Seventh and Portland streets is 25 percent presold, even though the sales office hasn't been open for long. Prices for the three-story townhomes, ranging in size from 1,200 to 1,500 square feet, start in the low $300,000s.

"This is probably the first new project in the Garfield District since World War II," said Jag co-principal Ben Gutkin. "It's really the best-situated historic district to downtown."

Gutkin and his brother, Allan, grew up in the area, and are committed to turning downtown Phoenix and nearby neighborhoods into a vibrant urban core. Their grandfather, who bought a gas station at First Avenue and Madison Street in 1935, was one of downtown's first successful businessmen. Their other grandfather was a duplex developer in Milwaukee.

They combined their love for urban Phoenix with the family's real estate legacy by creating Jag Development several years ago. Since then, the Gutkins have been on a buying spree with an eye toward creating unconventional, chic housing projects.

The company owns about 340,000 square feet of vacant land and commercial property in the urban core. They've completed one residential project nearby -- the Willetta 9, north of Interstate 10 and west of Seventh Street -- and are developing several others.

The Willetta 9 sold out quickly, convincing the Gutkins they are on a successful home-building track despite a suburban housing slump.

"This area has really turned around. Ten years ago, no one would look at it," Allan Gutkin said.

The principals predict that most of the Jag units will be purchased by an eclectic mix of people in the 25- to 50-year-old range.

"We'll have buyers from the creative class and entrepreneurs," Ben Gutkin said. "We hope to get some medical workers, para­legals and professors, too."

The Gutkins expect long-range plans for transforming downtown Phoenix into a medical and educational hub to drive demand for their unusual housing models, which feature polished concrete floors; oversized, double-paned windows; high ceilings; European wood finishes; contemporary kitchen and bathroom fixtures; and open spaces in the tradition of Manhattan warehouse lofts.

"We're doing something in this price range that's unknown, with (high-end) appliances and countertops," Allan Gutkin said.

He credits architect Michael Underhill for bringing something special to the Jag projects. Underhill, an expert on modernism and a noted architecture professor at Arizona State University, said he was thrilled to discover the Gutkins shared his love for contemporary, urban design and were willing to risk building homes with an edgier silhouette.

"I was attracted to them right away. Four or five years ago, you didn't find anyone building modern homes," Underhill said.

Although Underhill applauds the construction of luxury high-rise homes downtown, he and the Gutkins believe the area needs other residential options.

"The great, big high-rises help, but there needs to be more moderately sized infill projects that have a presence right on the street," Underhill said.

Those need to be more moderately priced, too. The sticker shock involved with some new high-rise developments -- many in the million-dollar range -- has left some would-be urbanites out of the market, Ben Gutkin said.

"The cost of what we're selling is far lower than the cost of most high-rises," he said. "To make downtown vibrant, you've got to have alternatives in housing."

A range of socioeconomic classes also is needed, he said.

"It's important to have areas where there's a whole mixture of society," he said. "That's what makes life interesting."

Friday, July 06, 2007

East Alvarado Historic District Highlights & History

The East Alvarado Historic District may be small in comparison to most of Phoenix's historic districts, but its significance to the city's development isn't. A quiet neighborhood on a quarter-mile of Alvarado Road between 3rd and 7th Street, the district includes just 30 homes that were built from 1929-1942. The neighborhood was designated as historic in May of 1992.

With the success of the Alvarado Place development, East Alvarado was born in 1929 when East Alvarado Road was extended out of Alvarado Place from 3rd Street to within 100 feet of 7th Street. This new neighborhood began with a single "spec" home built in the Spanish Colonial Revival Style that had become the new craze in the southwest during the 1920s.

With its arched arcade and red tiles, this Spanish Colonial Revival home sat
alone for the next 7 years as the Great Depression took its toll on Phoenix.

Building stopped in East Alvarado until 1937 when the neighborhood ushered in a new architectural era....the Ranch Style. The remaining 29 homes in East Alvarado were built in only five years thanks to the newly created Federal Housing Administration (FHA) which was established under the National Housing Act of 1934.

As you drive along East Alvarado Road today, you will notice the 'streetscape concept' that was promoted by FHA to create uniformity and continuity of design from its uniform lots, setbacks and scale of structures. East Alvarado neighborhood was developed during an important transitional period for Phoenix's residential architecture. The homes built included the Transitional/Early Ranch Style along with a handful of simplified Period Revival Styles, for those who weren't quite ready to give-up the old.

Once considered a suburban neighborhood of Phoenix, East Alvarado now sits in the midst of the heart of Phoenix. A short walk east to 7th Street provides residents a number of choices for shopping and restaurants including Coronado Cafe, Trente Cinq, and That's a Wrap. Soon, the METRO light-rail on Central Ave. will be just a few blocks to the west.

Homes in East Alvarado range in size from around 1100 square feet to 1900 square feet and in price from the low $300's to the upper $300's (although one of the larger homes that has been completely remodeled sold in the mid-$400's in 2006). Homes in East Alvarado have been very well maintained, yet there are still quite a few that have not been renovated.

To search for a historic home in EastAlvarado Historic District or any one of the 36 Historical Districts in Phoenix, AZ, click on

Residents push to expand Coronado Historic District

Audrie Garrison ~ The Arizona Republic
June 25, 2007

Some residents in and around the historical Coronado district are pushing to expand its boundaries.

The city’s Historic Preservation Office will hire an outside consultant next year to determine how much of the proposed area is eligible to be designated as part of the historic district, said Barbara Stocklin, the city’s historic preservation officer. The district could be expanded by 2009.

The existing district is approximately the area south of Virginia Avenue, east of Seventh Street, north of McDowell Road and west of 14th Street. Residents have proposed expanding the boundaries to Seventh Street, 16th Street, Thomas Road and Interstate 10.

The city will begin the process next June but Stocklin said the entire expansion process would take up to two years.

“We are committed to hiring the consultant - it’s on our work plan,” she said.

The residents met informally Saturday to hear from neighbors and discuss the process.

Wayne Murray, who lives within the current district, said benefits of being part of a historic district include a property tax reduction and available city grants for renovations.

“What we’re hoping is that when a district like this expands, then the neighborhood would go out and let the residents know that have then been included and that there’s money available, as well as the benefits,” Murray said.

Search for a home in any one of Downton Phoenix's Historic Districts.