Is real estate development good or bad?

If there is something I have learned after 40-plus years of dealing with the public as a Realtor, it is that having differences of opinion are one thing. When those differences are tied to a home, it is another.

Many times rationality is displaced by emotion. Real estate development, whether it is new homes, commercial or industrial development, is many times met with resistance or misconstrued by those looking through the lens. The perfect example of this came through an old attorney at a zoning hearing who said: “A conservationist owns a home in the woods, a developer wants to build a house in the woods.” They both want the same thing!

I have a very unique perspective, and over this week and next, I would like to share it. My husband has been a home builder, developer and today is an industrial real estate sales agent. Together, we have worked in all phases of this business for nearly 70 cumulative years.

Many homeowners want new homes. Like new car buyers, they want that “new” feel — the knowledge that the colors, finishes, layout, materials and floor plan are what suits them today. Younger families gravitate to two-story homes with open floor plans, larger kitchens and closets, big yards and contemporary designs. Older people look for conveniences like handicap accessibility and low-cost maintenance. In either case, most of these things are not found in older established neighborhoods. New construction is the only way to solve this, and generally that means building on a developed or undeveloped home site. While function is important, emotion plays a larger part on home design than commercial design.

Commercial is far different. Material movement is everything in commercial or industrial development. One hundred years ago, movement of goods to stores or industry was done via rail, so you notice many buildings along rail lines. Retail tends to locate where the homes are.

Years ago, most businesses didn’t consider handicap accessibility, retail stores had floor racks 5 feet high and many industries were in large brick buildings that were near easy access to bus lines and utilities. Today’s industries are looking for function first. Is the building easy to retool in case they must produce a new widget three years from now? Is the building energy efficient? Is there easy access to truck-friendly roads? The “big box” stores, strip plazas and distribution centers must be concerned with far different issues than they were even 50 years ago. Emotion plays no part in location decisions, it is all about making the building efficient and effective for transportation, energy and employees. Efficiency increases productivity, worker retention and job satisfaction. In many cases, those old buildings cost far less to buy, but are radically more expensive to operate. Commercial people don’t want to spend more money to build new — they have to.

Real estate development affects every community. Redevelopment can be even more testy. I watched one community where a developer came in and bought dozens of run-down properties and rebuilt them all. In a span of two years, empty storefronts and upper floor apartments became quaint stores and stunning lofts. Good, right? Next thing you know, other owners were rebuilding their storefronts and the legacy store owners and apartment dwellers were complaining they were being priced out of “their” market.

So whether developing or redeveloping, you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please everybody. Next week I want to look at how development affects the nearby existing properties, and how it affects the cities and counties. Stay tuned.

Mink-Crouse is the 2018 president of the Warren Area Board of Realtors.

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