‘Location’ is Only Part of Marketing Downtown Homes
By Bob Karlovits, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Cindy Clifton stands at the corner of a condo in Gateway Towers overlooking postcard-like views of PNC Park, Point State Park and the headwaters of the Ohio River.
What sells this $1 million condo, like others that can be about $200,000 in the Downtown high-rise, is what has become a mantra of real estate sales, the building manager explains: “Location, location, location.”
But at the same time, she adds, the management of the building also recently spent about $80,000 to bring the lobby, hallways and other public spaces out of the 1950s. It is an attempt to make the building “hipper” and to compete with some other, newer residences.
The need to make a lobby more attractive, to have it “say” something, points to a twist in the marketing of Downtown’s places to live. The vertical lifestyle Downtown creates a different market than the lawns and properties of the suburbs. For many, that upkeep is the reason for leaving the suburbs.
Liz Caplan, real estate broker for Remax, says there is one requirement that is shared in all Downtown homes.
“People want a worry-free lifestyle,” she says. “They don’t want to worry about the garden or cutting grass. They want to be able to take off for a couple weeks in Florida without thinking about anything.”
Debbie Roberts, general manager of the Cork Factory apartments in the Strip District, says urban living is “not for everyone” and those who accept it also are lured by the features their building offers.
Frank Berceli, from the firm that handles leasing for the Heinz Lofts on the North Side, says those amenities are even more important than higher or lower rents or mortgages.
“If your dealing with a person who can afford $1,300 for rent, $50 more or less won’t matter,” he says. “But a good workout room will.”
Roberts says the Cork Factory thrives on amenities such as the picnic area, a marina and the building’s historic architecture
But, she adds, its closeness to Downtown also makes it attractive even if it is not right in the business district.
Similar comments are made at many Downtown residences, pointing to sales pitches that are far different from those for single-family homes.
Those pitches also point to how these buildings would seem to present different lifestyles, even if they seem similar.
It is all in what is offered
Both David Bishoff and Frank Berceli are big on privacy — but even that can take on a different nature.
Bishoff is president E.V. Bishoff Co., the Columbus, Ohio, firm that developed the Carlyle condos at Fourth Avenue and Wood Street. Berceli is general manager of Amore Management of Monroeville, which leases homes at the Heinz Lofts.
They both say they market their residences as offering a form of “privacy,” but Bishoff brags about how his “privacy” is amid bustle. Berceli’s, meanwhile, is in a suburb in the city.
Bishoff says one of the strongest aspects of the Carlyle is the 14 to 18 inches of concrete above and below condos and the walls that are lined with sound-deadening material. That makes the silence in the condos similar to that which residents experienced in their suburban homes before they moved Downtown.
“We don’t want to listen to our neighbor’s stereo,” he says of life in the condos, many of which cost about $300,000. “We did that in college, but we don’t want to do it now.”
Still, though, he adds, the Carlyle is in the middle of town, blocks from restaurants, shows, shops and health clubs. That gives it a location in the middle of activity that has lured many of its residents.
Berceli, on the other hand, says his clients tend to want to get away from urban life, but remain close enough to dip into it at a whim.
For that same reason, Berceli continues, the Heinz Lofts provide a better workout facility: it allows residents to stay at home instead of going to a commercial gym, no matter how close.
By living on the other side of the Allegheny River, the noise of traffic and business activity is gone. But the Downtown life is minutes away when it is wanted.
He says Heinz Lofts tenants are lured by that quiet as well as such features as the bicycle-hiking trail in front of it.
The ‘product’ is everything
William Gatti, president of Trek Development, which owns the Century Building on Seventh Avenue, Downtown, says the total “product” is the most important element in the marketing of a Downtown home.
Apartments there range from $600 a month rent-control units up to $1,500, and are being taken mostly by people who work Downtown or, in some cases, are retired but active as docents or other volunteer jobs.
“It puts people on the street,” he says. “They are out there going to work or going to restaurants. It is part of the whole urban lifestyle.”
He knows of some people who use Downtown residences as a part-time city home and suggests that strategy does not create a lively Downtown.
Brett Malky, a partner in 151 First Side, the upper-end condos on Fort Pitt Boulevard, says ultimately the “success” of all the Downtown residences is one of the best ways of marketing Downtown living.
“It is a lifestyle choice, but the fact that there are places appealing to young workers or empty nesters makes it possible to market Downtown living,” he says.
As he spoke, he was closing in on agreements that would leave only nine units available in the 82-place site that opened in 2007.
For condos that can top $1 million, that bespeaks the success he sees.
“With the small number left, it shows the fear of living Downtown is over,” he says.