By Shonda Novak
Friday, February 22, 2008
Granite counters. Hardwood floors. Stainless-steel appliances.
No, these aren't the selling points for yet another ritzy
downtown condominium project. Instead, they're features of a dated 1960s
apartment complex on South Congress Avenue near Crockett Street that is
being transformed into 103 condominiums designed to offer an alternative
to downtown's pricier housing.
Developer David Kline's $13.5 million condominium-conversion
project, 2020 Congress Condos, is one of a growing number of such developments
planned or newly opened as developers seek to provide more moderately
priced housing in Central Austin.
Condo conversions have become popular because developers
can work with an existing building and bring the project to the market
more quickly, which can translate into moderately priced units, said Kline,
president of Austin-based Kline Ventures. The company owns and manages
26 properties, mostly in the University of Texas campus area.
Last year, 824 apartments were converted to condos in
Austin, from the downtown area to the suburbs. This year, 1,167 more units
are expected to be converted in the Austin area, said Robin Davis, manager
of Austin Investor Interests LLC, which tracks the apartment market.
The 2020 Congress Condos are priced from $96,900 to $108,900
for units with 425 square feet. The highest-priced units range from $189,900
to $199,900 and have 943 square feet. In addition, there are three 731-square-foot
townhome units, all priced at $199,900.
Kline just started marketing the project, whose first
buyers are expected to move in by mid-summer.
"With our price points, we are opening up home ownership
to a segment of the market that cannot afford to pay the prices"
of many of the units being built in and near downtown, he said.
Kline said the average price-per-square foot is $235,
about half the price of the new construction taking shape as part of downtown's
residential building boom that is adding hundreds of condominium and apartments.
Kline expects his project to appeal to professionals,
students, first-time homebuyers and out-of-towners seeking a second home
when they attend UT games or other events.
In East Austin, 41 Waller, a 30-unit condominium conversion
on Waller Street, is attracting interest from young professionals, empty-nesters,
high-tech workers and athletic types who frequent the Lady Bird Lake hike-and-bike
trail, said Amy Warnick, the project's lead sales and marketing director.
Units feature stained concrete floors, granite counters,
travertine rainshowers, stainless-steel appliances, covered parking and
private patios and balconies. Prices range from $215,900 to $265,900 for
two-bedroom units with 936 square feet. There's one remaining three-bedroom
with 1,260 square feet priced at $299,900. Warnick wouldn't disclose the
number of units under contract, but they will be ready for move-ins next
Brad Pauly, a broker with Pauly Presley Realty, which
is marketing the units at 41 Waller, said rising costs of building materials
play a role in developers focusing on existing properties.
Ryan Robinson, demographer for the City of Austin, said
that with demand for downtown area housing skyrocketing, "market
pressure pushes prices up, and property owners can realize a larger margin
from selling units as condos."
Most of the converted units have emerged from apartments
built in the 1960s and 1970s in "prime locations" in Central
and Southeast Austin that command higher-than-average prices, Davis said.
Often they appeal to buyers because they offer "upscale
living in a mixed-use development" with boutique-style retail, restaurants,
coffee bars and the like, "all in one new urbanism-type community
in the heart of the city," Davis said.
Barbara Ditlow, a real estate agent with Capital City
Sotheby's International Realty, knows of four condo conversions in South
Austin, all with updated wiring, plumbing and walkways, plus granite counters,
stainless steel appliances and wood floors.
Ditlow is the listing agent on two, including the Gillis
Park Studios off Oltorf Street, between South Congress and South First
Street. The Gillis studios have 90 units starting at $99,000 for a 425-foot
efficiency. It will have three phases, with the first phase ready for
move in now.
"It's very affordable, very chic, very well done,"
But Ditlow said buyers need to do their homework before
purchasing converted condos.
"Some (developers) buy these apartments at high
price points and have to skimp on the finish-out to meet the bottom line,"
she said, adding that it's important to research the developers and their
track records. "Don't get stuck with sow's ear when you thought you
were buying a silk purse."