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One part of the real estate market that may be showing promise is green homes, energy-efficient houses that promote a more sustainable lifestyle.
NPR's Adam Hochberg reports on one developer in Phoenix, Arizona that's trying to lure suburbanites to the city with homes that are smaller and closer to mass transit.
ADAM HOCHBERG: The idea that Philip Beere is promoting may seem a bit counterintuitive in a sprawling metropolitan area like Phoenix. In this market, most of the housing stock was built since 1980 and suburban subdivisions advertise amenities like whirlpool tubs and media rooms. But Beere is trying to sell older tract homes in unpolished city neighborhoods.
(Soundbite of door opening)
Mr. PHILIP BEERE (CEO, Green Street Development): We have a home from 1957. Not a whole lot's been done to it.
HOCHBERG: This is a very basic home, even by 1957 standards.
Mr. BEERE: Mm-hmm. Five rooms. Yeah, including the kitchen.
HOCHBERG: Beere heads a company called Green Street Development, and he's betting that young professionals are tired of commuting into the city from the outskirts of town, so he's bought a couple dozen foreclosed home at trustee sales - small ranches, 1,400 square feet or so, close to downtown and mass transit.
(Soundbite of pounding, electric saw)
HOCHBERG: He's renovating them now, making them a bit more modern and a lot more energy-efficient. Beere hasn't sold any yet, but he's marketing them mainly to people who live in bigger homes in the suburbs.
Mr. BEERE: It might be someone who works downtown that wants to have a walkable neighborhood. They can walk to the cafe, a real cool cafe down the street. Or they can walk down to light rail and take it to work or to the ballgame, spend more time at home, drive their car less.
HOCHBERG: That kind of urban living wouldn't be a novelty in cities like Washington or Boston, where there's long been a premium on descent homes near transit lines. But in Phoenix, where land is plentiful and cheap, most development has been in the ever-expanding suburbs, and only in the past year has the city opened its first light rail line. All of Green Street's homes are within a quarter mile of the line. And designer Amy Bobier promotes them as small, sustainable and economical.
Ms. AMY BOBIER (Designer): And I do see a change happening in that people are downsizing and they're making smaller spaces more functional. People are less about trying to impress and more about spaces that function well, that are well priced, that meet their budget.
HOCHBERG: Because the homes were foreclosures, the developers say they can sell them below market value, even after the renovations. Most will go for 200,000 to $400,000. You could still get a bigger house in the suburbs for less, but Phoenix real estate economist Elliott Pollack predicts in-town living will appeal to a lot of buyers in an area where the average roundtrip commute time is about an hour.
Mr. ELLIOTT POLLACK (Real Estate Economist): This creates a lifestyle that doesn't exist anywhere else in Phoenix. This allows you to keep your automobile in the garage instead of taking it out every day to commute to work. And so, yes, I think there's definitely a market for this.
HOCHBERG: Clay Richardson is considering buying one of the renovated homes. With his wife and two children, he now lives in a suburban golf course community in a four-bedroom house with the typical new home amenities.
Mr. CLAY RICHARDSON: See, you can see the backyard there. We actually have some mountain views back here.
HOCHBERG: Richardson says they're willing to give up their big master suite and granite countertops in exchange for a less hectic lifestyle.
Mr. RICHARDSON: We understand the tradeoffs. But a lot of days, I'm getting home at, you know, 8:00-8:30, and the children are in bed. I almost always eat by myself, and we're looking to spend more time with family.
HOCHBERG: The Phoenix area has seen a handful of other housing projects start to come up near the new light rail line, which so far has attracted more riders than its planners had projected. But most of that housing takes the form of more traditional, newly built condos or apartments. The idea of doing green renovations to foreclosed homes is one that's rarely been tried in any city, and one that will be tested when the Phoenix developers put the first of their older inner city houses on the market next week.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News.
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