(Crystal A. Proxmire, 9/25/2011)
Optimism was the word of the day as those involved in the commercial real estate business gathered inside the recently-re-purposed Valentine Vodka facility to talk about how to get keep the Ferndale marketplace moving.
The Fifth Annual Commercial Property Showcase took place on Thursday, Sept. 22 and featured 25 retail, commercial, office and industrial spaces available throughout the city. There were also two guest speakers, along with Ferndale Area Chamber Director Jennifer Roosenberg who talked about how to best present a property to prospective buyers.
Attendees, particularly the real estate agents and bankers present, seemed excited about the market. Caryn Pengelly, an Associate Partner of CORE Partners in Birmingham, said “It’s a good time to buy, and Ferndale is changing. Now that you’re getting anchor stores and restaurants there will be more and more small businesses filling in.”
She added “People are down about the economy, but nobody is reporting what great opportunities there are out there. The real estate market has turned around, and people are buying again.”
Independent builder Roger Burghdoff said that for about two years there was no work, but that suddenly people are investing again in improving homes and business space. In addition to wanting to learn more about building opportunities, Burghdoff says he is looking to move his office to the Ferndale area. “The biggest problem I see is that there are a lot of older buildings that just don’t meet the needs of today’s businesses. We have more technology needs. And we need the zoning to be right, and a lot of these industrial areas need to be re-zoned for mixed use. It all can happen, but it means everybody’s got to be working together.”
The Commercial Property Showcase is one way that many involved in real estate come together to promote the city to developers. The Chamber hosts the event, but the Downtown Development Authority and the City of Ferndale get involved as well. The DDA is currently looking to expand their TIF [Tax Increment Financing] area to gain more tax revenue to be used in promoting the Downtown, and they were on hand to give information about properties that fall in their area and the potential expansion. Ferndale’s new Community Development Director Dereck Delacourt was there to answer questions about processes within the city. Maureen Krause is the Director of Economic Development for Oakland County. She presented information about changes in grant funding available from the State. And Tom Wackerman of ASTI Environmental spoke about Brownfield Redevelopment potential.
MAKING PROPERTY LOOK APPEALING
Roosenberg had twelve years’ experience in real estate before coming to work for the Chamber, working mainly in Oakland County including Ferndale. She started off the Showcase by giving property sellers tips on how to make their buildings more appealing.
“Some of the most effective fix ups are also the cheapest,” she said. Things like removing outside clutter, pulling weeds, and making sure light bulbs work can have a big impact. “Walk through the property as a potential buyer would. …When little things aren’t taken care of there is an automatic assumption that you’re not maintaining the building.”
She also suggested adding flowers, cleaning the windows, looking for ways to open up and maximize light, painting in bright neutral colors, and removing or painting over out-dated wood paneling.
Another essential tip for preparing a building to show is banishing the bad smells.
“Have someone else come in and take a whiff. They may notice smells that you are used to.” Roosenberg said that a lot of older buildings smell moldy or musty, or they give away what the property was used for before. She also said that if there is mold, a good cleaning can not only make or break the sale, it can also prevent having a buyer flee due to allergies or an asthma attack.
Another factor in the buyer’s first impression is how the photo looks in the listing. Whether online or in print, a real estate listing should have a clear, positive photo. She suggested using a wide-angle lens to get better depth in photography and make the room look bigger. She also said photos should be taken when details of the building aren’t blocked out by shadows or washed out with too much light.
One more trick she shared with the audience was how to “stage” a building. Though a big empty space has endless potential, it can help if an agent puts items in the area that help a potential visualize a workspace. Adding desks, pictures, floor lamps, mirrors, chairs, plants and other simple fixtures can give the space character and get a potential buyer thinking of the possibilities.
INCENTIVES, LOANS AND OTHER ASSISTANCE
Oakland County Economic Development Director Maureen Krause educated Commercial Property Showcase attendees about the services offered by the County for those interested in real estate. She also discussed changes at the State level that affect the opportunities for investors in this area.
She said that because Oakland County has “a very robust small business community,” the County provides services to help. “We want our small businesses to succeed,” Krause said. “We want them to make smart business decisions and find customers. Once you identify customers it’s a lot easier to get funding.” She said they offer demographic information, mapping and research for companies, as well as information about grant and incentive programs.
Krause addressed concerns over changes that are taking place in how the State allocates grant money and loans to small businesses under the Snyder administration. “I have worked with the Governor on revamping incentives. There is some uncertainty in terms of what programs are available. At the heart of it, Governor Snyder is an entrepreneur… He really believes in small business growth.” Krause said that the State programs will focus less on tax breaks and more on up-front financial support to businesses. She said funding will be available to businesses to help fund marketing efforts and costs associated with re-purposing aged real estate for contemporary business use.
“The reality is if you can re-use an existing space, the State is more likely to incentivize it,” Krause said.
In addition to State incentives, business owners can look at programs offered through DTE to encourage energy-efficiency improvements. Oakland County also helps facilitate microloans to those investing in their own businesses.
Tom Wackerman of ASTI Environmental spoke further about how incentives work, especially for those who might consider buying property that could use some modernizing.
Brownfield Redevelopment funding has helped businesses renovate older buildings throughout the State. But the Brownfield Tax Credit was eliminated from the State Budget earlier this year. Wackerman said that funding has diminished, but hasn’t gone away completely. The Michigan Business Development and Michigan Community Revitalization Programs have up to $10 million available for businesses that are “creating qualified new jobs and making new investments in Michigan.” He explained that Michigan is divided into ten regions and that projects must start at a local level and work their way up through a County and then a regional level before funding will be approved.
“With the changes in incentives, the cities must be involved,” he said. “It’s a new system where locals have to go to bat for you before a project will be considered.”
Valentine Vodka, at 161 Vester, is one of many local examples where an old building was re-purposed for a modern business. Once an old pool table manufacturing facility, Valentine Vodka is now home to a micro-distillery and speak-easy-style tasting room for Ferndale-hand-crafted vodka. The site was chosen for the Commercial Property Showcase because of the way the renovations kept much of the building’s character intact, and also because it changes locations each year. (Last year’s was at Dinos, read about it here.)
The Commercial Property Showcase introduced potential buyers to 25 properties throughout the City. This is the first year that the large space at Woodward and Nine Mile, once known as the Old Navy building, was not included in the listing. This Ferndale property became a success story when it was transformed into The Rust Belt, a weekend artist’s market.
Among those presented this year were the old VFW Hall at 177 Vester, mixed use offices and loft space at 360 Hilton, the OLHSA office building at 345 E. Nine Mile and the old Mother Fletcher’s storefront at 234 W. 9 Mile.
The largest offering by far is the 143,801 square foot industrial and office complex of 660 E. 10 Mile. This property has frontage on I-696 and access to the CN rail line, and contains multiple docks and 21 separate parcels of land. It is being shown by Scavone Property Solutions of Royal Oak, and it has a price tag of $1,300,000.
To learn more about Oakland County’s Economic Development go to www.globaloakland.com. And for more on ASTI Environmental, visit them at www.asti-env.com. For more information about purchasing property in Ferndale or about services offered by the Chamber, check out http://www.ferndalechamber.com.