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VOL. 36 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 21, 2012

Brittle finds his niche playing real estate infill

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Over the past few years, many have noticed homes being “scraped,” or bulldozed, to make way for new construction. In 2007, as the market plummeted in its pre-recession implosion, these teardowns, as they were known, seemed to have lost their luster as banks were no longer lending money to builders who wanted to demolish their collateral.

One person undeterred by the recession and the tighter lending restrictions was John Brittle, now of Village Real Estate Services and the founder InfillNashville, an entity he created.

After 21 years in the residential real estate industry, Brittle noticed Nashville could never accomplish smart growth in residential real estate while working with the current business model, that model being that there was no model.

Brittle was determined there was a better mousetrap, even if he had to design and build it. He worked with Metro Zoning and became a student of the codes while developing relationships with Metro Council members who wanted to improve their respective districts.

His research led him to found InfillNashville, a group that develops lots within current developments rather than obliterating perfectly good cow pastures with Monopoly board-type housing.

With his newfound knowledge melding with the institutional base he had absorbed from years in real estate, Brittle had found a niche. And when Brittle has a niche, he scratches it.

He began to develop infill lots all across Nashville by identifying vacated properties that had been uninhabited for years, as well as neglected owner occupied properties. Even with the recession upon him, he did not stray from his mission and the city is a better place for it.

Such success could not be achieved from a person lacking confidence, and Brittle possesses an abundance of self-esteem, even going so far as placing signs stating “If you don’t buy this week, the prices are going up.”

Holding true to his word, the prices on the unsold inventory were adjusted upward and sold at the higher price.

Brittle is familiar with all reputable builders in all the areas, as well as the scalawags. After locating a prospective lot, he determines the maximum and best use, many times placing two homes on one lot, and markets the properties to his construction coterie. The group resembles a nest of hungry baby robins when their mother returns with a mouthful of worms, all bobbing for best.

Of course stringent lending guidelines have taken a toll, as a number of the infant robins fell hopelessly from their nests crashing onto the hard ground below.

Last week, one construction company that has survived regaled a group of Realtors with tales from the vault.

A story was told of one bank that had loaned the firm funds to construct 72 houses over the past few years. Payments had never been late and all projects had been completed on time. Many in attendance gave collective amens since they had worked with this group.

The firm was informed by the bank that it would not be able to continue the relationship, citing new federal regulations as the culprit. If the new regulations prohibit banks from working with profitable clients and customers, it seems profitability will be reduced.

Then, the builder told of his new banking relationship that required 20 percent down on the lot price, a number that seems reasonable, then 20 percent more based on the sales price of the home – not the loan amount, the sales price. Since this builder has a 30-year track record, he agreed and had plenty of cash reserves after his first loan. As the market improved, he had two additional sales and went back to the bank. The lender agreed to do the new loans under the existing terms.

An example of the finances of this could be as follows. A lot sells for $350,000 for a house that will eventually sell for $1.3 million. In this case, the builder would be required to pay $70,000 down for the loan to acquire the land, then an additional $260,000 for the loan to build the house, or $330,000 down, even though the materials and labor plus the lot would not reach the sales price of the home. In this example, the bank would be holding $330,000 on each of the three houses, or $990,000 total.

While not releasing exact numbers, these must be close since the builder told those present that he had been contracted to build yet a fourth house. After submitting the loan application for approval, the loan officer called in a panic. He had been called on the carpet.

“Mr. Builder, your first loan application, you said that your company had $1 million in reserve. Where is it?” he shrieked.

“I gave it all to you.” He retorted. “You’re holding it.”

“Whew!” the embattled lender sighed.

The Sales of the Week

The sales of the week are of the InfillNashville variety, though John Brittle is neither the listing nor the selling agent.

The first is 937B Caldwell Lane and sold for $665,000 and sold by Sherry Welch of Realty Trust Residential. The home consists of 3,807 square feet with five bedrooms and three full baths plus a powder room.

Sale No. 2 occurred at 1120A Biltmore Drive in Green Hills, had slightly more square feet with 3,930 and fetched more money with a $739,000 price tag placed upon it by Anthony Tavakoli of Blue Sky Properties. Rebekah Byrd of the Wilson Group delivered, yet again, the buyer.

The shouse has four bedrooms, three baths and two half baths, which, as you know, does not make a whole.

Anthony described the house as having 10- and 20-foot ceilings, screened porch with a fireplace and an Energy Star rating.

Then there is the omnipresent Chris Harwell of Ray Tarkington, REALTORS who listed 2012A Galbraith Drive for $679,000 and sold it to Aaron Armstrong’s buyer for $675,000 after only 55 days on the market. This house boasts 4,148 square feet with four bedrooms and three and a-half baths.

Richard Courtney is a partner with Christianson, Patterson, Courtney and Associates and can be reached at richard@richardcourtney.com.

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