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Commercial Real Estate

Want investment in your neighborhoods? Get out of the way!

Huge obstacle for commercial brokers: people

As brokers struggle to sell commercial properties one of the must frustrating obstacles we see over and over again is locals (citizens, municipalities, local government entities) getting in our way. Even when we succeed at finding a buyer (hurdle 1) and securing financing (big hurdle 2) we are then frequently faced with local rules and regulations, the neighbors, or competing businesses who try to stop the sale.

NIMBYism alive & well

My good sale gone bad of the week involves a non-producing asset that I found a buyer for before the property even was officially marketed. Another broker listed a vacant firehouse that had shut down. The firehouse has debts on the books and no income coming in. The property is vacant and has been tax exempt for years and years. The city is not getting any income from it for taxes, and the building is in serious need of repair.

The structure has a water problem, roof issue, etc. It is located in a residential part of town, and a small playground sits on the parcel. The city was granted use of the playground by the fire company for years, but with nobody maintaing it there is garbage strewn about, broken beer bottles on the ground and it’s not a pretty sight.

All is going smoothly, then…

A small-time businessman, a wood worker by trade who buys a building here and there, renovates it and rents it out, is interested. He puts in a full price offer immediately and starts seeking tenants for office use.

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The fire company — that still has debts — accepts his offer. I find out later that several non-profits were offered the building at a price of less than HALF what this gentleman offers. All declined to buy it even at that “fire sale” price.

We need a variance for zoning. The parcel is zoned residential, but has been used by the firehouse for decades. The buyer puts up $750 to pay for the hearing, and talks to neighbors. He tells them he wants to use it as a small office, with low traffic.

He is not a slumlord. All of his properties are well kept, renovated to fit in with the neighborhoods, and he has an excellent reputation in town. He mentions he has no intention of removing the playground.

The citizens get wind of the “big bad developer” (did I mention he’s a small town woodworker?) who intends to tear up the neighborhood.

The citizens take to Facebook

A newspaper article mentions that the locals are upset. Another real estate agent is quoted that “a commercial property in the area will cause property values to decline.” A facebook fan page is started to “save our playground”, encouraging people to attend the hearing to protest.

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This block building will be useless if not renovated. It might as well be torn down. And if you think the fire hall — with the trucks, the noise, the catering and banquet hall facilities hosting weddings and parties — was quieter than a professional office will be, I challenge that thinking.

Would you rather have an insurance agency or law office in your neck of the woods or a firehouse and banquet hall?

Needless to say this is discouraging.

Property values are not in jeopardy. The playground won’t be torn down. Traffic will not increase so that their children are in danger and not able to play in the streets.

It’s been said this landlord has a solid reputation, but they worry if he sells to a “bad person” or someone with a shady business. Really? How can you or I control what happens after a sale? I could sell this property to a church and then they sell it to a massage parlor or tattoo shop, right? None of us can control that.

Revitalization or blight?

Would the citizens rather an abandoned block building with water issues and a decaying roof, debris filled playground or a renovated office building? Would the city rather zero taxes or a nice little sum on property taxes? An eyesore or an improvement to the block?

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People complain about absentee landlords and blight. Yet when faced with a local businessman who is willing to invest his money in a decaying old coal town, or leave it as “status quo” the citizens prefer to leave it as it is. Anyone trying to make a change is suspect.

We’ll go to the hearing and have our day in court. But as of now the frenzy of the public and negative press seems to be proclaiming victory. The money is spent, perhaps for nothing.

As long as locals don’t see the benefit that investment in their community will bring them, we’re doomed. This property has no other legal use. It will become vandalized and a hangout for the teenagers, instead of a profitable business. The investor loses his $750 and moves on to another opportunity. Next time, he might not take the risk in this town and he’ll move to a more friendly town looking for his investment dollars.

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Written By

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.



  1. Joe Manausa

    March 30, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Nice post Erica. For some reason, many people just don’t understand that hurting the value of a property near them hurts the value of their property. Amazing how “Your” property rights are not important, just “My” property rights matter.

  2. Jason

    March 30, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Thanks for the post. I am a big proponent of citizens voicing their concerns, but even a bigger advocate of acting with as much knowledge as possible. Not understanding the actual undertaking of the project, some of the neighbors may have felt a little uneasy, but I would encourage people do their homework in order to make a solid argument.

    Great post and perspective


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