Do you know how cool of a place Olde Towne East is?
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All the credit goes to Jim Weiker. He does his job for the Dispatch. Been reading him for years. He is semi educated about the Columbus market, so take this with a grain of salt.
Last year, Scott Blodgett and Tom House paid $47,000 for an 1,800-square-foot three-story home in the Olde Towne East neighborhood.
A block down the street, a slightly smaller home is now listed for $204,000.
The houses were in vastly different states of repair when they were put on the market, and they illustrate what might be the craziest real-estate market in central Ohio.
“I can’t think of any other area of Columbus that has gone through the ups and downs and fits and starts and has such a wide range of housing prices,” said Bill Uttley, a veteran central Ohio appraiser who owns Columbus Appraisal and Consulting.
With its proximity to Downtown and housing stock that rivals Victorian Village, Olde Towne East has been touted as the up-and-coming neighborhood for years.
But with every rise seems to come a fall. People who bought houses in the neighborhood a decade ago when Olde Towne was hot watched their values plummet with the housing crash. The home for which Blodgett and House paid $47,000 had sold six years earlier for $109,000.
But now, boosters say, the neighborhood is finally — and securely — back on track.
Helping drive interest in Olde Towne is a string of new businesses.
In the past four years, the Angry Baker, Yellow Brick Pizza, the Tavern, L’appat Patisserie & Cafe, Upper Cup Coffee, Corner Stone beer and wine shop, and the AWOL bar have opened in the heart of the neighborhood, between Bryden Road and Broad Street.
Main Street is also yielding investment, both public and private, including a Family Dollar store being built at Main Street and Ohio Avenue.
“Now, we have commercial spots,” said Jen Lynch, who bought a home in Olde Towne with her husband, Bret Thompson, five years ago. “That creates a huge anchor. Before, we were just a collection of houses.”
The commercial activity, much of it centered on Oak and 18th streets, draws outsiders in addition to residents.
“It’s become sort of a cool place to be,” said Tom Lininger, a lawyer who has lived in the neighborhood since 2005. “I go to Yellow Brick and the bakery and the Tavern occasionally, and you see a lot of foot traffic now in the neighborhood.”
Olde Towne boosters also point to sale prices — big ones.
The neighborhood — bordered by I-71 on the west, I-70 on the south and Long Street on the north, and stretching as far east as Miller Avenue — has recorded more than a dozen home sales above $250,000 and a handful north of $300,000 in the past two years.
Yet for every turn-of-the-century restored gem along Bryden Road and Franklin Avenue is a crumbling, neglected rental selling for a fraction of the price, especially south of Main Street and east of Champion Avenue.
“You have extremes of upkeep,” said Tom Francis Jr., vice president of Real Property Analysts in Columbus.
“Some homes can be demos and some completely renovated. . . . It’s not just the condition but the extent of the renovation and materials. You can have two renovated homes. One might be just production materials; the other might be all custom.”
This year alone, Olde Towne homes have fetched from $5,000 for a neglected rental to $389,000 for a renovated five-bedroom home.
Such a range can make it tricky to finance homes in the neighborhood because of the difficulty of finding comparable properties, say appraisers and residents.
“When I refinanced a few years ago, it was hard to find comps,” Lininger said. “Some homes were selling at a good price, and others not so good. . . . It’s a hard neighborhood to appraise.”
Although several large restored homes in Olde Towne are listed for more than $300,000, plenty of fixer-uppers can be found for less than $40,000.
“There’s unreal opportunity here because there’s a lot of empty real estate — and I do mean empty,” said Alex Macke, a real-estate agent with Carriage Trade Realty who lives in the neighborhood.
Tom House, who lived in Olde Towne for 30 years before buying a home with Blodgett, said fixer-uppers were once far more common.
“It used to be three or four on a block that were done, and then you’d have five or six homes that were shells,” he said. “It’s reversing totally right now. The foreclosed homes, the short sales, the shell homes, are getting farther and farther in between.”
Not surprisingly, the online listing service Zillow shows a bumpy ride for Olde Towne home values.
The average home value peaked at $112,000 in late 2005 before dropping to $76,000 six years later and climbing to $89,000 today, according to Zillow. Although the overall pattern is similar to the rest of central Ohio’s, the ride contains far more peaks and valleys.
Uttley and others point out that the development pattern in Victorian Village and German Village was much more consistent than in Olde Towne.
“Once it began to go, it stayed on a steady path,” Uttley said. “Olde Towne East has not enjoyed that type of continual and upward movement.”
Locals say they don’t want the neighborhood to become another Victorian Village or German Village, which are out of the reach of many buyers.
“It’s not been gentrified,” said Becky Karppalawho has owned a home in Olde Towne with her husband, Sam, for almost a decade. “It’s diverse, and I hope it stays that way.”
Residents take pride in Olde Towne’s alternative vibe.
An annual community yard sale is a big neighborhood event, and the most popular weekend destination is a chicken spot (Hot Chicken Takeover) that operates out of the neighborhood co-op (Near East Side Cooperative Market).
At the same time, residents such as Karppala are glad to see some stability.
“When we moved here, that house was empty, and that one and that one,” she said while pointing at houses from her Franklin Avenue porch. “Now, they’re all occupied.”
By the time House and Blodgett acquired their house in a short sale after months of bank negotiations, it had sat empty and was in serious need of attention.
They spent half a year gutting it, putting in new floors, a new kitchen and a new bathroom, and finishing the third floor.
They’re glad they did.
“We love this neighborhood,” Blodgett said. “Everybody is awesome.”