Friday, October 27, 2006

On Our Block

On Our Block

I really don't understand house prices and how they are recorded.

Sometimes, searching on CitiMortgage's free but login required Home Price Check service gets you very different results than what displays on either Geo St. Louis or the City Assessor's Database.

For example, there's one two-family down the street from ours, that's 14-square-feet smaller than ours and has no garage. Here are some recent alleged sale prices for that property:

10/2003: $98,500
12/2004: $105,000
02/2006: $89,811
05/2006: $68,000

The only building permit I can find for it is from 06/06/06 (hmmmm), completed 08/30/06. It says "Interior Alterations (Drywall) per plans." Estimated Cost: $100.00.

This property (located, of course, in 63118) is owned by somebody with a 63116 ZIP code, the area generally west of Grand, east of Kingshighway, and south of Arsenal.

But some of the property owners on our block are even more remote.

Next door to our house, the owners live in Florissant. Up the other way on opposite sides of the street, you'll find several South County owners, and one from Kirkwood. Head back the other way, and you'll find owner addresses in Atlanta, and Orlando (VA, a sadly recent foreclosure). Ther are even a few property owners who live elsewhere in 63118, 63104, and (believe it or not) 63106.

Throw in a church and a mid-block commercial complex, and our block consists of a couple dozen parcels with a couple dozen owners, less than half of whom actually live there. Still, that's better than some nearby blocks loaded with four-families with little to no owner-occupancy. And at least most of the buildings are occupied (right now, anyway).

The best thing about our block really is how heavily two-family it is. There's only two four-families on the block. That keeps the density at a moderate level. And since several of the two-families are now effectively single-families, it offers an affordable way to get a little more square-footage.

Some property owners, of course, do not provide legitimate addresses, simply claiming they reside at the property. If you just match up the owner address with the property address, it may appear there's a pretty high owner-occupancy rate. But that's not quite accurate.

At the same time, you may miss some whose postal address and property record address do not match up 100%. Ours would fall in that category, as for a while I was insistent on putting "2nd Fl" on all mail, to make sure our mail was placed in the upstairs mailbox. Even if we used just "A" for the unit number though, that would make it appear (again, just doing a simple matching exercise) our house was not owner-occupied.

In some ways, this represents a microcosm of the property ownership data problems that occur citywide. And these problems can stymie economic and community development, not to mention urban planning efforts.

In relatively new suburbs, where the vast majority of homes are single-family, one-building-per-lot, and owner-occupied, these challenges are much less daunting.

In a big, complex city, with many layers of historical development and even more layers of historical property ownership, these difficulties can seem insurmountable.


Hilary said...


My NSO mentioned at our last neighborhood meeting (Gravois Park) that it's a good idea to write down any phone #s on "for rent" signs as they go up. Just in case issues arise in the future.

She's trying hard to find absentee landlords when there are problems, and is coming up with goofy information like you are.

But chances are the #s on the "for rent" signs are legit ... they want to rent these places out.

Anonymous said...

Some price listings are based on how much you insure the property for. This could be why the same properties could very in price. But still, it is confusing trying to get an exact fix on how much someone paid.