Highways Give Way to Homes as Cities Rebuild

Libby March for The Wall Street Journal

ROCHESTER, N.Y.—On South Union Street, workers are putting the finishing touches on a new luxury apartment building. Nearby, a museum plans an expansion and new parking garage.

Not long ago, the land where all this construction is taking place was the Inner Loop, a six-lane sunken highway surrounding downtown. In 2014, the city embarked on a plan to bury part of the highway under a mountain of dirt and build a new neighborhood on top of it.

The result: $229 million in new investment, including 519 homes and 45,000 square feet of commercial space. Removing that section of highway has been so successful, officials say, they are now considering burying more of it.

In Rochester and several other American cities, some of the biggest highway infrastructure projects under consideration involve demolition rather than construction. Removals are being considered for stretches of highway in Detroit, Tampa, Fla., Baltimore and elsewhere. They are following in the footsteps of cities such as Portland, Ore., Milwaukee and Chattanooga, Tenn., all of which have removed highways.

The highways mostly date from the 1950s and 1960s, a time when urban planners envisioned a network of high-speed roads whisking people from suburban homes to downtown jobs. Many are part of the Interstate highway system, which was under construction in those years and today connects cities across the U.S. with nearly 47,000 miles of road.

In the process, highway builders swept aside established urban neighborhoods, many of which were predominantly African-American. Businesses soon followed their customers to the suburbs, leaving buildings abandoned.

The Strong Museum of Play, which showcases toy history, is expanding on the former highway area in Rochester, N.Y.

Libby March for The Wall Street Journal

The roads “cut out a huge part of the fabric of the city and they also encouraged the use of cars so they led to even more blight by requiring more space for parking,” said Norman Garrick, an engineering professor at the University of Connecticut.

Today, the trend is reversing. Revitalized city centers are drawing new residents and businesses. Some cities now see the highways as ugly concrete monoliths that divide neighborhoods and hinder efforts to create pedestrian-friendly spaces. The roads are also getting old. Maintaining them would cost more than officials are willing to spend.

New York state has been particularly active in removing outdated highways. Highway removals are under way in Niagara Falls and the Bronx, and future projects are being discussed in Syracuse and Buffalo.

In Rochester, a thriving downtown grew desolate following the completion of the Inner Loop in the 1960s, on land that had once held almost 1,300 homes, recalled Lovely Warren, the city’s mayor. “If you wanted to come down here it was to go to court or to transfer on the bus,” she said.

VIDA Rochester, a new luxury apartment complex, is being built on land that was once highway.

Libby March for The Wall Street Journal

In many cities the racial makeup of the neighborhoods determined where the highways would go.

“The freeways were put in to divide the black neighborhoods from the white neighborhoods or they were put straight through the center of the black neighborhoods and basically destroyed them,” Mr. Garrick said.

Knitting the neighborhoods back together poses its own challenges. In Rochester, the remaining section of the Inner Loop separates an affluent area of new townhouses from a lower-income neighborhood dotted with vacant lots.

For decades, the highway has served as a moat, keeping the two sides apart. Talk of removing it has sparked gentrification concerns.

“It’s not an evil thing, gentrification, but unless you’re prepared it can have a detrimental effect on the neighborhood,” said Tony Clyde Wilson, steward board president of the New Bethel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, which sits right next to the Inner Loop.

A group of residents on both sides of the highway has been trying to bridge the gap.

“You’re creating a new neighborhood that hasn’t existed in over 50 years,” said Shawn Dunwoody, an organizer. “We want people invested in shaping that area and making it happen.”

Organizer Shawn Dunwoody says of the Rochester rebuilding plans: ‘You’re creating a new neighborhood that hasn’t existed in over 50 years.’

Libby March for The Wall Street Journal

Highway teardowns could soon get some help from the federal government. In July, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee adopted a $287 billion transportation bill that creates a $120 million program to help fund highway removals.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.), who helped create the program, said he was motivated by Baltimore’s so-called Highway To Nowhere, a one-mile six-lane stretch originally intended to connect to Interstate 70 before it was abandoned.

“It’s like a big gash through West Baltimore,” Mr. Van Hollen said.

Officials considering ripping out downtown highways have had to convince residents that they won’t be stuck in endless traffic jams. Studies, including one by Mr. Garrick, have found that removing major roads didn’t noticeably worsen congestion because traffic spread across the existing street grid.

For cities, removing highways brings with it a significant prize: The ability to reclaim acres of developable land. Milwaukee gained almost 30 acres of prime downtown real estate after it demolished the Park East Freeway in 2002 and 2003. Since then, the area has seen about $1 billion in private investment, the city estimates.

“We’ve showed that when you take the highway out of the city it gets better. It’s that simple,” said Peter Park, who served as Milwaukee’s planning director at the time.

That experience has emboldened other big cities.

In Detroit, officials are considering removing Interstate 375, which paved over established black neighborhoods in the city’s core.

In Tampa, planners are studying removing a stretch of Interstate 275 that cut through the historic Tampa Heights neighborhood.

Beth Alden, president of the Hillsborough County planning organization, said officials were responding to requests from residents.

“They’ve asked do we have to have a Great Wall of Tampa? What if there were something better there?” she said.

A thriving downtown in Rochester grew desolate following the completion of the Inner Loop in the 1960s.

Libby March for The Wall Street Journal

The post Highways Give Way to Homes as Cities Rebuild appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

10 Tackiest Christmas Decor Items That Could Traumatize a Home Near You

Ho, ho, holy tacky Christmas! While there’s always room for a little kitsch this time of year, sometimes Christmas decor can cross the line into truly tacky territory.

Of course, the line between tacky and tasteful can be an awfully thin one, blurred by personal opinion, so we’re not judging (much). From their ugly sweaters to their crazy light displays, some people relish in taking tackiness to new seasonal heights, and that’s OK.

If you’re in that camp and are looking to add to your collection, we’ve rounded up some of the tackiest Christmas products ever for your consideration. The rest of you can just enjoy gawking in amazement that such things even exist.

1. Santa toilet-seat cover set

Sorry, Santa!

$13.99, Amazon

Toilet-seat covers in general make us cringe, but Santa’s face on this one ($13.99, amazon.com) takes it one unfortunate step further.

2. Christmas toilet paper

Oh crap! It’s Christmas toilet paper.

$4.45, Etsy

He sees you while you’re—um, just in case a Santa toilet-seat cover isn’t enough for you, you can wipe with holiday-themed toilet paper, too ($4.45, etsy.com).

3. Farting Santa ornament

Doesn’t Santa deserve some dignity?

$7.29, Amazon

And the sophisticated Christmas humor continues with this farting Santa ornament ($14.94, amazon.com).

4. Christmas car reindeer costume

Do car-stumes really have to be a thing?

$9.99, Walmart

Cars need gas, oil, and a new carburetor once in a while. What they don’t need: costumes ($9.99, walmart.com)!

5. Pooping reindeer

This reindeer poops at the push of a button. Hooray?

$19.99, Bed Bath & Beyond

Just when you think there can’t possibly be any more potty-themed Christmas items, along comes a pooping reindeer ($19.99, bedbathandbeyond.com).

6. Animated Santa kicker

Poor Santa.

$23.99, Bed Bath & Beyond

Talk about adding a kick to your Christmas tree. This pair of Santa’s legs ($29.99, bedbathandbeyond.com) kicks up and down, for an unsettling effect.

7. Toothy ornament

While visions of terrifying teeth danced in their heads…

$24.95, Etsy

The only saving grace here is that the Etsy seller states that “No real teeth were used in the making of the ornament” ($24.95, etsy.com).

8. Naughty talking gingerbread ornament

Run, run as fast as you can from this one!

$11.95, Amazon

You’re definitely going on the naughty list if you put this gingerbread man ($16.94, amazon.com) on your tree. It talks too, uttering four phrases we can’t repeat here.

9. Poop ornaments

Because why?

$8.99, Walmart

The fact that these “tree turd danglers” ($8.99, walmart.com) come in a set of four makes them even worse… isn’t just one enough?

10. ‘Christmas Story’ leg lamp

Let your tackiness shine bright!

$59.99, Walmart

Last but not least, if you want to go the traditional route with your tackiness, you can’t go wrong with this leg lamp ($59.99, walmart.com) inspired by the holiday classic “A Christmas Story.”

The post 10 Tackiest Christmas Decor Items That Could Traumatize a Home Near You appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Affordable Mansions?! Top 10 Cities Where Big Homes Sell for Small Sums


Much like “jumbo shrimp,” “civil war,” or “working vacation,” the phrase “affordable mansion” seems the most moronic of oxymorons. But we’re here to tell you: It’s a real thing! Contrary to popular belief, buying a great big house of your own does not require a winning Mega Millions ticket or fat trust fund. You just need to look in the right places.

That’s why the trusty data team at realtor.com® sussed out the cities where buyers can score an affordable, large home clocking in at 5,000 square feet and above. Just don’t hold your breath waiting to snag a massive place in Seattle’s Laurelhurst neighborhood, or Manhattan’s Upper East Side. No, you’ll need to set your sights a bit farther off the (glam) beaten path.

“A mansion in Alabama is going to be very different from a mansion in Beverly Hills,” says Michael Corbett, author and TV host of Extra’s “Mansions and Millionaires.” “The difference is how they’re defined. In smaller cities, [a mansion is] big room count and square footage. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Manhattan, it’s amenities: the indoor spa, the wine cellar, and all that stuff.”

As long as buyers stay away from the costly coasts, there are plenty of reasonably priced, extra-large houses available in the Midwest and South—where land and construction costs are cheaper and housing demand less frantic. There are also one-time industrial powerhouse cities that have plenty of historic mansions, once owned by local titans of industrial, for sale.

To find out where buyers can get the most mansion for their moolah, we searched for the cities with the most affordable homes* of 5,000 square feet or larger on realtor.com. They had to have at least 100 mansion listings to be included in our ranking,** and we limited our list to just one city per state to achieve geographic diversity.

So have you found yourself daydreaming about that ultimate luxury in real estate: space? Let’s go find your giant dream home.

Where to score the cheapest mansions

Tony Frenzel

1. Dayton, OH

Median mansion price: $629,000

Mansion in Dayton, OH


Dayton was booming in the mid-19th century, as one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Ohio. It was a center for industries ranging from publishing to airplanes. And the local titans of industry built grand homes on the north side of the city to match their success.

“That old money built the mansions in North Dayton,” says local real estate agent Kunal N. Patel, of Coldwell Banker Heritage Realtors. Today, buyers “can get a lot of bang for their buck in Dayton.”

North Dayton, which is near the city’s newly thriving downtown, offers some serious deals for those who want old-world character for a steal. Buyers can find sprawling mansions like the landmark Hook estate, a 9,000-square-foot ornate Tudor with seven bedrooms on 3 acres of English gardens for just $399,900.

That’s not a typo.

Folks looking for a palace of their own aren’t limited to North Dayton. From the opulent 1980s up until the auto industry started to leave town in the early 2000s, executives were erecting McMansions in South Dayton and the close-in suburb of Kettering, OH. As a result, buyers can pick up a five-bedroom modern Tudor or a traditional-style, seven-bedroom home in the mid-$400,000 to $600,000.

And these deals are attracting locals as well as folks working in Cincinnati, who don’t mind a roughly 55-mile commute each way.

“Why buy 5,000 square feet in [Cincinnati] that’ll cost you $1 million, when you can get the same place for $600,000?” asks Patel.

2. Indianapolis, IN

Median mansion price: $679,000

Four-bedroom Queen Anne in Indianapolis


Those looking for a mansion in Indianapolis should head to the Old Northside of the city’s revitalized downtown. The neighborhood is full of stately Victorians and Tudors with gorgeous slate roofs on half-acre plots built by transportation industry bigwigs, natural gas money, and pharmaceutical pioneers such as Eli Lilly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But be warned: It can be tough to find mansions in the desirable, historic area for close to the median price of $679,000. To get five bedrooms in this walkable neighborhood, many folks are willing to fork over $1 million—or more. This stately five-bedroom, 3.5-bath home clocks in at just over 9,000 square feet for $975,000.

Nearby in the thriving Herron-Morton Place neighborhood, buyers can pick up a 5,000-square-foot, four-bedroom Queen Anne with a finished attic for just $529,900. Corporate executives from companies such as Pfizer and Dow Chemicals snap these sprawling homes up when they move to town.

“If they’re coming from somewhere in the Northeast, you’re not getting anything like that square footage for the price,” says local real estate broker Melanie Scheetz, of Century 21.

3. Louisville, KY

Median mansion price: $765,000

Louisville neoclassical Colonial home


Savvy buyers can earn some serious bragging rights by finding a home on Millionaires Row. The street is located in historic Old Louisville, home to the movers and shakers of the Victorian era.

Due to the city’s strategic location at the falls of the Ohio River, the city started to boom in the early 1800s with the advent of the steamboat. It became a major commercial center and the largest city in Kentucky, prospering for a century.

The area saw a decline in the early to mid-20th century, which means some of the sprawling, century-old mansions are in need of some costly repairs. But Old Louisville is on its way back up, newly popular with local college students and young professionals.

Today buyers can pick up homes right on Millionaires Row for a steal, including this five-bedroom, Italianate-style Victorian for $709,000. It comes with a three-story, curving staircase, a two-story carriage house, and a pond on the property. Meanwhile, those willing to trade (quite a bit of) elbow grease for a deal, may want to consider this seven-bedroom, neoclassical Colonial for just $325,000.

4. Allentown, PA

Median mansion price: $768,820

Allentown, PA


Like many of the other cities on the list, Allentown’s economy was thriving in the early 20th century. Everything from steel and silk to cigars and parlor furniture was produced in the Rust Belt metropolis. And those who owned these businesses constructed sprawling Victorian and Craftsman homes in the West End near the 1908 public park.

But the past few decades haven’t been kind to Allentown. Multiple plants were shuttered; Bethlehem Steel, at one time the country’s second-largest steel producer, closed in 1995. As folks left the city to find work elsewhere, home buyers disappeared and prices dropped. That’s left plenty of once-grand mansions sorely in need of repair on the market in the $400,000 to $500,000 range.

Better maintained mansions in the historic area, the West End, cost a bit more, including this six-bedroom mansion for $720,000. The impressive home boasts a marble foyer, a charming solarium, and a courtyard out back.

That may sound like a lot for a city that’s just starting to come back, thanks to a slew of new jobs from companies like Amazon and Walmart. But it’s a steal compared with prices in Philadelphia and New York City, which are both less than two hours away.

5. Hartford, CT

Median mansion price: $799,900

Tudor home in Hartford, CT


Connecticut’s state capital has seen its share of struggles in recent years, losing some long-term employers and struggling to attract new startups and a younger workforce. The city’s population has declined 1.7% since 2010.

But in another era, the wealthy magnates of Hartford’s insurance businesses and firearms maker Colt built palatial New England–style homes a short horse ride from what was a thriving downtown. Full of ornate details like milled gumwood paneling, intricate crown moldings, and Italian marble fireplaces, these lovely places cost a mint in their heyday.

Now, buyers who can afford the steep property tax rates (the state has among the highest in the country) can enjoy the splendor of these old estates. More than a century old, this seven-bedroom Colonial offers crystal chandeliers, heated marble floors, and an outdoor kitchen and entertainment center for just $549,900. It’s located in the city’s tony West End.

Meanwhile, this eight-bedroom Tudor Revival, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and sitting near the governor’s residence, is on the market for just shy of $450,000.

“We’re starting to get back some people from high-wealth areas like California that are moving back,” says Amy Chorew, vice president of Learning Better Homes & Gardens Realty. “We’re seeing these houses come to life again.”

6. Wichita, KS

Median mansion price: $844,000

Wichita, KS seven-bedroom


Those looking for a spacious home don’t have to limit themselves to just one small swath of this city. Large homes and mansions are just about everywhere, says local real estate broker Cynthia Carnahan, of ReeceNichols Real Estate.

Newer, oversize homes are available in neighborhoods such as Wilson Estates. Older residences built over the past few decades are in Country Place Estates, Foliage, and Vickridge. And some of the grand, century-old abodes in College Hill are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Buyers can score this 7,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom brick house on three-quarters of an acre in the gated Foliage community for $775,000. It features a rec room with a fireplace and wet bar, a game room, and covered deck and patio.

Folks who don’t mind a little bit of a commute can head 25 minutes east to Flint Hills National, a community centered around the national golf club of the same name, in Andover, KS.

“You can find lots of houses at 5,000 square foot for less than $1 million,” says Carnahan. “We’re one of the best deals for real estate in the country.”

7. Tulsa, OK

Median mansion price: $849,900

Tulsa, OK estate


Tulsa’s most expensive homes are often located in the southern portion of the city, where newly built, 20,000-square-foot megamansions can go for $6 million or more. But those looking for a bargain may want to hit the city’s historic Midtown, Philbrook (near the Philbrook Museum of Art), and Utica Square neighborhoods instead.

Midtown is filled with Colonial, traditional, and art deco homes built in the 1920s and 1930s for the city’s richest oil families. Tulsa was known as the “Oil Capital of the World” for much of the 20th century, after all.

“A lot of the most celebrated art deco architects came to Tulsa and built houses here,” says local real estate agent John Sawyer, of Chinowth & Cohen.

Larger homes start around $750,000 and go up into the multimillions. This renovated estate with an in-ground pool and pool house is listed for $799,000.

Other popular areas for those with means are walkable Philbrook and Utica Square. Homes of all sizes in these areas start at $400,000 and can go up past $7.5 million, Sawyer says.

“You can sometimes snag a house in these neighborhoods for $500,000 next to $3.5 million mansions,” he says.

8. Chattanooga, TN

Median mansion price: $849,900

Chattanooga, TN


Like Nashville, about two hours northwest, Chattanooga has been experiencing a growth spurt. Unemployment is low, incomes are up, and home prices are steadily rising as well thanks to the expansions of companies like Volkswagen and Amazon in the area. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still bargains to be found on large homes.

Many of the higher-end homes are located in Northshore, North Chattanooga, and Dallas Heights with some of the fanciest of the bunch offering views of the Tennessee River. But buyers looking for truly affordable estates may want to try Browns Ferry Landing, where they can find a five-bedroom, English Tudor with river frontage for $895,000, just 12 minutes from the city center.

The artsy suburb of Signal Mountain is another good bet for those who don’t mind leaving the city limits. The town has lots of hiking trails, open-air theater productions, and bluegrass concerts—as well as large homes. This six-bedroom, 4.5-bath home perched on a mountain offering views from a covered porch is on the market for $845,500.

9. Atlanta, GA

Median mansion price: $850,000

Atlanta mansion


Unlike many of the other cities on this list, Atlanta is far from a struggling city on the upswing. The “New York of the South” is booming, with more homes being built on its outskirts. That means mansion shoppers on a budget may need to forgo a big house in the tony Buckhead neighborhood and look on the edges of this 134-square-mile city.

To get inside the Interstate Highway 285 loop, buyers can find large, traditional homes under $900,000 in suburban-feeling areas like Underwood Hills and Hanover West. Space seekers may like this five-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom traditional home on a private cul-de-sac with trails leading to the local tennis club for $799,000.

There’s more to choose from on the northern and southern ends of the city, in neighborhoods such as Sandy Springs and Dunwoody to the north and Beacon Hills to the south. This seven-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot residence in Dunwoody is listed for $625,000.

10. Little Rock, AR

Median mansion price: $875,000

Little Rock mansion


In the late 1980s, Chip Murphy of Murphy Oil Soap fame took 7,000 acres of farm and timber land surrounding Shinall Mountain to develop a country club subdivision called Chenal. It now boasts some of the more luxurious homes (which can be found for a steal) in Little Rock as well as two championship golf courses, pools, and a retail promenade.

Buyers can find deals on palatial homes in the area. And there’s no shortage of reasonably priced land available here for those who’d like to be involved in the design of their dream homes.

That’s why this elegantly landscaped five-bedroom home with a small waterfall is on the market for $625,000. Those who really want a lot of space may prefer this 6,200-square-foot house, which comes with a game room and three-car garage and is spacious enough for two kitchen islands.

“Mansions built five, 10, 20 years ago are selling for next to nothing, because there’s so much land in Little Rock,” says iRealty Arkansas real estate broker Chase Rackley. “We have so many million-dollar homes selling for $800,000 to $1.3 million that 10 years ago were easily worth $1.5 million to $2.5 million.”

* Price for homes of 5,000 square feet or more

** Data is as of Aug. 31, 2019.

The post Affordable Mansions?! Top 10 Cities Where Big Homes Sell for Small Sums appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.