Thursday, May 17, 2001

Home buyers look outward, fuel suburbs

By John Eckberg and John Byczkowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At the age of 33, Eileen Cassidy became a trend-buster.

        A nurse with a solid credit history, Ms. Cassidy is a first-time home buyer who moved into Cincinnati from Cheviot when she bought a $91,000 house in West Price Hill this spring.

[photo] Eileen Cassidy, 33, decided to buy here first home in a city neighborhood. She and Bailey moved into a house in West Price Hill.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
| ZOOM |
        Though figures from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate suburban areas in Greater Cincinnati have seen record numbers of houses built and rising rates of home ownership, Ms. Cassidy is among those who picked a city neighborhood.

        She likes the proximity to downtown, the charm and the affordability of her starter house.

        All are qualities that experts think will help aging cities and towns compete with the allure of new subdivisions and wide open spaces, which are becoming increasingly congested with cars, trucks and people.

        “This house is solid. It's been here for 80 years. There are gaslights out front. I have a Rookwood fireplace. You'd pay $170,000 to buy this house someplace else,” she said.

    The 10 places with the biggest increases and decreases in housing units
Biggest increases
Wilder ....... 397.9%
   Ryland Heights ....... 255.2%
   Union ....... 179.9%
   Maineville ....... 130.8%
   Liberty Twp. ....... 128.0%
   Crescent Springs ....... 96.0%
   Springboro ....... 93.4%
   Mason ....... 89.8%
   Hamilton Twp. ....... 77.6%
   Newtown ....... 62.3%
Biggest decreases
Lemon Twp. ....... 22.2%
   Neville ....... 22.2%
   Visalia ....... 21.5%
   Melbourne ....... 19.6%
   Latonia Lakes ....... 18.4%
   Arlington Heights ....... 16.4%
   Chilo ....... 15.8%
   Addyston ....... 7.7%
   Lockland ....... 7.5%
   Elmwood Place ....... 6.2%
The 10 places in the Tristate with the highest proportion of homeowners:
   Crestview ....... 95.8%
   Amberley Village ....... 94.9%
   Evendale ....... 94.2%
   California ....... 92.6%
   Edgewood ....... 92.2%
   Indian Hill ....... 92.1%
   Union ....... 92.0%
   Hanover Twp. ....... 91.4%
   Terrace Park ....... 90.9%
   Liberty Twp. ....... 90.4%
The 10 places in the Tristate with the highest proportion of renters
   Oxford ....... 64.2%
   Lincoln Heights ....... 58.6%
   Oxford Twp. ....... 58.3%
   Owensville ....... 54.9%
   Cincinnati ....... 54.4%
   Felicity ....... 51.4%
   Newport ....... 49.7%
   Mount Healthy ....... 49.0%
   Elmwood Place ....... 48.7%
   Lockland ....... 46.1%
Homeownership by Tristate county
   Warren County ....... 74.9%
   Clermont County ....... 71.3%
   Boone County ....... 69.6%
   Butler County ....... 67.9%
   National avg. ....... 66.2%
Campbell County ....... 64.9%
   Kenton County ....... 62.1%
   Hamilton County ....... 55.6%
   Cincinnati ....... 34.8%
        Despite buyers like Ms. Cassidy, the majority of home-buying in the last decade happened in the suburbs of northern Kentucky and in Warren, Butler and Clermont counties in Ohio.

        Some of those suburbs have seen extraordinary growth. For instance, Lebanon went from 4,121 housing units to 6,218, a 51 percent increase; Landen grew by 41 percent, from 3,669 to 5,162; and Mason grew 90 percent, from 4,274 to 8,111 units.

        Meanwhile, places such as Elmwood Place shrank 6 percent, from 1,250 to 1,173, and Arlington Heights dipped 16 percent, from 500 to 418. Other aging towns, like Cincinnati, had flat growth.

        Experts, Realtors and others are not surprised that home ownership is growing in the suburbs.

        “The big draw in Northern Kentucky is the airport. People have jobs that are increasingly transient and they want to be near the airport,” said Vickie Bolton-House, a Fort Mitchell-based Realtor with Re/Max Affiliates.

        David Gunn, president of Principle Mortgage & Financial Services, an Anderson Township mortgage company founded in January, said the ease of getting loans probably helped sales.

        Also, the real estate market here is strong because many companies have relocated in the past decade, bringing affluent employees who have the money to build something new.

        “Lots of new homes are being built, and what we see is people are buying bigger and bigger houses,” Mr. Gunn said.

        That trend packs an economic punch that can ripple through a suburb. As new home buyers settle in, they often spend money on furnishings, landscaping and paint.

        That spending lures big-box home improvement retailers like Home Depot and Lowes, stores that also bring jobs and opportunity to people in those areas.

        The growth of urban centers in suburban rings — spurred first by residential real estate development — is commonplace in American metropolitan areas, said Kenneth Poole, executive director of ACCRA, an Arlington, Va., organization of economic development researchers.

        “Traffic and congestion actually cause these urban rings to happen,” he said. “Businesses move to where the people live. It becomes a new American downtown.”

        But it's not only suburbanites who are spending cash on home improvements. “Sometimes I feel like I'm on a first-name basis with everybody at my Home Depot,” Ms. Cassidy said.

        She marveled, too, at the ease of buying a house, even without money for a down payment. Her challenge was walking away from an apartment in Cheviot and its affordable $330 monthly rent. A friend rents an apartment there for a scant $210 per month.

        “But when you hit 30, you just want to have something,” she said. “These days you truly do not have to have any money up front to buy. I have to say that buying a house for the first time was a little scary.”

        Some believe older neighborhoods will rebound. Traffic and rising prices in outlying areas may make older, less-congested neighborhoods attractive.

        A challenge for Cincinnati is to upgrade the school system, said Richard Horton, a Coldwell Banker West Shell Realtor.

        When communities reject bond issues for schools, that can chill real estate. Homeowners flee.

        “It can get worse and worse,” he said.

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