Turn Down the Volume

Trends to watch in the real estate industry.

May 1, 1999

Homebuyers, it seems, are growing tired of the din of modern living.

Home improvement expert George Guttmann, Camano Island, Wash., reports that online conversations about soundproofing individual rooms and entire homes have skyrocketed on his do-it-yourself Web site, www.soundhome.com.

“Besides a general increase in the number of motors and sound-making devices that modern society uses,” he says, “homes are being built closer together and in places we used to stay away from--near airports, for example.”

That’s why the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority has started a $110 million, decade-long plan to soundproof 2,300 area homes at no charge to homeowners. The neighborhoods around Los Angeles International Airport have embarked on a similar project, spending $200 million on residential soundproofing in 1997.

And it’s not just airport communities--or older homes--that are getting in on the demand for quiet. Developer Larry DiVito, vice president of Chicago-based Wellington Partners, reports that builders are responding to homebuyer concerns about noisy urban neighborhoods by using better layouts, inside insulation, larger frames, deeper walls, and seals to cut down on disturbances.

You can help noise-sensitive homebuyers by boning up on the latest soundproofing techniques and finding out what builders in your area are using them. Also, find out whether any plans are in place to upgrade existing homes in loud neighborhoods. Suggesting sound-dampening improvements to sellers in those neighborhoods may help move the property. One place to start learning about noise and soundproofing is the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse Web site, www.nonoise.org/news/noisenew.htm.

Give me Park Avenue!

Downtown living may be on the rebound, reversing a trend that began after World War II, according to the Rouse Forum Survey conducted by the Brookings Institution and the Fannie Mae Foundation, both of Washington, D.C.

Of the 21 large cities surveyed, all but one--Atlanta--expect their inner-city populations to flourish over the next 11 years.

Houston, for example, anticipates a quadrupling of its downtown population by 2010. New York’s lower Manhattan (financial district), which has been growing steadily for decades, expects to add 15,000 residents, an increase of 80 percent. Cleveland expects its downtown population to rise by 228 percent; Seattle foresees a 121 percent growth in its downtown population.

“The overall rise in downtown living reflects two trends,” says Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. The first is changing demographics: “Older Americans, empty nesters, and young couples who are waiting to have children are all growing segments of the population, and they’re very interested in the convenience and amenities of urban life.”

The second trend is the resurgence of downtowns as cultural and entertainment centers. “Downtowns have energy and excitement,” says Katz.

Sue Dodge, broker-owner of Sue Dodge & Associates in Chicago (which anticipates a 32 percent growth in its urban resident population), believes the best way to tap into this expanding market is to cultivate referrals from suburban communities. “That’s where they’re all coming from,” she says. “If you wait until they’re already here, you’re going to miss out.”

She says the value of selling customers on the city is debatable: “For the most part, they already know they want to live here.” Focus, instead, on your own expertise: “Buyers need to know about the different neighborhoods and their proximity to amenities, as well as the pros and cons of housing options--would they be more comfortable in a single-family house or a high-rise with a doorman?”

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