High End Restoration + An Eye for Detail = Nicer and Pricier Housing Stock
“If you care about your subject, to do reckless rehab work is stripping a place of its original integrity.” –August Herschede
Four years ago in Riverwest you could snag a boarded up eyesore for a few pennies at a sheriff’s auction or put in an offer on a run-down old duplex the owner was letting go for as little as $30,000. With a little rehab work, you could turn it around for a quick profit. And many people did. Those days are all but gone, and many Riverwest properties have swung wildly in the other direction. Some houses have more than doubled in value in the last year. Who’s responsible for this change? A variety of people share the credit — or blame, depending on your viewpoint. Many homeowners have been renovating and rehabbing the places where they live, but it’s not just owner-occupants who are driving the assessment increases. John and August Herschede don’t live here, but they have been hard at work improving properties on the south end of Riverwest. “We became interested in the interiors of Riverwest buildings years ago,” John says. The East Side resident is one of the biggest property owners in the neighborhood, with a Riverwest rental empire of more than 125 units. “There was so much that we came across that was blighted.”
“When you strip a building, you’re not just assaulting a building, you’re assaulting a neighborhood for 40 years.” –John Herschede
The father and son duo work together, on their own, and with various business partners. They specialize in what they describe as historically sensitive, higher end renovation. Their focus is on the southern end of the neighborhood, specifically south of Locust Street and generally west of Humboldt. Some of this area falls in the city’s “assessment neighborhood” that spiked the highest increases in the city in the past year, with an average 93% increase in assessed prices. Rather than simply expanding their rental portfolios, they put a lot of energy into rehabbing older buildings and selling them to owner occupants. “Our intent is to focus on areas of greatest need,” John explained. The prices they pay for some of the properties can only justify doing a deliberate, painstaking job of renovating and selling to an owner occupant, sometimes at previously unheard of prices for the southern end of Riverwest. Herschede recently sold a towering beauty at Booth and Garfield for just shy of $300,000 after putting a year of work into it. When John purchased the place, formerly a rooming house, he says it was a “24-hour drug house.” August says many of the properties they have purchased and renovated have been drug houses owned by some of the worst absentee landlords. While profit tends to be any investor’s motivation, it is obvious that these two care about being historically sensitive in their renovation. “There are almost no original chimneys left!” August points out, as though he can’t understand how people could destroy part of our neighborhood’s architectural history. He explains that chimneys are expensive to do the right way. “I love architecture, and it’s an art like any other,” August says. “If you care about your subject, to do reckless rehab work is stripping a place of its original integrity. You lose everything and it’s not worth doing at all.” John agrees. “When you strip a building, you’re not just assaulting a building, you’re assaulting a neighborhood for 40 years… you still get young turks coming into the neighborhood, buying on a spit and a promise, putting a little glitz on, and then selling it to an unsuspecting buyer,” he says. “It was much worse three years ago though, when values were so much lower.” They refer to vinyl siding as “defacing” a building, and have various complaints about other short-cut rehabbers in the area. “The defacers are mostly moving west of Holton now and working their scams there,” John says. “The ability to make a quick buck in Riverwest hardly exists anymore.” On a driving and walking tour of Riverwest houses they have rehabbed, certain details regularly surface. Much of the outer work is done with wood, often cedar shake shingles. There is a close attention to detail obvious to even the casual observer. The houses are ornate and simple at the same time, with gorgeous woodwork inside and ceilings that feature crown molding. The floors are wood, triple-sanded, and nicely finished. “It’s not enough to buy a building, slap up some vinyl siding, inflate the price and then sell,” August says. From an aesthetic perspective, they are setting a standard that other Riverwest investor-rehabbers perhaps will strive to meet. Depending on your vantage point, that could be a very good thing.