Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crowdsourcing Real Estate and Chickens and Eggs

I kicked around this idea a few years ago with somebody, but neither of us were/are on the frontlines of investment and development while maintaining our day jobs.  I think we were talking about how to get permanent infill retail structures into some of the modernist downtown buildings with barren 60's brutalist groundfloor arcades (or arcade type things).  Like a lot of brainstorming it simply died on the vine because we were merely kicking around ideas quite tangential to our daily efforts.

So today I came across a site called which is like a kickstarter or kiva, but for profit and for assembling real estate investment, which is kind of great for people a little hesitant to jump on the ebbs and flows of the market or more currently, gold.  Rather than sitting on the sidelines with cash on hand, the idea to put it into improving your neighborhood seems to me like a great one, one that I'm quite interested in.  They also have another site, popularise, which crowdsources ideas for what to do with various properties.

All of which brings me to a recent blog entry of theirs which I wanted to explore a bit (and did in their comments) on anchors, specialty grocers, and the inevitable chicken/egg question of residential and rooftops:

The first issue is that chicken/egg is inescapable.  Because these things are in cities, and cities are complex, and like all complex systems, they are built upon interdependencies, it's not really that one must be before the other, but both need each other and then help push the other forward.

From my experience, stores like Whole Foods have begun to look at a mashup of data that I call, "dollar density."  It's not as important for them, what median income is, but how many households there are that each need their daily and weekly groceries.  Only then does it matter what the median incomes are, so they know there is a market immediately available that can afford their prices.

For me, I look at dollar density as an indicator of desirability.  These are people that can afford to live just about anywhere in the city, but choose that particular census tract/neighborhood because they want to be there, in the self-selection and self-organization sense that then gives neighborhoods their expression of character.

When grocers are looking at these numbers for dollar density, they see areas on the rise, where people are moving-in, that fit their demographic, they're clearly a follower.  As well they should.  If they were to move in first, they'd be foundering for a while until the density that they drive arrives.  Instead, if they catch it on the upswing, they benefit from the recent growth, while then help leverage further development and increased density.  Furthermore, by catching that upswing at the right moment, they can get into markets and establish a beachhead before competitors.