Forget the economic forecasts and reports on home sales and housing starts. I’ve seen a sure indicator that the housing market is picking up.
It’s a yellow brick eight-flat building on Seminole Street, which I walk by frequently.
I don't know the exact story, but it looks like it was built about 1920 and existed as an eight-unit apartment building during most of that time.
A few years ago it was being converted, probably to condos, with new kitchen fixtures and upscale cabinets.
But someone pulled the plug on the renovation about 2008. In fact it looked like work ended suddenly, in mid shift, as the bricks were being hacked away to make room for larger windows and then the ragged holes were hastily covered with rough-edged OSB panels after the work stopped.
The building dozed, unoccupied, through four gray winters and four hot summers. The empty building was presided over by an outfit called Miracle Investments, as indicated by a tiny metal tag affixed to the brick exterior.
It's a neighborhood of mostly single-family houses with a few smaller apartment and condo buildings.
You don’t have to be an economic historian to see the evidence of past booms and busts. Even the most casual observer would notice the vintage of the houses here. They were nearly all built in two separate decades – the Roaring Twenties and the Fabulous Fifties. There are many dark brick bungalows and large frame barn-like houses from the 1920s. And many newer, lighter brick two flats and ranch houses from the 1950s. (There are a few boxy brick Georgians to prove that the 1930s happened architecturally.)
I've watched this space for four years, knowing that at some point it would become active.
That point has come.
I've seen a new building permit on the window, and people going in and out of the building.
One day a large pillowy and unfortunately colored peach sofa was unceremoniously discarded in the dirty alley, a sure sign that upgrades were on the way.
Then I saw a Gradall crane being cranked up with a man trying to patch the hastily enlarged window holes. A few weeks later (work is moving ahead cautiously) I saw a man installing large sliding glass windows.
The cabinets will come, maybe with new entry doors and some millwork. The interiors probably have good red oak floors and won't need new ones. The building is old enough for that.
In tonier neighborhoods and suburbs farther north, there are reports of high-end houses drawing much more buyer interest, and even some bidding wars for especially attractive properties. They’re partying like it’s 2006.
That won't happen on Seminole Street. There were too many condos converted or newly built for there to be bidding wars here – and too many investors who bought condos and then had to sell at any price they could get. The condo market is still in the dumps, and prices show no signs of moving up.
But the owners of this building have determined that they can spend the money to complete the renovations, add new cabinets, millwork and windows, and sell the units, at long last, at a profit.
The building on Seminole Street is a sure sign of good times returning. Or at least better times.