Sunday, October 2, 2011

Moving to downtown Phoenix has saved couple lots of money, time

A year ago, the Helgesons were celebrating a makeover of their Queen Creek home by TV star designer Nate Berkus.

This year, Jessica and Cody Helgeson have turned that southeast Valley home into a rental and are celebrating their recent move to a high-rise in downtown Phoenix, 44 Monroe. Moving downtown has saved them hundreds of dollars a month in gas, reduced their headaches, eliminated their long commutes and improved their social lives, they said.

The switch from suburban to urban life has its price. They lost nearly 800 square feet of space and a lush green yard.

Do they miss it?

"We haven't really," said Cody Helgeson, 26. "We had a yard that was all landscaped, but at the same time, we were paying a gardener to come out every week."

"Here we have Civic Space Park," he said. "It's not even a block away."

44 Monroe in Phoenix

The Helgesons are among an influx of new tenants at the 202-unit, 34-story building at First Avenue and Monroe Street. The tower once intended for condos is around 75 percent full, rebounding from a slump that began with the housing-market crash a few years ago and foreclosures tied to the bankruptcy of lender Mortgages Ltd.

A year ago, a new company in Chicago, ST Residential, bought the tower out of foreclosure and opened a sales office to sell the remaining 196 empty condos. Starting prices were below $200,000.

Sales were so slow that in January, ST Residential announced it would rent the units.

"The worst thing in the world is a vacant tower," said Wade Hundley, CEO of ST Residential. "We felt like there was a better market for renting. We wanted to get people in the building."

The rent for a 44 Monroe apartment ranges according to size. Rent is $1,582 for a one-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath unit that spans 1,126 square feet, according to the website. Rent can range from $2,900 to $2,990 for the largest unit, a 2,079-square-foot space that includes two bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths.

Hundley said the company looks to other properties in the area to develop its pricing and rents, but 44 Monroe is a unique property. The downtown area has a few high-rises, and some of them, such as the Summit at Copper Square near Chase Field, are struggling to fill their units in the aftermath of bankruptcy.

"We had a hard time finding comps (for setting rent)," Hundley said.

The new 44 Monroe renters include people in their 20s, such as the Helgesons, and some young professionals in their 30s.

Kevin Bohm, the tower's leasing director, said he has worked to nab renters through Internet marketing and by networking with organizations such as the Phoenix Community Alliance, a non-profit organization that represents Phoenix-area businesses.

Nationwide and in Phoenix, the housing market has become a renter's market, Bohm said.

Bohm said 44 Monroe has a lot of pluses: It's near CityScape, which has entertainment venues such as Lucky Strike Lanes and Stand Up Live comedy club, and is within walking distance of two grocery stores - the Downtown Phoenix Public Market and Oakville Grocery.

The building also sits near the Metro light rail, which enables some of its tenants to commute to work on mass transit.

Cody Helgeson said that convenience has allowed him and his wife to sell one of their cars.

"When we lived in Queen Creek, we were budgeting about $500 a month in gas," he said. "Now, we've got it down to one vehicle. We're probably able to go one whole month on one tank of gas. We walk everywhere."

44 Monroe

By the numbers:

• $1,582 to $2,990: Range in monthly rent, depending on the floor plan.

• 1,126 square feet: Smallest floor plan (one bedroom, 1 1/2 baths).

• 2,079 square feet: Largest floor plan (two bedroom, two bath).

• 1,300 square feet: Size of midrange apartments.

• 202: Units in the building.

• 75 percent: Percentage of building leased.

• 34 stories: Height of building.

More information is online at

by Emily Gersema The Arizona Republic Sept. 29, 2011 12:00 AM

Moving to downtown Phoenix has saved couple lots of money, time

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