The Atlanta Bee Hive Apartment Renovation

32 thoughts on “The Atlanta Bee Hive Apartment Renovation”

  1. I work with a small scale developer who tackles those 10-50 unit buildings, as well as sfhs. He works in neighborhoods that have declined but have macro factors that prevent them from reaching widespread abandonment.

    He has a strong preservationist streak, so sometimes the pro forma takes a back seat to doing it right, but it almost never involves frame structures. Once the roof goes on a frame building, it typically becomes a scrape. An example would be your first couple of pictures of the frame above brick 2-story.

  2. Enjoyed the article. My father loved his bees and did sell some of his honey. He also could repair or reuse anything. He built several homes in the 50’s and 60’s. The were built well and still look great. The interiors have had some upgrades but the bones are good. One thing he never did was depend or wait on the government to fix things. Why should the president do something? We can or must do it. The homeless need a secure facility to receive care. They are homeless for a reason. They cannot care for themselves or a house. Each state has some area that could accommodate these people. I look around neighborhoods, yard after yard, no care. And these are either homeowners or renters. They don’t care for their space so why should we expect the homeless be able to care for a home.

  3. I’m hoping we’ll be seeing more of this in those towns where the population previously declined but happen to be in zones that will be minimally or positively affected by climate change. Climate migrants will need places to live!

    1. It takes four times as much energy (and there’s less renewable supply) to heat a home in the rustbelt than to cool one in the rustbelt.

      There are likely areas minimally affected, but re-population of Gary and Cleveland seems less likely than more being built in the center and on the edges of Dallas, Denver, Seattle, Austin, and Atlanta.

      Phoenix, Vegas, Houston, and Miami? I’m not quite sure about them. Cities don’t last long with not enough water- or too much.

  4. I’m always amazed at how much a coat of dark paint and some contrasting stained wood trim and doors can change the first impression of a place from a relic (of the non precious kind) to a desirable modernist dwelling. If the scheme succeeds in revitalizing the local area (prettier homes are just one part of that), I wonder if in 80 years, subsequent residents will remove the layers of paint in order to reveal the “beautiful, original orange brickwork” beneath, like we discover beautiful original hardwood floors beneath nasty old carpets.

  5. I’d be curious to know what window of time you identify as the sweet spot for quality construction (my question inspired by the previous “Army Surplus” post plus your comment here about some of the single-family homes you saw in Atlanta). If a person were interested in purchasing a home, is there a loose timeframe worthy of consideration? Say, where earlier homes would probably be requiring expensive upgrades and where later homes started being made cheaply and wouldn’t be worth their Ikea cardboard?

    1. There is no sweetspot. Homes from the ’60s and earlier – all their internal systems are failing – plumbing, insulation, ducting, etc. Homes from later are cheaply built – durock drywall behind those bricks for example instead of even plywood. IMO the closest thing to a ‘sweet spot’ would be a normally sized home built after 2010 – that’s when insulation and modern building techniques that really are better kick in- on a normal sized lot not on the edge of town. Sort of a unicorn.

      Or you are stuck tearing out and replacing the infrastructure on older homes.

      1. Plumbing, HVAC, sewer, door, and window systems all have a useful life. Just like roofing. You have to replace them eventually.

        1. True, but I am considering that the ‘sweet spot’ is homes where those systems are still within their useful lives, meaning they have not yet aged out or have been replaced by others, such that you can spend your budget making real improvements rather than repair what has failed.

          If they have all failed and been replaced, then most likely the place you are buying is closer to market value, and thus you are not getting a deal on the purchase price. If they have not been replaced, then you may be getting a deal on the purchase price but will be paying out for replacements, often on their schedule and all at once rather than on your own schedule. Thus, no ‘sweet spot’.

          1. “spend your budget making real improvements rather than repair what has failed.” I’m intrigued…. So granite countertops and a spa bath makeover are “real” because those are the things renters and buyers pay extra for?

            I see a lot of flips where the surface bells and whistles are installed while the underlying infrastructure just gets papered over. Let the rusty pipes and dry rot be someone else’s problem after the sale.

            I had an architect come to a rental property I own just as I was finishing up renovations. I showed him the new super insulation, the new high quality windows, the new roof, all new drywall throughout, etc. Then he looked at the vintage stove and the old cabinets I had scrubbed clean and repainted. “So you’re going the slumlord route?”

            1. “I see a lot of flips where the surface bells and whistles are installed while the underlying infrastructure just gets papered over. Let the rusty pipes and dry rot be someone else’s problem after the sale.” Me too. The architect’s a dumbass.

      2. Except, riffing off the “good bones of post-WWII” thought I’ve seen alluded to, there seems to have been a general era when craftsmanship built houses (as opposed to cheap goods stapled together or what have you). Or perhaps not. I get that everything has a lifespan, but if I know stuff from the 80s tends to be shoddy, then that’s good information.

    2. Location rather than quality of construction will be the important thing in the future. Yes, some buildings are built to a higher more durable standard than others. But almost any shoddy building can be saved it if there’s enough underlying value and market demand.

      Things to pay special attention to:

      1) Exposure to natural disasters.

      The insurance industry is already getting much better at identifying risk and pricing accordingly. Forest fires, floods, storms… A lot of locations are going to become prohibitively expensive to insure or coverage will become unavailable. No insurance? No mortgage. No access to finance? Much lower value. When too many buildings in a jurisdiction lose too much value the tax base shrinks along with municipal services. Game over in a downward spiral.

      2) Cost of transportation.

      The insurance industry is already phasing in computer chips to monitor the amount and quality of driving in real time. Eventually everyone will be charged on a pay-per-mile basis and insurance will become prohibitively expensive for bad drivers. (We’re all bad drivers.) Long commutes will start to cost real money. Municipal governments will use this same data to charge per mile road fees in their jurisdictions. Congestion pricing will reduce traffic and raise tax revenue. Law enforcement will issue computer chip based tickets in real time for speeding, illegal turns, parking… In other words, “drive till you qualify” housing will lose value.

      3) Productive rather than speculative or financial value.

      Today most of the value of a home is based on the ability of future buyers to take on ever more debt. But historically property was valued based on its productive capacity. Would it keep you warm and dry? What could it physically produce – as with a farm? How well could it cash flow from residential or commercial rent? I see the tangible productive value making a come back as our financial system strains under entirely too much un-repayable debt and a loss of financial value.

      1. Well, the “productive value” of owned housing is rent avoidance. It’s a tricky net present value calculation if cash out for P+I+T+I is higher than rent; you’re relying on the out years after payoff, when your income might be lower. It’s a little easier to calculate if P+I+T+I is lower than rent, as it has been during the depressed interest rate era.

        1. Debt terrifies me. Unusually low interest rates and QE (flooding the market with cheap debt) is a short term sugar high to be followed by a hard crash and a bad headache.

          I see interest rate going back down and even going negative in the short term since that’s the primary tool at hand for the feds. Then I see interest rates shooting up after the inevitable correction and price discovery when risk becomes real again and the feds lose control of market reality.

          I’d like to avoid that roller coaster ride to the degree possible.

          1. I understand, but most mortgages are fixed rate and don’t carry much interest rate risk. Fixed rate loan holders are protected against rising rates and generally can refi to get lower rates when they fall…the only condition being stable work/income or significant equity in the property. (I understand most small rental property investment doesn’t enjoy fixed rates. I’m focused on owner occupied housing.)

        2. I’ve always puzzled over the infatuation with owner occupied equity, when for most folks outside the coastal property bubbles, by far the largest return component is imputed rent. Even better that it is tax free (so far).

      2. Johnny, You have explicated this housing/property/value over time, quite well in this and other posts. I am thinking that this is approaching what is called “Normal Accident Theory”. Where as a system becomes more complex the things that were supposed to optimize it may lead to its destruction.
        Many buy things without much evaluation, relying almost totally on appearance “curb appeal”. However a extensive analysis may not adequately predict the future. Something like Love Canal, or Rocky Flats, or an old mine or oil well may be discovered. Or the local economic situation may change. Which can make life complicated even for those not holding things as investments or revenue generators, but living there or using them long term.

        1. I spent entirely too much time trying to figure out which locations and properties were more likely to fail vs the ones that were more likely to thrive in the future. What I discovered is that there are no perfect places. Some are better than others and it’s important to be aware of all the moving parts. But at the end of the day being prepared, flexible, and responsive to changing circumstances is the way to go. Let the larger systems fail…

  6. “Gentrification of Atlanta
    During the 2000s, Atlanta underwent a profound transformation demographically, physically, and culturally. Suburbanization, rising prices, a booming economy, and new migrants decreased the city’s black percentage from a high of 67% in 1990 to 54% in 2010.
    From 2000 to 2010, Atlanta gained 22,763 white residents, 5,142 Asian residents, and 3,095 Hispanic residents, while the city’s black population decreased by 31,678. Much of the city’s demographic change during the decade was driven by young, college-educated professionals: from 2000 to 2009, the three-mile radius surrounding Downtown Atlanta gained 9,722 residents aged 25 to 34 holding at least a four-year degree, an increase of 61%.
    Between the mid-1990s and 2010, stimulated by funding from the HOPE VI program, Atlanta demolished nearly all of its public housing, a total of 17,000 units and about 10% of all housing units in the city.”

  7. I can only echo the sentiments expressed by Andrew.
    In Australia it’s the same situation. I live on the road and see abandoned buildings everywhere, yet thousands are homeless.
    I believe it’s all done by design.

    1. I think the design is bigger than the homeless; they are simply the collateral damage, the refuse of it. The modern world loves to paint itself brightly and trumpet it’s achievements. It ignores, and requires that we ignore, it’s failures. Those are counted in the homeless, among other things. When the bottom rots enough, things will collapse.

  8. You think you know a guy and then you find out he’s a beekeeper. Is there anything you can’t do? My hat is off to you as I understand beekeeping takes a lot of effort. Well done!

  9. Your bee hive/ human homes analogy is quite appropriate. When I think of how much waste there is in our country, both in terms of housing and lives, it’s really quite astounding. Why is anyone homeless when there are so many empty, gutted places? And why are desperate people standing outside the border of Texas waiting to get into our “already crowded” country when there are so many cities with so many underused, abandoned, and neglected neighborhoods?

    We don’t need only one Johnny S, we need an entire policy of government and business to undertake the renovation and revitalization of vast swaths of the US. I just wish our real estate developer President had the intelligence and ambition to lead us into such a desperately needed national program.

    1. Government and Business are a very large part of the problem; they are certainly not the solution. Their goals are not about “renovation and revitalization”–unless they can profit and gather power using them. None of our modern Presidents “had the intelligence and ambition” to lead us in the manner you describe; the latest is simply the same as the others in that long line.

    2. The simple cold and rational answer is that the homeless either don’t want to or can’t afford to buy or rent homes, and the government won’t let them live in unlivable ones.

      The more nuanced answer regarding homelessness is that making a dent in it requires a comprehensive program of one-to-one social work to understand the needs, wants, and desires of the people who are homeless. Then it requires investment in subsidized housing and support services, usually mental health and addiction treatment, job training, and income support.

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