Blazing a Trail: Urban Pioneer Neighborhoods

The road to revitalization is sometimes bumpy, but urban pioneers enjoy perks of both city life and suburbia.
Pale Blue Row House With Traditional Porch

Pale Blue Row House With Traditional Porch

From

Curb Appeal

By: Karin Beuerlein

The primary rule of investing is to buy low and sell high, and that’s a main draw for people purchasing homes in urban pioneer neighborhoods.

These neighborhoods, generally located in a ring around a city’s primary downtown core, feature a smorgasbord of homes of varying architectural styles and quality. Read: there are usually lots of fixer-uppers, and sweat equity can often turn into real profit.

Perks of Pioneering

But financial gain isn’t the only reason to live in an urban pioneer neighborhood -- they have a special charm all their own.

Project manager Frank Schipani and his wife, Kristen Degan, own a brick row house in the Columbia Heights neighborhood outside of Washington, D.C., which they completely renovated in 2007. And while restoring the historic home, built in 1911, was what primarily attracted them from their condo in downtown Washington, the area has other perks as well. For starters, Schipani can still ride his bike to work in the city and make it in less than 15 minutes, and his wife walks to work in less than half an hour. But they still have a car and parking is plentiful compared to the urban core.

“It’s an up-and-coming area,” says Reverend Grace Caputo of The Levy Team, RE/MAX Allegiance Realtors in Washington. “Columbia Heights has had tremendous recent renovation. There’s the beautiful redone Tivoli Theater surrounded by a new upscale strip mall, a large new shopping center anchored by Target, new luxury condos, a park and many restaurants. Plus, housing prices are still lower than in some other D.C. locations.”

Schipani appreciates the ethnic diversity in the area and the new friendships he’s made; urban pioneer neighborhoods often cut a broad swath across racial and socioeconomic lines. “We have some great neighbors on our block,” Schipani says. “We love living in a neighborhood of houses rather than an apartment building because neighbors look out for each other and do each other favors. Apartment living is convenient, but it can seem very sterile at times.”

Downtown residents may also miss green spaces, prompting some to seek the more verdant outlying neighborhoods. “We have a very large yard for a house in the city, which is very important to us because we love to grow our own food,” Schipani says. Mature plantings in urban pioneer neighborhoods provide shade that’s often lacking both in the city and in newer suburbs -- not to mention a riot of blooms in the springtime.

Drawbacks of Trailblazing

But the “pioneer” in “urban pioneer” isn’t for nothing. Reclaiming a rundown property often means waiting for the area to catch up to you: there may be very little in the way of sidewalk maintenance, restaurants, nightlife, or even like-minded neighbors who want to keep their properties beautiful.

The most serious drawback can be crime. “There is a liquor store on the corner -- the kind with the bulletproof glass -- and there are often alcoholics passed out in front of it,” Schipani says. “There is also a bar whose patrons are mainly troublemakers from the suburbs, and when it closes at 3 a.m., there are sometimes fights outside that spill onto our street. But we’re optimistic that these crime problems will be eliminated by working with neighbors and the police. Once that happens, our neighborhood will have all the best aspects of suburbia plus all the benefits of city living.”

Next Up

Urban Home Buying Tips

Real estate agents weigh in on the downtown buying process.

Buyers: What to Do When Your Loan Falls Through During Escrow

Number one tip: Don't freak out. Real estate expert Tara-Nicholle Nelson walks you through the next steps to take.

The 5 Most Common Questions From New Homeowners

If you're a new homeowner, you likely have questions about budgeting for your new expenses, adding value to your home and handling post-purchase surprises and challenges. Here, the answers!

New Short Sale Rules: What You Need to Know

For too long, the experience of going through a short sale had come up, well, short. But new rules make short sales a much faster and easier process.

What to Do If You Can't Afford Your Mortgage

If you're having trouble paying your mortgage, remember there are options before you concede your home.

Cash is King: Buying a Foreclosure or Short Sale

Great deals on foreclosures and short sales are definitely out there, but you may run into financing roadblocks when it comes time to buy. Here's how to get the most for your money.

The Price Is Right

One of the most important steps in the house-selling game is pricing your house right. Here's how to pick a number that works.

Options for Affordable Waterfront Living

How to find a bargain in pricey communities without drowning in debt.

The Moving Parts of an ARM

Here's how to weigh an adjustable rate mortgage against a fixed rate mortgage.

The Lowdown on Eco-Friendly Financing

Get a green loan for energy-efficient updates.

On TV

Saving America

6:30am | 5:30c

Minnesota Salvage

7:30am | 6:30c

Flip or Flop

12pm | 11c

Flip or Flop

12:30pm | 11:30c

Flip or Flop

1pm | 12c

Flip or Flop

1:30pm | 12:30c

Flip or Flop

2:30pm | 1:30c

Flip or Flop

3:30pm | 2:30c

Flip or Flop

4:30pm | 3:30c

Flip or Flop

5:30pm | 4:30c

Flip or Flop

6:30pm | 5:30c

Flip or Flop

7:30pm | 6:30c
Tonight
Tonight

Flip or Flop

8pm | 7c

Flip or Flop

8:30pm | 7:30c

Flip or Flop

9:30pm | 8:30c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

Flip or Flop

11:30pm | 10:30c

Flip or Flop

12am | 11c

Flip or Flop

12:30am | 11:30c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

Flip or Flop

2:30am | 1:30c

Flip or Flop

3:30am | 2:30c

Stories We're Following

Shop This Look

Found a living space you love in HGTV's Photo Library? Get the look in your own home with products from Wayfair.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.