Allen acts as downtown Orlando’s high-rise matchmaker

There’s something special about living in downtown Orlando. Whether it’s taking a midday stroll around Lake Eola or the energetic nightlife, living downtown can offer a laid back, coffee shop lifestyle or one filled with frenetic fun and fashion.

Whatever the preference, Thomas Allen and his six-member crew at real estate brokerage firm Urbanista Brokers Inc. are helping potential downtown residents find the high-rise home of their dreams.

The creation of Urbanista, which focuses on sales, resales and rentals of downtown condo tower units, came about partly due to a motorcycle accident three years ago that left Allen hospitalized for more than a week. Never one to let an injury dry up his creative juices, he spent that time thinking, and came up with the idea for a real estate brokerage that focused on downtown high rise condos – aka Urbanista.

Allen and his mother, Dorothy Williams, co-founded the firm in 2006, using $50,000 from savings for the start-up costs. Since then, Allen and his team have put more than 500 tenants — mostly young, single business professionals earning an average of $60,000 annually — into downtown’s 23 condo high-rises.

In 2009, the firm brought in $5.9 million and sold 172 condos for an average price of $155,749 per unit. In 2008, it sold 131 condos at an average price of $297,966 per unit. Currently, the downtown high-rises are about 60 percent occupied, said Urbanista.

Allen, who lives in Lancaster Park, a neighborhood just south of downtown, loves the walkability of downtown and being able to function without a car.

The first downtown complex Urbanista did business with: Thornton Park Central. We pretty much opened this ­market up.

How downtown multifamily properties differ from suburban properties: It’s a comparison of what’s important to a person. Downtown is much more a concept of lifestyle. When you see the brilliant lights at night, it creates this energy in you.

Ways the slow economy has affected the industry: People aren’t looking at home­ownership as an investment; they’re looking at it as a requirement. The mindset is changing. People are keeping their options open. The recession affects homeowners more than anybody. In terms of real estate, value has gone down tremendously. Everyone is controlling the only thing they can — their budget. But Orlando still has positive population growth.

How the new downtown Publix and the opening of the downtown movie theater affected condo sales and/or condo rentals downtown: People are absolutely showing more interest. I think the biggest reason people move downtown is convenience. If you’re going to have a village, you have to have a market.

An advantage of living downtown: Just being outside. There’s more interaction.

A disadvantage of living downtown: Property taxes. People are buying into this efficiency — vertical living versus spread. Why aren’t there tax credits or breaks given to people who are living more responsibly?

Multifamily property we’ve received the most inquiries about: The 306-unit ­Solaire at the Plaza. It’s the most lively condo tower in downtown. On average, we do about four rentals a month there, and we had two sales last month. We put about 50 people there every year.

Challenges Urbanista faces: Property values are down, which results in a lower commission. People are not paying their condo association fees, and the short-sale process takes too long (A short sale is when the mortgage lender agrees to discount a loan balance because of a financial hardship on the part of the borrower).

How Urbanista plans to overcome those challenges: Perseverance is a big thing. We’ve contracted to a point — we have less support staff and have worked to become more efficient in marketing — but we’re not going anywhere. We have a very defined niche within this market.

[zilla_alert style=”white”] Originally posted on the Orlando Business Journal website by Katie Kustura. [/zilla_alert]


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