Although consumers might know Madison’s DreamHouse DreamKitchens as a one-stop shop for home remodeling projects, Sales Director Jerry Schmidt says the company can also update properties into luxury condominiums. “We can either remodel existing properties, or build out a condo that’s basically purchased as an empty shell,” he says. In fact, the firm has a great deal of experience working within the parameters of remaking a condo, through previous projects at Metropolitan Place, The Cove, and Westin Place, among others.
One challenge in working within a condominium is updating flooring, kitchens, bathrooms and trim while maintaining the footprint and general layout of the space. “We can’t always move plumbing, and we have to be very conscious that the unit is surrounded by other people on all sides,” Schmidt says. “It’s also important that our work crews put in extra effort to protect public spaces such as hallways, elevators and carpeting in common areas. In addition to making sure the clients are pleased with our work, DreamHouse wants to have a good relationship with the condo owner’s neighbors and the building manager.”
In some cases, the company’s work in a building has been the best advertisement. “Now that we have a reputation for excellent work and the care we put into our projects, some condo managers recommend us to other owners in the building,” says Schmidt.
DreamHouse DreamKitchens also carries a line of window blinds that are particularly suited to condominiums with floor-to-ceiling windows. “They can be electronically controlled with
a remote, or even a smart phone,” Schmidt says. “So, in the summertime, when you want to watch a movie, you can lower them to block virtually all light even though you are surrounded by windows. These window blinds can also be pre-programmed to open in the morning and close as the sun sets. In the winter, blinds can lead to great energy savings by insulating the home.”
Fred Clark, Owner of Baraboo Woodworks, has had a passion for trees throughout his career. For decades, he worked in and around Baraboo as a forester, planting trees and keeping them healthy. Now he gives new life to trees that have been removed from Madison neighborhoods and parks by transforming the wood into works of art.
Clark’s second career began when he started a small sawmill business on a farm along the Baraboo River. After a family move to Madison, he also moved the sawmill to the city and began re-using urban trees to provide locally sourced wood. That idea evolved into Baraboo Woodworks’ current business of providing specialty wood and artisanal woodworking using local materials—all from a workshop on Madison’s east side.
“Most wood is viewed as a commodity,” Clark says. “The pulp wood used to make paper in Green Bay often comes from Brazil. Many furniture dealers have no idea where the wood in their cabinets, tables or chairs actually comes from. “In many cases those materials are the result of unsustainable harvesting practices, rainforest clearing, or illegally logged forests.”
Woodworks’ business model is to highlight the beauty of wood growing right in their customers’ back yards. Clark refers to it as “timber with terroir.” The company produces finished products for homes and businesses using unique wood pieces that they mill and dry on site. Culled from many city streets and parks, wood varieties include black walnut, cherry, maple, ash, and red or white oak, as well as less common, but even more beautiful species like honey locust, hackberry, catalpa and, occasionally, sycamore.
“When handled right, the wood from these trees can be stunning. We’re giving them a whole new life,” says Clark.
The crew at Baraboo Woodworks includes Josh Rice as the lead artisan, assisted by Jim Papadopolus in the shop, and Josh Geidel on the sawmill. Metal artisan Tim Stankovitz adds distinctive metal bases to the tables they create.
Over the years the company has had some high-profile clients for custom designed conference tables, including Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and the Madison Fire Department. In addition, the shop has installed ash countertops in condominiums and built dining tables of all sizes, along with butcher block counters, paneling, built-in shelves, desks, fireplace mantels, island tops, and headboards. “Our signature pieces add a statement of beauty and originality to homes and businesses,” says Rice.
Because they operate their own sawmill and lumber drying kiln, their projects do take time to finish. Fortunately, Baraboo Woodworks’ clients are willing to wait three to six weeks for an heirloom quality piece of furniture. As for his raw materials—locally grown trees—Clark believes there will be a steady supply for many years to come. “We’re dipping a cup into a river,” he says. “Most trees still become wood chips or firewood when they are taken down. We’re simply trying to provide more sustainable and more beautiful options. So far it seems to be working.”
Michael C. Morey, Vice President of Oakbrook Corporation, defines “luxury apartment” as a property that offers the best combination of location, quality finishes and amenities in a given marketplace, but says the definition is also a matter of individual taste. Oakbrook Corporation is set to open the luxury apartment complex The Reserve at High Point in the summer of 2018.
Located next to the Princeton Club on the west side of Madison, the development will utilize materials of the highest quality throughout the buildings. Morey anticipates that residents will be a diverse mix of young professionals and empty-nesters who prefer the convenience and flexibility of renting a property rather than buying one.
“Large fitness centers and pet-friendly accommodations, which used to make your property stand out, are almost standard now,” Morey says. “One unique benefit that we will offer our residents is a parcel locker system so they can have secure storage of orders from Amazon or eBay until they can pick up their packages, anytime 24/7, at their convenience.”
Morey says that renewal rates for luxury apartments are at a historic high. “As a developer and property manager, Oakbrook endeavors to create a relationship with our residents and provide a level of service and satisfaction such that they see no reason to look elsewhere.” Morey says. “Younger renters today are putting off major life changes, such as marriage and having children. This is part of the reason apartments have been in such high demand.”
For Morey, the most challenging aspect of his business now is the timeline of getting a development to the finish line. “Most of the professionals working in the multi-family industry have more work and business opportunities than they can handle,” he says. “Projects that used to take 10 to 11 months to build are now taking 13 to 14 months to complete due to a lack of qualified subcontractor labor. Combine rising land and construction costs with an uncertain interest rate environment, and it adds significant additional risk to a project.”
John Flad’s family has been involved in architecture, design and real estate development in the Madison area for three generations—since 1929. One of the keys to the success of the Flad Development and Investment Corporation is that the company has adapted to keep up with trends, and has changed its focus with changing times. It is also committed to undertaking projects of the highest quality, while creating buildings that add to the beauty of the architectural landscape in Dane County.
“We’re somewhat new to the apartment development scene in Madison,” says Flad, who is president of the firm that bears his name. “Our stock and trade has been in commercial and specialty retail buildings in southern Wisconsin. But we recognized that the real development opportunity going forward was in mixed-use, urban, in-fill development. So, we schooled ourselves in the apartment market, which has been the strongest real estate segment for the past several years.”
For Flad, the real estate axiom of “location, location, location” still applies. “We’re very focused on the University Avenue corridor from Whitney Way to University Bay Drive,” he says. “To that end, we undertook The Lodge at Walnut Grove, which includes 10,000 square feet of specialty retail space and 100 luxury apartments.” Situated right on University Avenue near retail powerhouses Target, Whole Foods, and the recently reinvigorated Hilldale Mall, The Lodge also overlooks the very green and rolling terrain of Blackhawk Golf Course. In an irony that comes with longevity, Flad Development built The Lodge at Walnut Grove on a site that the company had developed in the 1980s as a mix of retail and office space.
Since The Lodge development was such an immediate success, the company bought the nearby Pyare Square building—an outdated, round structure—and demolished it to create an additional 94 upscale apartments.
According to Flad, the target market for these properties is primarily Millennials (ages 20-30) and empty nesters who are looking for flexibility, convenience and an abundance of amenities in their living spaces. “They want to be near downtown, but not necessarily in the middle of the UW campus,” he says. “They are also active—residents value the proximity to the bike path and the ‘walkability’ of the neighborhood.”
The amenities in The Lodge include gorgeous outdoor landscaping, a community room with flat-screen TVs and vaulted ceilings, outdoor roof decks, fitness centers, a game room, extra-wide hallways filled with artwork, granite countertops in each kitchen, under-cabinet lighting and more.
With 90 percent of the residential units and all commercial spaces leased, Flad Development and Investment Corporation turned its attention to yet another project near the University Hospital, Pharmacy, and Nursing Schools. “Right down the street we acquired a property at the corner of Shorewood and University that we’ve named The Boulevard,” Flad says. “There we have 12,000 feet of specialty retail, and three floors of apartments, which are also 90 percent leased.”
In addition to his strategic thinking about capitalizing on opportunities in the University Avenue corridor, Flad attributes his success to the company’s attention to detail and commitment to quality.
According to Mortgage Loan Officer Chris Ohly, UW Credit Union is one of Dane County’s fastest-growing home financing lenders, and has earned its reputation as a trusted source for mortgage loans. “As a member-owned, not-for-profit cooperative, we are dedicated to offering the lowest closing costs with extremely competitive rates,” he says. “In addition, our knowledgeable lending professionals underwrite loans locally, which means decisions are made in a timely manner.”
Ohly suggests that consumers get pre-approved for a home loan from four to six months before they plan to buy. “Mortgage loan pre-approvals are necessary in order to make an offer on a home, especially in this market,” he says.
If you don’t have immediate plans to buy a home, Ohly believes you can still benefit from talking with your lender about a future purchase. “It’s always good to know what’s in your credit file and what programs you may qualify for,” he says.
Ohly explains that getting a home mortgage is one of the most detailed loan processes consumers will ever experience. “We examine and verify all aspects of a borrower’s financial situation,” he says. “This can seem overwhelming at first, but if the lender has explained what to expect and takes the time to guide borrowers through the process, it can be frictionless.”
Typically, consumers ask how much they can afford when considering a home loan. “Many people spend between 25 and 33 percent of their monthly gross income on housing,” Ohly says, “but it’s best if borrowers speak with their lender to find the right payment range.”
UW Credit Union offers many different types of home loans, which fall into two basic categories: fixed-rate mortgages and adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs). Lenders can offer first-time home-buyer programs such as HomeReady and WHEDA, and government options like an FHA or VA loan. Individual lenders may also offer customized loan products, such as UW Credit Union’s 15/15 ARM, which is a 30-year adjustable rate mortgage that is fixed for 15 years, has one rate adjustment, and then is fixed for the remaining 15 years. “It is very popular because it has lower costs and a lower rate compared to the traditional 30-year fixed mortgage,” Ohly says.
Ohly stresses that the best choice for a particular buyer will depend on many individual factors. “That’s why it’s important for borrowers to work with a loan officer to understand all the options and determine the right course,” he says. •