Real Estate: The East Side rises again

Dave Ghose
Michael and Annie Drummond and their children, Josie, 3, and Katie, 7, on the porch of their Olde Towne East home

Sam McDaniel gambled when he moved to Olde Towne East about 10 years ago. The housing crash had sent property values spiraling in the neighborhood just east of Downtown, leading to a glut of foreclosures. But while others saw risk—his marriage ended as a result of his move—McDaniel saw opportunity. A retired construction company owner, he put his rehab skills to work, fixing up abandoned properties in Olde Towne East and other nearby neighborhoods.

Turns out McDaniel was right. Though driven more by personal passion than profit, he built a successful business flipping about 30 homes over the past decade. Now, the neighborhood revivalist has plenty of competition. “I used to be able to pick and choose which ones I wanted,” says McDaniel of potential investment properties in the area. “That's gone.”

Olde Towne East, long considered a strong candidate to become Columbus' next great revitalization story, appears to be finally delivering on its promise. The area and its next-door neighbor, Franklin Park, are two of the hottest housing markets in the city, according to data from the real estate website Zillow (see “By the Numbers,” Page 48). Over the past year, median home values in Franklin Park have increased by 28 percent—the biggest leap in the city—while values have risen 14 percent in Olde Towne East. The story is even more impressive over the past five years—a 56-percent jump for Franklin Park (the area just south and west of the Broad Street park that gave the area its name) and a 53-percent leap for Olde Towne East. Those are the two biggest increases in the city over that span.

The appeal of the Near East Side is obvious if you walk along streets such as Franklin Avenue and Bryden Road in Olde Towne East: a diverse collection of historic homes—some dating to the 1830s—on charming, tree-lined byways. Businesses such as Yellow Brick Pizza and The Angry Baker are giving the neighborhood more vitality than it had in the past. “We turned the corner several years ago, but the perception caught up with that shift more recently,” says real estate agent Al Waddell, a longtime Olde Towne East resident.

Economics also are a big part of the recent success. The housing stock in Olde Towne East and Franklin Park is often compared to the grand homes of Victorian Village, but the prices are much different. The median home value in Victorian Village is $392,000, according to Zillow—more than double what you'll find in Franklin Park and two-thirds higher than Olde Towne East. The result is it's possible to get a lot more home—and a beautiful one, to boot—for a lot less money on the Near East Side.

That said, this isn't the first time the Olde Towne East area has seen a real estate boom. Waddell says the neighborhood was ground zero for shady speculators prior to the housing bust. “We were the target of an awful lot of mortgage corruption and the illegal activity that scarred many neighborhoods,” Waddell says. Real estate agents, however, say buyers and investors are different this time around. “Let's just say what's going on in the neighborhood is more wholesome—long-term people who want to set roots instead of grandiose schemes from watching a 3 a.m. infomercial on how to flip houses,” says real estate agent Alex Macke, also an Olde Towne East resident.

Michael Drummond is an example. He, his wife, Annie, and their two children—Katie, 7, and Josie, 3—moved into a three-story Craftsman on Bryden Road about two years ago after falling in love with the immaculately restored 108-year-old, red-brick home, as well as the surrounding neighborhood. And though the price wasn't cheap—$450,000—it was a better deal on a per-square-foot basis than they could find in the Short North or Bexley, places where inventory was scarce as well. “It checked off a lot of boxes in what we were looking for,” says Drummond, who along with his wife decided to move from Upper Arlington to be closer to the Columbus School for Girls, which their daughters attend.

The family felt welcome in Olde Towne East. “We literally just got the keys and we were just getting in, and the neighbors were already coming over and introducing themselves,” Drummond says. “There's definitely a sense of community here.” The family also loves the neighborhood's diversity—different races, sexual orientations and economic classes all living together, something you rarely find in other neighborhoods and communities.

Which raises a question: With property values skyrocketing, is the area in danger of losing some of that diversity? Gentrification is a tough riddle to solve, obviously, but Waddell, a former president of the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association, says the community doesn't want to become another German Village. Low-income folks “will always be a part of the fabric of Olde Towne East, because it brings us that economic diversity that we must have to be who we are,” he says.