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Sunday, January 29, 2023

Places We Call Home

While skylines define many cities, Evansville is distinguished by its vibrant and varied neighborhoods. Picking a corner of the city — or the greater Evansville area — for your stomping grounds is no small matter: beyond our brick homes, neighborhoods are our emotional anchors; they root our daily lives. Never mind the throwbacks insisting the only question about where to live is between the East and West sides. Evansville’s neighborhoods comprising the city’s 44.62 square miles of land appeal to all types of buyers, including those looking for their first home or last. In neighboring Warrick County, desirable neighborhoods have fueled population growth of nearly 14 percent since 2000.

Downtown continues to attract buyers lured by the promise of the city core. Brian and Crystal Wildeman, pictured on the cover with their daughter Adelaide, walking near their S.E. First Street home they bought five years ago, say they are “old souls who have a major soft spot for all things historic.” The Wildemans love the energy of Downtown and their amazing neighbors make it the ideal place for kids. “As our next door neighbor says with his usual Saturday morning greeting,” Crystal says, “‘Good morning; it’s just another day in paradise.’” Here, meet five recent buyers who have found their corner of paradise in the Evansville area real estate market.

Selling Evansville

Real estate agents help find the right buyers  By Nathan Blackford

All homebuyers are not created equal. Depending on age, income, wants, needs, and family size, the priority of homebuyers is all over the map. So for Tri-State real estate agents, the key is knowing what sells — and to whom.

“People buy lifestyles more than they buy home sites anymore,” says Janice Miller, broker agent for ERA First Advantage Realty, Inc. “They love outdoor kitchens, pools, screened in porches. They want to be able to walk to Starbucks or have a running track nearby. That’s young and old. That’s everyone. People are looking for a certain lifestyle.”

The Internet has changed the landscape of real estate, especially in the last decade. No longer do potential homebuyers start by contacting a real estate agent. Instead, they spend hours online searching for the perfect fit.

“It is a fairly sophisticated buyers group right now,” says John Pickens of Prudential Indiana. “About 80 percent of the people we deal with have gone on the Internet and they’ve already scoured the market. A lot of them have already driven by the homes they like before they even contact a real estate agent. They’ve done their homework.”

That’s not to say real estate agents don’t play a big role. The median price range for a home in Evansville is about $120,000, and real estate agents can help use that money to get the ideal size, shape, and location.

“When we go in to do our first assessment of a home, almost immediately we can pinpoint what type of buyer is going to purchase it,” says Carol McClintock of F.C. Tucker Emge REALTORS. “A two bedroom, one bath home; that eliminates some potential buyers. Or a five bedroom, three bath home; that eliminates other people.”

For first time homebuyers, the primary concern is usually the price tag. That’s not to say all first time buyers are looking for something inexpensive, and some millennials with high-paying jobs are seeking high-end living spaces. But first timer buyers almost are all young.

“First time homebuyers can be single people getting settled, couples who are thinking about getting married and want to cohabitate, or newly married couples,” says Pickens. “We have very few older people entering the market for the first time. Typically they are looking at the price, then they look at other criteria after that.”

One of the hottest markets in the Evansville area so far this year has been between $100,000 and $200,000. That price range is often associated with young families, who need space for growing children.

“Expanding young families typically double in price,” says John Briscoe, vice president of sales for F.C. Tucker Emge REALTORS. “So if they bought a home right out of college for $70,000 to $100,000, when they move up they double that price and double the square footage. They are usually looking for a three bedroom, two bath or a four bedroom, two bath.”

By the Numbers:

  • $123,361 – Average sales price of homes in 2013 in Vanderburgh County
  • $181,582 – Average sales price of homes in 2013 in Warrick County
  • 91 – Average days homes were on the market in 2013 in Vanderburgh County
  • 3% – Average home price increase from 2012 to 2013 in Vanderburgh County
  • 82 – Average days homes were on the market in 2013 in Warrick County
  • 5% – Average home price increase from 2012 to 2013 in Warrick County

But it’s not just about price. In fact, price isn’t usually the primary concern for young parents. Instead, it’s all about the school district.

“Schools are very important,” says McClintock. “People with children select a school district before they select a home. It is a very competitive environment. Very rarely will a family come in and just say they’ll live anywhere. They have already been online, they have seen the test scores, and they know what school they want. All the way down to preschool.”

Those second time homebuyers also tend to want a home that is ready to move into, because they often have little time left after work and family activities. But finding the right home can be a tough task, since most young families need to sell their old home before buying a new one.

“Some do move to the suburbs, in Warrick, Posey, or Gibson counties,” says Miller. “A lot of that now depends on where they work. If they work at Toyota, they go toward Gibson County. If they work at Mead Johnson, maybe they’ll look at Posey County. All of those areas are strong right now.”

Many couples whose children have moved away also look for a new home. That doesn’t always mean they want something smaller and cheaper.

“There are people who move down to the $150,000 to $200,000 range who want a low-maintenance life. They’ll go to a condo or an apartment,” says Pickens. “But on the other hand, there are people who have plenty of money and they’ve always had a smaller home, so now that the kids are gone they have extra money and they are looking for something a little bigger. A newer home with less maintenance.”

Older couples often prefer to have plenty of space, but with a different layout.

“We like to call it ‘right-sizing,’” says McClintock. “They are looking for something that might not be too much smaller, but might be on one level or a home where you could live on one floor with extra space upstairs for visiting family members.”

While urban dwellers are more common in other cities, Evansville does have its share of Downtown residents. Real estate agents say the Ford Center has played a role in that, along with other urban planning.

“That (urban dweller) market has started to become more popular here,” says Briscoe. “In the past few years, the city has invested so much to redevelop the Downtown and the condo market has started to become bigger. We anticipate the demand for Downtown living will increase dramatically as the plans for the Indiana University Medical School-Evansville come to fruition. So yes, there is a market for that. But the majority of our sales happen in suburban areas, just because that’s where more houses are for sale.”

The one thing that seems to define most urban dwellers is a lack of children. That creates an eclectic mix of young and old.

“What we see with the condos is one end of the spectrum or the other,” says McClintock. “There are millennials who are single or newly married. And then you have people who are 50 plus where the kids are gone. We are not seeing yet what you see in bigger cities, where people live in condos while raising families.”

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Experienced Movers

The Alfords want to put down roots in the Tri-State  By Bob Boxell

For Alexander and Andrea Alford, pulling up stakes and moving to a new location is nothing new after 28 years of marriage. The natives of South Carolina have lived in Germany twice, North Carolina twice, California, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and New Jersey. There was even a six-week stay in Bombay, India.

Their recent move to Newburgh, Ind., will be different, they insist. Never before have the Alfords stayed in any home more than seven years. “We’re determined to break our record,” vows Andrea.

The Alfords’ moves have resulted from Alexander’s positions with Robert Bosch, M&M Mars, and for the past 10 years, Alcoa. He was elevated earlier this year to location manager at Alcoa’s Warrick Operations, where he supervises the aluminum manufacturing facility. The couple jokes that moving to Southwest Indiana finally gets them out of Morristown. They moved to Morristown, Tenn., in 2008, and Morristown, N.J., in 2012.

“New Jersey is a very, very expensive place to live,” Alexander points out. “We grew up 50 miles north of Charleston, S.C., so we are used to a more relaxed environment where people know each other.  Then, along came this opportunity—a larger role, a promotion, and to a lower cost of living area — so it really wasn’t a deliberation.”

Andrea took over from there, working with Linda Johnson from Janice Miller’s team at ERA First Advantage Realty to find the right home in the right location. The Alfords wanted a house less than 10 years old that was smaller than their 6,000-square-foot house with 5 acres in Tennessee, but bigger than their condominium in New Jersey. They wanted to be close to Alexander’s job, but not far from shopping and Evansville Regional Airport. And if their real estate agent could find all those particulars inside a golf course community, that would be icing on the cake. For the first time, the Alfords were not picky about the school district. Daughter Kristina, 23, graduated from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., with a degree in architecture in 2013, and is now obtaining her graduate degree in product design at the California College of the Arts, Oakland, Calif. Son Alexander III, 19, is majoring in engineering and playing football at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa.

When Johnson showed them an 8-year-old, 3,200-square-foot home on Victoria Bluffs Drive in Victoria Manor, just a tee shot from Victoria National Golf Club, the Alfords were impressed. A spectacular patio area with an outdoor refrigerator, fireplace, and grill surrounded by granite countertops didn’t hurt, either.

“In looking at the size of the home, and the community, this fit us perfectly,” says Andrea. “We knew that a lot of our neighbors, like us, were transient. They were used to moving, so we automatically had things in common with them. Plus, Victoria had so much to offer. We don’t play golf, but we enjoy this style of living. We can take long walks with the dog, and we have a large enough yard so we can garden, yet not have too much yard. Linda made the process very easy. We’ve had a lot of experience with realtors, and she was exceptional. No matter what we asked about, nothing was too trivial or too big.”

The Alfords say that once boxes get unpacked, they’ll turn the bonus room upstairs into a media room for Alex’s video games when he’s home from college. Kristina, an avid reader, will get her own space for a library. Then, the empty nesters plan to spend the spring and summer exploring their new community. Alexander’s first impression is that Evansville/Newburgh is “the biggest small town we’ve ever lived in.”

Is that a good thing?

“Absolutely,” he says. “It has everything you’d expect in a city three times bigger. We had said our one regret about leaving New Jersey was the great restaurants, but we’ve already found some great ones here. We love Commonwealth Kitchen + Bar in Henderson, Ky., Kanpai Sushi Asian Bistro in Evansville, and Acapulco Mexican Restaurant and Cantina in Newburgh, Ind. I have noticed that one thing is more expensive here than in New Jersey — gas prices. But property taxes, income taxes, sales tax, they’re all lower. To get a car registered here compared to New Jersey is so much easier and less expensive. With the cost of everything else being so reasonable, I don’t mind paying a little more for gas. Plus, the people have been friendly and helpful. It feels comfortable to us.”

If the Alfords still feel comfortable here eight years from now, they’ll break their record for residential longevity. By then, the big brick house on Victoria Bluffs Drive may be serving another purpose — it is plenty big enough to accommodate grandchildren.

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Goodbye Landlord

Ballet director settles down in first home  By Katelyn Phillips

Evansville native Mark Bush has been a steady renter — and not just locally, but in New York, Arkansas, Texas, California, and Montana, to name a few. He hasn’t lived in a house since he left home at a young age to go to boarding school. Last summer, Bush called up Team McClintock at F.C. Tucker Emge REALTORS to start his search for the perfect home.

Checklist in hand, his real estate agent, Susann Beeson, took him to see homes within his price range. Bush knew some features were important to him, but after seeing the first homes, his original must-have list changed with every tour.

Some of his priorities included a French door refrigerator with ice maker (no more empty ice trays!), a big kitchen with white appliances, pocket doors in the guest bathroom, a fenced in yard for his Dachshund pup, Murphy, a walk-in shower, and a tiled foyer where he can shoo away salesmen.

“I just started narrowing down my priorities. As I looked at more and more homes, a total of about 20, I found out ‘this’ was a priority or I didn’t need ‘this’ as much anymore,” explains Bush.

As the artistic director of The School of Evansville Ballet and the nonprofit Evansville Ballet Theatre, Bush had little time to look for listings on his own. He simply told his real estate agent that he wanted to see everything on the market in his price range; he didn’t care what part of town. He was happy to shop around and grab ideas from the homes he walked through.

“Carol and Susann [Beeson] made it so much fun, I wasn’t stressed or nervous at all. We were seeing all these homes and they were laughing with me and giving me advice and their input; it was very enjoyable,” says Bush. “It’s fun to picture different colors and move the furniture around in your head.”
Bush moved back to Evansville five years ago when his father became ill. When his father passed away, instead of moving back to Arkansas, Bush stayed to be close to his mother and eventually take care of her. He grew very close to her in the last years of her life until she unexpectedly died in July 2013.
“It really devastated me. She was my best friend and the true love of my life. There was a point where I thought I didn’t need to be in Evansville anymore,” remembers Bush. “That was until I started getting signs from her, especially when deciding to settle down in my own home.”

The property Bush will call home is on Evansville’s North Side in a two bedroom, two bathroom condominium. When Bush met the previous owners, who also have a pet Dachshund, he was gifted a small painting titled “Budding Ballerina.”

“I said ‘OK, Mom, I get it. This is the one!’ I just knew looking back and forth between this house and another, thinking about what the trade off was here and there. As soon as I saw those signs, I knew this was it,” says Bush.

There are specific things Bush is looking forward to when he moves in. He’s looking forward to having four walls to call his own, where he doesn’t have to be considerate of a neighbor when deciding which wall to put his TV against.

“I’m excited to have people over, especially when we have guests in town for the ballet. There will definitely be some grilling going on this summer,” says Bush. “I’m going to be able to grow my own tomatoes and veggies in the garden, along with the fruit trees that were already planted. I’ll have my own little farmers market in my backyard.”

Currently serving 60 to 70 students, Bush invites guest ballet instructors from all over the country to his studio. He’s excited to give tours of his first home to his guests while “showing off his favorite spots in Evansville” to which he “truly treasures.” 

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Unexpected Bliss

The Grabers found their second home accidentally  By Nathan Blackford

Cyle and Kelly Graber weren’t really looking for their second home, but they found it anyway. The couple were expecting their first child, and had just begun thinking about building a bigger home when, on a whim, they attended an open house in the Old Hickory subdivision north of Newburgh, Ind.

“We have friends who had just bought the house across the street,” says Kelly. “I was out one morning and decided I wanted to see the home that they had purchased. So I drove through the neighborhood and saw this house was for sale and had an open house that day. We went and looked at it and put an offer in that week.”

The Grabers fit many of the typical characteristics of second-time homebuyers, with a growing family and stable income. They also bought the home from a typical seller, an older couple looking to downsize and move to Florida.

“We had been entertaining the idea of moving into a bigger house, but weren’t in a big hurry to move,” says Cyle. “In fact, we had gone to several open houses to look at the options available, but at that point we were contemplating the idea of buying a lot and eventually building a house. We were expecting a baby in October and planned to start building around the same time, with the hopes of moving this summer. But then this house came along.”

The original owners of the home, who’d moved in in the late 1980s, sold it to the Grabers. They had no children and had cared for the home meticulously. They also were Master Gardeners, so the landscape was well maintained.

“The neighbors still comment about their flowers,” says Cyle. “I tell them not to expect that. I will do okay, but it won’t be what they did. The previous owners took really good care of the house and yard.”

The Grabers first home was in the Windsor Pointe subdivision in Newburgh. They bought that home in 2006, just after getting married. That home was about 1,860 square feet, and the new home has around 3,450 square feet, more than the family needs for now.

“We really don’t need this size of house,” says Cyle. “It was more about where it is located, the way it is finished. We spent a lot of money updating our previous house, and this already had a lot of the nicer finishes.”

Those finishes, and the home’s style, appealed to the Grabers immediately. Plus, the location was between Cyle’s job at Skanska (formerly Industrial Contractors) in Evansville and Kelly’s job as a history teacher at Boonville High School.

Even though their daughter is just six months old, they were well aware of local schools. Their home is in the John H. Castle Elementary, Castle North Middle School, and Castle High School districts. The family has no plans to move again in the near future, unless it’s due to a job relocation.

“I knew I wanted to be in the Warrick County schools,” says Kelly, who did her student teaching at Castle High School.

The home, located on Summit Court, has limited traffic. Many of the homes near the Grabers also have recently been sold, and others are currently on the market. That’s bringing lots of young families into the area, something the Grabers like.

“This neighborhood may be in a homeowner turnover,” says Cyle. “The family across the street bought a month before us. And since we’ve lived here, two more young families have moved in.”

After purchasing their first home from an individual seller, the Grabers worked with a real estate agent the second time. But Cyle says the process was fairly simple both times, with very little haggling along the way. The biggest difference was the amount of furniture they had to move after the second home purchase.

The Grabers moved in over Memorial Day weekend in 2013. Just days later, Kelly hosted a party with more than 30 guests as she revealed the gender of her future baby daughter.

Their advice for other second-time homebuyers? Hire a mover.

“They just moved the large furniture, but that was money well-spent,” says Cyle.

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Building the Dream

The Sanfords get it right after kids leave home  By Erin Miller

After a long winter that led to a pushed back finish date, the home the Sanfords are in the process of rightsizing to is almost complete.

“We’ve lived in Newburgh, Ind., since 1997,” says Misty Sanford, who works at ERA First Advantage Realty. “We’ve always liked Newburgh and it’s proximity to Evansville’s East Side while being separate.”

After Sanford and her husband Mike sold their previous home in 2013 in the subdivision right across from their new home’s backyard, the couple sold “rooms worth of items” in an attempt to prepare for their smaller space.

“We still have three storage units for the things we’re keeping, so it’s been a challenge,” Sanford says about the year construction process. “There was a lot of stuff I didn’t realize we would have to think about and decide on.”

The conversation to build a home was one the couple have been having for years and once the blended family’s four children all moved out, they decided to combine the dream with their need for less space.

“We actually took a base plan that they had and made several changes to it,” says Sanford. “We completely redid the master bath, because we didn’t want a tub. As long as you have one in your house, then you’re OK from a selling standpoint but it’s a maintenance thing. It’s something that collects dust and you have to clean.”

All the bedrooms were upstairs at the Sanfords’ previous home, which had five bedrooms and more than 3,300 square feet of space. Their new home’s bedrooms are all downstairs but that meant giving up two bedrooms, an office, and almost 1,000 square feet of space.

“I have a bad knee, so the bedrooms all on one level was important,” says Sanford. “And most people our age want that so that if at some point they have an issue getting upstairs they don’t have to sell the house in order to accommodate it.”

Lower utility bills, less cleaning, and yard work also were factors into the Sanfords’ decision to rightsize. Transitioning from a kitchen with an open design to galley kitchen was a tough decision.

“I think that’s where we’ll notice the space missing the most,” says Mike, who consults at Keller Schroeder. “We gave up a lot of kitchen and cabinet space. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we don’t need extra space throughout the house just for the holidays or our kids visiting.”

In order to compensate for lost interior space, the two customized their floor plan to include more outdoor space in the form of a large screened in porch with room on the patio for a hot tub and a fire pit, for entertaining. Building the home also allowed the Sanfords to build in more storage in the form of closets in the laundry room and attic, something the couple agrees is important for future rightsizers to keep in mind.

“All in all, I think we’re happy with where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives though,” says Misty. “It’s definitely been an adventure.”

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River View

Couple live their downtown dream  By Emily Patton

Beth Anderson and Rian Coutinho consider themselves to be pioneers.

The husband and wife pair moved to Downtown Evansville when dreams of the revitalization were only being hatched. It was long before the Ford Center and during the times of hushed streets after 5 p.m.

The couple moved to 300 Main St. in 2008, because they wished to support the Downtown initiative. They found themselves staying in Downtown locations while visiting other cities and asked, “Why not Evansville?” The move at the time was “experimental,” says Coutinho.

“Ever since I was a kid,” says Anderson, “I’ve seen many attempts to vitalize Main Street — from bricking it, adding curves to it, making it one-way with parking on one side — I’ve heard that story over and over — we just wanted to come down here and see it actually happen.

“We believe in it and it looks like it is happening. We are totally excited about Downtown development and revitalization.”

As Downtown continues its rebirth, Anderson and Coutinho have no intention of leaving the area, although over the summer, they are moving to a condo only a couple blocks away at 100 N.W. First St. The couple’s three children are now grown, and this condo, in the 7-story Riverfront Condominiums building, is smaller.

The couple worked with upstairs neighbor Carol McClintock of F.C. Tucker Emge REALTORS to find their riverside condo and to list their current condo. Instead of the three bedroom, two and a half bath open floor plan now, the couple will be moving into a two bedroom and two bath condo.

“We like the idea of being in the city,” says Anderson, who is a certified holistic health coach and naturopathic doctor at Holistic Health Hotspot and is a Vanderburgh CASA volunteer. “We wanted to be able to walk everywhere. We wanted to walk to shows, restaurants, and festivals.”

The couple says living Downtown has changed the way they interact with the community. Because of their proximity, Anderson says they participate in far more events than before and walk on the greenway about three times a week. They also can open their windows and listen to music or enjoy a sunset, which is especially nice for Coutinho, who works for Dell Inc. from home.

The only piece missing is a grocery store, says Anderson. While they frequent the Farmers Market often during the summer months, the couple would love to have something throughout the year.

But with the promise of the Indiana University Medical School-Evansville coming Downtown, they believe their wish for a grocery won’t be far behind.

“The Ford Center, new convention hotel, IU medical center, and all of the new Downtown interest is just huge for all of Evansville,” says Anderson.

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