Story by Megan Whitehead | Feb 27, 2017
Photography by Anthony Jinson

Real estate and construction experts from around Jefferson City share what you need to know before building or buying. 

City Magazine sat down with 12 local real estate agents, builders, bankers, and lawyers to discuss the most pivotal aspects of building and buying residential and commercial buildings in Jefferson City. These experts broke down what you need to know to buy or build, and we separated that information into three key pieces of advice: be informed and realistic, stay local, and trust your professionals.

Be Informed, Be Realistic

When preparing to build residentially or commercially, it’s vital to have a list or file laying out exactly what you want in your home or office. Idea repositories like HGTV and Pinterest, as well as home magazines and websites, can be helpful in this pursuit.

“You have to go in knowledgeable,” says Dan Hines, of Midwest Block & Brick. “Don’t go to your builders with a blank sheet, because you won’t be able to compare prices. You’ll be wasting time.”

However, the dream homes you see on TV and online can be misleading. “Go window shopping,” says Tina Davis, of Designs by Tina. “The internet and HGTV don’t show you everything that can go wrong. It’s a double-edged sword.”

That’s where an experienced builder and designer come in. Often, a good professional will take you window shopping to show you what works in a home and what doesn’t. When choosing the right professional for you, it’s important to compare portfolios, prices, and schedules before deciding.

“The first thing I would do when building is, by word of mouth or referral, find a builder,” says Chris Schrimpf, of Hawthorn Bank. “Then go to them with what you know you want.”

“Don’t waste too much of your time comparing bids between contractors,” says Jason Otke, of Dick Otke Construction. “Every bid is completely different, so they’ll never be exactly comparable. Find someone you can get along with and who can do what you want and go from there.”

Before contacting your builder, though, you’ll want to first talk to your banker or lender, build a budget (with wiggle room), then find the other people you trust to help manage your project (that list probably includes a real estate lawyer).

“First time home buyers working on a fine budget need to pay especially close attention to whether or not you can afford insurance,” says Tony Porter, of Tony Porter Agency, American Family Insurance. “Talk to your finance person. If I was in my 20s and going to buy or build a house, I would want to know how much I can borrow, how much I can finance, and what my level of finish is — do I want hardwood floors, granite countertops, etc. This all needs to be figured out before even contacting a builder or contractor.”

“The biggest thing I tell clients is to have a contingency. You need at least a 10 percent contingency to save you money in the end,” says Schrimpf. There are always hidden costs when building or buying a home. You may decide to change something, for example, or a pipe could burst.

“Be careful when comparing prices for contractors and builders,” says Michelle Higgins, of Scruggs Lumber. “Higher prices usually mean that labor costs are covering workman’s compensation and disability for employees. Construction agencies that insure their workers means less costs for you if something were to go wrong.” In those cases, it’s just as important to have legal counsel as it is to have insurance and a flexible budget.

“On the commercial side, folks who are building huge buildings and looking at it from a business and numbers sense, they have in-house counsel they can deal with for contracts or any other issues that may arise,” says Chip Gentry, of Call & Gentry Law Group. “On the residential side, most folks never think about talking to an attorney up front. However, due to the human condition, there is always going to be a misunderstanding or something that will go wrong. The reality is that a home is probably the biggest asset any of us will ever own. Failure to talk to an insurance agent or a lawyer up front could end up costing you thousands of dollars in the long run.”

This extends into the actual project itself. “When you’re comparing bids for contractors and builders, people tend to look only at the bottom line,” says Scott Schaeperkoetter, Signature Homes. “There’s a common misperception that if you’re comparing two bids and one is $20,000 less, that’s the best option. But which one is more realistic? We spend a lot of time with our clients up front getting to know exactly what they want because we want to price that in their home. If they want granite, why am I giving them a price for formica? Being realistic up front and knowing what you want is very important.”

Stay Local, Increase Local Value

Deciding whether to build or buy for a home or business can be a daunting process. You have to determine if there’s a space available to fit your needs in your desired location, or whether building something new or custom will fit in your budget.

Whatever you decide, right now is the best time to do either. “In the last 20 years, there has been a rise in new, custom construction in Jefferson City,” says Kristina McMichael, McMichael Realty. This means that builders are ready and able to efficiently build exactly what you want — within reason.

“Buyers are willing to pay top dollar for a nice home, but they won’t overpay,” says Beth McGeorge, of Beth McGeorge
RE/MAX. “There is a ceiling. We’re in a fair-fight market right now. Neither buyers nor sellers have a crazy good edge. This all depends on price range and condition. Listings that go from $100,000 to $150,000 will get snatched up quickly.”

Whether you end up buying and remodeling or building new, you’re making an investment in the community. To maximize that investment, it’s essential that you use local professionals who know Mid-Missouri well.

“I always stress shopping local,” says Chris Gates, of Kolb Properties. “There’s a value in sitting across a desk from your banker, builder, insurance agent, what have you. You aren’t going to get much help from a guy in California who doesn’t know you from Adam. There’s value in face-to-face interaction, an accountability that’s inherent.”

“We [at Jefferson Bank] see so many people going online these days for home loans or mortgages,” says Christina Bush, of Jefferson Bank. “You know your local people — make sure you’re using them.”

You may be asking, “What is going to bring property and home values in Jefferson City up?” The answer is resounding: investment in education.

“It is so important to what we all do to have a good school system,” says Hines. “If companies are coming in and not seeing a strong school system, they’re going to go to Columbia. We’re going to lose them.”

This means losing jobs and more investment in the community, leading to a declining housing and property market. “While you may pay more taxes in Columbia, people are happy to pay for what they see value in,” says McGeorge.

This has been a growing concern in our community due to the loss of several retail businesses across the city, but there’s good news too.

“In commercial real estate, you basically have three sectors: industrial, warehouse, and office and retail,” Gates says. “There are a lot of empty offices that have been purchased in recent years. When you look around and see a lot of for-sale or lease signs, be aware that those spaces may not be available for what people are looking for. While building homes seems to be on the uptick, building office space is not. People are buying office space.”

With the loss of retailers such as Kmart, Hastings, Sears, and Barnes & Noble, it can be difficult to see growth in the commercial real estate market, but most of those buildings have already been purchased by replacement businesses. “I want to make it clear that these vacancies are not a deficiency in Jefferson City, but rather a redirection of market trends,” Gates says.

This cycling of businesses is beneficial to the growth of Jefferson City. “It’s a positive that things are moving around,” says Otke. “The buildings get updated and new things move in.”

“You’re going to see new, different brands,” Gates says. “For example, a Pancheros is moving in on Missouri Boulevard near the new Smoothie King. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of that.”

Leave It to the Pros

Another resounding conclusion throughout this conversation? Trust your professionals. “We are really blessed in this community that we have incredible professionals that are trustworthy and do say what they mean and mean what they say,” says Gentry.

These 12 professionals, and more that weren’t represented here, build, sell, insure, and protect the homes and businesses of Jefferson City every day. Their biggest concerns, aside from the day to day challenges of business, are with people trying to be their own contractors. No matter how knowledgeable or capable you may be or may think you are, there is always a chance of injury, damage, or other liabilities.

If you’re attempting to manage a build yourself and something happens, you alone are liable. Instead, take advantage of the vast experience and expertise of our local professionals. Even if costs may be a bit higher, you’ll be saving in the long run. “Try to avoid the ‘penny wise, pound foolish’ mentality,” says Gentry.

“Communication and building relationships with your professionals are so important,” says Davis. “If you are willing to take that risk of building a home or business and you feel good about your professional, you are ultimately going to get to know someone who is building your home or commercial project. You’re going to establish a very intimate relationship with that person. If you already don’t feel good up front, you shouldn’t be working with them.”

“I tell my clients all the time, ‘If you can’t trust me, we need to stop right now and you need to go find someone you trust,’” says Schaeperkoetter.

So choose a professional you trust — one that has what McMichael calls “with-it-ness.” Someone with with-it-ness is willing to do everything they can to get you what you need. They are the ones who give you their cell number, they are the ones who are attentive, and they are the ones who you can build a relationship and trust with.

So once again: Take advantage of the skilled and experienced professionals that care about Jefferson City as much as you do. They build our local businesses and they are our local businesses.

Davis sums it up well. She says, “Whether you’re hiring a contractor, designer, electrician, whatever it is, you need to rely on the professionals to give you advice and steer you in the right direction, because we’ve seen what can happen and know how to deal accordingly.”

 

Jefferson City Area Board of Realtors Statistics
provided by Kristina McMichael

In the last few years, a positive trend is apparent in home buying and selling. Our local experts expect that trend to continue into 2017. While the number of listings has decreased overall since 2014, that number is rising and is expected to continue that way. 

2014
Number of New Listings – 2,023
Number of Units Sold – 1,167
Average Days on Market – 95

2015
Number of New Listings – 1,884
Number of Units Sold – 1,297
Average Days on Market – 89

2016
Number of New Listings – 1,896
Number of Units Sold – 1,355
Average Days on Market – 72

The Professionals

“Know the different loan program options available.”
—Christina Bush, Jefferson Bank

“Builders are there for a reason.”
— Dan Hines, Midwest Block & Brick

“Get professionals involved early on and have realistic schedule and budget expectations.”
— Jason Otke, Dick Otke Construction

“Take care of your obligations and build your credit score.”
—Chris Schrimpf, Hawthorn Bank

“Realtors are all different. Ask the right questions.”
— Beth McGeorge, Beth McGeorge RE/MAX

“Communication is key.”
— Chip Gentry, Call & Gentry Law Group

“Pay attention to your investments. Inspect what you expect.”
—Chris Gates, Kolb Properties

“Every deal is different, so be informed.”
— Kristina McMichael, McMichael Realty

“Buy and shop local.”
—Michelle Higgins, Scruggs Lumber

“Set proper expectations.”
—Scott Schaeperkoetter, Signature Homes

“Know your goals and trust the professionals.”
— Tina Davis, Designs by Tina

“Insurance is not just a premium. Know what you’re paying for.”
— Tony Porter, Tony Porter Agency, American Family Insurance