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Reprinted from The Salem News, May 24, 2005

Luxury condo buyers are becoming the new face of Salem

By Anna Scott
Salem News Staff writer

SALEM — The newest people in the city are couples in their 30s and 40s, bachelors, single women, divorcées, empty nesters. Most do not have children. They work in Boston and on the North Shore, as financial advisers, teachers, tech gurus, CEOs — and even, in one case, as a bank teller.

They are the new faces of Salem, the people who are moving into all the new luxury condominiums downtown.

And some are paying up to $750,000 for the privilege.

They have come to live urban, stylish lifestyles — at less-than-Boston prices. They want shops, restaurants, cafés and public transportation, all within walking distance. And they want it more than they want a yard or a garage: Some of them are paying more for their condos than they would for a new single-family home.

They talk about Salem's "resurgence" over the past few years, of its bounty of hip restaurants and stores.

The spaces have hardwood floors, high ceilings, granite countertops and gas fireplaces. Some of the developments — like Derby Lofts, the old police station and The Distillery — feature pieces of the original construction, such as exposed brick walls and timber beams, for charm.

At the Salem Waterfront Hotel and Suites, service is a central selling point. Maids clean the house and take out the dry cleaning. Room service is always available. And the toilet seats are engineered to close automatically, silently, after use.

Here's a peek at some of Salem's new citizens and their new homes.

Larry Littler, Salem Waterfront Hotel

Larry Littler, a wealth management adviser and regional vice president for John Hancock, owns an airy, fifth-floor condo atop the Salem Waterfront Hotel.

Floor-to-ceiling windows show views of Salem Harbor, Pickering Wharf and the Peabody Essex Museum. Black granite covers the fireplace and the kitchen countertop, which has a built-in, refrigerated wine reserve. His collection of bronze sculptures, one made to look like his son, decorates the room.

"Waking up to this every morning isn't bad," Littler said, smiling and gesturing to his new place.

Littler chose the hotel because he wanted to be near his two sons, who live with their mother in a waterfront home in Marblehead, just across the harbor. He also wanted a low-maintenance lifestyle. His job with John Hancock takes him around the country about two nights a week. While he's gone, hotel staff clean his condo, wash his laundry or take it to the dry cleaner and collect his mail and packages. "It's really nice to be able to come back to a place in order," Littler said. "Do you pay a premium? Sure. But if you look at the value of your time, it makes all the sense in the world."

In the 12 weeks he's lived here, he estimates he has cooked six dinners. He calls hotel room service or walks to the nearby restaurants. Strega is one of his favorites. He shops at Crosby's Market for groceries and stops at The Bung Hole Liquor Store for the occasional six-pack. For breakfast, it's usually egg sandwiches at Brothers Deli.

The condos have wireless Internet connections, which means Littler can work from home early in the day and drive to Boston mid-morning, when traffic is less congested. His condo comes with one parking space. It also comes with a preferred slip in the marina. Littler will park his 24-foot power boat right outside of Finz Restaurant. He plans to take it across the harbor to visit his sons, who are 7 and 10. The boys think the pad is pretty cool, Littler said. They like the fireplace, which flickers on at the touch of a remote control, and the 50-inch plasma TV above it. Ordering pizza from room service is another favorite. The boys sleep in bunk beds in a room with a water view.

The hotel is also perfect for entertaining clients, Littler said. The ballroom and conference rooms are available for him to use. This fall, he plans to charter two America's Cup antique yachts and take 20 of his best clients on a sunset cruise.

Littler said his colleagues and partners are looking into similar full-service real estate in Boston, at places like the Intercontinental and the Four Seasons. But those places run $1.5 to $2 million — and that's without ocean access.

Littler paid about $750,000. "It's the best of Boston with a North Shore flavor," Littler said. "And they all look out for you, to a T."

Scott Levine, Derby Lofts

Scott Levine and his wife, Ela, closed on a fourth-floor condominium at Derby Lofts last week. They paid $399,000 to move in Sept. 1, just before the entire six-story complex is complete. Because they agreed to buy pre-construction, Levine said, "the price was good."

They are first-time condo owners. Derby Lofts was attractive to them because of the downtown location and the new building, Levine said. They doubted they could afford a home as nice as their loft. "If I can't afford a large, charming place on the water, we'll take a new place downtown," said Levine, 34, who grew up in Peabody and works as a mortgage broker at Global/Redwood Financial Partners in Beverly. "I didn't want one of those cookie-cutter townhomes going up everywhere. We wanted unique space. And homes around here are outrageous (in price) for what you get. So I thought the value was good."

The Levines' two-bedroom is still under construction. When they move in, it will have granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances and hardwood floors. A concierge and valet will greet them at the entrance. There is a drive-through lobby for dropping off groceries. "We have a partial ocean view, a balcony," Levine said. "You can see the harbor. It's pretty cool." The loft comes with two parking spaces in the municipal garage, just enough for the couple's two cars.

For Levine, who is renting an apartment in Lynn's Diamond District, Derby Street is closer to his job in Beverly and a short walk to restaurants and shops downtown. After living in apartments in Boston's Back Bay for years, it was important for him to be in an urban environment. "It's just an awesome location," he said. "I wanted to be downtown. It's somewhat of an urban setting. It's not Boston, but there are plenty of restaurants, stores, whatever you need."

Rich and Andreia Weddle, The Distillery

Rich and Andreia Weddle of Salem were looking at a new home in Beverly, near Montserrat College of Art, at the same time they were considering a new condo in The Distillery.

The Beverly home came with a yard, flower beds and a garage. It cost $579,000. The quiet condo overlooking Washington Street in downtown Salem was $580,000. They chose the condo.

"It has historic charm," said Rich, an auditor for Northeastern University in Boston. "At the same time, all new appliances and woodworking," said Andreia, who moved to Salem from Romania to attend Salem State College. "My husband likes everything new." The couple moved in Jan. 4. They wanted to live downtown, but Boston was too pricey and seemed too overwhelming.

Rich takes the train to work every morning — and likes that he can take either the Rockport or Newburyport line to get home to Salem each night. Andreia walks next door to their condo to work at Eastern Bank, where she is a teller.

Their two-story condo has 14-foot ceilings and the original red-brick wall of its previous life as a nightclub. Workers installing a cable television connection said the kitchen is just where the bar used to be, Andreia said. The first floor is surrounded by windows.

At first, Andreia worried she would miss the garden in their old condo on Pickman Street. But the brightness of her home and the flowering trees outside her window make up for it. "It's just so beautiful," she said. On the second floor, there is a guest bedroom and study, both with the original pine floorboards and skylights, and an attic. Tapestries from the couple's trip to China hang on the walls.

The couple rarely drive anywhere. They store their car in the municipal parking garage.

Averil Svahn, Town House Square

Averil Svahn was one of the first to ride the city's wave of new condos. She moved into the Town House Square development next to City Hall two years ago. From her third-floor home, she has a bird's-eye view of the mayor's office. She moved to Salem after spending eight years working for Fidelity Investments in northern Kentucky, just outside of Cincinnati.

Originally from Winchester, Svahn, 41, wanted to move closer to home and be in a more urban environment. Boston was too expensive. She paid $270,000 for her condo here. The complex retains some of the original doors and windows it had as an office building. Svahn's bedroom door has a brass mail slot.

Starting three weeks ago, she began taking the 7:03 a.m. train to work. Before, she was driving to the Fidelity office in Marlborough — 104 miles a day round trip, she said Even with the commute, she likes living in downtown Salem. Her friends from Brookline and Boston often visit to go out to eat or to museums. "I wanted to be in a city, where I could walk out my door in the morning and get a cup of coffee," Svahn said. "Or go to the movies or eat out."

Jessica Shulman, Derby Lofts

Jessica Shulman, 31, and her fiancé, Mark McGettrick, 30, have decided to make Salem their home. They plan to move from their condo across town to one of the Derby Lofts in August.

Shulman, who grew up in Framingham, is a middle school teacher in Newton. McGettrick, who is originally from Vermont, works as a software engineer in Cambridge. "About a year ago, we started talking about where we would live next," Shulman said. "We both liked Salem, but we didn't know if there was a place that fit what we wanted. Mark wanted a city feel, and I wanted a suburb feel."

When they saw advertisements for Derby Lofts, they thought it was "a real find," Shulman said. They liked the mix of new construction with original steel beams and exposed brick. "We liked the feeling of being downtown in the middle of everything, with great restaurants," Shulman said. "We always feel like something's going on, but we'll also be close to the ocean and suburbs. It really worked out well." "Salem has really become our spot," she said.

The couple doesn't mind that parking has not yet been determined for the lofts. They will likely have space in the South Harbor Garage near Salem Beer Works. Both drive to work: Shulman before rush hour hits and McGettrick after the initial rush.

The average cost of one of the lofts is $400,000.

"Pricing for what you're getting is reasonable," Shulman said. "Everything's brand-new, and the space is gorgeous. Our view is of the main square."

See related article: New Development Captures Market

 

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