Published 12:00 am Friday, August 10, 2007

By Katie Scarvey
Salisbury Post
Elm Street has had its share of problems in recent years, with a reputation for drug deals and illegal activity. It’s also the site of some houses that have been badly neglected.
These days, though, good things are happening on the street. If you’ve driven on the 200 block recently, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that some major renovation work is going on.
In fact, four houses in a row, cottages dating from about 1910-1920, are getting extreme makeovers.
A group of investors has taken on the task, hoping to see a return on their money and effort and revitalize the neighborhood in the process.
Two investors from Lake Wylie, S.C., are renovating 209, 217 and 221 Elm St..
Cherrathee Hager and Pat Marsh of Salisbury are teaming up to renovate the house at 205 Elm St. The two women have an emotional investment in the community as well as a financial one.
The sign outside sums up the investors’ philosophy: “Revitalizing our neighborhood one home at a time with private money.”
The two women believe that when it comes to restoring houses and neighborhoods, private enterprise can work miracles.
They distance themselves from the term “flippers.” Marsh says that calls to mind someone slapping a coat of paint on a house and trying to make a quick buck without making substantial improvements.
“We want to make money, and we have to make money to live,” Marsh says, “but at the same time we like taking pitiful houses in neighborhoods that need a boost and turning them back into private-owned residences, not rentals. And we do them really nice, so that the neighborhood is improved.”
“Revitalizing our neighborhoods by restoring and remodeling these beautiful older homes is so important,” Hager says. “It is unusual to find four adjacent homes being rehabbed at the same time,” adds Hager, who recently learned that the owners of the home on the corner of Crosby and Elm streets are also planning to start exterior renovations soon.
That’s a fairly typical reaction, according to Hager. “When we start work on a house, we always see an immediate response from the surrounding residents as they start improving their properties.”
The exterior of 205 Elm St. already looks good, and the interior is shaping up nicely. Marsh, who has been a professional painter, is taking care of the home’s surfaces, including sanding and painting.
“We saved all the woodwork and doors except one that had to be replaced,” she says.
The hardwood floors will soon be ready to be sanded and refinished, and the kitchen will get new cabinetry and appliances. The whole house will be re-wired and re-plumbed.
Hager says the house could be finished in several weeks.
Although the women are motivated to finish, they won’t sacrifice quality for speed. They want the work to be done in such a way that they wouldn’t be embarrassed to live there themselves, says Marsh, who lives three streets over on Maupin Avenue and owns another property on Elm Street.
Of course, they want to
turn a profit, but they also feel a strong sense of responsibility to the communities they’re investing in.
“Your heart’s gotta be in the right place,” Hager says.
Hager and Marsh are both members of Metrolina Real Estate Investors Association, which allows investors and potential investors to share knowledge, network and make contacts. Hager heads up a subgroup that meets in Concord.
The Fulton Heights neighborhood has definitely taken note of the work that’s being done.
People have been coming up on the porch to take a peek and are thanking Marsh and Hager for what they’re doing for the neighborhood, which is part of the Fulton Heights Historic District.
Andrew Pitner, head of the Fulton Heights Neighborhood Association, is happy to see the developments on Elm Street.
“That block was a real blight,” he said. “I’m very happy to see something positive happening there.
“It’s going to be a huge improvement.”
Like many in the neighborhood, Pitner would like to see the homes turned into private residences as opposed to rental properties ó and that’s what the investors have in mind as well.
“I hope to see more of that happening,” Pitner says. “Hopefully, people will see something like that and say, ‘Gee, it can be done.’ ”
Shakeisha Gray lives on the 400 block of Elm with her husband Jason and their children.
She’s thrilled to see what’s happening up the street.
“It’s about time,” she says.
“You don’t know how many times we’d call the police department or call code enforcement (regarding problems on the block).”
Gray believes that the renovations will provide a good “kick start” to progress in the area.
“I think there’s a whole movement to revitalize Elm Street and make it as desireable as the rest of the (Fulton Heights) neighborhood,” she says. “We’re fixing our house as well.”
Marsh says that it can be difficult to get a neighborhood to turn the corner without support from the city in the form of efficient code enforcement.
“If we don’t get more help from the city and the county, our private money is going to dry up,” Marsh says. “People are getting frustrated because of code enforcement.”
Marsh is happy that Salisbury has invested in the downtown but feels the city also needs to do its part in improving residences that may not be considered historic.
Hager says she started acquiring properties about 25 years ago. She’d buy a house, fix it up and then keep it as a rental property. She also buys distressed homes to renovate and sell.
It’s a win-win proposition, she believes.
“You’re offering a good home to a family and upgrading a neighborhood,” she says.
Recently, Hager bought a house on Spruce Avenue in East Spencer that had been abandoned for four years. She did an extensive renovation in three weeks through her company, Twin Oak Development, and now the home looks “absolutely brand new,” she says.
She’s convinced that towns like East Spencer ó which is attracting interest among investors outside of the county ó are the new frontier for real estate investing.
Hager says her interest in real estate investing came from her grandmother.
Although she didn’t smoke, her grandmother ruined her lungs working in the tobacco industry, Hager says. She knew she couldn’t continue working around tobacco, so she went to night school in Winston-Salem to get her nursing degree, with the goal of owning a convalescent home.
World War II and the Korean War changed everything, Hager says. Women had become heads of household and had moved into the workplace. As a result, “there was nobody to stay home with the alcoholic brother or the elderly mom,” she says, and outside caregivers were needed.
Hager’s grandmother managed to get a bank loan to buy a large two-story house in Winston-Salem ó her first convalescent home.
“That was the beginning of the getting out of poverty,” Hager says. Eventually, her grandmother acquired more homes.
Hager has inherited her grandmother’s business acumen and her philosophy ó invest your money and you’ll get a return.
Marsh also grew up in a family interested in real estate investment. Her parents would buy a “derelict house” in either a nice or a marginal neighborhood and then live in it while they fixed it up, Marsh says.
They discovered that the neighbors would typically follow suit, improving their own homes.
Marsh has memories of running around her yard with a wheelbarrow ó her father often required her to help with renovations. “It seems like I was always covered with sheetrock dust,” she says.
While she wasn’t crazy at the time about being recruited as a laborer ó especially when cute football players from the nearby high school walked by ó she’s now glad her father helped lay the groundwork for something she’s passionate about.Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or