19th Ward is seeing an upswing in real estate activity
by: Mary Chao
The two-story home off Genesee Street in the 19th Ward had seen better days. Vandals tore through the century-old building, ripping out copper for resale with the entire interior and exterior falling apart from years of neglect and vacancy.
While many would see the zombie home as urban blight, Mark Updegraff saw it as an opportunity. He purchased the 2,500-square-foot dilapidated home for $33,000 in 2017 as an investment, fixing it up to lease.
“This is a popular area for investors,” Updegraff said of the 19th Ward, noting its proximity to University of Rochester and the interest in walkable neighborhoods.
The Barton Street home is the latest in a series of investments in the 19th Ward for Updegraff. When it’s all said and done, there will be two more units in his portfolio available for lease. In total, Updegraff, 38, has fixed up 30 separate buildings in the 19th Ward, with 50 rental units that his company manages. What began as a way to bridge the financial gap after he was laid off has turned into a full-time new career, with The Updegraff Group employing 27 staffers at his real estate and property management company.
The Great Recession
A graduate from Rochester Institute of Technology’s image and photographic technology program in 1997, Updegraff went on to work at ITT in Rochester. But when the company lost a large government contract in the midst of the Great Recession in 2008, Updegraff found himself out of work. He could return to his roots in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, but his wife, Maria, a graduate of University of Rochester, insisted on staying in their adopted hometown. So Updegraff had to adjust and adapt, starting a new career in real estate.
Fortunately for Updegraff, he had invested in rental properties while he was working, so he had some seed money in the form of equity. He obtained his real estate license and found rapport with clients who were seeking a low pressure agent who didn’t push for a sale. Updegraff would also scout out distressed homes to fix up as investments.
The city’s 19th Ward called out to Updegraff. The southwest city neighborhood is filled with tree-lined streets and grand homes from yesteryear. There’s a mix of racial, ethnic and economic diversity with doctors, students, politicians and poor families all living along side each other.
Updegraff scouted for distressed properties, doing his part to help the zombie home problem.
“We go into these areas knowing it will be a hard and slow battle, but if we endure and work together, we can change neighborhoods,” Updegraff said.
The best part about restoring homes for rental is that it attracts caring tenants, he added. But he understands that it may be a struggle to retain these tenants in locations where bad elements live in close proximity.
A lot of the dilapidated homes have people who live there who get their income from illicit activities, Updegraff said. These homes look like zombie properties without being vacant, he explained. When these homes spread in an area, some stakeholders will turn their backs out of frustration, which leads to foreclosure or demolition. Vacant homes provide a breeding ground for more illicit activities and the problem just grows, Updegraff said.