Creating “Boutique Apartments” By Renovating Rather Than Bulldozing
A few years ago, Christopher Bran was hanging out at his friend’s midcentury apartment on Kipling Street when he came up with the business idea that would change his life. He noticed that the complex was located between a million-dollar home and an expensive day-care center, yet no renovations had taken place in decades. “The apartments were just dilapidated and rundown,” remembered Bran, 31, president of CBMJ Investments and Development, LLC. “It was like, why isn’t anyone doing anything with this? So I started driving around Montrose, and I noticed a lot of old apartment buildings like that.”
Bran’s friend put him in touch with the building’s owner, an absentee landlord more than happy to sell. At that point, most Houston developers would have kicked out the tenants and bulldozed the building to make room for townhomes. Instead, Bran opted for a different approach. Rather than tearing down the building and starting from scratch, he used his design background to launch an extreme makeover. He replaced the siding, put in new hardwood floors and marble counters, re-landscaped the entranceway, and installed a state-of-the-art security system that can be controlled by smartphone.
Within two weeks of completing the Kipling Street project, Bran had leased the entire building—some units to existing tenants, some to new ones. Because of the improvements, he was able to boost rent while still keeping prices below the top rates charged by other luxury buildings. “I saw that there was this huge market that was untapped by developers, who didn’t want to touch these buildings,” Bran explained. “They don’t want to spend the time and energy to renovate these properties because it’s so much work. It’s much easier to tear it down, and put up a townhome.”
Who was renting Bran’s apartments? Mostly young professionals, many of them lawyers or doctors, looking for something more unique than the cookie-cutter units on offer from larger complexes. “We were trying to differentiate ourselves by doing something outside the norm,” Bran said. “We call them boutique apartments.”
Following the success of the Kipling Street project, Bran and his investment partners began buying up other moldering apartment buildings around Montrose, and giving them similarly lavish upgrades. He’s renovated nine buildings, and is looking at buying two more. For Sari Frank, a real estate agent who has worked with Bran to find investors for these projects, the whole point is to preserve Montrose’s historical character. “I’ve seen so many communities in Houston where you lose the character of the neighborhood as they develop,” Frank said. “It was very important to me to be able to help restore these apartments rather than tear them down and replace them with new builds.”
Of course, deciding to renovate rather than replace comes with some challenges, including dealing with outdated, 1960s-era floorplans and construction methods. “They are so strangely put together sometimes,” Bran observed. “You look at them and are like, why did people design them like that? What style is that? But at the same time, you can utilize that to create unique floorplans. They all have their own challenges, but it’s always fun.”
To rent or invest, contact Sari Frank at email@example.com or 832-571-5999