Viral Marketing

Neighborhood restoration reaches a tipping point in Knoxville

2318 Jefferson Ave.

1,130 sq. ft.
2 bdrm, 1 bath
contact: Jennifer Montgomery
Coldwell Banker: 693-1111

"The Tipping Point," writes Malcolm Gladwell in his influential book by the same title, is "the level at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable." Published in 2000, the book seeks to explain a wide range of social phenomena, from fashion fads to runaway bestsellers to crime rates and the spread of urban legends. "Ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics," according to Gladwell, who borrowed his title from the term epidemiologists use for the moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass.

In the case of a common cold, reaching that critical mass can take hours. But a major social phenomenon like urban revitalization can take years, even decades, to incubate. Fourth and Gill, for instance, has been "gentrifying" since at least the early 1980s.

It's not as if landlords suddenly decide their real estate is worth money, boot the renters out and move the yuppies in. In fact, slum landlords are often the last to let go. Some of the houses that were rental property when I lived in Fourth and Gill almost two decades ago remain so today.

If anything, the most significant "tipping point" in a neighborhood's revitalization isn't when rental houses start to revert back to owner occupancy. It's when the number of rental houses stops growing. Consider this scenario: a little old lady who has lived in the neighborhood for decades moves on to assisted living. What happens to her house? Is it listed with a real estate agent and sold to a new home owner? Or is it quickly unloaded in an estate auction, likely to a landlord looking for cheap real estate and cash flow? The answer to that question is a pretty good indication of which way a neighborhood is tipping.

Don't get me wrong: Investors and landlords exist in revitalizing neighborhoods. But they're quite likely people who live in the neighborhood, buying property that's been put through the wringer and flipping it back to owner-occupied. Or, at the very least, buying vacant rental property to get control of its management. Either way the neighborhood improves, and that improvement spreads, like a virus, as each renovated house encourages someone else to renovate another.

Just like houses such as this one on Jefferson Avenue in Parkridge. An airy bungalow with a broad front porch, back deck and period details like three-over-one windows and a clawfoot tub, it's a classic example of Arts and Crafts style. And, although recently purchased by an investor, since Parkridge has passed the "tipping point," he didn't do a quick fix, partitioning a room or two to maximize the number of bedrooms for maximum cash flow. Instead, he installed a new roof and central heat and air and refinished the gorgeous oak floors. m