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27 Feb Ep. 10: Shannon Howard of STLHomesWithSoul.com Talks Vintage and Unique Homes

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Adam talks to one of the most popular real estate bloggers in St. Louis, Shannon Howard of StlHomesWithSoul.com, about vintage and unique homes.

Email questions to Podcast@HermannLondon.com

WHAT’S INSIDE

1:50-What does it mean to be a blogger

3:00-Why is the site called STLHomesWithSoul.com and what make a home vintage or unique

4:26-Time capsule homes

5:09-What if a buyer wants to change the house completely

6:59-Can a vintage house also have updated appliances

8:22-Does Shannon work with mostly buyers or sellers that have/want unique homes

10:30-Is it legal to own chickens in your neighborhood

11:30-What is a modern home

15:25-What is preservation

16:35-Salvaging hardwood floors from another house

17:55-How to get people to pay for your old stuff instead of paying someone to haul it away

20:00-Formica’s new 180FX laminate printing technique for counter-tops

21:02-Using a metal detector to find buried treasure in the backyard of old homes

22:24-Biggest pet peeves when it comes to owners altering vintage and unique homes

25:15-What role can realtors play in preserving unique homes

27:33-Being on the St. Louis County Historic Buildings Commission

28:58-Trying to save the Lewis & Clark Branch of The St. Louis County Library

33:34-When is Shannon Howard at her best

39:11-How to get in contact with Shannon Howard

TRANSCRIPTION

Adam-Welcome everybody and thank you for listening. Today is podcast 10 and we are excited. Joey and I are really getting to know each other these days. The Hermann London studios are getting some wear and I think it might be time to get some studios in Time’s Square or something, Joey. We’ve got a special guest in the studio today. This entire podcast is going to be focused around our guest. We have in the studios today, Shannon Howard. If you haven’t heard of Shannon you should have. Check her blog out. It’s called STLHomesWithSoul.com and she is a local realtor and she is really active and super smart. We found her because her blog was rated one of the top 5 real estate blogs in St. Louis. Welcome, Shannon, and why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself. Shannon-Thank you very much, Adam. I’m happy to be here. You are correct. I am a blogger. I’m also a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway Select. I specialize in vintage and unique properties in St. Louis and my blog actually focuses on vintage and unique properties. I try to tell interesting stories about local real estate, architecture, and local history. It is a passion of mine. Being able to sell and write about the real estate is a perfect mix for me. Adam-Let me ask a basic question. What does blogger mean? Do you just like to write articles? Shannon-Blogs come in many different forms. I go from a first person perspective where I cover what I like to write about. If I see a house that is appealing to me that is interesting, unique, or has a cool story, that’s what I blog about. Adam-Do you look on the MLS or just drive around town? Shannon-I definitely use the MLS every day but because I deal with a lot of buyers who are looking for unique properties, I also keep a unique homes database. If I am driving around and see an interesting property, I write it down, come back to the office, and put it in the database. I’m constantly pulling from different sources and looking for interesting properties. Adam-That’s interesting that you look for vintage and unique homes and your blog is called STL Homes With Soul. What does vintage, unique, and soul mean to you? What is interesting to you? Is it the landscaping or the paint colors? Shannon-I like a house that is not a cookie cutter house. I would never want to live in a neighborhood where every house looked exactly the same. I think of a house with soul as a place where someone put their heart and soul into it. Someone put some extra thought and care into choosing the design, the finishes, or restoring it in a way that is really sensitive and reflects the history of the house. People are asking how I define vintage. I typically think of vintage as 1970’s or earlier but at the same time I have a special place in my heart for 80’s contemporary houses. I like houses that are newer and are quirky, different, or might have a strange fountain inside inside or an interesting sculpture or unique paint; anything that is a little bit different. Adam-So it can be architecture, interior design, or furniture? Shannon-Yes. Adam-Did you see that article recently about that home that was found and it was still the pristine 1950’s condition? Shannon-Yes. I absolutely love those. I write about those frequently on the blog when I find them. I call them time capsule houses. I’ve been in quite a few. Last year my husband and I found one that we tried to buy ourselves and got outbid but it was a 1950’s ranch with the original aqua-blue kitchen that looked like it had been installed yesterday. It was in meticulous condition. I’m just amazed at places like that. I love when they just haven’t changed at all and they are still in such beautiful shape. Adam-So being that love those kind of properties, as a realtor, would you like to find a buyer that wants to live in that house like it is or do we just appreciate it before they tear it all out and throw some granite in there? Shannon-I tend attract a lot of buyers who are looking for houses like that and it’s frequently a challenge because there are many people in St. Louis, including other realtors, who don’t see value in those homes and immediately want to go out and rip out that original vintage kitchen or pink and black bathroom. They assume that no one is interested in that when in reality I have a backlog of people that are waiting for a property like that to come up. I’ve actually gotten in fights with other agents because they are marketing a house as a tear down when I have people that are dying to get in there and preserve it exactly how it is. I will say I’m not going to make anyone feel bad if they want to come in and altar house that I sell to them. It is a personal choice. I’d say for the most part I get people who like the original. Adam-Let me ask a couple more questions about that 1950’s house. They had the 1950’s style counter-tops and flooring but can they keep the dishwasher? Shannon-Every once in a while I will get a client that is a purist and wants the original dishwasher and stove and will change nothing. For the most part though, I tend to work with buyers who want a balance. Aesthetically they want the old but functionally they like to mix in new. Adam-Do they put stainless in there? Shannon-They can but now it is interesting that there are a number of companies that have popped up that create new reproductions. Adam-Retro looking? Shannon-Yes. You can buy a retro looking refrigerator, stove, or counter-tops. Formica sells them in the original boomerang pattern. There are more and more companies now that are serving that niche. Adam-What is that niche? You said you have a backlog of buyers. What is that buyer called? Is that a hipster? Shannon-I’ve met all kinds of people who just appreciate that aesthetic. Younger. Older. I wouldn’t say that there is one word for all of them. Adam-Is it called kitschy? Shannon-I like quirky better or retro. A lot of people just like a retro feel to a house. They feel like it has more personality and character rather than a house where everything came from Home Depot or right off the shelf. They just like that it has a little bit of character. Adam-You mainly find the homes that you are blogging about by looking at the MLS. I wish there was a way that the seller knew what they had and they knew to call you but I guess what happens is they don’t know what they have. They think they have a tear down so they call the local top realtor. Do you end up working with more buyers than sellers? Shannon. I’m actually pretty even. I have worked with a number of sellers that have very interesting properties. I had a really interesting one last year that was actually an original 1840’s log cabin that an artist from the City Museum had taken a second 1840’s cabin from somewhere else in the middle of Missouri, disassembled it, brought it here, and merged the two cabins together to create this amazing modern 3,000 square foot house. I would dare most people to find a house more interesting than that one. It was very special. I tended to attract buyers for that one that were bowled over by the sheer uniqueness of it. You will literally never see another house like that ever again. I get sellers like that too. Adam-I guess people Google unique homes in St. Louis and find you. I noticed on your blog there are links to other types of blogs. Is there a community around this in St. Louis? Shannon-There is a group called ModernSTL that focuses on modernism in St. Louis. St. Louis has a really rich history of modernist architecture around the middle of the century. They focus on that and preservation of homes like that because even though we do have this rich history in St. Louis, there is definitely a preservation concern in terms of those mid-century homes being torn down. Also on the sidebar of my site you will see a link to STLChickens. Adam-Yeah! What’s that? Shannon-I actually had a bunch of clients who were interested in raising chickens. Adam-I’m one of them. I want a chicken. Shannon-We have these 90 plus municipalities in St. Louis and people kept asking me if chickens were allowed in their area and I got tired of looking up the ordinances so my sister is a web developer so I sponsored a chicken website. She worked for months and gathered all the ordinances for every single municipality in St. Louis and that is a community service that we provide. Adam-That is a chicken website! Shannon-It is a chicken website but I love working with buyers that are doing homesteading or having a mini farm kind of like that little suburban wonder land in their own back yard. I love working with people like that so this just kind of fit in there perfectly. Adam-I’m going to ask some questions that I’m almost embarrassed to ask you. There is a group in St. Louis called ModernSTL. I picture modern and I picture big spaces that are old warehouses with exposed brick and wood floors and it is clean with two chairs in the whole place, but that is not really modern, right? Modern the way you say it is from the 50’s. Shannon-Yes. There are different philosophies that came out during that time but one of the big focuses in architecture was integrating the interior with the outside and having a seamless flow between the two. Having houses that were sight built and specifically built for that location and designed around that piece of land. A window might positioned in a certain way just to capture that exterior view and it was meant so that exterior would feel like part of the interior. A common feature would be a long low straight roof line. You might have a wall of windows. Adam-Is it like an atrium that you see in the middle of the house? Shannon-Not really. It would be more throughout the whole home. It would include views out every window that were carefully chosen for that. Frank Lloyd Wright, even though he lived much earlier than this, he definitely influenced the mid-century architects because he went through a phase too that was very much about integrating the inside and the outside. There was specifically architecture called usonian. You’ll see custom homes that were sight built that were much more specific to the site and location but we in St. Louis have numerous examples of platted subdivisions. Just like today you’d go pick out the model, you built your house, and several of those are really designed for integrating the inside and outside but they are done on a much more modest scale. Adam-Does it also try to make the home from the outside blend into the landscape? Shannon-In some cases. A subdivision like Ridgewood is a good example. It is in the Kirkwood area off of Big Bend. You might see aggregate roofs. It is an old style roof that looks like sandpaper with gravel on top. That’s kind of a nod toward that. It is a low flat roof line and that aggregate kind of looks natural and blends in with the surroundings but you are also going to see interesting lines in terms of the shape of the house. You might see vaulted facade or a zig-zag roof line. There aren’t too many of those in St. Louis but they do exist. It is kind of a whimsical time. They are experimenting with different shapes and ways of living in a home. Adam-The type of people who like these homes, appreciate the history. You also talk a little bit on your blog about preservation. It’s kind of the idea of preserving that time in history but I think you are also using to mean finding an old building not tearing it down to build a new one. Shannon-I’m very much an advocate for preservation. For me to recommend a house be torn down, it has to be in really bad shape. I believe that they don’t build them like they used to. The quality of the materials is unmatched today. We can’t afford to build a house with the quality that was used in many of the older homes. I love mid-century but I also love Victorian, industrial, old conversions, and I’m a huge fan of using salvage materials. I’m frequently helping people source places they can go and find original old doors or transom hardware for transom windows. I’ve personally salvaged hardwood floors from a house that was being torn down and re-installed them in my own home. Adam-Does that make financial sense or is it just for the love of it? Did that cost a lot more than going to Home Depot? Was it about the money? Shannon-The floors that we ended up salvaging were red oak, absolutely exceptional, and they had been in a home in Ladue under carpet since they were first installed so they were in perfect condition. The big difference with them is they came in lengths that you can’t even purchase now so we had 16 foot length boards. Now you’ll see hardwoods that are much more choppy and shorter length. To be honest it cost it $200 to buy all that wood which is a crazy incredible bargain but where you really get it is in the labor because you have to pull nails from all those boards. Adam-So it is a labor of love. Did you guys do a lot of that yourself? Shannon-Yes. Adam-And every nail you pulled you felt good about yourself because you were preserving this old wood. Shannon-I can’t claim that I pulled all the nails. I think we paid our nephew a nickel a nail. Adam-Well, he’s learning too. You mentioned salvage. I’ve spoke to different companies in St. Louis that do salvage… Shannon-There’s quite a few. One that I’ve had really good luck with is Fellenz Antiques down on Euclid. They have an incredible array of old woodwork, windows, and doors. Adam-So you can go down there and just buy a window. It’s not just a curio cabinet? Shannon-It actually all house parts. Every once in a while they will have a piece of furniture but it is stuff like fireplace mantels or transom hardware or hinges. Just house parts. There’s a newer place called Refab down in South City that has a really wide array of interesting materials. Adam-Where do you think they are getting this stuff? Shannon-A lot of times you have contractors that are hired to put in a new kitchen and they have to go somewhere with those old cabinets. Habitat For Humanity runs the Restore. There are a couple of those in St. Louis. A lot of people get a tax write off for donating old materials. I have been contacted by people that want me to take things from them. I got called last year by somebody who had these amazing 1950’s vanities and if you don’t come get them right now they are going to go in the garbage. Adam-And you said, “I’ll drop what I’m doing. I’m on my way!”. Shannon-I did. I took my husband’s truck and we went out there in the middle of the snow. I just ended up giving them away to someone else but I just hate to see a piece that is one of a kind going in the garbage. Adam-There are probably a lot of people that are buying an older property, planning on rehabbing it, and they are just throwing this stuff away that they could actually be making money if they called you or one of these stores. Shannon-At my own home this past week I had a new counter-top installed. You’d actually have to pay $35 to have them throw that in a landfill for you. It’s perfectly good counter-top. Somebody else could use. That’s the type of thing I would donate to the Restore. Adam-What kind of counter-top did you get? Shannon-We ended up going with laminate. I’m not a granite counter-top fan as you can imagine. We did a special order Formica that is made to look like stone. It is called 180FX and it is some sort of new technology developed that allows large scale printing. They even have one that looks like 100 year old slice of walnut. They have a lot of options that are meant to fool the eye. Adam-I imagine your house looks like a vintage museum with all sorts of unique and interesting things to look at. Shannon-Up until recently I lived in a 1902 Victorian parsonage. I’m eclectic with lots of artwork, salvage, and things that we gathered. My husband and I decided to pair down recently and go to a smaller home so I’m now living in a brick ranch which is much lower maintenance. I’m very thrilled about that. My husband actually had a cabinet in our old house. He used to like to dig up things in our backyard because many old houses predate trash service. What did people do when there wasn’t trash service available? They created a burn pile in their backyard. When we first bought our house and started to dig up the yard for gardening we’d find treasures. My husband ended up getting a metal detector and dug up all kinds of things and has a whole cabinet filled with all the junk from our backyard. Adam-You’re like, “Yeah, honey. There is a great place for that down in the basement or the garage.”, or maybe some of that is cool stuff. Shannon-Uh huh. Adam-What is one of your biggest pet peeves in some of the renovations that you’ve seen? Here is an example. I just bought a house recently and we did a little rehab to it. We had hardwood floors that were one color, the baseboards another, and the walls another, and for it to really look great we should really paint those baseboards and the wood around the doors white to make them pop. I’m so hesitant to do it because people like you would come into my house when I have it for sale and say, “Oh my gosh. What was this guy thinking painting all this good old wood with its character and charm?!”. Is that a pet peeve? Shannon-I’d say I’m kind of mixed on that one. I have the white trim myself. I tried it natural and didn’t like it but in my case it was trim that was not special. I would say I don’t care for when a house has beautiful original doors and it is painted. I love vintage quality and to see a vintage piece pulled from a home and replaced with some fiberboard piece from a big box store makes me sad because it is not the same quality. I understand you are not living in a museum. It is a home so people have to customize it to their needs. I was showing a home with original 1950’s bathroom tile and the owners owned a tile company in the 50’s so it was top of the line, and the buyers I was showing it to said they would rip them out on day one. I had to cover my ears. Adam-“Okay. Let’s go look at a different house. I’m going to buy this house!”. Shannon-Exactly. Adam-You don’t necessarily have a biggest pet peeve? Shannon-No. I don’t think so. I just hate when a house has been destroyed and things have been ripped out carelessly. Down in the city there are so many beautiful homes with such great original character and it breaks my heart to see that all the molding is gone and the character is stripped away. Adam-So you say there is kind of a movement in St. Louis for the preservation and salvage, what role can realtors play in preserving the unique and amazing homes that we have? Shannon-I think it is really about education and having realtors themselves become more educated and being able to educate their clients about the market that exists for these types of properties, not just in St. Louis but all over the country. Ironically, there are people from other parts of the country that watch St. Louis real estate very carefully because of how exceptional some of our mid-century architecture really is. We are really thought highly of by many many people. I just received and email the other day from a guy in Boston who is obsessed with St. Louis real estate. He will never move here but he thinks we have the most incredible and eclectic vintage architecture that he’s ever seen. Adam-So the best thing that a realtor can do is educate themselves so when we do go into an old house we don’t see an old kitchen and think it needs to be trashed. Instead they should see that it is a 50’s style kitchen that a lot of people will appreciate. Shannon-I think that instantly wanting to market a house as a rehab or a tear-down is not always the case. Not everyone wants granite counter-tops and stainless steel appliances. There is a market for other materials. I just think that if realtors understand then they are not giving advice to clients that leads them to believe their home is terrible and needs to be torn out. It doesn’t always have to be that way. Adam-A lot of realtors will tell someone that has lived in a house for a long time that they need to do this, this, and this. Shannon-Exactly. I heard from people who will say that there was an agent at their house before who refused to list it until the kitchen and the bathroom were gutted. It is in good condition and they don’t understand why they have to pull it out. Adam-I guess not all realtors are made equally and some of them don’t have the love for the real estate or the architecture. They might just like the sales part of it. You are on the St. Louis County Historic Buildings Commission? Shannon-Yes. Adam-What is that? Shannon-It is a board that St. Louis County has that is statutory advisers to the county counsel. You have to be appointed to the board by the county executive and I was appointed by Charlie Dooley. Adam-So he found your blog? Charlie Dooley reads your blog? Shannon-No, actually Esley Hamilton is an incredible asset to the St. Louis community. He is the county’s historian. He is an absolute wealth of knowledge about St. Louis architecture and history. He and I have been in contact over the years. I used to run a really popular blog about North County and did a lot of research on homes up there and I became friends with Esley. I told him I would love to be on the board and I got appointed. Adam-What does the commission do and what you do in that role? Shannon-An example of an issue that we’ve been dealing with lately is The Lewis And Clark Branch of the St. Louis County Library. It is a mid-century modernist building. It is up on 367 and Chambers. Moline Acres. It has amazing, one of a kind, stained glass in it. It is kind of a boxy modernist design. The St. Louis County Library Board voted to demolish it. Is part of their long term plan to tear it down. As preservationists, our concern is to preserve and keep buildings of significance. In the commissions role, we went to the county executive and to the county counsel and we said that we believe this is a building of merit. We were able to provide backup from experts to attest to the relevance and importance of this building. We don’t have any control over where it goes after we provide that information. We provide the advice and sometimes it goes our way and sometimes it doesn’t. Adam-Best case scenario, they would keep the building, maintain it, and keep it as a library, though you probably don’t necessarily care what they use it for. Worst case scenario, would they be able to take the stained glass out of it and put it somewhere else? Shannon-Unfortunately it looks like that is probably going to happen, that they will remove the stain glass and put it in the new building. To my knowledge it won’t be installed on the exterior of the building. It will be on the inside and not even illuminated. Adam-It is just going to collect dust in the corner. Shannon-Yeah, without light shining through. Plus, there is something to be said about a piece of art being displayed in its original context as the architect envisioned it. In that case you are just kind of getting a piece of what was intended. Adam-It sound like there is a ton of historic buildings in St. Louis, even in the county. I usually think of county being newer and city being older but I guess that is not the case with these 50, 60, & 70 year old buildings in the county. Shannon-Oh my goodness. Actually, the Florissant and Spanish Lake area in North County are just as old as the city of St. Louis. Florissant was founded in the late 1700’s so there are some very old buildings in the county, certainly. Adam-If there is someone that interested in helping you with your cause, is there some website they should go to sign a petition? Shannon-I believe ModernSTL had some kind of petition going with the library. We don’t really do that with the building commission but I would say that if you have an interest in preservation, there are numerous historical societies throughout St. Louis. Kirkwood. Webster. Florissant. They all have a group that gets together and talks about preservation concerns. I would say especially if you are younger and have an interest in this, please get involved because I tend to show up and I’m frequently the youngest person at all of these meetings. I would love to have some younger people because if these buildings aren’t protected for future generations and younger people are not getting involved in this, that’s kind of a shame. Adam-Once the yous of the world stop fighting then the person that just wants to tear it down and build a big box store…well, I do have my 5 questions. I like to ask everyone these 5 questions if you don’t mind. I probably should have asked these at the beginning but I’m just going to zoom through these. So, Shannon Howard, 5 questions. Shannon, who lives under your roof? Shannon-My beloved husband of 25 years, Keith. I have 2 rescued pitbulls, and a cat. That’s it. Adam-Where are you your best? You can take that wherever you want. Shannon-I was professional writer for 17 years so I love being able to combine my passion for real estate with being able to write so I think my blog is kind of a perfect marriage of that. I love working on it and I wish I had more time to work on it because the real estate portion of my job takes more time than the writing. Adam-Sometimes you’ve got to be out showing properties to make a living. So you say you are at your best when you are digging into a new property to write about for your blog. Shannon-I love working with buyers but I absolutely love listing a really special unique property and being able to tell the story of that property and present it in the best light possible and get buyers excited about what the seller forsaw in that property when they bought it. Adam-I bet if you list a property that kind of fits into these categories that we talked about that you have no problem selling it because you know a lot of people that are interested in it. Shannon-I think a perfect example is I sold a house last September in Old North and that’s a neighborhood that a lot of people might be a little bit afraid of but this place was incredible. My seller rescued it from demolition and rebuilt it from top to bottom. It’s a 3 story complex overlooking the arch and downtown and all exposed brick walls and 13 foot ceilings. He put his heart and soul into that. To me it’s such an honor to take that property and sell it out to someone else with the same kind of passion that the seller had. Adam-Who better to list it than someone who can appreciate that property. What is your favorite blog or podcast? Shannon-I actually like one called RetroRenovation.com and basically they highlight really cool vintage properties that have been renovated but they also provide great resources for materials that people want to use. Adam-Is that a nationwide blog? Shannon-Yes. Adam-Cool. We’ll have to check it out. What is your guilty pleasure when you are not writing about homes with soul? Shannon-I do love my dogs. We love going walking with my dogs. We travel with them. We do agility with them. Adam-It’s an obstacle course for a dog and pitbulls tend to be high energy dogs and if you don’t exercise with them they get freaked out. I think anytime I have a day off and I can just spend it with my husband and my dogs, that’s the best. Adam-You make me want to start a whole new podcast about dogs because I love dogs and the whole concept of keeping the dog engaged and interested, we could talk about that forever. Last question of my five is who is your mentor and how have you thanked them? Shannon-My mentor was someone that I knew for many years beforehand. His name is Pearce Neikirk and he’s been a realtor in North County for 30 years. I let him know that I was kind of thinking about leaving my writing career and moving into real estate. He strongly encouraged me. At the time he just started his own brokerage. Basically is ended up being me and him. It is called Pearce Neikirk and Partners and I was kind of the partners. Adam-Is Pearce still around selling real estate? Shannon-He is still around. He is based in Ferguson and I just feel incredibly fortunate. It was like having my own private coach for my first year of real estate and I learned so much from him. He is not only a good realtor but a good person of integrity. He has taught me so much, and yes, I have thanked him numerous times and were still dear friends and I love him to death. Adam-Was Pearce into the vintage and unique properties too or did he just kind of teach you the real estate business? Shannon-Well, being based in Ferguson, it’s hard to not like vintage homes because we have such amazing architecture there, so Pearce definitely appreciates that, but I think there were parts that he didn’t understand and I had to explain. I think he got it a little bit more the further we went on. Adam-I always like to ask how have you thanked your mentor because I think we all have mentors and we often owe them our lives or our careers. It is tough to know how to best thank them. I’m sure if Pearce listens to this podcast he will be honored to have been mentioned and that you are still thinking of him. How can people get a hold of you? Tell us your URL one more time. Your phone number if you want to. That kind of stuff. Shannon-Sure. My blog is STLHomesWithSoul.com . You can find me at my Berkshire Hathaway site at ShannonHoward.net . My phone number is 3143595927. Adam-Give her a call for all of your vintage and unique home needs. Thanks, Shannon. I appreciate you coming on the show today. Shannon-Thanks a lot Adam.

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