A look at the real estate landscape in St. Louis


The Renter: Highs and Lows

When asking for advice on renting, the first response many people hear is simply, “Don’t.” Why pay for something you won’t ever own when you could be paying toward acquiring something for yourself? While this logic makes sense in theory, it’s not always the reality, whether for financial, situational, or preference reasons. 

So where do you start when it’s time to pursue that lease?

The key, says Rashid Haq, a rental agent with Coldwell Banker Gundaker, is to educate yourself and plan well ahead. Look into the area you want to live in, set your budget, and make sure all parts of your application are in order, because, like many cities, St. Louis is in the middle of a housing shortage. Inventory is low, prices are high, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. We’ve all heard stories of homes on the market receiving tons of offers; the same is true of rentals.

“I wish I could find more,” says Haq. “I wish I had more places for people. But just like there’s a housing shortage, there’s a rental shortage, and every time you go for a rental, you have a bunch of people applying for it. At the same time this has become very competitive, rents have also skyrocketed in some places.”

St. Louis REALTORS president Katie Berry recommends that, when considering rentals, people focus less on immediate wants and more on overall goals. “Stop and think about what the long-term goals are and choose a rental based on those,” she says. “If, long-term, you’re wanting to buy a house, then get a rental that’s maybe a little less but is going to afford you the ability to continue to save for that down payment on the house. But some folks are looking for other things—it’s just a matter of really looking at what your goals are.”

Once you know what you want, do your research and find a place that fits all of your criteria. For flight attendant Madison Sullivan, who’s also a real estate agent with Gladys Manion, amenities and community were essential. After spending time in a luxury building in Nashville and an apartment in Chicago, Sullivan came to St. Louis, where One Cardinal Way—the luxury high-rise apartment building overlooking Busch Stadium—immediately ticked all the boxes. She and her boyfriend moved in when the building opened in August 2020 and have been sharing a 725-square-foot, $2,300-per-month apartment there ever since. “Once I lived in Chicago, it kind of gave me the idea that I needed somewhere where you could have a community,” Sullivan says. “[At One Cardinal Way] everybody kind of hangs out together. If I need something for a recipe or if I’m making dinner, I can text all my neighbors. We’re all friends.”

Choosing a place was an easy decision for Sullivan, but she doesn’t necessarily recommend that other prospective renters follow in her quick-draw footsteps.

“I’ve never made a spur-of-the-moment decision like I did on One Cardinal Way,” she says. “It made me a little nervous, and it paid off, but I would suggest somebody else take a look at a few more buildings. Maybe don’t jump all-in on one. But it’s been great. It’s worked out for me.”

Housemate How-To

If you’ve decided you’re not into the idea of living alone or just need a hand with rent and utilities, finding a roommate is the logical next step. But just because it’s logical doesn’t mean it’s easy. Universities often have resources for students, but there’s not much help for those looking to share a space outside of campus-provided support. In many cases, it may be easier to find an open room that needs a tenant rather than a roommate. Sites such as HotPads and Craigslist let users search for single rooms instead of entire apartments or homes, and Roomster.com provides listings for rooms that also feature the lister’s roommate preferences and lifestyle information. The “St. Louis – housing & roommates” Facebook group has nearly 6,000 members, and it’s constantly updated with both individuals who are looking for roommates and rooms that need tenants.


$1,250: The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in St. Louis as of March. 

Source: Zumper

The Condo Owner: Moving Up, Scaling Down

With their kids living in Chicago and retirement on the horizon, Kenny and Molly Salky decided last year that they were ready for a change. They no longer needed all of the space in their University City home, along with the yard and general maintenance that came with it. So they decided to downsize. After touring some smaller homes and condominium developments around the region, the Salkys settled on a unit inside Clayton’s The Crescent, a nine-story, 72-unit luxury development located at the foot of The Ritz-Carlton.

“We wanted the option of being able to just close the door and go, along with an easier lifestyle,” says Kenny. “When we saw this unit, we thought it’d be perfect for us. It didn’t need a lot of work, we already had friends in the building, and we also knew that it came with a high level of service, which we wanted.”

For some St. Louis families, condos relieve many of the obligations of home ownership while providing amenities not typically found in a single-family home. Condos have obvious perks for people looking to own their own place, but there are other benefits that buyers discover after moving in. They’re for folks who don’t want to worry about the little things, and yet still want to be part of a community.

“Condo life is very interesting,” says Brian Kinman, president of the Clayton Condo Building Association. “If you’ve never lived in one, it’s going to be different than what you thought it was going to be. Condo by condo, you create somewhat of a culture and people become friends, you know each other, and you see your neighbors all of the time.”

There’s a variety of condo communities in Clayton, including many of the region’s high-end living options, such as The Crescent, The Plaza, and Maryland Walk, among others. And more developments could soon be on the way, including a proposed high-rise at Forsyth and Central. 

For condo owners, the appeal is found in being able to make each unit their own. There’s also the convenience of being able to step outside and be right in the middle of the action. The Salkys love heading downstairs and having so many restaurants and shops just a short walk away. They also appreciate being able to drop off groceries and have them brought to their unit upstairs. “We enjoy the level of service,” Kenny says. “They make it very easy to live here.”

Of course, convenience comes with a price. There are condo fees that cover building maintenance, personnel, and other common services. Buyers should be sure to inquire about the fees, and ask if they increase annually. Kinman says one of the most important considerations is whether a condo development has reserves to cover larger expenses, such as a new roof. “A roof will hopefully last 35 to 40 years, but when 40 years comes up, a new roof comes up—and it’s a big expense,” Kinman says.  “So is there a routine built into your condo fees for reserving for those future expenditures?”

Approaching the one-year anniversary of their move, the Salkys are happy with their decision. There are some days they wish they could have a yard that’s all their own, but those occasions are rare. “The positives far outweigh the few negatives, at least for us,” Kenny says. “If you don’t mind not having a yard, there’s no downside.” 


$186K: The median price of a townhouse or condo in St. Louis City and County in 2021

Source: St. Louis Realtors

The First-Time Home Buyer: First Time’s a Charm

Kimberly Johnson wanted to get out. Late last year, the 37-year-old mother of two had grown tired of her Florissant rental. She didn’t like waiting for maintenance workers to fix things around the apartment, she had growing concerns over her family’s safety, and—perhaps as much as anything—she simply wanted more space for herself and her daughters. “I was just like, OK. Time is up,” Johnson says. 

Deciding to move was the easy part. For Johnson, a first-time home buyer, navigating the next steps provided lessons in persistence and flexibility.

Finding a place she was eager to make an offer on was her first challenge. She and her Realtor, Teara Ragan of Berkshire Hathaway, toured more than a dozen homes over the ensuing weeks. Each had its own flaws. The process was draining, and at one point, Johnson nearly reconsidered her plan to move. “I almost gave up and said, I’m just gonna wait,” says Johnson.

With high demand for houses and limited supply, Ragan notes that buyers sometimes need to be flexible with location. She recommends starting the search process with websites such as Zillow, where homebuyers can compare neighborhoods to find homes that could fit their price range. Johnson, for example, hadn’t even considered looking in Jennings when she began her search. But then she expanded her options.

By early December, Johnson’s determination was rewarded. While scrolling through Homesnap, an online real estate search portal, she found a charming 1.5-story Jennings home with three bedrooms, a basement, and a big yard. The 100-year-old home, with its white siding and red shutters, called to her. The photos in the listing were inviting, and a tour revealed the house was even better than anticipated. On the same day as her walkthrough, Johnson placed an offer. It was quickly accepted. 

Although it took longer than she’d imagined to find the right house, Johnson feels lucky to have closed on a home that she loves—and to have stayed within her price range. “You hear all these horror stories,” she says. “I’m just thankful that the first one that I made an offer on was accepted.

“It was fate, like it was supposed to happen,” Johnson says. “I love this home.”

Be Prepared

How hot is the real estate market right now? “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen a market like this before,” says Rhonda Liddell-Davis, a Realtor with Keller Williams. 

Like much of the country, St. Louis has seen huge increases in demand without a commensurate increase in available properties. Liddell-Davis cautions that new home buyers should brace themselves for the process: In the current market, it’s likely that buyers will have to make multiple offers. “I would say it takes me about two to three months to get my clients under contract,” Liddell-Davis says.

She also cautions that buyers should be prepared to do less negotiating and be willing to pay above asking price. Patience, she says, is crucial to finding the right home. “You have to stay in the game,” Liddell-Davis says. “I feel bad for my buyers, because if they’re not coming in at least $10,000 [over asking], they’re not even in the game.”

The Rehabbers: Forever Homes

Melissa Kaatman and Bram Boettge were enjoying the white-sand beaches of St. Thomas when they started getting calls and texts. Three thousand miles away in St. Louis, a snowstorm had hit, and the couple’s tenants were experiencing some issues. A furnace broke. Then a hot water heater. Next, it was a refrigerator. And then a ceiling began to leak. While Kaatman and Boettge called for repair people to help their renters, their vacation had to wait. 

In 2016, Kaatman began to hatch a plan to buy an investment property, something that she and Boettge could fix up and rent out as a stream of passive income. Travel was their passion. Kaatman figured that if they could amass enough properties—they now have 10, mostly in the Tower Grove area—they could afford to quit their jobs and globetrot for a year.

“I thought it was either I work my corporate job that I don’t like forever, or we figure out something else,” she remembers. “In my head, it was going to be ‘buy a building, rent it out, passive income.’ That’s the big thing I learned—not so passive.”

And not super easy to travel. Although Kaatman and Boettge have learned that investing in properties is a long-term strategy, it’s given them a new appreciation for St. Louis neighborhoods and architecture—even as many homes require expensive repairs like tuckpointing.

“I don’t know if I’d be as into this if we were in St. Charles or even any newer city anywhere,” Boettge says. “It’s a lot more rewarding that these houses are all 100-plus years old, and we’re fixing them up so that they can be around for another 100.”

When they scout for a new property, the couple is drawn to homes that have original woodwork—unpainted trim, century-old doors, basically anything untouched is ideal. “We hate to see something where a rehabber has already been there and taken out everything good,” Kaatman says. “We’d much rather see something where someone lived there for a super long time and did the most minimal work to it. Because we can make it look better. But when someone has ripped out everything original, there’s no getting that back.” 

Before they were working magic with tile and paint (follow their adventures on Instagram @brickcityinvestor), Kaatman and Boettge had to learn some lessons. At the first building they bought, they paid an HVAC cleaner to remove some items a tenant’s children had dropped down the vent. He said he couldn’t reach them. “Then my dad went into the basement and cut a hole in the ductwork,” Kaatman says. “He put a couple of boards together with a screw and shoved them up there. Bram and I were upstairs and the stuff starts pouring out—toys, cell phones, a hanger…a broom was in there. We paid the HVAC cleaner $500, and my dad got it done in 10 minutes.”

The couple decided to repaint that same home. They bought painter’s tape to protect the original woodwork but lower-quality paint. They discovered the paint—which took two applications to fully coat the walls, eating up their time and patience—bled through the tape. Worse, when they ripped it off, it removed some of the original varnish. 

At a different property, Boettge was fixing a gutter and had to take it apart. “It took a long time, and I got off my ladder and realized that I put the gutter through the rungs of the ladder,” he says. 

But he’s come a long way. At the end of 2021, Boettge was able to transition into managing the couple’s properties full time, a job he likes more than his old office gig because each day brings something new. 

Kaatman cautions that Boettge, an unflappable early riser who’s always hustling, is exactly the type of person who thrives in such a job, which often comes with stress and uncertainty. “I think a lot of people are under the impression—and maybe I was in the beginning, too—that this is fast and easy money,” she says. “But it really is a long-term plan. Ideally, it’s something to diversify your income, because you should definitely be maxing out a 401(k) and IRAs. I would never tell people not to invest there and only do real estate. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.”

Invest Wisely

Tips for getting started with renovating

Insights from Matt Dobrinic, owner of MJD Properties, powered by Keller Williams, and Lynne Hart, a real estate agent, consultant, and investor, powered by Real Broker LLC

In the current market, think of buying a property as a long-term investment. Dobrinic says that two years ago, you could find a property that would net you a 10–15 percent return on investment. Now, it’s more like 5–7 percent. “You can put your money in the stock market and get a better rate,” he says.  

Consider living in your investment property. That would allow you to make a smaller down payment, and “usually, on a four-family, the rents cover at least a mortgage payment, and maybe the water, sewer, and trash bills,” Hart says. If you don’t plan on living in an investment property, be prepared to put 25 percent down.

Brace yourself for the inspection. This is a seller’s market. Hart says that now more than ever, many sellers are not willing to make repairs. “I suggest to clients that they approach the inspection as looking for major defects,” she says. “We’re not going to be successful going back to a seller asking him to correct minor leaks.”


102%: Percent of list price received, on average, for residential properties in St. Louis City and County in 2021

Source: St. Louis Realtors

The Military Mover: Active Duty

Last spring, Henin Rios learned he was moving—again. His 10-year career in the Air Force had already taken him from his home in Puerto Rico to posts in California, Oklahoma, and Texas. Soon, he’d add a new state, transferring from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, Illinois. He’d never been to Illinois, never visited the St. Louis region, and certainly never pondered the thought of what living here might be like. 

“I’ll be completely honest,” says Rios, “to me, St. Louis equaled the Arch and the Cardinals—and, once upon a time, the Rams. That was it.”

And yet, by the time he and his family were ready to make their move from San Antonio, Texas, to Troy, Illinois, earlier this year, Rios was well-versed in the many neighborhoods that dot the regional landscape, the kinds of property that he could afford, and, ultimately, what his new home would look like, inside and out. Most impressive, he amassed this trove of knowledge without ever leaving Texas.

Thanks to the help of Robin Ortiz, a RE/MAX Realtor who specializes in military relocations, Rios; his wife, Coralis Garcia; and their two boys were able to tour neighborhoods, shop for homes, and buy property remotely while Rios completed his assignment in San Antonio. For many military families transferring to Scott AFB, having a Realtor on the ground in the St. Louis area is crucial to finding the right place to live.

Ortiz has an acute understanding of exactly what families are thinking—and worrying about—once they receive their orders for a transfer to Scott AFB. A military spouse herself, Ortiz and her family went through nearly a dozen moves across the world before settling in the St. Louis region in 2015. She estimates that 85 percent of her clients are military families, and many of them are coming from far-flung outposts. That means much of the homebuying process, from touring residences and visiting neighborhoods to working through contracts, is up to her to experience and report back.

“I do quite a bit of remote buys, simply because with military members not everyone has time to come to the area first,” Ortiz says. “So I do my best to drive them—with my phone on my dash—through the neighborhood and walk them through the house.”

In Rios’ case, he and his wife decided to build their dream home—a gray ranch with large windows and a three-car garage. While Rios and Garcia  worked to sell their house in San Antonio, Ortiz dealt with builders locally. Throughout the process, Ortiz FaceTimed with the couple to show them the latest construction. Rios also had access to an app that allowed him to monitor progress.

And on their move-in day in mid-January, Rios set foot in Illinois for the first time. “As soon as we walked in the house,” Rios says, “we immediately fell in love with it.”


39: Average number of days a home was on the market in St. Clair County in 2021

Source: Real Estate Association of Southwestern Illinois

The Duplex Dwellers: Dual Lives

Tim and Terri Smith were in the market for an investment property, but they were so taken by a duplex in St. Louis Hills that they decided to move there from St. Louis County. The couple and their two sons, Tyler and Tim Jr., now live in both sides of the ranch-style duplex. “It’s working out really well,” says Tim. “We may lease both units in a year or two and buy a single-family, but we are in no hurry.

“We lived in the city for eight years prior to moving to the county, once I got out of the military,” adds Tim. He says the main reason for moving back to the city was the location, which is one minute from their younger son’s school and within walking distance to Francis Park, where they often take their dog, Raider. Their duplex is also close to numerous locally owned restaurants, another plus for many South City residents.

“It is a seller’s market in those neighborhoods,” says Worth Clark Realty agent Charles Isaac. “There’s a shortage of houses available, and when they come on the market, they go quickly.” As of January 2022, median home prices in St. Louis Hills were up 9.4 percent from a year earlier, according to Redfin.com, and on average South City homes were selling in about a month or less.

Part of the pent-up demand is driven by trends over the past 15 years, Tim observes: “After the 2008 crash, I don’t think builders were building as many homes. Now, you have more millennials who are almost 30 years of age starting families and looking for houses. There is just not as much available now.”

Asked if they’d remain in St. Louis Hills if they do decide to lease both units of the duplex someday, Tim says, “We’re open to it—if we can find the right house for us.”

New-Build Homeowners: Under Construction

Jake Hawes and his fiancée, Courtney Schulze, sold their Wentzville starter home in one day and decided to build their next home in the same area. “We wanted a brand-new home to start raising a family, and it is definitely a seller’s market. We have lived in the area for quite some time and love it here,” says Hawes. 

They’re not alone. According to census data, Wentzville recently ranked third on a list of the state’s fastest-growing cities. It’s also situated in St. Charles County, the state’s fastest-growing county for more than 30 years: It attracts an average of about 5,000 new residents per year. New builds are a big part of that population rise. Housing and commercial construction permits for last year remained ahead of pre-pandemic numbers, with 1,723 single-family housing permits in 2021, up from 2019.

Even at a time when supply-chain issues are rampant, they haven’t impacted delivery of materials or the construction timeframe for Hawes and Schulze. “Ground had already been broken, with framing and drywall up and the majority of materials already ordered,” says Hawes. “The only change we made was to extend laminate flooring throughout the house.”

Hawes and Schulze’s starter home was a detached villa with two bedrooms. Tired of the stairs and ready for a home that felt more open and modern, they chose a ranch floorplan with 11-foot-high ceilings. The home also has a three-car garage and a modern look, with vinyl siding and brick. “[The old and new homes] are pretty much the same square footage,” Hawes adds. “Our new build is in a new, smaller neighborhood.”

When building a home, Hawes suggests keeping detailed notes and documentation, and staying active in the process. “You get to follow the progress of the build,” says Hawes, “which is pretty cool.”

Making a Move

Given how quickly homes are selling right now, it’s wise to be prepared for the transition period if you’re planning to move. A house selling in one day, as was the case with Hawes and Schulze’s starter home, isn’t unusual, says the couple’s real estate agent, Diane Bueneman of Berkshire Hathaway Alliance. In fact, in St. Charles County, homes were on the market for a median of just five days last year, even fewer than the year before. If your home is snapped up quickly, you’ll need to navigate the transition. “One ideal scenario would be to have a place to stay during the waiting process,” Hawes says. “We’re lucky to be living rent-free with family and saving money along the way.”


1,724: Single-family building permits issued in St. Charles County in 2021

Source: Real Estate Association of Southwestern Illinois

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