Friday, May 11, 2012 Real Estate News
Students Visit Real Estate Sites in Action

Getting out of the classroom and into the field to observe real estate projects in process is one of the highlights of Wisconsin's renowned real estate program. This spring undergraduate and MBA students visited a number of sites, both under construction and in operation, including a student apartment building on Langdon Street and a vintage example of a Lustron pre-fabricated steel home.

Site Visit

Instructor Tom Landgraf led 60 of his students in his Residential Property Development class (RE 611) on a tour of a student housing project, 229 at Lakelawn, under construction by Landgraf Construction (not affiliated with Tom). The five-story building owned and developed by Hovde Properties is a first for Madison; a steel framed first floor supports an additional four floors of wood construction. This construction method was only recently approved by the state building commission, and this project is one of the first to implement the technique. Previously, the site was an interior parking lot behind other apartment buildings at Langdon and Henry Streets. This project features 14 fully-furnished housing units of 3, 4, and 6 bedrooms in over 15,000 square feet.

Mark Landgraf, a general contractor with over 20 years of commercial construction experience, led the tour through the building's five floors to show what is inside the walls (HVAC, electrical, plumbing, communications, structural), and how a building comes together in its final stages. He emphasized to students the importance of effective communication and coordination among all partners on the project to its success. Lack of communication or misunderstandings can lead to problems that could have been avoided.

Site Visit

Putting on a hard hat and getting their shoes dirty on a construction site can drive home the realities of a project to students, both for those interested in the development process and those interested in related careers in interior design. Beyond classroom discussions, this is where students see the bones of a project and begin to understand how the steps in the development process relate to each other and build upon previous steps. The tour also treated students to a demonstration of a nail gun which has, for the most part, replaced the hammer with professional builders.

Later in the semester, Tom and his students met on a Saturday on Madison's west side where homeowners John and Debbie Hanson generously opened the doors to their rare example of a post-WWII era Lustron home. Developed by Chicago entrepreneur Carl Strandlund, a Lustron house is known for its enamel-coated steel panel construction inside and out.

It was designed for efficiency in size, layout and maintenance, and to fulfill the post-war housing shortage in the U.S. The 1,085 square-foot home features two bedrooms and one bath, which is very spacious for its time. Built-in wall units and pocket doors were aimed at optimal space utilization. The unique all-metal building materials may have cost a bit more up front than traditional building techniques but promised savings in maintenance costs over the life of the home, an example of the principle of life cycle costing that Landgraf teaches his students. This home also features the original-and now 60-year old-metal roof. And with metal walls, no nails are needed to hang artwork, magnets do the trick instead.

Site Visit

About 2,600 homes were built in the U.S. before the Lustron Corporation ran into financial difficulties and declared bankruptcy in 1950. Madison is home to 113 Lustron houses, including one right next door to this one.

The current homeowners have lived in the house since 2000. They have made a few improvements, including a kitchen update, window replacements, hardwood floors, and paint. At the same time, they attest to the low maintenance nature of the home. The metal construction is termite and rodent proof and fire resistant. Rust is the primary concern, says John Hanson, who patches any nicks he finds on the panels. He likens it to automotive rather than typical home maintenance.

Site Visit

The home also attracts attention. The Hansons often receive notes and news clippings left in their mailbox by fans and chat with passersby, including Landgraf who happened to notice the home recently while touring the city in preparation for his class.

For a city of its size, Madison offers many diverse projects where students can see real estate in action. They have had opportunities to visit residential and commercial sites; multifamily, hotel and office ventures, as well as unique multi-function public spaces on campus. Our instructors have a long history with the local development community and are leading practitioners in the industry. Their unique knowledge and connections directly benefits students.

Please keep us in mind if you have a project in the Madison area that might be an interesting example for our students. For more photos from these site visits, please visit our Facebook page.