Some hope from a Chicago transplant

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Cleveland isn’t nearly as bad a place to live as its reputation suggests.

Michael Glass calls himself a Chicagoan. “I was born and raised in Chicago,” he told me during a recent interview.

Today, though, Glass lives and works in Cleveland. Don’t joke. Cleveland is a much better place to live than you might think. It’s far cheaper to live there than it is in Chicago. The city has a bustling healthcare/medical district. It boasts some fun entertainment and nightlife districts. And there’s a lot of arts and culture: There’s the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Great Lakes Science Center. (I can vouch for that last one; my wife and I took our kids there once and they had a blast.)

Anyway, Glass is now the regional manager for the Cleveland and Columbus offices of commercial real estate firm Marcus & Millichap. This means that he spends a lot of time analyzing the national economy. If the economy improves, so does the commercial real estate industry in which he makes his living.

The good news is that Glass is finding signs of hope for his industry. And what’s good for commercial real estate is good for the economy as a whole.

Consider what Glass is seeing when it comes to lending. Ever since the housing slump and resulting economic crash, it’s been near impossible for developers to find financing to build their multi-family buildings, retail strip centers and office buildings. Glass, though, is finding that this is gradually changing. The big national banks are finally starting to loosen their purse strings.

Granted, developers have to come to these banks with some pretty amazing projects. They need to have most of the spaces in them leased, for instance, and they must have a strong marketing plan in place for the space they build. But the financing is slowly starting to flow again, which is good news for anyone hoping for a stronger recovery from the real estate market.

“Last year was sort of the year for the local, regional banks,” Glass said. “They were the ones passing out the financing. This year, it looks like the national banks are finally starting to get back in the marketplace.”

Glass isn’t being naive, though. He knows that lending levels probably won’t ever get back to where they stood during the housing and commercial real estate booms. That’s probably a good thing, though; lenders made plenty of bad loans, both on the housing and commercial sides, during those days. These loans were one of the major causes of the collapse of both the housing and commercial real estate markets.

Still, it’s good to hear from a Chicago guy who’s seeing good things happening in real estate.

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