Chess pieces helped make him a player in commercial condos
Katherine Conrad - Link to Online Article
When Stephen Chess sells the last commercial condo in Union City's Chess Commerce Center, his legacy will remain in the abstract form of a king, queen and pawn splayed across a chess board.
Although he says it was a "dog-and-pony show" to meet Union City's requirements for public art, Mr. Chess has become quite attached to the 6-foot-tall display visible to all who drive down Kohoutek Way.
Even if the 19 new owners decide to change the name of the three-acre development, he's pleased to note that those three chess pieces that mark the entrance aren't going anywhere.
"This leaves my name here forever," said Mr. Chess, who is also a principal of Townsend Commercial Real Estate in San Francisco.
Chess Commerce Center is his second foray into commercial condominium development. His first with his wife, Lois, was a 10-unit project on Mack Street in Hayward that sold out a year after he broke ground.
A 20-plus-year commercial real estate veteran, Mr. Chess is enjoying the development side of the real estate equation. The idea to develop commercial condos came from Robert Eves, CEO of Venture Corp.,
who started building commercial and medical office condos in the South Bay in 2002 and has expanded to the rest of the Bay Area and West Coast.
Mr. Chess said he was convinced Mr. Eves had the right idea when he realized that Venture was selling its condos even before the paving was laid.
It's all about low interest rates and the market, which has experienced the most activity in the smaller range..
"People think there's a lot to buy," Mr. Chess said. "No, there's not. Under 5,000 square feet, there's nothing."
Both developers also have tapped into small business owners' ardent desire to own their own real estate. And with units that range from 1,500 square feet to 3,000 square feet and cost from $425,000 to $505,000, the opportunity is relatively affordable.
One buyer, Chi Kim Nguyen, president of the data storage company FirmTek LLC, saw the sign on the buildings two months ago and just made a down payment.
The dot-com survivor said she was tired of dealing with landlords who could raise the rent -- one charged $7 a square foot, more than four times the going rate.
"I'm very pleased that Steve offers such a good product," she said. "It's a very good investment."
Her only concern is that Mr. Chess' business is going so well that he needs an assistant to help buyers.
And Mr. Chess' business is growing. Next is the 12-unit Chess Plaza on Winton Avenue in Hayward that will break ground in August. He also is dividing a 42,000-square-foot warehouse in Hayward into five industrial condos.
"We have 30-plus buyers waiting for 12 units," he said. "I'm looking at developments in Danville, San Leandro and Fremont. I'm getting calls from all over the Bay Area, even Half Moon Bay. But there aren't that many development opportunities because land is very hard to find."
And even if interest rates begin to rise, Mr. Chess is not concerned that it will hurt business.
"No, we can handle two or three points in interest rates because the purchase price is not that high," he said. "I should raise my prices." KATHERINE CONRAD writes for the East Bay Business Times, an affiliated publication