CWE Real Estate Pioneer Renni Shuter
|Renni Shuter stands in front of her home in the Parkview subdivision. Shuter entered the real estate market about 40 years ago to help improve the housing situation in the neighborhood.
photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)|
April 25, 2011Renni Shuter, a longtime agent with Daniel B. Feinberg Real Estate Co., is easing out of the business, just as she eased into it some 40 years ago.
"We butted in," as Shuter, a 43-year resident of the West End, prefers to describe her entry into Central West End real estate.
As a doctoral student with four small daughters and an up-and-coming neurologist husband, Shuter got involved in her neighborhood to preserve it. A New York City native, she had first moved to St. Louis as a newlywed in 1958 for two years while her husband, Eli Shuter, studied at Washington University School of Medicine. They returned in 1967 for his post-doctoral fellowship, intending to leave again after three years.
As it turned out, St. Louis was "a great place to raise kids," Shuter said. They still live in the three-story Parkview subdivision house they bought the year after their return.
But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Central West End was struggling back from a period of decay.
"The housing stock was not in the condition it is today," Shuter said. "There were atriums in some houses because there were holes in the roof. There were some places where the rats were doing the backstroke."
Shuter and a few other neighborhood women began their own mission to improve the housing.
"We were concerned about what was happening in the neighborhood," she said. "We butted into real estate long before I had my license. If someone was letting their property go, we'd call up on it and tell the city that there were rats running around in the back yard. Or we'd contact the person and say, 'I know someone who wants to buy your house.'"
After Shuter decided she didn't want to teach religious education at the college level after all, she skipped her thesis and determined that real estate seemed the logical career choice.
"I got my license so I could just sell that property and access it more easily — and know about the good people who were looking to buy property," she said.
In 1972, she joined Feinberg Real Estate Co., along with two of her fellow neighborhood activists, Linda Eyerman and Susan Roach, who later married Daniel Feinberg. At the same time, Eyerman (now known as Sun Smith-Foret) was part of a group founding the West End Word, which "grew out of the same fertile soil," Shuter said, "keeping the bad guys out."
Shuter later joined the newspaper's ownership group and wrote a column, "Candlelight & Crumbs," for more than 20 years.
After Feinberg, whose father, Adolph, had founded the agency in 1924, began adding residential listings to its Central Corridor commercial territory in 1969 to help stabilize the area, it was a hard sell.
"A lot of agents wouldn't show our properties," Shuter said. "And they certainly didn't list it. Buying here in the late 1960s and through the late '70s was considered very daring."
Even her children's friends from their county schools weren't allowed to cross the city line to visit them.
In Parkview Place, which straddles the city limits, home prices in the two-thirds situated in University City were markedly higher than on the city side back then. Now, after decades of rehabs and rejuvenation, "I don't notice the differential anymore," Shuter said.
These days, "we're dealing with people with more money," she said.
In 1968, the Shuters paid $32,000 — including window air conditioners and drapes — for their three-story, 13-room house in "pretty good" condition.
"The kinds of people who are buying these homes now that they're $600,000 or better are at a different economic level," she said.
And now those grown-up school friends of her children find the Central West End "the place to be."
It appears Renni Shuter's work is done. She is now "more or less" retired, but she serves as assistant to her daughter, Beth Herbster, also a Feinberg agent.
"I went into it to save the houses," she said, "to save the West End."