Category Archive 'Real Estate'
20 Mar 2010

Bill Buckley’s New York Apartment Lowered in Price

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The rich are different from you and me”, says Nick Carraway in Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, prompting Hemingway to retort: “Yes. They have more money.”

But even the rich are not immune from the impact of the current recession and the real estate market collapse.

The New York Times reports that the price of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s splendiferous Manhattan pied-a-terre has been slashed by slightly more than half.

THE worldly and the clever gathered at the dinner parties that William F. Buckley Jr. and his wife, Pat, gave in their Park Avenue maisonette. Yet even though the chairs in the formal dining room are still covered in chartreuse leopard print, it has been quite a while since anyone but a broker or a prospective buyer has spent much time there.

Mrs. Buckley, a socialite and mainstay of the charity circuit, died in 2007, and Mr. Buckley, the writer and godfather of modern conservatism, followed 10 months later in early 2008. Their 10-room duplex came on the market at $24.5 million in May 2008, but there were no takers; in early 2009, as the real estate market was choking, the estate decided to take down the for-sale sign.

Now, more than a year later, the apartment at 778 Park Avenue has been relisted at $12 million, less than half the original asking price. And it is not the only listing in the building to have had to, ahem, adjust its price. The late Brooke Astor’s 15th-floor duplex, with 14 rooms and 6 terraces, started at $46 million in May 2008 and is now being offered for $24.9 million.

Ms. Del Nunzio is quick to point out that the apartment has “the most extraordinary suite of entertaining rooms that you could find,” with a private entrance on East 73rd Street and an 18-foot-long marble entry hall that opens onto a 27-foot-long gallery, leading to a living room, a library and a dining room.

“This is the place,” Ms. Del Nunzio continued, “where all those conversations and dinners with statesmen and political figures, not to mention film and television stars, with a quiet family dinner thrown in here and there, happened. This is a rare opportunity to acquire a piece of New York’s intellectual history.”

The listing, with additional photos.

06 Aug 2009

Some of Us Thought the Real Estate Bubble Was Over

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Jim the Realtor from California describes a house being offered in Brooklyn.

Occupying what used to be a driveway, it’s a 1br/1ba home on a parcel of land 7.25 feet wide and 113.67 feet long. The interior area is just under 300 square feet: …ONLY $479,900!

I can remember a similar packing crate sort of residence located on top of Belmont Heights in San Francisco, in need of complete renovation, selling to a surgeon for $450,000 a few years ago.

Hat tip to Walter Olson.

Correction, August 6:
John brings to my attention in his comment a Daily News story debunking all this:

The house is actually in Toronto, and the price is only $179,000.

It was probably built in Kenya, too.

27 Jul 2009

“Do as I Say, Don’t Live as I Do”

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Thomas L. Friedman knows whats good for you

Kate, at Small Dead Animals, merely posts a quotation from New York Times editorialist Thomas L. Friedman‘s June 30th “Just Do It” column demanding that Americans support the democrats’ Cap-and-Trade Bill.

(T)his bill’s goal of reducing U.S. carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 is nowhere near what science tells us we need to mitigate climate change. But it also contains significant provisions to prevent new buildings from becoming energy hogs, to make our appliances the most energy efficient in the world and to help preserve forests in places like the Amazon.”

and links a photo of Mr. Friedman’s house.

Hat tips to Greg Pollowitz and Mark Steyn, who remarks:

(O)bviously, being a renowned expert, Thomas Friedman, like Al Gore and the Prince of Wales, needs a supersized carbon footprint. But you don’t — you can get by beating your laundry on the rocks down by the river with the native women all day long.

“Environmentalism” is a government restraint on economic advance and, therefore, social mobility. In other words, it’s a way to ensure you’ll never live like Tom Friedman.

03 Jun 2009

Not All States Are Equally Affected

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50 states’ changes in GDP, jobs, and home prices in 2008

The Atlantic
links a WSJ chart which it then graphs (above), showing the varied impact of the recession on all 50 states.

North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Texas, Hawaii, and South Dakota all managed modest increases (1.9-.2%) in home prices, while California real estate insanity exacted a ferocious toll not only within its own borders (-25.5%), but also in the neighboring California refugee destinations of Nevada (-28.2%) and Arizona (-20.6). Florida, of course, traditionally always jumps on board any real estate collapse and also came in the top ranks of disaster (-24%).

09 May 2009

Obsessive Housing Disorder

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When I was a small child, my parents, member of the WWII generation, were buying ordinary working class houses in prosperous places like California for $10 or $12 thousand dollars. An executive’s house might cost $25 thousand. In provincial low income locations like the small Pennsylvania town I lived in, you could buy a house for $5 or $6 thousand dollars.

Recently, when I was living in the Bay Area in California, I was appalled to find 1500 sq. ft. two bedroom, one bathroom, ranch houses on postage stamp lots, needing complete renovations, selling for half a million. In some fashionable communities out there, the worst house in town was selling for well over a million dollars.

How did this happen?

In the old days, mortgages did not grown on trees. Banks lent money grudgingly and only successful people with very stable jobs could obtain long-term financing. Ordinary people had to save the money to pay all cash or find a motivated seller willing to hold a mortgage for a few years. Of course, that meant you might get a five year mortgage if you were very lucky. More likely, you’d get three years. Nobody was going to give you 30 years financing.

Then along came the government. The federal government supplied the leverage which allowed idiots all over America to bid up prices of houses, offering to pay major chunks of their income for 30 years. And Voila! people a bit older than me who bought nice homes in booming areas for a few tens of thousands found the value of their investment multiplied astonishingly over a couple of decades. I know one executive couple from Bedford, NY, who often told me ruefully that, though they had worked hard and saved and invested all their lives, the only thing that ever earned them serious money was the decision to buy their house.

Of course, the windfall avalanche of gold that came to the lucky homeowner who purchased in the old days was really just a wealth transfer from members of a younger generation facilitated by our obliging uncle.

Younger people didn’t really mind backing up the pickup trucks full of dollars in the driveways of that older generation and pitchforking out the money, because they all believed the party would continue. Real estate prices would just keep on growing to the sky, and their own turn would come. Some fine day, members of a generation still younger would come along, this time with box car loads of dollars.

Pity that the music recently stopped. No more growth to the sky. No generational wealth transfer for you.

Steven Malanga, of City Journal, says that government-sponsored housing booms have happened several times before, always followed by busts. We’ve just forgotten, and you know what Santayana said: Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

I don’t think that it is only a belief that home ownership inspires the bourgeois virtues that causes government to subsidize housing. Housing subsidies serve large, deeply interested constituencies and are inevitably popular.

24 Mar 2009

Chris Dodd’s Humble Irish “Cottage”

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The story starts in 1994, when the Senator became one-third owner of a 10-acre estate, then valued at $160,000, on the island of Inishnee on Galway Bay. The property is near the fashionable village of Roundstone, a well-known celebrity haunt. William Kessinger bought the other two-thirds share in the estate. Edward Downe, Jr., who has been a business partner of Mr. Kessinger, signed the deed as a witness. Senator Dodd and Mr. Downe are long-time friends, and in 1986 they had purchased a condominium together in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Downe is also quite the character. The year before the Galway deal, in 1993, he pleaded guilty to insider trading and securities fraud and in 1994 agreed to pay the SEC $11 million in a civil settlement. The crimes were felonies and in 2001, as President Clinton was getting ready to leave office, Mr. Dodd successfully lobbied the White House for a full pardon for Mr. Downe.

The next year — according to a transfer document at the Irish land registry… — Mr. Kessinger sold his two-thirds share to Mr. Dodd for $122,351. The Senator says he actually paid Mr. Kessinger $127,000, which he claims was based on an appraisal at the time. That means, at best, poor Mr. Kessinger earned less than 19% over eight years on the sale of his two-thirds share to Mr. Dodd. But according to Ireland’s Central Bank, prices of existing homes in Ireland quadrupled from 1994 to 2004. …

In his Senate financial disclosure documents from 2002-2007, Mr. Dodd reported that the Galway home was worth between $100,001 and $250,000. However, Mr. Rennie reports that in 2006 and 2007 the Senator added a footnote that reads: “value based on appraisal at time of purchase.”

Mr. Dodd had good reason to add the qualifier. Senate rules call for valuations to be current and anyone who looked into the estimate would immediately spot Mr. Dodd’s lowballing. A June 17, 2007 feature in Britain’s Sunday Times did just that. “Diary” observed that in Roundstone “a two-bed recently made E680,000 ($918,000) and a cottage is currently on offer for E800,000.” Noting Mr. Dodd’s estimate of his property — between E75,000 and E185,000.

Toby Harnden at the Telegraph:

19 Oct 2008

Shenanigans in Appraising Obama’s Yard

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Chicago developer Tony Rezko provided the bridge that made it possible for Barack Obama to buy his $1.65 million dream house by arranging for the price to be lowered by splitting the acreage and having his wife pay full price ($625,000) for a 9090 sq. ft. portion of the side yard accessible only through the main property now designated a “development lot.” Obama got $300,000 off the asking price for the rest.

Original story

Well, what do you know? It seems the side yard parcel purchased by Mrs. Rezko wouldn’t appraise, and the bank appraiser who rejected a $625,000 valuation was fired and a new reappraisal mysteriously substituted for his estimate of no more than $500,000.

They call that bank fraud.

The Washington Times has the story.

07 Oct 2008

Real Estate Nightmares


Duncraig Castle, built in the 1860s, sits on 40 wooded acres on the shores of Loch Carron.

The New York Times quarterly real estate magazine, Autumn edition, features a pair of cautionary tales in which two astonishingly different dream homes turn into war zones occupied by divided families.

The Dobsons of Duncraig Castle

The Taubs of Borough Park

The disputed Taub home in Borough Park

09 Sep 2008

Squatters Seize Bank-Owned California House

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The LA Times notes that the foreclosure market is working for some home-seekers.

A family of bobcats (Lynx rufus) has taken up occupancy in an empty (bank-owned) house in the Tuscany Hills development of Lake Elsinore, California.


Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

11 Aug 2008

New Record House Price

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Villa Leopolda, Villefranche-sur-Mer

Charles Bremmer reports from Paris, in the London Times, that Russians are not only gobbling up real estate in the Republic of Georgia. Let’s hope they overpay just as much for that Caucasian real estate.

A mysterious Russian billionaire has trumped his big-spending rivals and broken a world record by splashing out €500 million (£392 million) on one of the most sumptuous villas on the French Riviera.

The price of the Villa Leopolda, a Belle Époque mansion on the heights of Villefrance, has amazed estate agents but fuelled local worries that the invasion of Russian money on the Côte d’Azur is getting out of hand.

Since the early 1990s, Russian oligarchs, drawn by memories of the Riviera-mad old Russian aristocracy, have been piling into seaside properties at Cap Ferrat, Cap d’Antibes, Saint-Tropez and the other great playgrounds.

None, however, has come near the price with which the unnamed Russian clinched the Leopolda deal with Lily Safra, the widow of Edmond Safra, a Lebanese banker who was killed by an arsonist’s fire in Switzerland in 2003.

Mrs Safra was said to have held out for months as the buyer raised his bid for the villa, between Nice and Monaco, which King Leopold II of Belgium acquired in 1902.

The previous record for a house was said to be the £57 (JDZ: reported as £117) million that Lakshmi Mittal, the steel tycoon, paid for a property in Kensington Palace Gardens in 2004. The macho spending contest by Russian oligarchs. …

Russian excess is feeding discontent among poorer people. Pierrette, a housekeeper for one Russian, said: “I attended a party where the guests had fun throwing burning €500 notes into the air while everyone split their sides laughing. The domestic staff were later told to collect the ashes. It was sickening.”

House photos.

09 Jun 2008

Montgomery County Considers Putting Homeless Family into $2.5 Million House

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Johns Hopkins Professor Phyllis Piotrow wanted to sell her brick five-bedroom house next to Hillmead Park in Bethesda, Maryland and retire to New Hampshire.

She had been hoping to sell her house with 1.3 acre lot to a developer, but Montgomery County fought development plans until the real estate market softened, then cajoled Piotrow into selling the property for a below-market price of $2.5 million to be incorporated into the neighboring park.

Then, somebody had an idea, as Marc Fisher reports in the Washington Post, 6/8:

The parks commission had planned to demolish Piotrow’s 1930s house, at a cost of about $65,000. Instead, staffers at Montgomery’s housing agency wondered, why not spend about twice the cost of demolition to renovate Piotrow’s five-bedroom place and use it to house a large (mother with 13 children -DZ) homeless family? After all, finding housing for large families is notoriously difficult, the county already shells out about $100,000 a year to keep a homeless family in a motel and at least six other houses in county parks are being used in similar fashion.

You will not be shocked to learn that the good people of Montgomery County thought this a very poor idea.


The same Marc Fisher recycles the same story into a blog editorial with a title which wonders indignantly: Is This House Too Nice for the Homeless?

(I mean, really, what kind of person could possibly think that?)


Residents of the Hillmead neighborhhood evidently could, and did, think un-PC, uncharitable thoughts.

Washington Post 3/23:

As the Montgomery County Council put the finishing touches on a $2.5 million plan to buy more land for a Bethesda park, council member Nancy Floreen lobbed what has turned out to be the equivalent of a neighborhood cluster bomb:

Why not house a needy family in the 1930s-era home on the property in the Hillmead neighborhood and expand the park at the same time? …

Residents of Hillmead, a leafy community about three miles from downtown Bethesda with small Cape Cods and large McMansions selling for more than $1 million, say they only recently learned of the county’s plans and think officials did a poor job of keeping them informed. …

The Hillmead residents insist that their opposition does not stem from antipathy to poor people. Those leading the fight say it’s a debate about how the county chooses to spend its $4 billion budget in tough economic times, and about due process for communities. …

“This really isn’t about having a homeless family living in a house that is bigger than probably 90 percent of the houses in the neighborhood,” said Brett Tularco, a developer who lives in the neighborhood and has offered to tear down the house to save the county the expense. “Our kids are going to school in trailers and then this homeless family would be living in a $3 million estate. That money could have been spent on housing tons of people instead of one family.”

He said he is also worried about public safety if the homeless family moves on and the county then uses the house to shelter mentally ill residents or drug abusers.

“That really isn’t who we want our kids playing next to,” he said.


Councilmember Nancy Floreen’s website

08 Apr 2008

Worse Than Gentrification

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Many of us living outside the urban communities of fashion have experienced mild astonishment at the capacity of mankind for complaint upon reading of protests stemming from the improvement and rehabilitation of formerly slum neighborhoods by new arrived upper middle-class residents, a process pejoratively termed “gentrification.”

The Onion reports that the a new upscale trend, fueled by increasing affluence and the limited supply of urban housing, has appeared, of even more alarming character.

Hat tip to Frank Dobbs.

29 Mar 2008

Larry Ellison Gets His Tax Assessment Reduced

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I recently got my home’s tax appraisal reduced, so did Larry Ellison. I argued that my appraisal was higher than the price we paid for the house and was then increased, although average county house prices had declined 12.5%. Larry made somewhat different arguments.

John Murrell explain:

You don’t get to be one of the richest men in the world by being a pushover, so it was no surprise to see Oracle CEO Larry Ellison bring his boardroom combativeness to bear when he felt the property tax assessment was too high on his 23-acre Japanese-style compound in Woodside. Ellison’s aptly named Octopus Holdings bought the property in 1995 for $12 million, and over the next nine years Ellison built it up in the style of a Japanese emperor’s 16th century country residence. The estate consists of a nearly 8,000-square-foot main house, a guest house, three cottages and a gym. The landscaping includes a 5-acre man-made lake, two waterfalls, two bridges and hundreds of cherry and maple trees, redwoods, pines and oaks. It’s the kind of place where a Zen monk would feel comfortable, assuming he won the Powerball.

Including the cost of delays, overruns and change orders, Ellison put about $200 million into the compound. Based on the reproduction cost — without those added expenses — the San Mateo County assessor’s office listed the value at $166.3 million in January 2005, and that’s where it’s stayed. Octopus Holdings, however, had the estate on the books at $64.7 million, and took its case to the appeals board, claiming the property’s unique nature would put it at a disadvantage on the open market. The appeals panel agreed — given the limited market for luxury homes, particularly in the 16th century Japanese style, the “overimprovements,” and the expense of keeping up the “excessive” landscaping, the board said the property is suffering from “significant functional obsolescence.” The board knocked $100 million off the valuation for the last three years and will pay Ellison a refund of about $3 million.

Unfortunately, Ellison’s gain is the rest of the community’s loss. Almost half of the refund comes out of Portola Valley School District funds, and the property’s lower valuation means the district will be short $250,000 to $300,000 in annual revenue starting next fiscal year. “It’s a significant chunk,” said Assistant Superintendent Tim Hanretty. “It’s a permanent, ongoing reduction.” Other losers are the county general fund and assorted cities and redevelopment agencies.

Hat tip to Karen Myers.

28 Mar 2008

Damn America!

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Poor Reverend Jeremiah Wright has led a life of constant victimization by White America’s racism and discrimination. Denied opportunity all his life, now he will be condemned to live in retirement in the above dreadfully tacky $1.6 million 10,340-square-foot, four-bedroom home in suburban Chicago, currently under construction in a gated community, with a $10 million line of credit, presumably intended for furniture and other incidentals.

Fox News

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