Archive for the ‘Real Estate’ Category

Service of a Divine Location

Monday, September 8th, 2014

If you’ve glanced at real estate sections over the years you’ll have seen advice against buying a house too close to the road, how a swimming pool lowers a property’s value and so on. Since hurricanes and oil leaks have more frequently had their way with beachfront properties, many are taking a second look at oceanside homes, once coveted by me especially.

On the brighter side Stefanos Chen shared highlights of a German study on the benefits of owning a condo near–though at the right distance from–a place of worship. It doesn’t matter what religion. He wrote “A study of the housing market in Hamburg, Germany, found that condos located between 100 to 200 meters, or 109 to 219 yards, away from a place of worship listed for an average 4.8% more than other homes. The effect was similar across all religious buildings studied, including churches, mosques and temples.”

Continued Chen, “But live too close to the religious building—within 100 meters—and the premium is erased, they found. Sounds associated with houses of worship are only part of the problem. The effect of bell ringing, for example, wasn’t statistically significant, he said.” The “he” is Wolfgang Maennig a German professor in the University of Hamburg’s economics and social sciences department who co-authored the journal report that appeared in Growth and Change.

Maennig told Chen that being close to transportation and sports arenas also adds value. I’d question the latter. Surefire gridlock when the local team was playing at home would make me want to rent or buy far, far away.

The jury is still out as to whether the divine proximity phenomenon affects US real estate. Can you conjecture? When moving to a condo, co-op or house, what do you look for in the location?


Service of Pay to Play

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

The High Low picked up a story from the Bradenton Herald about the parents and students of Manatee High School. The former received an offer to sign up for 15 prime seats to watch graduation at a cost of $200 and the latter were asked for $20 each to attend. The principal of the Florida high school, Don Sauer, said that such fees and opportunities are common in the area and that they are to help offset the $12,000 cost of the ceremony.

In the Bradenton Herald Meghin Delaney reported that the 10 rows of prime seats sold out in four hours and that seating is free at the rest of Hawkins Stadium on a first come, first served basis. There are 500 graduating students and typically 5,000 to 6,000 guests, wrote Delaney. This year the district is not chipping in $3,434 it usually does.


As enticements to high-paying renters, known as market-rate tenants, some New York City apartments enjoy playrooms, rooftop gardens and gyms that are not open to rent-stabilized tenants in the same building. Ronda Kaysen covered the situation, and the resulting kafuffle by lower-paying tenants, in “What’s Next, A Bouncer?”

While Kaysen said there were no stats as to how prevalent this practice is, legislators are trying to stop it. Developers mix the two price levels because of tax benefits. I wonder why someone paying $1,321–the median cost for a rent stabilized apartment according to Kaysen–would object to someone paying $2,696 for the same apartment getting a few perks? Does it cost $1,300/month to join a gym?

If someone pays $400-$700 for an orchestra seat at a theatre, sports event or concert, should those whose tickets cost $200 expect the best seats too?  What are your thoughts about pay to play in a public high school, an apartment house or other setting?


Service of Real Estate Interests

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Actor Liam Neeson has become the most visible spokesperson to save the horse carriage industry in NYC listing reasons ranging from polls of New Yorkers, 64 percent of whom want to keep the carriages, to the importance of the culture and history of the practice and the fact that only four horses have been killed in 6 million trips in traffic. He pointed out in his New York Times editorial that Mayor De Blasio hasn’t yet met with the operators.

In his New York Times opinion piece “Carriages Belong in Central Park” he concluded: “Before we lose this signature element of New York’s culture and history — instantly recognizable to the millions of tourists who visit our city and contribute to its economy — the least the mayor can do is come down to the stables and see how the horses are cared for. I urge Mr. de Blasio to meet the working men and women whose jobs are at stake and to start a dialogue that will safeguard a future for the horses that the majority of New Yorkers want.”

What I wonder is why, with so many crucial issues to address in a city such as New York, the Mayor picks on this one. One reason was covered in 2008 in a New York Sun article by David Pomerantz, “Company To Weigh In on Horse-Drawn Carriage Debate.” He wrote about the anti-horse carriage theme of a poster campaign by Manhattan Mini Storage: “The horse-drawn carriage industry is arguing that the advertising and fund-raising campaign is part of a plan to outlaw the carriages that ferry tourists through Central Park and on Midtown streets so the storage company can buy the land currently occupied by two carriage stables. The stables are situated near real estate owned by Edison Properties, the company that controls Manhattan Mini Storage.”

And then there’s the 100+ year old building on West 57th Street which housed Rizzoli Bookstore for almost 30 years. In spite of 16,000 signatures asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to maintain the century old building, according to Gina Bellafante in “Better Off Elsewhere,” the commission “deemed the building…inadequately significant to keep in perpetuity.”

She continued: “The most visible legacy of the Bloomberg era surely will be the slender, glass and steel residential towers now going up 70, 80 and 90 stories over this reach of Midtown. In all likelihood it is one of these buildings that will eventually stand in Rizzoli’s place, a building intended to lure the wealthiest internationalists, who will rotate in and out of the city from Singapore, São Paulo, Mumbai, never staying long enough to pay local income taxes and turning the area, essentially, into the world’s costliest time-share. Ironically, One 57, perhaps the most audacious of these projects, lists Rizzoli on its website as among the area’s attractions, alongside the restaurants Daniel and Petrossian and the jewelers Bulgari and Van Cleef & Arpels.”

Seems to me the city is putting the cart before the horse: Is only one industry running things these days? Is this nothing new? Your thoughts?


Service of What’s That Again?

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

I shake my head when I hear or read what some people say or do.

Oh Really?

I listened to an interview on Bloomberg radio where the head of a corporation reported buying 37,000 foreclosed homes which the company remodeled and is now renting. The CEO’s voice oozed pride and he concluded that he especially likes it when his company can do well by communities by providing labor and attractive, affordable housing to people who couldn’t normally live so well–all made possible by the company.

That’s what he said. Then why did I hear: “You took advantage of poor people and got their homes for a song; needed someone to fix them up so you hired workers and you’re waiting until housing prices rise before selling them at a huge profit–might as well make some money by renting them meanwhile.”

He is in business to make money and his stockholders win. I object to his putting a halo spin on the process.


After 35 years a major magazine fired its editorial staff in NYC where it has been published since its founding by a New Yorker. It is heading south. About the move the publisher said “This is a chance for our editors to live the lifestyle they promote on the page.”

Why did I hear, “We’ll be able to pay lower wages and cut our overhead?” A sound business decision in this economy no doubt, but say so. Who is he fooling?

Say What

An international discounter known for paying minimum wages launched a holiday food drive in an Ohio store asking its more fortunate workers to support others less fortunate.

Huh? Wouldn’t the store have better served its employees–and image–to give a turkey and fixings to all staffers? Then it could suggest that if some employees opted to gift the feast to a poorer family, few would object.

I wonder if some people really believe what they utter and think that they are so clever pulling the wool over our eyes? Or do they fall for what their advisors persuade them to say? Or think the public is stupid? Can you share similar examples?




Service of Civility: Weber Shandwick/Powell Tate Survey and East Hampton, N.Y. Manners

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Sometimes I think I live on the moon. I was reading Nicholas Joseph’s highlights on of a survey of a thousand Americans that KRC Research conducted for Weber Shandwick and one of its divisions, Powell Tate. I’m in sync with the condition but not with the cause to which 80 percent of respondents attributed incivility: Government leaders.

What about parents and guardians? Is this another game of hot potato where nobody wants to be left holding the vegetable when the music stops?

Joseph wrote: “Civility in America remains at a steady low level as 54% of Americans expect civility to continue to decline in the next few years….. With Americans encountering incivility more than twice a day, on average, and 43% of respondents expecting to experience incivility in the next 24 hours, dealing with incivility has become a way of life for many.

“Many Americans believe that uncivil words are provoking harmful deeds: 81% of respondents believe that uncivil behavior is leading to an increase in violence in our society. Respondents view the government, general public, and large corporations as uncivil, while they see local news, small businesses, and their community as civil.

69% of respondents view the government as uncivil

63% think that the American public is not civil

63% also view the media as uncivil”

I’d like to insert easy access to guns also leads to an increase in violence.

Toward the end Joseph added: “The level of civility will not improve until government leaders act more civilly and 83% of respondents think that politics is becoming increasingly uncivil.”

Granted, the survey blamed the American Public second after government…but that’s far too fuzzy for me. It’s not the public but a person that lets a door slam in my face as I enter an office building with my hands full; watches the elevator door slap shut as I’m about to step inside or crashes into me on the sidewalk without taking a breath to apologize.

Respondents—70 percent–also directed fault at the Internet. Almost half  have blocked missives from an uncivil offender while Joseph reported cyberbullying has increased 15 percent since 2011.

Manners are a first cousin of civility and Jim Rutenberg focused on the former in the title of his New York Times column, “Mind Your Manners, Or Else.” Datelined East Hampton N.Y., the first instance he described—of a hedge fund person and Wall Street lawyer trying to scam a local real estate company of its fee by leaving behind notes in one property asking the homeowner to deal directly with them—wasn’t about manners, it was about ethics and honesty.

After mentioning venues that capture unmannerly behavior, such as, Curbed Hamptons and twitter character Joe Schwenk, whose handle is @HamptonsBorn, Rutenberg continued: “‘The Hamptons are, first and foremost, the locus of all this stuff: It’s where the powerful, the glamorous, the rich and the exalted go to summer,’ said Neal Gabler, the Amagansett-based author. ‘Because it’s their playground, the place where they can let themselves loose, it’s the place where you are likely to see them do things that they wouldn’t do in their own environment.’

“Mr. Gabler, who wrote the seminal biography of the gossip columnist Walter Winchell (“Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of the Celebrity”), views the sites devoted to reporting on suspected misdeeds as practicing a form of homegrown gossip columnizing, the whole basis for which, he said, “is essentially to equalize and take down the mighty to make sure they know they’re not better than we are.”

Manners apply whether or not you are rich or important or think you are. Some have them regardless, others don’t.

Definitions of “civility” and “manners” widely differ so we would naturally have diverse expectations about each. Is the reason we step on one another therefore inadvertent? I’m also curious about why survey respondents leave themselves out of the equation on the subject of civility and point far away to government and the public.

Service of Asking the Right Questions

Monday, June 24th, 2013

I’d like to share a few questions to ask in a range of circumstances that might save you from costly mistakes in time and money. Asking the right questions will serve you far better in evaluating a vendor and ensuring a positive outcome than depending on websites that direct readers to the best ones.


When hiring a marketing, PR or advertising agency, ask to speak with four or five former clients. There are countless legitimate reasons a company changes vendors. The test of the character and smarts of the principals can often be found with those with whom they are no longer associated professionally.

You’ll learn if the counsel was sound and the work top quality; if the account people fit the company’s culture and how responsive they were as marketing needs changed. The fact that an agency is still in touch with its former clients—or isn’t–also says a lot.


Hiring a contractor? Ask for contact information for his/her last three to five jobs. You’ll likely have a more accurate picture of the good and the bad when you call these people for recommendations than if you let the contractor make the picks. My first encounter with a contractor was disappointing and shocking because we thought we’d done our due diligence. We’d spoken with the homeowners and visited nine jobs: Three for each contender. But all the choices of jobs were the contractors’.


Booking a hotel with a lineup of ballrooms? Ask who is scheduled for the adjacent rooms and what their entertainment plans and schedules are. This became obvious one night when nobody could hear the speakers in our room because the relentlessly earsplitting band next door wouldn’t take a break even though hotel staff and event producers pleaded with this uncooperative neighbor-for-the-night.

The cocktail hour at another event took place in the generously proportioned hallway in front of the ballroom. The hotel had proposed this concept to all its clients. Trouble was the women at the event on the way to ours were dressed as southern belles, with huge hoop skirts that took up all the floor space. We had a difficult and uncomfortable time reaching our destination. The hotel should have put the belles at the end of the hallway, not near the elevator. Nobody asked.

Buying or Renting a House

Ask about weather anomalies. In North Dakota I lived on an Air Force base in the last house in a line of two family homes. Wind on our–and on all corners–was so fierce that far more snow piled up in our driveway than in anyone else’s.

I wonder how many of these questions are universal and if they would apply in any culture. Did any of them surprise you? Hope you’ll share your tips for questions to ask in these or other instances.

Service of Urban Legends

Monday, October 1st, 2012

There are so many urban legends that flourishes. [Snopes is a website that covers urban legends, Internet rumors and the like.] Many come via email but the ones I’m writing about are those that people repeat without checking facts [or consulting their common sense].

One friend is annoyed every time he hears someone chortle the old saw about fruitcakes being doorstops. He says that they wouldn’t say that if they’d tried the fruitcake from Assumption Abbey, Ava Missouri. It’s moist, scrumptious and anything but cement-like.

A house I covet in the country sits right on a fairly busy through-road. It’s over 100 years old and perfectly maintained. It also fits its hilly landscape to perfection. It’s the opposite of most houses that stick out of the ground as if in a young child’s drawing. Yet you’ll hear people tell a real estate agent that they don’t want a house that’s close to the road. I’d buy this house in a second and pass on those without character that are planted way off a thoroughfare.

I’m told of a high-end art and antiques dealer who cringes when she hears trendoids intone, with a sneer and dollop of scorn, what they think of brown furniture: They hate it. They are referring to antique wood chests, sideboards, tables and such.

I heard the term years ago when a gifted interior designer/friend took a first look at our apartment. She was right: Queen Anne and Chippendale-R-Us along with a lot of other old wood pieces, some distressed, some less so. We opt for the simpler versions of all and appreciate how well the furniture is made, how the wood feels, its fine lines, structure and detail. I’ll never forget my excitement after purchasing a gateleg table dated around 1690. I was as intrigued to think that someone over 300 years ago put his/her elbow on this table as I was thrilled by its design and how well the legs fit and tuck in to allow the tabletop to fold down.

In addition, brown furniture isn’t merely brown. The words are boring, deliberately lazy and unimaginative. Antique woods can be caramel colored or mahogany or darkened by years of polish or patterned, as in Birdseye maple.

I haven’t even addressed the value of a piece of furniture that has flourished for centuries. Wonder how a $5,000 piece of new furniture will stand the test of time vs. an antique that has already proved the point?

Can you share any urban legends for which you’d like to set the record straight? Why do you think people feel comfort in holding tight to these legends when they aren’t valid? Is it lack of imagination or education?

Get This Blog Emailed to You:
Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz