Daily Archives: August 13, 2008

Stop the presses! Get out your checkbooks!

Mel Gibson’s digs on Old Mill Road have dropped from $39.5 million to just $35 million. You procrastinated, you won!

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Let them eat cake.
Prince Charles, perhaps one of our dimmer world figure heads, doesn’t like genetically modified food. Fair enough, but his complaint that “we [will] end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness” sounds to me as though he rather misses the good old days when his serfs knuckled their foreheads as he passed and, damn it, knew their place.

The Prince would dispute this, of course and predicts world wide disaster if things are permitted to continue as they are. But this is the same gentleman who sixteen months ago warned the world would suffer cataclysmic horrors in eighteen months if we didn’t immediately save the rain forests. Well, we still have two months to go before we know whether the world will end but things aren’t looking good for the Prince’s prognosticative powers.

While he was predicting doom last year, our king in waiting said, “You learn as you go along. I am going to be 60 this year. I would be a blinding idiot if I had not learnt a bit by now.” You said it, Charley. I rather think the Prince would agree with his subject British scientists who claim that fat people cause global warming. Stick all those fatties back on 1/2 acre subsistence plots and foot-pedalled water pumps and we’ll soon see the pounds melt away. All while saving the planet. Jolly good.

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Internet for home buyers

The National Association of Realtors has released some interesting statistics depicting changes in how buyers first found the home they eventually purchased from 1997 to 2007. They had a nice chart that my lousy computer skills prevent me from importing but here’s a summary:

1997: 50% via a real estate agent, 3% via internet, 8% newspapers, 3% magazines

2007: 34% agents, 29% internet, 3% newspaper ads and 1% magazines.

This jibes with my own experience except that, in this rather sophisticated market, I’d guess that almost all my clients have been prowling the Internet before they first call me. On the other hand, they usually end up buying something they hadn’t yet seen or considered, so I feel I’m adding something beyond what Zillow offers.

Definitely bad news for newspapers, though, considering how expensive their ads are.

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Attention, Los Angeles:
You don’t want your fat folks chowing down on Whoppers? How about tasty rat snacks?

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Who says politics has to break up friendships?
I see that District 5 (Riverside) yielded six votes for Lee Whitnum. My first reaction was surprise that my area of town hosts so many nuts but I was still further surprised when I realized that that I know, and like, at least five of the probable suspects. And probably all six. I do adore them but I think I’ll stay out of their way until the fall election’s over.

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Contracts = activity.

Not sales, which are a lagging indicator – who cares what happened 30 – 60 days ago? With that in mind, you may want to know that we saw 11 houses go to contract in the past 10 business days. That’s not much, obviously, so let’s hope that it’s merely a reflection of vacation schedules rather than a lack of interest in buying homes. Usually in August, that’s the right explanation but I, at least, am a little nervous.

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Rant of the morning – real estate readers, avert your eyes

California, home of all great ideas, was the first state to ban smoking in restaurants and now many of its cities have expanded that to the smoggy area outside. The ban seems to be working but I do wonder what possible health benefit is achieved by protecting an outdoor cafe patron from inhaling second hand smoke while continuing to expose the poor bastard to the world’s foulest air (you say, “China’s is worse, but every evening, prevailing winds dump a new load of Chinese poison on poor old California, so they’re doubly blessed).

What concerns me, however, and what alarmed a few folks way back when the first smoking ban was imposed, is, “what’s next?”. Doomsayers predicted,and were scoffed at for their prediction, that this kind of governmental intrusion would spread and of course it has, from calorie counts and trans fat bans in New York City, no foie gras in Chicago, no smoking, alone, in your own car, etc.

Now Los Angeles has banned additional fast food joints in South LA. Leave alone the possibility that these places provided jobs in a blighted area that has never recovered from the Rodney King riots (and before that, the Watts frolics of 1965), what kind of paternalistic beneficence is going on here? Grown adults won’t be allowed to buy a $1.00 cheeseburger but must instead opt for a full course tofu dinner that (a) costs far more and (b) doesn’t exist within 5 miles of South LA?

Except for those too lazy to cook, the most healthy dinner is probably one you prepare yourself because you have full control and choice of ingredients. Los Angelenos apparently, don’t have that option and are forced into the streets where they stuff themselves on the first food offered.

“The people don’t want [fast food joints], but when they don’t have any other options, they may gravitate to what’s there,” [Councilwoman Jan]Perry said in Monday’s Los Angeles Times. So much for the free market – the city council will now decide what people want and don’t want.

The city council exerts this dubious authority on the grounds that the citizens under its control are too fat: obesity consumes public funds to treat so sure, let’s “do something” about it and individual choice be damned. “We can’t take away their X-boxes” one supporter explains, alluding to the fact that lack of exercise contributes at least as much to the problem of chubby wubbies as cheese does, but why not? Exactly the same rationale applies. In fact,this reasoning opens the door to anything politicians want to impose for the good of “the people” – forced exercise, for instance (you say no, but Barak Obama is floating a proposal for compulsory “volunteer” service, 2 years for every young adult in America, so why not a brief stint of calisthenics each day in the local park, to get ready for that service?)

Even I’m not so old that I can’t remember when people were pretty much free to do what they wanted to do so long as they weren’t harming anyone else. That freedom has slowly eroded as the kind of people who enjoy telling others what to do have gained ascendancy via a “social cost” argument. We as a society are paying the medical costs for (some) people so we have the right to tell all of you to: wear seat belts; motorcycle helmets; not ingest trans fats; no goose liver (okay, it’s not a health cost issue but we also have taken over the prerogative of protecting the well being of geese – so there); and so forth and so on. Just wait until we have national health insurance and we can go after diabetics and juveniles with rotting teeth for consuming too much candy. I admire the optimism of reformers who truly believe that if we all only did as they told us to it would be a wonderful world, but I wonder at, and fear, their combination of naivety and lust for power.

(Rant over.)

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Milbank Avenue still draws optimists

I see that yesterday two adjacent properties on Milbank Avenue, 196 and 198, went to contract. These are tear-down multi-families so I assume that a builder’s planning condos on the site. Asking price for each lot was $1.6 million and, while asking and getting often aren’t the same thing, it’s encouraging that someone still has enough faith in the Greenwich condominium market to go to contract on this land.

The devil just whispered, “a fool and his money …” but that’s just mean.

Update:

The sales price was just announced: $1,250,00 for each lot, so about 22% off asking price.

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Sell that house

A reader asks:

“I have taken my home off the market during August, just needed a break and nothing was happening. I plan to put it back on, when would you suggest? When things were cooking, would it have been the 1st/2nd week in Sept?”

She’s right (or he’s right) that early September has traditionally seen a surge of new listings that mark the beginning of what used to be, anyway, the fall buying season. I think I’d still advise putting it on at that time – perhaps September 15th, which allows for Labor Day (the 1st) and the week after that for kids to get settled in school and their parents to begin looking. I also like the later date because, in this market, it will provide an opportunity for the seller and her agent to take a hard, objective look at the competition, old and new – the stuff that came on the week before. At that point, if both seller and agent are convinced that the house is fairly priced (remember, I said make a hard, objective comparison) then, especially in a case like this, where the property’s been on the market long enough to wear out its would-be seller, I’d reprice it at least 10% lower. You do want to sell the place, right?

But make sure, in calculating that reduction, that you’re not over market to begin with (and the fact that it hasn’t sold suggests that it is). There’s a “new” listing today that’s come back with a new broker and a new price that’s 15% off its original but that original price was ridiculous, given the location. I’m being deliberately vague about this home’s identity because I don’t want to embarrass the owner or make it even harder to sell but, when I first saw this place a year ago, I thought it was easily priced 2X too high. If i was right and, so far, the market bears me out, a 15% reduction isn’t going to do any good and will only prolong the owner’s agony.

Speaking of which, the house is a spec project and has a lot of company out there. Local banks funded many of these houses and I wonder how long it will be before we start seeing some of these small banks in trouble. Just sayin’…

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