Daily Archives: September 19, 2009

Old Church Road cemetary

A reader asked whether 99 Old Church Road had sold and though I didn’t think so, I checked the records just to be sure. Deader’n a door nail, like the other houses on that road. Nothing wrong with three of these houses (the fourth is in laughable condition) but all four started at $3.8 and $3.9 million and only one has recognized the error of its ways and dropped to $2.495. Still hasn’t helped.

I like this street and I like the three houses that have been renovated. But clearly, right now, the market doesn’t like them. The only cure for that is a major price reduction and since that’s not happening, I assume the owners don’t care whether they sell or not. Which is fine, but don’t go down that street looking for a bargain.

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Bulls vs. bears

Ya gotta love a horse race. Here’s an article from the New York Times that interviews five different analysts and gets six different opinions on where the market’s headed. I think this guy, for instance, is nuts – reminds me of a lot of real estate agents I know. But hey, he could be right, and so could they. I’m not betting on it.

Despite this grim backdrop, Laszlo Birinyi, president of Birinyi Associates, a stock market research firm in Westport, Conn., believes that we are in the early stages of a classic bull market that has plenty of room to run.

“At any juncture during a bull market over the last 50 years you could point to economic problems,” he said. “The obvious problems aren’t the ones that I worry about.” In his view, the economic weakness has been documented so well that the market has already taken it into account. “The negatives are right in front of your nose,” he said. “The market is looking past it.”

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Well at least this natural disaster wasn’t caused by us

bluefin tunaThe Bluefin Tuna is gone – everyone knows it yet the Japaneses and Chineses keep killing them. Better to catch the last one than let your neighbor do it. If you read the article linked to, check out the 200 – pounder the shoppers are so excited about. A decade ago, a fish that size was a baby – now it’s all that’s left. These are beautiful animals and it’s just awful that they’ll be gone in another ten years.

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Broker to the (falling) stars

Serena Boardman (l), NY Social Diary. "Well Marissa, I sold off Georgie Lindemann's Cellular Farm, I'm sure I can unload your dad's dumpy cottage."?

Serena Boardman (l), NY Social Diary. "Well Marissa, if I could sell off Georgie Lindemann's Cellular Farm, with all those dead horses littering the grounds, I'm sure I can unload your dad's dumpy cottage."

I missed this Bloomberg article (by my pal Oshrat Carmiel) on celebrity broker Serena Boardman. The youngish (39) socialite who makes it her business to know all the right people (we haven’t met, for some reason) is having quite a run ditching the expensive real estate of the scandalized, homes that are no longer needed (Bernie Madoff’s Montauk home and his New York City penthouse) or affordable (Marissa Noel’s pad in the city). If you committed a crime, Ms. Boardman is obviously the one to see about raising bail money and defense fees. What a gig; far more lucrative than just writing about these clowns, but perhaps not as much fun.

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If Al Gore comes too, the blizzard snows will soften the impact of the mortars

Joe Biden to appear at Back Country fund raiser for man of the people, Jim Himes.

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You say you want a revolution

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal contains a fascinating review of Christopher Caldwell’s book, “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe” (and if you haven’t read Edmund Burke, it’s not too late).

“When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines,” Mr. Caldwell writes, “it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.” The book is not a polemic; it is at once nuanced and blunt, serious and witty, while also avoiding what Mr. Caldwell calls “the preemptive groveling that characterizes most writing about matters touching on ethnicity.” He does not advocate positions but instead offers reflections on a mix of trends, misunderstandings and self-delusions.

He also ruminates on far more than the increasing radicalization of generations of Muslim immigrants. Just as Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790) predicted a dire fate for the mass insurrection then aborning, Mr. Caldwell looks with alarm at Europe’s continuing rejection of itself. Without a rejection of the religion and culture that sustained Europe for centuries, he says, the immigration troubles might never have occurred, or at least would not have been so severe: His verdict is suicide rather than murder.

The author notes that even the prominent German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who is an atheist, has acknowledged that “Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”

 

Yet much of Europe has discarded its historic religious underpinnings as irrelevant at best, harmful at worst. Even the memory of what a religiously ordered society was like has seemed to disappear, Mr. Caldwell observes. “A good definition of religion” for most modern Europeans, he says, might be “an irrational opinion, strongly held.”

I find the concluding sentence of the review chilling and, to me, entirely plausible.

All this may seem to cry out for a loud and long, soul-searching debate, but don’t count on it. Discussion about immigration is decidedly circumscribed in countries where postcolonial guilt has led to taboos against criticism of anything putatively Muslim. The riots and slayings over a Danish newspaper’s publication of a few cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad put an entire continent on notice to watch its words. Mr. Caldwell gives little advice and few predictions about what lies ahead. But he does address the question of “whether you can have the same Europe with different people. The answer is no.”

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The New York Times and sympathy for the Devil

The Mussleman subway bomber out in Colorado still doesn’t merit front page attention in the New York Times, but a story about Musslemen feeling put upon and picked on does.

“The government should know better by now,” said Mr. Kacem, an imam at a local mosque. “It has been eight years since Sept. 11, and our government still overacts sometimes when it comes to Muslims.”

As an investigation into a possible terrorist plot against New York City focused increasingly last week on a local Afghani shuttle bus driver, some Muslims in and around this Denver suburb have grown uneasy, saying they are concerned that law enforcement officials are going too far because the case involves a Muslim. But others say that even if Muslims here feel that they are being unfairly targeted, law enforcement officials are obligated to follow any leads, wherever they might lead, and that in this case the F.B.I. has acted appropriately so far.

“We have to be patient and coolheaded,” said Mohammad Noorzai, a former president of the Colorado Muslim Society, whose small campus straddles Denver and Aurora. “In the end, if there is evidence that somebody has done something wrong, they have to be held accountable regardless of their ethnic background. I think they need to pursue everything, and many of us agree with that.”

The man the authorities say is at the center of the investigation, Najibullah Zazi, 24, initially denied any wrongdoing and voluntarily submitted to days of questioning by the F.B.I. last week. According to government officials who have been briefed on the case, Mr. Zazi had begun cooperating with the authorities after three days of questioning by F.B.I. agents. He reportedly admitted that he might have perhaps unwittingly crossed paths in Pakistan with extremists allied with Al Qaeda. And, the officials said, based on Mr. Zazi’s statements to the agents, there are now some indications that he underwent training in explosives and bomb-making while overseas.

On Saturday afternoon, The Associated Press said Mr. Zazi had so far failed to show up to a meeting with the F.B.I. scheduled for that morning. A voice message for Wendy Aiello, a spokeswoman for Zazi’s defense team, said Zazi’s attorneys would be issuing a statement later Saturday.

Mr. Zazi has not been charged with any crime, and neither federal nor New York officials have publicly explained why or how they became interested in him.

The questioning came after searches by federal agents of Mr. Zazi’s Aurora apartment, his relatives’ home nearby and homes connected to Mr. Zazi in Queens. With the Ramadan holiday winding down, word of the inquiry has spread throughout the more than 10,000 Muslims who have settled in Aurora and parts of Denver. “Colorado has always been seen as a good place to raise a family,” Mr. Noorzai said.

Unlike Muslim centers in other cities, there is no true Muslim neighborhood here, but rather a patchwork of markets, restaurants and mosques among the strip malls that line Aurora’s broad boulevards. Over the years, the Muslim population has grown — with immigrants from Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Somalia pulled by the lure of ample jobs, the word of a relative or the promise of a quieter life.

Mr. Zazi moved from Queens to Aurora, a city of about 300,000, and drives an airport shuttle van. Although details of the investigation are still murky — federal authorities shadowing Mr. Zazi apparently grew alarmed after a recent cross-country trip he took to New York City — the question of Mr. Zazi’s guilt or innocence is overshadowed for many by a feeling that the F.B.I.’s search of his home, in a modest apartment complex, was too much.

Those who know Mr. Zazi describe him as quiet and unassuming, said Darin Mangnall, a lawyer who represents taxi drivers and who once represented Mr. Zazi in a minor traffic accident.

“My experience is that a lot of these guys are working hard,” he said. “A lot of them have wives and children that are still living in their home country. They don’t smoke. They don’t drink. They don’t do anything but drive a taxi out here. I have a lot of sympathy for them.”

Mr. Noorzai, the former president of the organization, said many local Muslims were trying to figure out whether anyone knew Mr. Zazi, and whether he did anything wrong.

“If this guy is innocent, then our community is going to feel like we are being singled out,” he said.

So far, the Times has elected not to alarm its readers with the news that this week’s raid on those New York apartments yielded 14 backpacks and a computer loaded with bomb-making information. Because that could like, prejudice folks against Islam or something, you know?

While we’re on the subject, are you aware that “Mohammed” is now the number one name for boys in London, Copenhagen, Oslo, Brussels and Amsterdam? And in Britain, Muslemen’s numbers are increasing ten times faster than that of any other group. Just saying ….

 

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Here’s a shocker – loan to deadbeats and they default!

The days of no money down mortgages were supposed to be over, remember? Turns out – who knew? – that people with no investment in a property tended to walk away from it when they found it uncomfortable to repay their loan. So private lenders quit that business, but guess who didn’t? You, you taxpayer you.

The FHA has stepped in where smart people feared to tread and has been busy offering loans with just 3.5% down payment requirements. A year later, guess what? No really, guess. Amazingly enough, those loans are already defaulting and the FHA is coming back to you for more cash so they can keep going. As long as there’s one person sleeping in a SOR above a fancy restaurant, it is your moral and legal obligation to buy him a house. So hop to it. And don’t forget to buy him medical care while you’re at it.

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Nothing to see here, move along, move along

The news that an Al Qaeda terrorist is talking to the FBI and spilling the beans about a proposed subway bombing plot has finally been noticed by our local rag, the New York Times, which buries the story (edited to read in non-threatening, soothing tomes) in the Metro section, half-way into the first section. What’s on the front page? The woes of single-room occupants who live above a restaurant where rich people dine. Written by a Sulzberger, which explains both the story’s prominent placement and exposes the Times’ editorial values. But, while there are lots of Sulzbergers around, are there enough to comprise this paper’s sole readership and keep it afloat?

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World ends, women, minorities yadayadayada

Michelle Obama: Health care is crushing women. Yawn.

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Bad times reveal bad people

From my sailing and mountaineering days, I learned to judge people not for how they behaved when all is going well – blue skies, pleasant days, plenty of food and water, but under stress. When a hailstorm hits at 10,000 feet and soaks everyone and chills them to the bone, when seas rise to 40′ and start slamming your boat into huge troughs, shaking the craft and threatening to sink it, that’s when a man’s character shows. Does he keep his cool, or  does he lose his head and start screaming, blaming other people and bemoaning his difficulties?  You find out all you need to know about someone in times like that.

And now it seems that the present lull in our real estate market is producing the same sort of test, and agents are failing miserably. Grabbing other agent’s clients, lying about a particular house, hiding defects, everything that real estate agents are known for is coming to the surface. I just heard of a buyer, not my client because she had been locked into a nine-month buyers agreement by another agent desperate to keep a warm body who might produce income, who wanted to put a bid in on another house. Whoo boy: she was told by the listing agent that she could only submit a bid if she signed an exclusive buyer agreement with the listing agent and the agent told her she would only sell her listing to one of her own clients (thereby grabbing a full commission rather than sharing it with someone else). The illegality of this is obvious; so too is the violation of that agent’s fiduciary duty to her principal, the home’s owner, to put the principal’s interest ahead of her own.

An isolated incident? I doubt it. My own organization, the Connecticut Association of Realtors, has taken what was supposed to be a consumer protection law, the creation of a Buyer’s Representative, and, together with the firms that comprise that organization, perverted it into a tool of abuse, locking buyers into iron-clad contracts of lengthy duration. There’s no need for that: I drafted a proposed Buyer’s rep agreement that met all of the statute’s requirements while protecting the buyer and was told when I submitted it to CAR’s legal counsel that there was no interest in messing with what they’d come up with.

Of course there isn’t. So you, buyer and seller, are on your own. The proud declarations of honesty and ethical behavior spouted by real estate agents are being revealed as hollow boasts, designed to lull you into complacency while setting you up to be ripped off. It’s too bad because the abuses happening now will sooner or later result in remedial legislation that will make everything more complicated and do nothing to actually solve the problem: a crook is a crook, and that will show whenever times get difficult, all the laws in the world notwithstanding.

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Dick Blumenthal has no shame

Our state Attorney General, he with the slicked back hair and overweening ambition, has once again reached for the spotlight after someone else turned it on. Now he’s decided he’s going after ACORN. This comes, of course, after years of reports of ACORN’s fraudulent practices ranging from voter registration drives to extortion. Blumenthal turned a blind eye to all that because of the organization’s political clout but now that that has evaporated, now that the Democrats, like Captain Renault, have discovered that ACORN is a criminal organization and eliminated its federal funding, Dick is there, ready to protect Connecticut residents against its predations.

Blumenthal has a track record of doing nothing except chase after more successful attorney generals, claiming credit for their work and preening for the cameras. Most notable were his silly claims to have starred in the tobacco class-action suits, and the Microsoft antitrust suit; in both instances, he joined in only after the suits were on the verge of settlement and he needed only to add his signature to the last page. The man has never attempted to go after Wall Street crooks, despite his citizens being ripped off for decades. Hell, he hasn’t uttered a peep about his neighbor Walter Noel and Fairfield Greenwich Group and I promise you that he won’t until his betters have untangled that fraud and prepared it for final judgment. Then we’ll see Dick, right up front, boasting of his devotion to duty and keen legal acumen. The man is a fraud himself and if we can’t prosecute him, surely we can turn him out of office.

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