Daily Archives: December 21, 2008

It can’t happen here, either

A New York resident looks at his Governor’s proposed budget and notices that, as always, state employees are immune from suffering.  The Gove says he’s cut the budget to the bone and the only left to do is – surprise! – tax the rich. That ought to do it.

New York State, possibly the worst run state in the union, is facing a huge budget deficit, more than $15 billion. Since most state governments, unlike the federal government, are required to balance their budgets, New York’s Governor Paterson is scrambling to find additional revenue and is raising and creating new taxes on such a broad array of goods and services even the late George Harrison would have been impressed, e.g. on cable TV, gym dues, clothing, music downloads, manicures, wine, theater tickets, sports events, taxi cabs and many, many more, including, even, non-diet sodas; there will also be sharp increases in fees for state services like license/registration renewals, hunting/fishing licenses etc.

In fact, the situation is so bad in New York State, Albany actually intends to lay off state employees (you read that right). How many, you ask? According to the New York Post, New York State, which numbers 239,830 souls (up 3.4 percent from just two years ago) on its payroll, will be pink-slipping all 520 of them regarded as superfluous, an impressive .002 percent of the state’s workforce. Apparently the remaining 239,310, most belonging to powerful unions, are so vital to the public weal they are not expendable. Note that many other states are facing similar deficits and are handling them similarly to New York State.

Meanwhile, Wall Street is laying off workers by the tens of thousands and is joined by other industries are doing same, with layoffs numbering in the hundreds of thousands. It makes me wonder, as the recession deepens and more people in the private sector are let go, if a tipping point will be reached as people, getting laid off or seeing family members and friends laid off, begin to get little bit resentful at the vast army of government workers who not only are well-paid and not being asked to take pay cuts; not only are not being laid-off and not being asked to do whatever it is they are alleged to do, only a little bit better and faster, but are also vested in extravagantly generous pensions that are driving many states to the brink of bankruptcy, California in particular.


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Da da da da, da da da da da da daaaaaah

Realogy ends attempt to cram down loan deferral, returns all notes tendered. 

Realogy says that it anticipates it will continue to explore other opportunities to reduce its outstanding indebtedness and improve its capital structure.

But here’s a relief: “The termination of the transaction will have no impact on the operations of the company.”

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Road Kill

Here was a gory game, brought to you by Antares:

You are a Greenwich hedge fund manager who bet correctly on the recent stock market correction. Stepping out into the sunshine on a sunny spring day, you decide to take a short walk to bask in the rays at Steamboat Landing, where your 65-foot yacht Louis XVI is docked across from the Delamar Hotel.

Whistling a Broadway show tune, you step out onto Greenwich Avenue, and splat  you are road kill.

Hedger is one of three “advergames” cooked up by the staff of Shift Control Media Inc., a company formed last July that has designed a game to showcase its home base of Greenwich for client Antares Investment Partners.

The Web site, GreenwichCTGames.com, also includes “Avenue Rally,” in which players drive through Greenwich running errands. Coming soon is “Trade Up,” where one takes the persona of a Greenwich real estate mogul and attempts to improve a property portfolio.

The real estate firm hopes the games will spur people who might not ordinarily consider living in Greenwich to take another look. As an additional lure, Antares is running a minisweepstakes for people who frequent the site, with restaurant, hotel and shopping giveaways.

“The real estate business in general is not on the cutting edge of advertising and marketing,” said Jim Cabrera, co-founder of Antares. “From our standpoint, we have a tremendous database of potential buyers that we are collecting as a result of this.”

The boys must have filled their quota of potential buyers because the website, GreenwichCtGames.com no longer exists. Someone was road kill here, and not necessarily hedge funders. And speaking of road kill, I wonder how that UST project, “100% filled with hedge fund tenants” is doing? Work continues and the space will soon be ready for tenants, but are those companies now sharing space with GreenwichCTGames? You could check at the building’s website, 100WestPutnam.com but – oops! That site’s gone too.

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More on Staging

Prowling the internet I came across this video from May, 2007, depicting the Antares boys’ attempting to unload one of their back country houses. They put on a party supposedly for the benefit of that other failed institution in town, the YMCA, borrowed a couple of Rolls Royces from Miller Motorcars, threw flowers around the place and filled the house with, as one participant puts it, “all the important business and social people in Fairfield County.” All that staging didn’t work and the tape should prove a historical curiosity: the house itself sold for half what they asked, they abandoned the rest of the project, the model of “their legacy”, Stamford’s Harbor Point, is, a year-and-a-half later, a cardboard depiction of a project they were kicked off of, and half the mortgage lenders and other important people shown here have either found new lines of work or soon will. But I’m sure it was a nice party, paid for by Antares’ investors. The boys know how to live.


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Boston waterfront, 1/2 price

Here are some grand white elephants going begging on Boston’s north and south shore. They’re both genuine oceanfront, and, at least in the case of the first house, look obsolete after 100 years of use. What struck me was that their initial asking prices of $23 million and $19 million respectively were about the same as what the Greenwich market has commanded for plain old Long Island Sound waterfront instead of ocean. Now they’re asking half that and are still unsold? Is a similar fate in store for our most valued properties? So far, waterfront has remained solid here, so to speak, but who’s to say?

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Home staging DIY

Tips on home staging: get rid of the junk. The tips in this article are useful for those who want to attempt the job themselves, as I think they should – I remain unconvinced that paying a home stager for her assistance is worth it, but if you really can’t bring yourself to take down that refrigerator art that Billy, now 46, created in kindergarten, then bring in a professional with a heart of ice.


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Lease with an option to buy?

It can work, sometimes. Here’s an article detailing some of the pros and cons. Just don’t be as stupid as this dummy profiled in the story.

“I did it because I couldn’t sell my house” in Rocklin (Placer County) using conventional methods, said Leo Stewart, 48, a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. employee who now lives in Auburn. Putting his 15-year-old 3-bedroom, 2-bath home on the market in 2006, he found himself cutting his asking price as the market began to tank. After several months with no offers, he decided to try a lease-option sale using a Sacramento firm called OptionPlus Homes that specializes in such deals.

Another compelling reason to change tactics was that he didn’t want to pay the sales commission and fees associated with a traditional sale through a licensed agent, he said. [emphasis added]

So far, Stewart’s sale remains unconsummated, but he remains convinced that he’s on the right track. After one would-be buyer moved out without completing the purchase, OptionPlus found a second candidate who is currently renting the home for about $1,700 a month under a contract that calls for him to buy the place for $450,000 next year, Stewart said.

I don’t expect him to buy,” Stewart said, because the home has continued to lose value and may be only worth $350,000 now. 

I don’t know what his house was worth in 2006 but even deducting a real estate agent’s 5% commission he could have received some good advice on where to price it and sold it then, rather than lose $100’s of thousands in 2006 and 2007 and an additional $100,000 in value in 2008. “Sure, I’m still stuck with a house I don’t want, and sure its value’s dropping like a rock, but at least I didn’t  pay no goddam commission!”

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Did our own government kill Patton?

That’s what this book says but, as usual with such spurious claims, a little work on line disproves it entirely. The book claims that the general was killed in December, 1945 but here he is in the flesh, alive and well in 1970. Thank goodness we have the Internet, eh?

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

I linked to this story last week but its concluding paragraph is so good I thought I’d do it again. Nanny gets the axe in hard times. The article profiles the hard times befalling several beloved nannies but here’s the one that I think may help explain why some people have so little sympathy for Bernie Madoff’s and other rich victims of Wall Street’s many frauds:

The family that hired her on a full-time basis in 2004 is now using her only sporadically, when Addie, 5, and Alexa, 3, are sick or when their mother, Suzanne Sirof, is under the weather.

Ms. Monterrosa, a single mother of two who earned $600 a week, says she is desperate for work because she is falling behind on her car insurance and rent payments. Her mother, a housekeeper, has also seen her work days curtailed.

“I can’t afford to buy my own children shoes,” Ms. Monterrosa says, wringing her hands. Weekend excursions to Denny’s and Chuck E. Cheese’s with the two teenagers are a thing of the past, she adds.

‘Second Mom’

A stay-at-home mother whose husband is a litigation attorney, Mrs. Sirof says that Ms. Monterrosa was a “second mom to my kids.” Ms. Monterrosa was there when she suffered a bout of depression and when she went on spa trips or outings to get Botox and Juvéderm injections, says Mrs. Sirof.

But a few months ago, the family decided they couldn’t afford Ms. Monterrosa anymore and let her go.

Mrs. Sirof’s daughters took the separation badly. They inquired incessantly about “Vita,” as they called her. Normally a lively child, daughter Addie became sad and withdrawn. A doctor Mrs. Sirof consulted suggested renewed contact with Ms. Monterrosa.

“I try to have Alba come once a week,” says Mrs. Sirof. She says she feels “horrible” about laying off Ms. Monterrosa. But there are some perks she isn’t willing to give up. “Nothing deters me from my Botox treatments.”

Atta girl, Mrs. Sirof. Ms. Monterrosa’s kids shouldn’t be eating at Chuck E. Cheese (transfats) or wearing shoes (exploited third world workers) anyway,  and you own kids’ disappointment and hurt at losing their real mother will more than made be for by the sight of glorious, radiant you, all Botoxed up and ready for the Holidays. Merry Christmas!


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