Property Grunt

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My side, your side and the truth.

By now most us of have seen footage of the police officer in Times Square, tackling a lone cyclist. For those of you have not seen it. Here it is.

Just from this footage alone, it would be an understatement to say what the police officer did was completely unjustifiable. The cyclist was making every effort to avoid hitting him. As for the assault charge, I really don't see it. All there is the officer pushing the cyclist and the cyclist meeting the pavement. This is clearly an example of excessive force.

However, I am not yet inclined to join the teeming millions for the officer's head. Was there something that the cyclist was doing to justify the actions of the officer? Maybe the cyclist was a danger to others. Maybe the cyclist did something that was not caught on tape which provoked the officer into action.

Pardon the pun but this is not a cop out. There needs to a thorough investigation to determine whether this use of force was justified or excessive. I have a tremendous sense of outrage of those who are figures of authority and abuse their power. But I also have a greater contempt for any actions that lead to an innocent man being falsely accused.

I am all for critical mass and cycling. But as far as I am concerned just because someone is on a bicycle does not make them a saint. Like a lot of you I have had way too many close calls with cyclists. Whether they are food delivery guys or messengers, I have had moments where I think I will have a collision with these maniacs.

Just last night, I was with a friend in the east village and while crossing the street we were nearly nailed by a hipster chick going full speed on her schwinn. We were going south and she was coming from the east. Even when I made eye contact with her, she kept on going. It was our job to get out of her way.

All I know is that if she had touched us, I would have ran after her and used every legal power at my disposal to detain her for the cops.

That sort of thing pisses me off. And I have no doubt there are some riders of critical mass who like to play wild in the streets. That is just unacceptable for any group to act like that.

However I have a solution for the NYPD that if applied properly could lower the rate of these incidents if not eliminate them completely.

First of all they should disperse units of bicycle cops to accompany critical mass. The jobs of these officers would to ensure that these riders are following the letter of the law and most importantly they ensure riders maintain a proper rate of speed so they do not mow any one down.

The second thing they should is set up check points during the route to periodically stop the riders. At these check points, the police would inspect bicycles to see that they are up to code. They would also check if riders are the wearing the proper equipment. They should also have a bunch of police officers taping the whole thing with their video cameras for evidence purposes.

Here's the beauty of the check points. First of all it breaks up the rhythm of critical mass and prevents riders from getting a rapid pace. The check points also serve as a very lucrative profit center for the city. If you look at those videos, a a lot of those riders are not wearing helmets. Some of those riders are either lacking the proper reflectors or other equipment to operate their bicycles. On those grounds, police officers can carpet bomb them with tickets which becomes a major source of revenue for the city.

Now let's take this further into the realm of the hypothetical, when you combine adrenaline, a free spirit and the authorities fining people for what appear to be minor infractions, you are going to get a lot of tension. People blow their tops off over a parking ticket. Can you imagine how a rider of critical mass will feel about this? And if they are stupid and let their emotions carry them, they may initiate some type of action that would result in their incarceration. Which would leave the police officer completely justified in their actions.

If I sound a bit fascist, I'm not. I was raised to respect law and order. I also learned from my personal experience that when a large gathering of police officers are amassing in one direction, then you should go in the opposite direction. I am just exercising common sense here.

Each incident where a police officer is accused of excessive force is more money for lawyers and the courts. Money that could be used for education, children in need and other social ills. These types of incidents can easily be avoided through creative thinking and proper understanding of the law without compromising law and order.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Getting out of dodge.

I found out about this last week.

Carnahan Leads Special Inspection of Wachovia Securities

Here is some more background on what went down.

Missouri regulators raid Wachovia

And here is where I originally found out about the raid. It is actually humorous in a Holy S**t sort of way.

Take the Money and Run.

Then there is this.

FDIC takes over 2 more banks, closing 28 branches

All of this causing a chain reaction of sorts in the Finance world.

In Volatile Times, Investors Tune in All and Any Predictions

The news hit Wall Street trading floors on the morning of July 2: Some analyst at Merrill Lynch was saying the General Motors Corporation might go bankrupt.

Within minutes, the share price of G.M., the landmark corporation that once symbolized America’s industrial might, was plunging to its lowest point since 1954.

What the Merrill analyst actually wrote, in a downbeat report on the troubled automotive giant, was that bankruptcy for G.M. was “not impossible” — an equivocal forecast that could be applied to almost any event, from winning the lottery to the odds of rain a week from Wednesday.

But amid a financial crisis where the unthinkable has seemingly become routine, Wall Street forecasters — and even the markets themselves — are struggling to get a handle on what will happen next. The result has been a flood of brash pronouncements, as the Cassandras of the financial set try to outdo themselves with increasingly outlandish predictions.

It seems that everything is moving in separate directions at once at about Mach 10. Depending on what type of active investor you are, this maybe a good or bad time to jump in.

I do know that the taxpayers are going to be shoved into the front lines to take care of this mess. How long are taxpayers going to play cannon fodder, well the article below will give the details of that situation.

A Plan for Fannie and Freddie
A Plan for Fannie and Freddie
By ALEX J. POLLOCK | July 22, 2008

The idea that the government can happily give "implicit guarantees" of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt that will never cost it anything has come to an end. The two government-sponsored enterprises have used their government support to run their total obligations up to $5 trillion. Now they are experiencing financial stress, with their stock prices down more than 80% from their 52-week highs. The big $5 trillion turkey of GSE risk has come home to roost in the U.S. Capitol and won't go away.

Treasury Secretary Paulson has asked Congress for unlimited authority for the Treasury to use the taxpayers' money to both lend and make equity investments in Fannie and Freddie, so that they have continuing easy access to the global debt markets.

This is recognition that the "implicit guarantee" was always in fact a real guarantee, although occasionally the contrary was asserted. For example, "Nobody should be under any illusions that there is any guarantee, implicit, explicit, whatever-plicit," the present chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank, said in 2003.

But bond investors across America and around the world bought Fannie and Freddie debt securities with the understanding that the guarantee was real — and government action will confirm that their understanding was correct.

A ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Spencer Bachus, recently pointed out the fundamental issue: with the proposed action, you "privatize the profits, socialize the losses." He's right, but it's too late — the government is already on the hook for the risk. This contradiction in the very definition of a GSE was highlighted in a similar vein two decades ago by the late Rep. James Pickle of Texas. "The risk is 99% public," he said, "but the profit is 100% private."

Fannie and Freddie used the GSE structure to grow much bigger, make much bigger profits for many years, until their recent billions in losses, issue much more debt, pay their management handsomely, and take on more risk than any private company could have on the same capital base. They could do this because the real capital was the government guarantee, although it was provided for free and "implicit."

Well, it is about to become explicit. This will parallel the action of Congress in the 1980s. When faced with the savings and loan collapse, it changed the Treasury guarantee of savings and loan deposits from implicit to explicit. It's time to get rid of the fuzzy idea that "implicit guarantees" aren't real and adjust our thinking and actions accordingly.

There are two pure organizational forms: a truly private company and a government agency. A GSE is a hybrid form, with an undesirable risk-reward structure and fuzzy recognition of risk to the government. The fiduciary duty of any GSE management is to figure out how to extract the maximum profit for their shareholders by running up the debt on the government's credit card.

It wasn't always this way. Fannie started out as a pure government agency, with its debt on budget, and was so for 30 years, between 1938 and 1968. Whatever we may think of the desirability of a government banking operation, at least the risk structure was clear. What happened?

Like some other bad ideas, Fannie as a GSE came from the Johnson administration. In 1968, it made Fannie a GSE in order to get it off the federal budget and keep down the reported deficit. In 1970, Freddie was created on this GSE model. In the early 1980s, Fannie was insolvent on a market value basis, but survived because of the government guarantee. It was at that point a much smaller risk turkey, in 1982 about 3% of its current size, with a full generation of battening ahead of it.

How should the Congress address the now huge GSE risk turkey roosting in the Capitol dome today? It needs to protect the creditors to make good on the government's guarantee and to keep the mortgage market functioning, but let the equity investors suffer the consequences of losses — and do this while laying the groundwork for stronger capitalization in the future.

I believe the most efficient way to do this would be for the government to become a subordinated investor as an unambiguous signal to the world's bond buyers. It should buy a significant amount, say $10 billion each, of senior subordinated debt in Fannie and Freddie. In other words, the investment must be senior not only to the common stock, but to all existing preferred stock and subordinated debt, being the last part of capital to suffer any losses and the first to get cash returns.

This action of the government becoming a direct investor would make entirely clear to the credit markets that the bond holders have nothing to worry about and can continue to finance the mortgage market in safety.

But there need to be serious conditions when it comes to the equity investors and the management. Something like this could work:

A cash interest yield to the government's senior subordinated investment of 4%, about the 10-year Treasury bond rate, to cover the government's cost of financing its asset.
No dividends to the common or any previous preferred stock as long as any portion of the government's investment is outstanding, without the approval of the secretary of the Treasury.
An additional pay-in-kind interest payment to the government of 11% per year, bringing the taxpayers' potential annual return up to a fair return of 15%, in exchange for the risk they are taking.
Reduction of management compensation and reconsideration of compensation structure.
At least five members of the GSE board of directors to be selected by the Treasury Department to represent the government's interests, with their fiduciary duty defined in statute to run to the taxpayers, not the common stockholders. At least two of these directors to be members of the Audit and Compensation Committees.
The senior subordinated debt to be redeemable at par when the GSE achieves a capital ratio, not including the government's investment, of 5% of assets plus 1% of off-balance sheet MBS — this is twice the current requirement, though still modest by financial institution standards.
This would be a sensible way for creditors to be fully protected while the existing equity holders pay the price for the risks they took. They would still preserve an interest, although an interest junior to the PIK accruals, in future upside and profits.

As for the fundamental structural contradiction of a GSE — well, we're in the middle of a severe housing bust and we can't fix that just yet.

Mr. Pollock is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Irate Condo Buyer Email

The following is an email I opened up this morning from a very pissed off condo buyer which describes in graphic and painful detail of getting the runaround from the development she is trying to move into.

You will notice I have withheld the names of the person and the location of the development. I have several good reasons why, which I will disclose at a later time. In the interim please read the following email.

I don't know if your website deals with problems such as mine but I am taking a chance to see if I can get my story out so that people won't have to go through what I am going through.

My name is Name Withheld and I am one of the buyers of Name Withheld condos in Name Withheld, Brooklyn NY.

In June of 2007 my deposit check of $43,100.00 was cleared on Unit Name Withheld in the Name Withheld development. At the time of the purchase agreement I was told by the developer’s sales manager that the apartment was be scheduled to be completed in January 2008. Since that time I have been getting the run around on projected move-in dates and as of today nobody in the organization has any idea as to when a certificate of occupancy will be issued.

For an individual like myself who had planned to occupy the unit, the numerous delays created a huge hardship both financially and emotionally. Based on the developer’s original estimate of a January 2008 completion, I sold my previous property at less than I believe I could have gotten had I been given the straight story and I could have waited. I had been unable to sign a lease on a rental unit because I could never get a clear picture of a closing date for your property. I have been living out of a suitcase from a sublet to sublet and all my possessions are in storage. In March their staff advised me that the closing would be in May and I should secure my financing. I went ahead and secured the mortgage. Now I face monthly mortgage penalties for extensions and the amount is simply beyond my budget. The situation has reached a point where it is unaffordable and unacceptable.

Their office has been incredibly unresponsive. They used to say ‘it’s a common thing for NYC new developments getting delayed.’ Now their only excuse now is that ‘it’s because NYC building regulations are fortified because of the accidents although the building is ready ‘ But the fact is that as of July 17th their inspection was disapproved due to UNFINISHED jobs. Now I am getting a suggestion from them that I should just sign a lease and break it when the apartment is ready (and lose my security deposit for the lease.) It is just not fair that I have to continue to suffer from all the unnecessary financial losses just because the developers couldn’t deliver the apartment in time and blaming everything to the City.

I sent a letter demanding to get full refund of my $43,100 of deposit, $150 in an initial deposit of good faith, $1,000 that I paid the mortgage company to secure the financing. The delivery of the letter was delayed because their attorney didn’t update the address on the contract with the new one. Nor did they notify their buyers. Their attorney's excuse is that 'it takes too long to change the address on the contract.' They haven’t responded to my refund request.

I’ve filed for a complaint against Name Withheld for their irresponsible and callous conduct of business inflicting both financial and emotional damages upon me. Maybe the delay in new development in NYC is a common thing. But is it right or ethical for the developers to take it for granted that their buyers suffer only because they acted in good faith according to what they have informed? Why the city hasn't set up to protect the new development buyers?

If you think my story has a valid point please do not hesitate to spread it as widely as you can. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Thank you very much.

Name Withheld

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Roll Call Attack of the Press Releases

Here is a bombardment of press releases. Enjoy.

Top 8 Worst Real Estate Deals on Record

Online Resources Vital to Real Estate Agent Selection

According to New Study from Yahoo!

Results Reveal Disconnect Between Media Spend and Consumer Behavior

Yahoo! Inc., released the results of an in-depth study on how online resources influence home buyers and sellers - specifically when it comes to selecting a real estate agent.

Yahoo! found that online resources played a pivotal role in the selection process and was central in helping consumers identify agents. While friends and family are mostly responsible for recommending agents, the vast majority of home buyers and sellers still rely on the Internet to search for potential agents in their local markets as well as to verify their choices.

However, there is a disconnect between advertising dollars and consumer behavior. Based on Yahoo!’s study, 77 percent of respondents used an online source for information during their research process compared to 34 percent for print. But, according to a recent analysis by Borrell Associates, realtor advertising dollars have yet to catch up to where homebuyers are going – the Internet. While this year’s online media spend did in fact double from 2005, capturing 32 percent of the overall advertising spend, newspapers continue to get more share of dollars with 40 percent.

According to the Yahoo! study, consumers look to the Web to ensure that the selected agent will best meet their specific needs. Key findings include:

· Home buyers and sellers consider approximately two agents on average before making a final decision

· The Internet impacts consumer trust. Forty percent of respondents credited a site in increasing their trust in the agent

· 74 percent of people who accessed an agent Web site got there with the help of a search engine

· The online research process is quick and intense: consumers spent an average of 12 hours online researching agents and 75 percent selected an agent within one week of starting their search

· Online resources provided introduction to new agents as well as promotional deals:

o 45 percent of respondents used the Internet to learn about agents they didn’t know existed

o 41 percent discovered special deals and promotions offered from an agent through the Internet

The bottom line: As online resources increasingly become more critical in the decision making process for consumers, local agents should maintain a quality online presence as this indicates to potential clients a thoroughness and a commitment to success. By maximizing their online media investments, local agents can benefit significantly and increase their chances for consideration while earning the trust and confidence of consumers.


The companies spoke to over 500 consumers, both recent and potential home buyers and sellers.. Consumers were surveyed over a 2-week period in April 2008. Participants consisted of consumers, 18 years or older who selected a real estate agent, service or home within the past 6 months or intend to select a real estate agent, service or home within the next week..


Aspiring Designers of Bravo’s Biggest Reality Show Enjoy Perks of Gotham Luxury Building

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – July 15 – The aspiring designers of Project Runway Season Five, airing on July 16th, may have spent the past few months toiling over sewing machines in Parson’s School of Design during the day, but after hours, the 16 contestants got to wind down in the luxurious destination, Atlas New York, a 48 floor high rise rental residence owned by Gotham Organization in midtown Manhattan.

After a 4th season spent at New Gotham, 520 West 43rd Street, also a Gotham owned building, Project Runway made its way back to its original digs for the final season on the Bravo Network before moving to Lifetime Television. Home to the designers since the show’s inception five years ago, the ultra-stylish Atlas at 66 West 38th Street was again the backdrop for two months of grueling competition, which just wrapped.

The contestants were provided with six apartments, had access to the building’s 24-hour personalized concierge service as well as to all the generous perks the Atlas lifestyle offers, including full use of the Atlas Fitness Club and Lounge with complementary daily breakfast, and the 4,000 square foot 48th floor Atlas Sky Terrace.

Atlas residents enjoyed late night sightings and co-mingling amongst the Project Runway designers, and the show’s personalities. “It wasn’t at all uncommon for the residents to be riding up the elevator 30+ floors or jogging on a treadmill along side contestants,” notes Katherine Sabroff, Gotham’s Vice President of Marketing and Operations. “But Atlas residents were really cool about the experience, respected the production and contestants and allowed them to fly completely under the radar, which is very important for a show that needs to keep the suspense completely under wraps.”

The Emmy-award winning show is currently in a transition period. For the sixth season, the show is jetting off cross-country. “It’s fitting that Project Runway would return to where it all began before heading to Los Angeles,” continues Sabroff. “Atlas has helped shape the experiences of the designers, often serving as a backdrop for the juicy relationships that unfold on the show, as well as serving as an inspiration for the contestant challenges. The building itself has become a character on the show.”
In addition to partnering with Bravo and the Weinstein Company, Gotham Organization recently launched a rooftop concert series called Atlas OPEN A.I.R (short for Artist in Residence) that has featured performances from major label recording artists Carina Round, Lady GaGa and current VH1 Artist of the Month Charlotte Sometimes. As a perk of living in a Gotham building, tenants enjoy year round social activities right in their own buildings such as Sushi & Saki parties, wine tastings, complimentary spa days and movie screenings, just to name a few. Always one step ahead of the competition, the innovative real estate developer has also teamed up with Concierge Service International (CSI) to provide residents with a complimentary on-site personal concierge service that includes everything from securing reservations at New York’s hardest-to-get into-nightclubs to vacation planning.



NEW YORK, NY – Swanke Hayden Connell Architects (SHCA), in conjunction with Cameron Engineering, has been awarded a contract to design the new $190 million New York State Center of Innovation and Excellence in Homeland Security in Bethpage, NY.

The center is intended to foster the development, evaluation and deployment of effective and affordable system solutions that address the nation’s and the state’s security requirements. Its goal is to facilitate field applications of the latest scientific discoveries and technological developments in both industry and academia.

The 65,000 square foot facility will house a main computer and communication complex, approximately 20 research cells, a modeling and simulation lab and digital theater as well as an integration and demonstration center. It will also feature a lecture hall or large conference room with broadband capabilities to link it with other organizations that are part of the virtual homeland security network. Additional meeting rooms, administrative and product support areas and a lunch room round out the center’s facilities.

The New York State Center will be part of a network of Homeland Security Centers of Excellence proposed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The department has already named three such centers at Texas A&M University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Southern California.

Headquartered in New York City, Swanke Hayden Connell Architects is the continuation of an architectural practice founded in 1906. Staffed with more than 300 professionals located in eight offices worldwide, the firm provides services in five core areas of practice: architecture, interior design, master planning, strategic facilities planning, and historic preservation, working with a variety of corporate and institutional clients.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Gretchen Morgensen of the New York Times is doing a series of articles on people drowning in debt called Given a Shovel, Americans Dig Deeper Into Debt.

Everyone should read this series. I don't care if you are a kid in elementary school or an equities trader. You should read these articles because this could happen to you.

Let's talk about Diane McLeod who is the unfortunate subject of this article.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Diane McLeod never knew financial hardship, she said. Her father owned six pizza shops and her mother was a homemaker.

“There was always money for everything, whether it was bills or food shopping or a spur-of-the-moment vacation,” Ms. McLeod recalled. “If they worried about money, they never let us know.”

As you can see, Ms. McLeod came from a family of means. She never missed a meal in her life and she was well taken care of.

Here is when things went wrong.

Earning a livable wage at Verizon Yellow Pages, Ms. McLeod finally decided to leave her marriage and buy a home of her own in February 2003. The cost was $135,000, and her mortgage required no down payment because her credit history was good.

“I was very proud of myself when I bought the house,” Ms. McLeod explained. “I thought I would live here till I died.” Adding to her burden, however, was about $25,000 in credit card debt she had brought from her marriage. Because her husband did not have a regular salary, all the cards were in her name.

After she had been in the house for a year, a friend who was a mortgage broker suggested she consolidate her debts into a new home loan. The property had appreciated by about $30,000, and once again she put no money down for the loan. “It was amazing how easy it was,” she recalled. “But that’s a trap, and I didn’t know it then.”

Naturally, the refinance had costs. There was an $8,000 penalty to pay off the previous mortgage early as well as roughly $1,500 in closing costs on the new loan.

To cover these fees, Ms. McLeod dipped into her retirement account. Only later did she realize that she had to pay an early-withdrawal penalty of $3,000 to the Internal Revenue Service. Short on cash, she put it on a credit card.

Soon she had racked up another $19,000 in credit card debt. But because her home had appreciated, she once again refinanced her mortgage. Although she was making $50,000 a year working two jobs, her income was not enough to support the new $165,000 loan. She asked her son to join her on the loan application; with his income, the numbers worked.

“Boy, would I regret that,” she said. The decision would drive a wedge between mother and son and damage his credit profile as well.

Almost immediately after she refinanced, in late 2005, the department store where she worked her second job, as a jewelry saleswoman at night and on weekends, cut back her hours. She quit altogether, and her son moved out of the house, where he had been helping with the rent, to live with a girlfriend. Ms. McLeod was on her own and paying $1,500 a month on her mortgage.

Because the house had been recently appraised at $228,000, she said, she felt sure she could refinance again if she needed to pay off her credit card. “You felt like you had a way out,” she said.

But as happens with many debt-laden Americans, an unexpected illness helped push Ms. McLeod over the edge. In January 2006, her doctor told her she needed a hysterectomy. She had health care coverage, but she could no longer work at a second job.

She made matters worse during her recovery, while watching home shopping channels. “Eight weeks in bed by yourself is very dangerous when you have a TV and credit card,” Ms. McLeod said. “QVC was my friend.”

Later that year, Ms. McLeod realized she was in trouble, squeezed by her mortgage and credit card payments, her $350 monthly car bill, rising energy prices and a stagnant salary. She started to sell knickknacks, handbags, clothing and other items on eBay to help cover her heating and food bills. She stopped paying her credit cards so that she could afford her mortgage.

A year ago she was back in the hospital, this time with a burst appendix. Her condition worsened, and she lost the use of one kidney. She spent 19 days in the hospital and six weeks recuperating. Her prescription-drug costs added to her expenses, and by September she could no longer pay her mortgage.

When her father died in early January, she was devastated. About a month later, on Feb. 14, Ms. McLeod was suspended and soon afterward fired from Verizon.

Toting up her financial obligations, Ms. McLeod said she owed $237,000 on her home mortgage. Of that, sheriff’s costs are $4,350, and “other” fees related to the foreclosure come to $3,000. A house of similar size down the street from Ms. McLeod sold for $153,000 in January.

Her credit card debt totals around $34,000, she said. Each month the late fees and over-limit penalties add to her debt. Ms. McLeod said she would probably file for bankruptcy.

Patricia A. Hasson, president of the Credit Counseling Service of Delaware Valley, said Ms. McLeod would probably wind up having to repay 40 percent to 60 percent of her credit card debt. The owner of her mortgages could come after her for the difference between what she owes on her loan and what her house ultimately sells for. The first mortgage was sold to investors; Citigroup declined to say whether it held onto the second mortgage or sold it to investors.

A sheriff’s auction of her home on June 12 received no bidders, Ms. McLeod said. The bank will soon evict her.

“Oh, I definitely have regrets,” Ms. McLeod said. “I regret not dealing with my emotions instead of just shopping. And I regret involving my son in all this because that has affected him and his finances and his self-esteem.”

Honestly, this could happen to anyone. We live in a society where we are taught that consumption is good. That in order soothe our pain away we should go out buy stuff even if we can't afford it. Please do not get me wrong. This is all her doing. No open put a gun to Diane's head and told her to buy these things and rack enormous amounts of debt on her credit cards. She got some bad advice on her mortgages but she should have made the effort to do some due diligence on the matter. She put herself in this hole. However, I understand how she got the shovel and why she dug herself her own financial grave.

I hate debt. It scares the crap out of me. Whenever I get a offers in the mail for credit I destroy. My bank actually gave me another credit card even though I made it clear that I had no desire or need for it. I almost went to town on a customer rep on the phone when I was in the process of canceling it. she claimed I was throwing away free money. Apparently she was under the impression that I was an idiot. It was only after talking to a manager and firmly explaining that I was not her target demographic and having another card for emergency purposes sort of defeats the purpose when it screws up your credit rating.

You should only take on as much debt as you can comfortably handle and no more. In Manhattan, it feels damn near impossible, but it can be done.

Remember folks, credit card debt is not tax deductible. There is absolutely no reason to have it if you have the money to pay for it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why so serious?

Couple of weeks back a friend of the Grunt asked him that if he got tickets to the Dark Knight at the IMAX would I be willing to go at anytime? Would I be willing to go see it anytime. My response was sure. A couple of days later he tells me got tickets for the 6 am show of the .

We decided that the optimal plan would be to stay up till the showtime since we did not think we would be able to get up in time. So we spent all saturday night getting hopped in on candy, trader joe's peanut butter cups and their Mojito beverage. After a late night meal in Chinatown we headed over to the Bowery where we were entertained by the vast number of hipster/yuppies who were bar hopping and spending what little left they had of their severances. We saw one drunk guy lying on teh sidewalk and we als saw one black woman crying hysterically leaving her car unattended while chasing her boyfriend screaming "Boogie, give me back my phone so I can call the cops on you!"

At around 3:45 we decided to leave for the theater and chose to take the cab instead of the subway since it is quite unreliable at night on the weekends. We got there around 4:15 and were greet by a large line of fans. We were actually lucky because we were inside the lobby of the IMAX which meant we were going to be the first group to get in and see the fim. I congratulated my friend for his quick thinking because it was his idea to go there at least two hours before show time.

I know it may sound like what we did was insane but just remember there were a ton of rabid fans who were waiting before us and were definitely there earlier.

All I have to say is that do not walk, run to see this movie. It is brilliant on so many levels. This clearly an evolution from Batman Begins which was also great, It is not just Heath Ledger's performance but the whole cast from Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhal and of course Christian Bale. From the music, cinematography and the screenplay. All the elements come together. And yes. I am going to see it again. In the normal theater.

We ended up getting out at 8:30 and got breakfast from Whole Foods. I ended up going to bed at 10 am and got up at 2pm. I am still recovering, But it was worth it.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

There is no happy ending here.

This is the real thing.

I was going to hold off post for another time this but after reading on Gawker about the special services that offered to ladies at certain spas, I couldn't resist. And why not join the party? It would serve as a tension breaker from all the economic insanity that is swirling around us.

I go to this Tui Na specialist every now and then. This specialist is completely legit and well versed in the art of Tui Na also know as acupressure, which is a form of massage that has worked wonders for me.

Recently my specialist has had to move to a different location due to a reality that we are all familiar with. Getting a new boss who happens to be a douchebag. I will talk about that more in another entry.

When I first arrived at my specialist’s new place of business I was a bit alarmed and amused when I saw this sign.

I didn’t ask why the sign was there but I ascertained that apparently there must have been some confusion when some clients were under the impression that certain forms of manual release were part of the Tui Na repertoire. I assume that this was the owner’s way of sending a polite yet firm message that this was not that type of establishment. I assure you that no legitimate Tui Na specialist engages in that sort of activity.

I am huge proponent of Tui Na however you have to be very careful who you pick. Not only can a inexperienced individual cause alot damage but you might be getting an unexpected surprise or two. I had a very creepy experience recently walking through a street fair when at one of the booths there was a bunch of Chinese people giving back massages. The barker of the crew pressed in my hand a pamphlet and said to me:

“I can get you any girl you want. Chinese, Spanish.”
"Uhh no thanks."

This video has nothing to do with Tui Na. But for some reason I find it quite mesmerizing. Must be the tattoo.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Queens or Scarsdale?

I would like to take a moment from the current financial crisis for a very important announcement.

If you guessed Scarsdale, you are correct. Congratulations for all you winners. Now back to the current implosion that is our economy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Real estate chatter: Buyers remorse

I heard this from a source who works at a financial institution that is famous for hunting a well known Grizzly. When Indymac, well when there was an Indymac, was in full swing, they were offering 5% on their accounts. When his customers told him that they were pulling their money out and going to Indymac, his response was go right ahead but if the s**t hit the fan don't come to him to wash it off. It appears the s**t did not hit the fan. It was the whole septic tank.

One of the saddest things is that even though Indymac was based out in the West Coast, there was alot of people all over the country doing their banking online with them. If these people had known a little earlier what was about to go down, they may have been able to pull their money out just in time. Watch your banks folks.

Just from reading about the cash lines, I feel like I am experiencing something out of the Great Depression. And I can't believe they are attempting to rescue Fannie and Ginnie.

How will we be able to afford this? Can we afford this?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Real estate chatter

Regarding the whole Indymac situation, I heard some chatter reagarding from a source close to what went down. Apparently this was in the works for awhile and that not surprisingly the delays that were caused by internal politics. Before Indymac was shutdown it was losing 3 billion dollars a day.

One more thing. Apparently customers have this weekend to get their money out. Those who missed out on that window, well I think it is going to be a unpleasant week.

Monday is going to be a very interesting day.

Remember my blind item about a certain landmarked building getting bought by foreign investors? It was the Chrysler Building. I know these things.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Even Sam Kinison knows the answer and he's dead.

As week speak the financial world is a dropping a collective load in their pants over Fannie and Ginnie Mae.

Here are some links that will give you the rundown on what is going on.

Woes at Loan Agencies and Oil-Price Spike Roil Markets

Fannie’s Unofficial Safety Net: the U.S.

Paulson: Keep Fannie and Freddie in current form

I am going to say what is already on everyone's mind.


Jim Kramer was ranting about how the banking system was being dismantled and the government did not have a clue on how to take care of it.

I am sure Bernanke and Paulson know what is happening. But the problem is not a lack of action. The problem is the following: THERE IS NO F**KING MONEY!

It has been like that for quite awhile. Remember the Tsunami of 2004?

When the time came to collect money for the needy, the US could barely match their counterparts. Why? Maybe because the US has been blowing their wad on this matter in the Middle East.

It is all crash and burn from this point on.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Queens or Scarsdale?

This week I am introducing a new feature called Queens or Scarsdale. In these entries I will be displaying pictures of houses that either belong in Queens or Scarsdale. It is up to you the reader to determine whether the house belongs in Queens or Scarsdale.

Besides amusing ourselves with some really bad architecture, my objective is to prove that money does not buy taste nor does it buy common sense. In fact common sense just goes out the window.

And just because something is in Scarsdale does not necessarily mean it is better than a house in Queens. In fact you might find better deals in Queens.

Without further ado.

Love the chain link fence and the port a potty. It just screams high class.

And of course we have the Mcmansion shot.

Feel free to either email me your guesses to Propertygrunt(at) or put your comments in my entry.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Post 4th of July Part 1:Ippudo and a blind item

Greetings folks, I hope all is well. This past Sunday I was recovering from my post 4th of July activities. No. It was not from a hangover. It was from Remen. Yes you heard me Remen, to be specific Remen from Ippudo.

When I first heard of Ippudo from the Gothamist I was quite intrigued. If you know me, which most of you don't, I am a remen freak. So I decided to go to Ippudo with a friend of mine during the 4th of July weekend.

I want to get something clear, I am not bagging on Ippudo, it is a great restaurant with great decor and great service. My friend and I were seated immediately as soon as we arrived. There was a delay in ordering on our part because we were waiting for the menus until the waitress pointed out at that what I thought was the wine list was actually the menu.

I would have loved to have sat at the Remen bars that were set up in the main area of the restaurant but we were instead seated near the cashier area which actually wasn't that bad.

It was a pretty mixed crowd of young people and family. I also spotted some some people taking pictures of their dishes which led me to believe they were food bloggers or were sending their pictures to food bloggers.

We both ordered the Shiromaru Classic and stuck to that even though the waitress was pushing us to add some braised pork. Upon the arrival of the food, I handed over my portion of the pork to my amigo since I don't eat meat and began to dig in.

In all honesty, the noodles are damn good. Fresh,chewy and quite slurpy. In fact they are of better quality then Momofuku and you get more bang for your buck at Ippudo in terms of portion size. With extra broth leftover we ordered a second portion of noodles. Of course it would have been better if we got a cracked egg. One thing that makes Remen kick ass, even the instant stuff, is a cracked egg.

So what's the big deal? Well here's where it gets hairy. The next day I could barely move. My sinuses were all dried up and my head felt like it had been in a vise. The funny thing was that these sensations felt very familiar to me. But I just couldn't put my finger on why I was feeling like this.

I went down the list of things I ate yesterday which included half the products from Trader Joe's. However, I have never gotten ill from eating them. Not yet. I whittled it down to the Remen at Ippudo. But it wasn't food poisoning. The food was quite fresh and I wasn't throwing up. But there was something in the food that gave me this migraine from hell. Then I realized it. MSG.

My symptoms indicated a classic case of the MSG headache that made Chinese takeout so infamous back in the day.

Where do they put the MSG? It has to be in that delicious broth of theirs since it is what flavors the remen. And it is a common hiding place for MSG.

I am sure if they are confronted, Ippudo will deny using MSG and the only way to be truly sure is to send a sample of their broth to a lab for analysis. If any of you want to take up the challenge be my guest.

For good remen, I would highly recommend the place. However, those of you who are MSG sensitive, be warned, the next day after eating a bowl you will want to stay in bed.

I would like to end with a blind item.

Which landmarked building is subject of a deal closing today? It appears their foreign investors are quite happy parking their money in this building. However, it will be business as usual since the other shareholder is still maintaining the operations of this particular building.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Roll Call: The Real Media Estate Rollout

This Jared did not shed any weight but I am sure he feels alot lighter after getting rid of that debt.

SURPRISE! Another roll call! I was going to hold off but I have been emailed a lot of interesting stories.

Carlyle Group Buys Stake in 666 Fifth's Retail for $525 M.

The Carlyle Group closed today on the purchase of an interest in the retail condo at 666 Fifth Avenue, the tower that Kushner Companies bought last year for a then-record $1.8 billion, according to a source familiar with the deal.

Looks like Jared is really happy about this.

The deal, which is being financed by Barclays and SL Green and was brokered by Carlton Group chairman Howard Michaels, comes at a good time. This transaction will allow the Kushner Companies to pay off $335 million in short term debt obligations

Kushner will retain a 51 percent interest in the retail condo as well as continue to own fully the 1.45 million-square-foot office tower where it's located. (Jared Kushner, a principal at Kushner Companies, is The Observer's publisher.)

A spokesman for Kushner Companies had no comment.

Honestly, whenever I think of the Carlyle Group, I think of this genius and how his bravado got him canned.

I got this email from Feren Communications. (Thank you Sarah for contacting me and putting me on your list. Btw, my invitation to make you famous is still open)

When I read this press release, I was pretty shocked. When the real estate boom was in full swing, there were a ton of these real estate reality shows on tv. Nowadays I haven't seen alot of them. The only thing associated with real estate are foreclosures and bad times. The fact that BRAVO has decided to go march on with these shows just goes to show how much faith they have in these brands. Honestly, I am curious to see how they fare now and I would probably watch just for the possibility to see a train wreck.


Series Follows Hollywood’s Top Agents As They Navigate The Cutthroat World Of High-End Real Estate

NEW YORK, NY – June 24, 2008 – Bravo gives viewers an inside look at the top agents in Los Angeles's tough real estate market, who despite the softened market, stop at nothing to close seven figure deals on the second season of "Million Dollar Listing." The six-episode, one-hour docu-series, which looks at the high-stakes, cutthroat world of real estate, premieres on Bravo on Tuesday, August 5 at 11 p.m. ET/PT immediately following the finale of “Flipping Out.” The series moves to its regular time period on Tuesday, August 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

"Million Dollar Listing” follows the lives of Josh Flagg, Madison Hildebrand and Chad Rogers, three of Los Angeles' hottest, young and aggressive realtors in the making as they make a fortune selling multi-million dollar properties in the most exclusive neighborhoods – Hollywood, Malibu and Beverly Hills. Over the course of nine months as their paths cross and they compete and expose the intense what that it takes to move the multi-million dollar listings in the City of Angels.

Where are my manners? How could I forget Kelly Kreth?

She is a rep for NY Residential featured on the CW. Here is the trailer.

Last but not least, of course others may differ, the late Leona Helmsley has the last word.

Helmsley’s Fortune May Go to Benefit Dogs

Sure, the hotelier and real estate magnate Leona Helmsley left $12 million in her will to her dog, Trouble. But that, it turns out, is nothing much compared with what other dogs may receive from the charitable trust of Mrs. Helmsley, who died last August.

Her instructions, specified in a two-page “mission statement,” are that the entire trust, valued at $5 billion to $8 billion and amounting to virtually all her estate, be used for the care and welfare of dogs, according to two people who have seen the document and who described it on condition of anonymity


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

There is always one.


This morning I heard on Bloomberg Radio that the real estate market in Manhattan has now officially went into a sUimp according to the Great Jonathan Miller.

Here's an excerpt from their site.

July 2 (Bloomberg) -- Manhattan apartment sales dropped the most for a second quarter since 1998 and unsold inventory approached an eight-year record, two signs prices may be poised to drop in the nation's most expensive urban housing market.

But if you put in Jonathan Miller, Bloomberg in Google News, take a look at what you get.

Manhattan Second-Quarter Apartment Sales Drop Most Since 1998
Bloomberg - 7 hours ago
``There is sort of the anticipation, the expectation that the other shoe is going to drop,'' Miller Samuel President Jonathan Miller said. ...
Apartment Sales Remain Vigorous in Manhattan New York Times
Manhattan real estate starts to soften CNN
Manhattan housing market slows Crian's New York
Earthtimes (press release) - New York Sun
all 65 news articles »

There is at least one party that says it is alright to drink the Kool Aid.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Roll Call: Ethnic Backlash

“My friend is like, why don’t you write something inappropriate on the form like, ‘I hate ch**ks’ … I just filled out the form and I wrote ‘I love ch**ks'— and who doesn’t?”

Sarah Silverman

Nina over Reuters emailed me some primo articles on the Reuters Real Estate Summit.

Below are some of my selections.

Asia, Mideast to unleash "go west" property drive

SINGAPORE/SEOUL (Reuters) - A wave of capital from the Middle East and Asia could be on its way into ailing U.S. and European property markets, as a weak dollar and falling asset prices lure sovereign wealth funds and institutional investors.

Since Japanese investors bought a string of U.S. offices in the 1980s only to be burnt by a market crash, global property investment flows have been mostly one way -- from the West to Asia .

But that looks likely to change.

"Instead of talking about emerging markets in Asia, now emerging markets could be in the U.S. ," said Yu Lai Boon, chief investment officer of Dubai World, a state-owned investment firm.

"As investors in the Middle East, we're seriously looking at the U.S. and European markets right now as the beginning of investment for the next golden era."

The New York Post reported on June 11 that the Abu Dhabi Investment Council was negotiating to buy a 75 percent stake in New York City's landmark Chrysler building for $800 million.

Last year, North American investors pumped about $8.4 billion directly into Asian property, while the reverse flow reached only $2.7 billion, according to Jones Lang LaSalle.

They handed over another $30 billion, treble the Asian contributions, to global property funds, which invested $25 billion in Asia and $29 billion in North America .

At a Reuters Global Real Estate Summit this week, several executives said capital flows could become more balanced, with Chinese, South Korean and Japanese investors looking abroad.

With the U.S. dollar falling about 3 percent against the yen so far this year, and around 13 percent over the last 12 months, their spending power has been magnified.

The full text of the story is on at:

Chinese investors renew interest in U.S. properties

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chinese interest in U.S. commercial property is back and this time Chinese investors may become significant players as the nation devises a vehicle to divert large amounts of funds for foreign investment, a Cushman & Wakefield executive told Reuters on Monday.

Flush with dollars from a huge trade imbalance, Chinese sovereign wealth funds are beginning to test the waters in New York real estate. They were recently among the throng of bidders for three properties once owned by Equity Office Realty Trust, said Scott Latham, executive vice president, Capital Markets group for real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield.

"They are coming. We've seen them in the bidding process over the past four months on a number of assets we've handled," Latham said at the Reuters Global Real Estate Summit in New York . "I think that unlike the Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds, they have not yet figured out an efficient way to get the money out of their country."

Mexico may benefit from higher fuel prices: AMB Property Corp CEO

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Soaring fuel prices may force some companies to move manufacturing and warehousing closer to the United States, a trend likely to benefit Mexico and U.S. urban centers, the head of AMB Property Corp Properties told Reuters on Tuesday.

Skyrocketing fuel costs are forcing manufacturers to rethink their locations. With oil topping more than $135 a gallon, manufacturers are weighing the costs of labor against the price of shipping, AMB Property Chairman and Chief Executive Hamid Moghadam told the Reuters Real Estate Summit.

"I think Mexico stands to benefit the most," he told Reuters.

Higher fuel costs may affect not only where goods are manufactured but how they are transported and warehoused. Although the upshot is not likely to be a complete overhaul, incremental changes are likely as the cost of fuel trumps labor and rent expenses, he said.

"It's not going to be any total change of the supply chain," he said at the Reuters Summit.

Still, while high U.S. labor costs and a lack of manufacturing infrastructure will likely hinder a U.S. rebound in manufacturing prowess, Mexico may benefit as manufacturers seek to cut shipping costs.

"They have the combination of cheap labor and close proximity to the U.S. market as opposed to China , which has the cheap labor but obviously is farther away," Moghadam told Reuters.

Mexico already manufactures items from drugs and food to flat panel television screens and auto parts, he said.

ING Real Estate plans China and Japan funds

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - ING Real Estate is raising a $750 million fund for China and plans to launch a fund for Japan later this year, expecting troubled landlords and developers in both countries to offload bargain properties.

Richard Price, the firm's Asia head, told Reuters some of the best investment opportunities in Asia would be in Japan , where rising borrowing rates and a cut in bank lending for property could persuade some landlords to sell.

ING Real Estate, a unit of Dutch financial group ING ING.AX, is looking to raise $300-500 million in the second half of this year to buy offices, industrial buildings and shopping centers in Japan , he told Reuters.

"Japan is the largest market in the region and there'll be very real opportunities over the coming year or 18 months," Richard Price, Asia chief executive for ING Real Estate, said at the Reuters Global Real Estate Summit in Singapore.

"It's a very highly leveraged market and probably the most severely affected by the credit crunch in this region."

Most transactions in Tokyo in the next year will probably be for buildings that are not quite top-notch, Price said at the Reuters Summit.

Tokyo's office market is probably peaking, according to most analysts, having been popular with investors, who have typically borrowed heavily at Japan 's rock-bottom interest rates to take advantage of a price recovery in the last five years.

The global crunch has made Japanese banks more conservative in their lending for property deals, threatening to soften prices of small and second-grade buildings.

Property stocks are bargains, LIM says

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Asian property stocks are ultra cheap but investors could be losing out because they prefer private equity property funds to property securities funds, Hong Kong fund manager LIM Advisors told Reuters on Tuesday.

Japanese real estate investment trusts (REITs) are trading at more than 40 percent discount to net asset values, while shares of Thai and Philippines property developers are all bargains, according to Peter Churchouse, director for LIM Advisors.

"Private equity guys are having an easier time raising capital today than securities guys," Churchouse said at the Reuters Global Real Estate Summit in Singapore .

"In a way you should be looking at it the other way around, because these private equity guys are going to pay full dollar, full price, to buy real estate and you can buy real estate stocks at half the price of the assets.

"Logically, you should be buying Japanese REITs, not Japanese property."

Mori Hills REIT 3234.T, for instance, is trading at 35 percent discount to NAV, Churchouse told Reuters.

Amid lingering concern about the global credit crunch and its impact on the real estate sector, many property stocks in Asia and other parts of the world have headed south. Japan 's property sector has fallen 10 percent so far this year, Singapore 's 14 percent and Hong Kong 's 25 percent.

This is just a fraction of the news that has been presented at the Conference, I would recommend going to the Reuters to read more of the articles.

You are all probably asking "What's with the racist Jello commercial?" Well you should thank the Angry Asian Man for that.

Also I think people should know that Sarah Silverman got her career off the ground not by being funny but saying an ethnic slur and passing it off as comedy.

There is a ton of money being funneled around different parts of the world for these real estate transactions. Wherever that money lands, you can damn well be sure that its origins are going to quite different from its destination. Don't think it will not go unnoticed. It didn't for the Japanese as the late Mr. Buckley pointed out in his own polite manner with this article.

Understand that certain factions of society are going to feel under siege by these factors. And there will be various individuals who will seek to exploit this tension to their advantage. So expect more media spots like that Jello commercial and expect Sarah Silverman's humor, for the lack of a better word, be more popular.

However, things are a little different these days. These "foreign investors" are not simple going lay down to be kicked and punched. They will stand their ground through legal and media channels. If they have the money to invest then they have the money to protect themselves.

America is not going to be only place where you will see an indigenous outcry against foreign investors. I recently watched a PBS called Wide Angle about the emerging Chinese legal system called The People's Court.

It shows how the Chinese government has been pushing the development of their legal system to all corners of their country and progress has been made. However when it comes to real estate legal issues, even Manhattan's most infamous slumlords have nothing on what some of the Chinese most corrupt real estate developers who have been getting away with murder. Literally. Already tensions are high in China between the haves and have nots. Throw some foreign investor money into the mix and the s**t will really hit the fan.

This is not a doomsday scenario, this is our new reality. Just be aware of that.

Even the Dark Knight needs a place to live.

For the past several months I have been bonding over emails with a reader who I will call The Dark Knight. He has proven not only knowledgeable in certain matters of the real estate industry but has demonstrated a sharp and delightful wit. The Dark Knight also strongly empathizes with my issues regarding the hygiene of the cashiers at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. It is no surprise that I look forward to his emails.

Recently, The Dark Knight embarked on a mission to find a house in the suburbs of New Jersey. However the experience has left him, well as satisfied as watching a double feature of Joel Schumacher’s Batman films. Below is the email detailing his quest, which I have obviously edited to protect The Dark Knight’s identity.


It was a pleasant surprise to get your e-mail. So, my wife and I spent the better part of a year looking for houses in NJ (primarily in NAME WITHHELD.) and NAME WITHHELD (BUT TRUST ME. THE DARK KNIGHT IS LOOKING IN REALLY NICE AREAS). We were looking at properties listed at between $850,000 through $1.2 million. My target was to buy something in the $850,000 to $950,000 range. We must have looked at least 100 properties. After all of that, we decided to stay in the City one, maybe 2 more years.

Our reasons are many. However, one of our primary reasons is that, even though we were looking at properties listed in the million dollar range, most of them were shit. Complete and absolute shit. $900,000 houses that needed complete gut renovations (but, as the home owner of one such shit-house cheerily explained to me "it's on a cul-de-sac!"). The million dollar home with no closets in the master bed room. The absolutely gorgeous brand new six bedroom house--across the street from the Getty station. My wife, realizing that her expectations may be "unrealistic," kept muttering to herself "for a million dollars, it should be livable, no?" The feeling I got was that a number of the home owners still thought it was 2004. I had to explain to one home owner, who lamented to me he needed to sell his home for more than he owed on his mortgage, that neither I nor any rational buyer was not going to bail him out from his mistake. We put in one bid on a house in NAME WITHHELD, which sat empty for one year, only to be quickly out bid.

Our spirits crushed, our faith in humanity shaken (and my wife now in constant fear that we may have imported someone's bed bugs into our apartment) we decided to stay where we are. Or, maybe move to (NAME WITHHELD)--the kid will be going to (NAME WITHHELD)--in the Fall. Maybe next year sellers in NJ will get the message that the punch-bowl is empty.

Looking forward to hearing back from you.

You hear that folks? It appears that it is not only suburban New York getting the smackdown but New Jersey is also getting hit pretty badly.

As for the Dark Knight, I have no doubt that with his precise mental acumen and strong sense of humor, he will find a great deal in his beloved New Jersey. Because there will be a point where someone will just say f**k it and cash it for whatever they can because they just can’t afford to stay for the turnaround.