Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Question of Taste: FINAL UPDATE

Sold on 09/01/10 - $440,000

After 15 months on the market (so long they finally gave up and returned the staging furniture -- check out the new listing photos) and 12% in price cuts, they finally found a buyer.

Look, this is a beautifully restored house in a decent neighborhood (I'm being generous...this lower-income, rental-filled 'hood is marginal at best), but this buyer still overpaid. Straight up.

He could have waited a bit longer and saved himself a substantial chunk of loot.

$383 per square foot, although an okay deal on the surface, is at least $120 more per square foot than the going rate in this area. Yes, you have to factor in how the plethora of condos in this rental-inundated area affects the ppsft, but the overall point is that's a rich premium to pay. And it goes back to the aforementioned golden rule of real estate: Buy the crappiest house in the nicest neighborhood.

And look, I get that some people would rather let another jackass spend all of his loot painstakingly restoring their house for them instead of dealing with years of work and contractor headaches themselves (ever heard of Divorce Dust?), but it still doesn't make sense to buy the most expensive property (by a long shot) in a so-so area. Especially when the market is so soft.

And they didn't even get free government cheese!

Looks like the Greater Fool theory is alive and well.


Address: 1514 E Appleton St, 90802
Asking Price: $499,900
Year Built: 1907
Size: 3 beds, 2 baths, 1,148 sq. ft.
$/Sq. Ft.: $435
Purchase price: $245,000
Purchase date: 7/2001
MLS#: P688269
On Redfin: 9 days
Down Payment: $100,000
Monthly Payment: $2,600
Income Requirement: $143,000





Ugh, I gave myself a headache just writing like that for a few minutes. How do realtors do that all day?

Man, this place is small for the money. And on a matchbook lot.

But the description was correct about one thing: This place has lots of character.

And it has a neat little patio, but why dump all that money into remodeling the house if you're just going to leave that moldy, rotting storage shed as-is? Ugh, what an eyesore.

But kitchen and shit shed notwithstanding, they did an excellent job on the renovations. The mix of original cues and modern updates work pretty well together. I mean, check the original windows mixed in with some recessed lighting:

A faithful restoration like that must make the Long Beach’s Historical Society happy.

Overall, I think this little house looks great and the details are phenomenal.

But, as they (I) say: “One man’s top-notch upgrades and personal style choices mean fuckall to a new buyer.”

The balance between restoration to its original build condition and sensible modernization is great, but most of the details and expense will go unappreciated--or ignored completely--depending on the personal tastes and needs of buyers.

For an example, let's look at classic cars. One of my favorite cars is the 1963 Lincoln Continental convertible. Ideally I’m looking for one with red interior and black (or white) exterior.
And even though this car was built more than a decade before I was born, I want something as original as possible. We’re talking whitewall tires, original hubcaps, original seats, matching motor (anything unseen by the naked eye, such as new, more efficient engine internals are just fine), original radio, etc.

I’m old school like that.

So, while perusing Auto Trader, I find a sweet black Continental with custom wheels, an incredible Pioneer DVD stereo with custom speakers installed throughout. The beautiful leather seats have custom suede inserts, and the black paint--which is the original color--has a subtle ghost flame job. The seller says he bought it for $15,000 and put another $20,000 into customizing it.

Plus, he expects to be reimbursed for the blood sweat and tears he put into the car, so he's asking $40,000.

But he fails to realize that not everyone has his particular (or peculiar) taste or ideas about what a classic car should look like. And some people, like me, would have to spend money tearing out those custom speakers and replacing the interior panels--which have been carved up--with the original pieces.

And the leather and suede upholstery, which he absolutely adores and cost him a pretty penny, isn’t really my thing. I’d have to install the original red vinyl.

The black paint, although faithful to the original factory specs, has a flame job ghosted into it, which obviously isn’t original. I’d have to repaint the entire car to get it back to original shape.

Now, given that he needs to sell his custom Contie to fund his retirement, he wants to get the maximum amount of money out of his “investment.” I, on the other hand, could not possibly care less about how much he spent building a dream car to his liking because we don’t even remotely share similar tastes and, as he's finding out, neither do most buyers.

So I lowball him at $20,000, partially because I smell blood, and partially because it will cost me a decent amount of money to get the car to where I will feel proud to sling it around Long Beach for the next 40 or so years.

Unfortunately for the seller, while the paint was drying on his dream ride, the economy went into the crapper. Suddenly, the classic car market is showing signs of weakness. His fellow Baby Boomers have lost 30-40% of their 401(k)s, and they’re ALL trying to unload their dream cars at the same time. But his fellow soon-to-be-retirees are a lot more desperate than he is, and they’re no longer worried about making a profit on their cars. In fact, they’ve given up the ghost on breaking even on what they’ve put into their rides. Now they’ll take whatever they can get just to get rid of it.

But because the potential buyers of these expensive (and maintenance-hungry) vintage luxury items are starting to lose jobs, there are fewer and fewer people coming around to kick the tires. Furthermore, without the ability to take out HELOC loans against their equity to fund big purchases (like our seller did during the Easy Money Borrowing Bonanza), the prospective buyers can only buy what their income will support. And because the economy is so bad, it’s getting tougher and tougher to get an auto loan for a third car.

So the seller has two choices: He can either capitulate and give it to me for what I offered, or he can accuse me of being a “vulture” and being "unappreciative" of his attention to detail and reject my bid. In his mind, his Continental is “special” and is surely worthy of a premium over the other Lincolns on eBayMotors.

And even if he turns me down now, capitulation will eventually come. As he spends another year or two languishing in the AutoTrader with no bites because he’s still asking a WTF price, he’ll see the market (and financing) for classics like his has tanked even further, and in his desperation he’ll be glad to get $15,000 for his “special” whip.

Finally, once I've taken ownership of this car and restored it back to its original condition, I might find that trends have changed and very few people care about the time and effort I spent making it as original as possible. Maybe the new thing will be whipple charging these things and installing airbags in the suspension. And a buyer with those tastes won't give a rat's rump about my efforts to keep it original.

The similarities to housing are pretty clear: Most buyers don't give a fuck how much that bathtub you love so much cost you. This is their house now, and they hate that tub because they prefer showers.

This seller on Appleton, although he did an excellent and painstaking restoration to his tastes and style, may find that the prospective buyers are interested in customizing it to their own individual tastes--and therefore couldn’t give a steaming shit about how much work and money went into customizing (yes, restoring something to its original condition is “customizing,” just like my Lincoln) it. They’re going to make the house their home and it’s going to cost them money to do so. And that is factored into what their willing to pay.

I'm getting long-winded, I know, but here's another example: One Halloween I went to a house party in LB where the owner had fully customized his garage into a badass man-cave. It had poker and roulette tables, a hand-built bar with kegerator, flat screen TVs, custom lighting and carpeting--it was impressive and probably cost him at least $10,000 in materials plus countless hours designing, painting, and building.

Cool for a visitor, but what about a buyer?

Personally I would much rather be able to protect my cars than play a few hands of Texas Hold ‘Em every other month. That’s just how I roll.

So just how likely do you think it is that I would pay an extra $10,000 (plus money for “time invested”) for his idea of the “perfect” garage?

That's right...ZIPPO.

Anyhow, this is a great house, and if it were in a better area (Belmont Heights) it might have a shot at selling for this asking price.

But a good rule of thumb is to buy the least expensive house in the best neighborhood, not the other way around. And asking $435 per square foot when the average Sold price per square is $200 (hell, the average List price, which is fueled by ferocious delusion and greed, is only just above $300!) makes this the most expensive house in the area by a long shot.

Not to mention a prospective buyer would need to make 4.2 times the median income to reasonably afford this place. I have a feeling those well-heeled buyers would be shopping in more desirable neighborhoods.

And especially when you consider this house sold for $245,000 in 2001, I find it hard to believe they put in $205,000 in upgrades. Because we all know it sure as hell didn’t appreciate that much. Either way, regardless of how much they parted with to renovate this place, they would be lucky to get fifty cents on the dollar in return.

Hat tip to Anonymous for the find!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dwelling on the Past: UPDATE

Officially a short sale. Shocker.

But you have to congratulate this delusional twit on riding the Extend-and-Pretend Express for an astounding 228 days. Any bets for the date of the Notice of Default?

And in those 228 days his realtor hasn't even bothered to fix the typos...rats from a sinking ship.


5576 East VESUVIAN Walk, Long Beach, CA 90803
Asking Price: $799,000
Beds: 2
Baths: 1.25
Sq. Ft.: 1,200
$/Sq. Ft.: $666
Lot Size: 2,400 Sq. Ft.
Year Built: 1957
MLS#: P719642
On Redfin: 53 days
Down Payment: $160,000
Monthly Nut: $4,300
Income Requirement: $200,000
Description: The Opdahl Residence, 1957 by Edward A. Killingsworth, FAIA. With the use of two 18 ft. tall redwood walls at the setback lines on both sides of the property, Killingsworth skillfully created an oasis of privacy for the glass walled structure, reflecting pond & peaceful gardens within. Considered by the architect to be his most important work, the house stands as a prototype for building with limited space, & as one of the purest, most sophisticated examples of mid-century modern architecture. As the SoCal chapter of AIA noted in it's [SIC] honor award, 'there is poetry in it's [SIC] restrained vocabulary of material and form-a precise artistry'. Winner of eight prestigious architectural awards & featured in countless publications, the Opdahl house gave Killingsworth international acclaim. Once thought to be lost to neglect, a meticulous restoration by the current owner has brought the house back to it's [SIC] original glory. The property is now recognized as an historic landmark by the City of Long Beach.

Ugh, yet another seller getting high on his own pompous bullshit. This dude and his realtor are obviously quite impressed with their inclusion in Dwell, that hipster bible of aspirational pretentiousness.

When I saw this listing, I immediately thought of Unhappy Hipster

It's a blog that takes those famously dour Dwell photos and adds amusing captions. An example:

"The black hole had sucked everything out of the playroom. Save his sister or the coloring books? He made a split-second decision."

I'm a big fan of modern design, but the trust fund snobs in that magazine take it to a whole 'nother level. Sometimes the total commitment to uber-minimalism can be overwhelming, leaving you with these cold, bland, mono-hued drabscapes.

And this house is no different.

This place just feels so precious, so sterile. Every piece of furniture looks uncomfortable and terminally fragile -- almost like props. I half expect Chris Farley to barge in and crush every table and chair in the joint.

Whatever the opposite of "that lived-in feel" is, this is it.

I mean, these photos are just begging for the Unhappy Hipsters treatment. Here's my take:

"After waiting four weeks for his Air Jordan Sky Highs to arrive from Thailand, Toby was thrilled to debut them at Glenda's loft party. But despite subtle attempts to get people to notice his shoes, like pointing to Glenda's concrete floors and asking various guests if they supposed the finish qualified as 'honed,' nobody at the party acknowledged Toby's rare kicks. Would he ever recover from this slight, he wondered."

It's worth noting that Toby here paid $730,000 in January 2003. The listing description mentioned this property is a result of "a meticulous restoration by the current owner." Considering this place was, according to the realtor, "Once thought to be lost to neglect," I'm willing to bet he dropped at least $150,000 into restoration. Minimum.

Presumably to offset the steep commissions, he is asking $799,000. Even factoring in seven years of payments, the significant restoration efforts will virtually guarantee a massive loss.

I appreciate his pricing optimism, but things don't look good. There's just too much competition in this price range. I imagine someone, somewhere in the world would be impressed by an utterly useless "decorative pond," but in this bang-for-your-buck buyer's market will they be willing to pay a significant premium?

Seriously, does anybody but this owner give a farting fuck about the honor award from the SoCal chapter of the AIA?

Plus, half the appeal of this property is the decoration and rare furniture -- and the listing makes it clear none of it is included in the asking price (neither is the washer and dryer -- how generous! $800,000 and I gotta go out and buy new appliances?!)

So, remove the magazine-worthy staging and you're left with a small two-bedroom one-bath that needs tens of thousands of dollars in furnishings, artwork, and appliances asking (an ominous) $666 per square foot.

For that kind of money, I'd be more interesting in saving a boatload of cash and buying a larger, cozier place like this.

I suppose it doesn't have the architectural pedigree or "poetry in its restrained vocabulary of material," but in this post-bubble world, I can't imagine buyers really give a steaming crap.

I guess the seller, who is actually a DJ and co-creator of one of my favorite jazz bands, is hoping there are plenty of other overpaid DJs or trust fund babies or well-heeled mid-century design nerds out there with an equally lacking concept of value or money or investment strategy. But I have to imagine in this environment most buyers are looking for deals, not overwrought monuments to cheap credit and money-to-burn bubble exuberance like this.

Frankly, this place is so unique he might pull it off. He'll probably have to start playing Quinceaneras in El Dorado Park to survive the financial loss on his foolish malinvestment, but still.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Precious Peak-Priced Pretender: UPDATE

The price was "$405,000" and changed to "$395,000"

Gee, that only took 142 days. Can't wait to see what the next 142 will bring.

This is the second $10,000 price cut in as many months, but it's obviously too little, too late for this idiot. Then he has the balls to exclaim, "Reduced $20K!!!" like it's any different than a 560-pound woman shrieking, "I dropped half a dress size!"

So freaking what?

This thing is still insanely overpriced for the neighborhood and current market (don't forget about this fresh $325,000 comp), so why don't you just take it off the MLS and stop wasting everyone's time with these piss-ant price reductions?

For those of you keeping score, he's just $5,000 above his peak purchase price. Add in commissions and renovation costs and it's going to be a long, shitty, nail-biting winter for this Dwell-fellating poser.


4301 East 2ND St Unit 2F, Long Beach, CA 90803
Wishing Price: $415,000
Beds: 1
Baths: 1
Sq. Ft.: 900
$/Sq. Ft.: $461
Year Built: 1965
MLS#: P732255
On Redfin: 16 days
HOA: $175
Down Payment: $83,000/$17,000(FHA)
Income Requirement: $95,000
Monthly Nut: $2,400/2,800(FHA)
Description: Beautiful home in the Belmont Heights area. Enjoy the ocean breeze and view from a large bedroom balcony. Located blocks from the beach and Belmont Shore shops and restaurants, Belmont Pier and the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool. Meticulously maintained with the following upgrades: Bamboo floors throughout, modern walls, refinished cabinets, renovated modern bathroom, subway tile, console sink, remodeled living room with modern built-in shelving unit running expanse of wall, custom closet in bedroom, frosted glass and modern closet doors. Must see as this will not last!

What is a "modern wall"? Is he talking about that bad-ass technology from Minority Report that allows you to access and analyze digital information with the wave of a hand?


And notice no mention of in-unit laundry. Community laundry for $415,000?! HA!

I have bad news for you, dude: You are going to lose your ass on this one.

I must concede you've done a decent job upgrading this place, but if you think for one fleeting second you'll walk away from this transaction without your pocketbook sustaining serious blunt-force trauma, you're sadly mistaken.

I keep trying to spread the gospel, but nobody seems to believe me. Look, when you over-improve a property according to your personal whims, you can't expect new buyers to share your identical tastes and stylistic proclivities -- and you definitely can't presume they'll be willing to pay premium dollars and cents for your ideas of good design sense.

To wit:


Dude, you are asking $25,000 more than what you paid at the peak of the housing bubble. I don't care if the garbage disposal is 24-karat gold and $20 bills materialize in your trousers every time you take them out of that shitty IKEA closet of are not going to get 2007 pricing for this thing.

To give you an idea of what kind of imbecile we're dealing with (as if you needed more evidence), he purchased this 1/1 apartment for $390,000 from a guy who paid just $155,000 seven years earlier.

Really, guy? What were you getting for a WaMu CD back in those days, 5%? 5.5%? That 15% annual appreciation didn't set alarm bells off?

And for that top-dollar price you got a place so crappy that you had to gut it and completely re-do it? Yikes.

I'm no contracting expert, but I'd guess he put $30,000 into upgrades. And that's being conservative. Assuming that's the case, after commissions those upgrade costs will be a total loss. A vanishing act that would make Houdini blush.

And that's assuming this uneven bachelor pad "will not last!" as the realtor so boldly (read: dumbly) claims, and gets full asking price.

A promise:


Not with this kitchen, anyway.

Way to chintz out when it comes to the most important aspect of a property. I mean, original stove top and hood? WTF are you thinking?

And those cabinets definitely don't look new. They look (badly) painted with, at best, updated hardware.

Don't get me wrong, overall this is a slick pad in a good building in a killer neighborhood. It has some great attributes. The problem, as with all delusional Long Beach sellers, is the price.

I mean, this nearby property for sale, also with an unimpressive kitchen, is asking $439,000 (he's been on the market for 126 days -- he'll never get that) and features in-unit laundry, a fireplace, an extra bedroom, an extra bathroom, and 450 more square feet of living space. How can our featured seller possibly justify his crazy asking price?

I'm sure you've noticed that owners of these over-designed, over-decorated pads tend to be the most batshit insane when it comes to perceptions of what their "special" places are worth. In fact, this place kind of reminds me of this misguided, thoroughly-impressed-by-his-own-awesomeness fool (who claims to be under contract for full asking!).

They probably both read Dwell under the sheets with a flashlight while John Secada plays in the background if you know what I mean.

Well whaddaya know?

Now we know exactly the type of seller we're dealing with.

Armed with this information, it's guaranteed that this place will never sell. This ego-driven dope will take his self-stroker of a shack off the market long before he admits it isn't special and takes the massive financial hit required to garner a sale.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Naples Nightmare: FINAL UPDATE

Sold on 09/09/10 - $1,200,000

To recap, after purchasing this property right after the peak of The Great Housing Bubble for $950,000, the former owner demolished the existing home and built this overwrought monstrosity with what I imagine was a hefty construction loan. Unfortunately, the minute ground was broken on this eyesore of a McCastle, the real estate market began its horrific, Great Depression-esque decline.

Stuck with an asset that was losing money before it was even completed, he spent the next eleven months sweating .50-caliber bullets, wishing that the housing market would somehow stop its rampant, freight-train powered return back to normalcy before he got his masterpiece on the market.

Wish in one hand, and crap in the other...and see which one fills up first. We all know how that worked out.

And so, in January of this year, after dicking around with extend-and-pretend short sale tactics, the bank finally foreclosed on his ass and took back the property for $1,260,000. And as is the case with quality properties in prime areas, the bank didn't take long to get it back on the market...with a wishing price of $1,325,000. There it sat for nearly seven months, until it apparently sold just a few days ago for $1,200,000 -- a mere 5% less than the bank paid.

Interestingly, $1,200,000 is HALF of what the deadbeat former owner asked when he initially tried to flip it.


My Place Is Special Syndrome (MYPISS), anyone?

Anyhow, the more I look at this thing, the more I hate it. Sure, the location is great, but who wants to live in the shadows of that monolithic apartment complex? Plus, there is no yard to speak of. Which, now that I think about it, you probably wouldn't even want a yard given the innumerable peering eyes in that apartment complex (ew, renters. We all know what perverts and degenerates they are).

But I mostly hate it because of what it represents: waste, misplaced priorities, bubble excess, poor lending standards, unchecked greed, bank bailouts, moral hazard...all of it.

The good news is that the new owners can start a life there and enjoy having an, um, interesting house in a great neighborhood. And regardless of how mud-fence ugly I think this thing is, you can't deny that $354 per square in this area for brand-new construction is a smoking deal.


215 South THE TOLEDO, 90803
Approved Short Sale Price: $1,450,000
Beds: 4
Baths: 4.25
Sq. Ft.: 3,345
$/Sq. Ft.: $433
Lot Size: 3,390 Sq. Ft.
Year Built: 2008
MLS#: P616675
Down Payment: $290,000 (assuming a bank would let you get away with "only" 20%)
Income Requirement: $363,000
Monthly Nut: $8,800
On Redfin: 718 days
Description: Short sale approved at list price. Can close qickly. Brand New Custom Home. This New Home has Big Walkin Closets In every bedroom on the second floor! Downstairs bedroom and bath can also be a maids Bedroom or office. Double door Formal entryway that leads into a huge Kitchen with upgrades and a great room with its own half Bathroom. Oversized Attached Garage. Curved Stairway that Leads you to Laundry room and second floor with Master bedroom that has two walkin closets, Fireplace, Master bathroom and private balcony. Second Floor hall way leads to two more Bedrooms, each with walkin closets and private baths. Private Door leads to the third story deck that has water, electricity for all your entertainment needs. Advanced Electrical for Entertainment systems, speakers, Lighting, Vacuum System, Security, Internet, Dual Air . Plenty of Storage through-out Home. Too many upgrades to list all.


"Walkin" closets? Where they walkin' to?

And Nice (Ab)use of Title Case, Dickhead.

It's been a rough few years for this fliptard. His simple plan was to tear down the old property, build a McMansion in its place, and flip it for a sizeable profit.

Unfortunately, his timing was absolutely horrendous.

You see, he paid $950,000 in January 2007, juuuuuuust past the peak of the housing bubble. The year he spent constructing this 3,345 square foot behemoth (on a freaking 3,390 square foot lot! What?!) saw the beginnings of one of the worst economic catastrophes in world history.

As quickly as he could, and before the economy got any worse, he put it on the market. Unfortunately, 2008 was the year of the credit crisis. His initial asking price of $2,700,000 might have seemed high even during the height of the bubble, but in the context of a full-blown economic disaster 2.7 mil was laughed off dismissively by market participants. And it's been a race against the clock ever since:

Dec 03, 2009 - Price Changed $1,450,000
Nov 27, 2009 - Price Changed $1,799,000
Oct 08, 2009 - Price Changed $1,900,000
Aug 06, 2008 - Price Changed $2,199,000
Apr 09, 2008 - Price Changed $2,399,000
Jan 09, 2008 - Listed $2,700,000
Jan 02, 2007 - Sold $950,000

Considering it's a short sale at $1,450,000, I'd say the clock won.

You have to appreciate his complete ignorance to market realities during the ensuing 718 days. Specifically, the 14 months between August 2008 and October 2009 that saw no price reductions. Smart! You're really good at this!

Given that insane amount of time spent being totally uncompetitive, I have a feeling 1.9 mil was the breaking point at which a short sale could be avoided. And it's been a sad race to the bottom ever since.

Honestly, I think the approved price of $1,450,000 is about right. This is BRAND NEW construction and has never been lived in. The upgrades look great and the Naples location is fantastic (although it appears to be right next to a massive apartment complex). Plus, most people buying these properties don't really expect to have a yard anyway.

Given all of that, along with a quick glance at the listed and sold comps (typical for Naples is between $541 and $671 per square foot), $443 per square for a brand spanking new build actually seems like a good deal.

So what gives?

Who knows. Fear of further drops in the high-end? Jumbo financing snags? Pain in the ass short sale process? Fear Of Unnecessary Title Case?

Or maybe Santa brought someone escrow paperwork for Christmas and it will go pending within days.

Regardless, I can't believe the "owner" has stuck around this long to find out. After three years of carrying costs on that $950,000 purchase loan plus AT LEAST $500,000 in construction loans, I figured he would have tapped out by now and moonwalked away.

But he didn't. Because we all know debtors walking away from their obligations is "immoral."