Streets of Madrid

There’s an eerie feeling around the streets when I visited Spain…the image below was taken in the middle of Puerta del Sol in Madrid, a few steps away, there were protesters chanting against the current situation in Venezuela, there were homeless people asking for change, and others selling counterfeit goods on the lookout for the police. 

Parallel to this scene, was a completely different setting, full of tourists, five star hotels, expensive restaurants and old world architecture that reminded me of  the decadence of the Spanish empire.

Although it is general knowledge that Spain is on a long road to recovery from the economic crises of the of the early 2000’s, this contrast got me wondering about the income disparity that could exist in a place like Spain, where the unemployment rate was still hovering around 18% at the time I traveled.

Below is the data–as of 2010, 24% of Spain’s population live in lower income households and 13% are in the upper income brackets, their statistics are starkly similar to that of the United States, where 26% of the population live in low income households and 15% are in upper income households. The difference is that America’s unemployment rate is under 5%, and Spain’s is more than TRIPLE that number, YET, they have less households living on the edge of poverty, and more middle income households than we do in the US.

Food for thought….

Index of Income Inequality in Europe & USA





A Lesson From China’s Urban Villages

Urbanization on the outskirts of Shenzhen, China.

Urbanization on the outskirts of Shenzhen, China.



In China, the issue of affordable housing is deeply connected to the rapid urbanization of cities in the past 20 years. Rural inhabitants are flooding cities like Shenzhen or Guangzhou and as a result these cities end up with these incredibly dense neighborhoods (pictured above) right outside of their central business districts.

The characteristics of those areas are generally referred to “handshake architecture”, buildings constructed so close together that someone can reach out and shake hands with the person in the next building. And while there are issues with this type of urban plan, it serves the cause of affordable housing in the following ways:

  1.  Instead of directly subsidizing housing developments, the government can spend tax dollars on funding energy efficient retrofits, better quality management systems for those developments and reducing the burden of rising operating costs for landlords as an incentive to maintain rent levels.
  2. Since the government owns the land, they can regulate pricing in awarding those parcels to developers. This allows for lower development cost and thus more economic feasibility.
  3. Where there are limits in residential building heights, this type of plan creates more housing units per block than would be allowable in traditional urban planning scenarios.

Similarly in the US, the idea of bending building codes to allow for micro-units as affordable housing apartments in central business districts will allow for many more housing units, while minimizing the amount of direct subsidy that the government must place into those projects.


Affordable housing is a topic that is tossed about in local politics all over the united states, as a social policy to address the rising cost of living for those on the edge of poverty. Its also a way to allow everyone across the economic spectrum to have access to major cities where there is better access to jobs and education. Here in the states the government moves that agenda along in the following ways:

  1. The Federal Government (IRS) issues a certain amount of tax credits to each state. Developers are awarded those credits and then sells them to investors to fund their projects, in return, the rents remains capped at a certain level.
  2. Housing developers can apply for a HAP contract through the Federal Government (HUD), where the government sets your rent, gives the landlord a  guaranteed payment  monthly, and tenants pay only a portion of that amount.
  3. Local Governments can also build their own housing (often referred to as the Projects), which is also subsidized through a contract with the Federal or State governments.
  4. Lastly, in the case where the Government owns the land, they may decide to give it away to developers for very little money, or lease the land at a low rate, and in return, the rents on some of the apartments remain capped at a lower level.

In Sum, there is almost no scenario where you can find low income housing in the CENTER of major cities like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, without the help of some government subsidy. The economic feasibility just doesn’t work because land is so expensive in those areas.


A better way to implement affordable housing in city centers is to implement a similar strategy for increasing density in central business districts in the form of what we are seeing as today’s micro-units. In our cities most desirable economic centers,  why not increase the number of micro unit developments, which will bring more low income households to those neighborhoods.  More units per square foot equals more revenue for the landlord and less direct subsidy from the government.

Ensure quality of those units by setting design standards, monitoring occupancy limits, creating a supporting infrastructure of public safety, schooling and community resources as a means to enhance the standard of living at the same time.

Buddha beads and traditional Chinese retail store the size of one of NYC's micro-units.

Picked up some Buddha Beads, in a Chinese retail store as small as one of the city’s micro-units

The Grand Hotel Deal

Grand BudapestBy far, my favorite movie of this year has been Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Besides having a captivating story and hilarious bits at nearly every scene, it is focused around an amazing piece of Real Estate. The Grand Budapest Hotel, a luxury hotel retreat nestled in snowcapped mountains of Europe.

Its quite unfortunate that the property is itself is fictional, as I would have loved to report on its ownership history, changes in the hotel management, along with an analysis on its current market value. Where else have I seen a hotel with beautiful landmarked features and a guest history as fascinating as that of the subject fictional property…here in New York City? Next blog post, stay tuned….

Top Real Estate Websites and Blogs

Industry publications help any professional stay on top of what is happening in their field, so its important to me that I’m not only getting frequent industry news, but that my sources are diverse and represent more than just what is happening in my city.  I like to see my surroundings in a global context, and I hope this list helps you find the knowledge you need to pursue your real estate goals:

The Atlantic’s City Lab- Housing

This is probably one of my favorite new finds for housing, property, policy, community and infrastructure news. Their point of view is interesting and fresh, its logical and they often contrast with what is happening in other parts of the world.

New York (Jersey City/Newark) Yimby

This blog is great because it covers 2 areas that are grossly overlooked by some nyc real estate snobs–Jersey City, Newark and our northern borough The Bronx.  While its mostly development watch, its a great resource if you are a local investor looking for neighborhood trends or you are simply a renter or buyer looking for a decent neighborhood with good real estate promise.

The Real Deal

The Real Deal is a very popular site and they certainly don’t need my endorsement, but I must say they have a deep reach within the industry and often report some of the juiciest real estate drama unfolding in the NY area.

Real Estate Weekly
Includes reporting specific to property managers, something that you can’t find for free unless you join an industry association like IREM (Institute of Real Estate Managers).

Crain’s New York Business

Complete economic coverage including news about local politics as well as trends in food & beverage industry, technology, finance and how it all relates to Real Estate. They also have a Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland version of the publication.

New York Observer, Real Estate

I like their quirky articles that focus on interesting owners, culture, and neighborhood highlights.

World Property Channel

Whenever I travel internationally, I always have my eyes peeled for the real estate trends of that region. This site is a great place for real estate news on Europe, Latin America, Middle East and Asia.

Hospitality Net

Hotel acquisitions, development and re-flagging deals are a big part of the real estate pie, especially in popular international destinations. This site compiles hospitality news from all over the net and looks at the people, the suppliers and hotel performance metrics from all over the world.


Living Legends at Dubailand


Living Legends at Dubailand Model

Building 5 Dubailand

Living Legends Condo Building Rendering

This is the mini-model of the Living Legends development. Currently on the market are the 12 buildings you see towards to top of the model, each with studio, 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments at various stages of development. Buildings 5, 9, 10, 11 and 12 are scheduled for completion in early 2015, while the others are in the pipeline for the following year in 2016.

There are three main reasons I would invest in this development:

1. Dubai is a tax-free Emirate. No property tax (which can be significant portion of your maintenance expense), no sales tax, no income tax, no capital gains tax. You can either work there and keep more of your income in your pocket, or you can keep a second home there with reduced maintenance expenses.

2. New Legislation setting clear guidelines for residential loans, such as a 65% loan to value limit for foreigners (50% for pre-construction), including a contingency of max loan term of 25 years and for principal to be paid off by 65 years old. As well as being able to own the property on a freehold basis (all yours, land and improvements, with no restrictions or long term leases from the government).

Map Dubai

Dubailand Southeast of the Central Business District

3. The prices are….reasonable! While granted, many of the properties in prime locations can be wildly overpriced and unachievable to the average folk– I thought the offerings at Living Legends not only were beautiful but reflected thoughtful market pricing. Here are the average offer prices:

Studio: $110,000 USD

1 Bed: $170,000 USD

2 Bed: $295,000 USD

3 Bed: $380,000 USD


The developer requires a series of deposits, including in most instances the 35% down payment at the time of contract, and three other payments over the 6 to 9 months leading to completion of the project, with the full balance paid at the time your keys are handed to you. If you wanted to avoid the red tape of having to qualify for a loan in a foreign country, you and a few of your buddies can save up your bonus money and time-share the apartment over the year—and be one of the few lucky ones to have a place to crash during the World Expo in 2020.  Sigh…will my dream ever come true….!?


Fresh back from my trip to Dubai and am still on a high of Arabian architecture. Having visited the major attractions; the Burj, the largest malls, the luxury retail, the gold & spice Souqs…one of the best moments was randomly running into the developer & broker for the Living Legends (at Dubailand) development at the Jumeira Beach Hotel. The mini model of the site was on display and the sales manager Mr. Murthy so graciously discussed the development along with the various career opportunities available for aspiring real estate developers and brokers in Dubai. Here is a sneak peak of the trip. Just got back from a 20 hour journey from the middle east and will post more on my International page as the week progresses.