Want a home with extra amenities? Just buy a condo with hotel services

Developers are building more condos with hotel amenities:

Developers across the U.S. are reviving a concept that collapsed with the real estate crash in 2008: combining condominiums and hotels. In cities including Miami, New York and Los Angeles, a rebounding hospitality market is joining with rising demand for luxury homes, spurring developers to construct new full-service hotels and ask premium prices for residential units associated with a high-end brand…

“I love the amenities the building will have — a restaurant that can provide room service, a concierge, maintenance, a person that can clean your place, valet parking,” said Viete, 25, who works for his family’s real estate company in Caracas. The $250 million project, scheduled to break ground in August, is already 85 percent sold…

Condo developments with a hotel can be structured in several ways. In some cases, residences may be connected to the lodging segment only so that owners can take advantage of the hotel’s amenities and benefit from the brand’s prestige. That tends to put a premium on unit prices.

In other developments, known as condo-hotels, a portion of the condos are made available to the hotel when owners aren’t using them, producing revenue for residents.

Sounds nice if you have some extra money lying around. On one hand, the story doesn’t say how much extra such units would cost over and above condos available elsewhere but on the other hand, if you have to ask, this isn’t the market for you…

Thinking about these units, they are an interesting contrast to a common American narrative about homeownership that goes something like this: you work hard to put together enough to purchase a home, you work hard to maintain it, you are more likely to participate in local community life, and it is a long-term investment and place for sentimental moments. Yet, the housing options available to those with more money goes against these principles. Instead of putting sweat equity into maintaining the home, you can pay someone else. Instead of getting deeply involved with neighbors and local issues, the wealthy can travel from house to house in exciting locations. Instead of holding onto a home because of family life and memories, housing becomes just another commodity to be bought and sold. In other words, condos with hotel features are far beyond normal American conceptions of homeownership.

Why is a 5,600 square foot, $3.2 million home squeezed on a small lot a “mini-McMansion”?

Jack Osbourne recently purchased a new home in Studio City that Variety calls a “mini-McMansion”:

In late May, rock ‘n’ roll scion and budding television and documentary producer Jack Osbourne sold his refurbished 1920s Spanish-style abode in L.A.’s celeb-saturated Los Feliz area for $3.2 million and, we first heard from gossip juggernaut TMZ, he and his missus, Lisa Stelly and their toddler daughter hightailed it to the San Fernanado Valley where they spent — oddly enough — $3.2 million for a bigger and brand-spanking-new house in and unassuming but affluent, north of Ventura Boulevard neighborhood in Studio City.

Young Mister Osbourne’s new, clapboard-sided residence in Studio City — online marketing materials rather generously describe as a “Cape Cod” — sits somewhat tightly on a .27-acre corner lot with five bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms in 5,614 square feet. (It’s really too small to be a right-proper mccmansion so, oxymoron-ish though it may be, we’ll call an architecturally jumbled mini-mcmansion. How’s that sound?

In addition to the square footage, the price, and a small lot, the continued description of the home includes some more typical McMansion features like a two-story foyer, three-car garage facing the street, and an interesting front exterior (see the picture). So why isn’t this a McMansion?

My best guess is that this home is small by celebrity standards in Los Angeles. Compared to all new homes in the United States, Osbourne’s home is more than twice the size but he doesn’t live in an ordinary place: he lives in a place with mega-celebrities. In this city, 5,600 square feet simply can’t compete with flashier and bigger homes. See some of these celebrity homes here. Since real estate is local, Osbourne’s home is just mini-McMansion rather than opulent showplace.

The real estate market for religious buildings in America

American religious buildings continue to change hands as different denominations and groups lose or gain members:

The handover in houses of worship across the country is not a straightforward case of an increase in non-Christian immigrants in the United States. In fact, many church sales can be attributed to shifts among Christian denominations. Roman Catholic weekly service attendance has slid from 75 percent in 1955 to 45 percent in the mid-2000s, while Southern Baptist and Evangelical churches have seen big drops in attendance, partially due to a split within the Protestant church between mainline Protestantism and Evangelicals. Meanwhile, Pentecostal churches have seen spikes in attendance…

Though sales of churches has picked up during the recent recession, it’s not a new phenomenon. Look to synagogues, says Ellen Levitt, author of The Lost Synagogues, a series of books and tours exploring the changing of hands of the Jewish place of worship to churches, community centers, and schools…

It’s not just because of immigration patterns—religions are also changing, creating ripples in the church sales market. Christian Science groups, for example, have reported declining attendance. Korean-based Christian congregations have reported spikes in worshipers, while Mormonism is the fastest growing religion in America.

But finding a new place to worship presents a dual problem: getting a brand new building for many groups is out of reach, while the smaller churches that are being sold are just too small for growing congregations. Most state rules require that a building be established as a church for fire code reasons, which means buying a house and turning it into a church is off. And parking, particularly in space crunched California, is precious.

The real estate market is not one many people might associate with religion but religious groups own a lot of property in the United States. It would be interesting to see some figures how much religious real estate changes hands on a yearly basis. And how many of the non-religious or people outside of the particular group that currently owns and uses the building notices much different?

As the article notes, as some groups decline, particularly older religious groups, newer groups are looking for space. Even as it might be complicated to adapt existing buildings, it might be even harder to construct new buildings, particularly if they are large, because of needing money or building in neighborhoods that don’t want a new religious building. I would guess proponents of reusing buildings and retrofitting – giving old buildings new uses, though this could lead to religious buildings being turned into things like residences – would also like this.

One-quarter of Americans live in areas with over 20% poverty

The Census Bureau recently released updated data showing an increased number of Americans living within poverty areas:

In 2010, the overall U.S. poverty rate was about 15 percent. However, about a quarter of all Americans lived in a so-called “poverty area”—defined as a census tract where more than 20 percent of the population lived below the poverty line. For our purposes, we can just call these places poor neighborhoods, even though the term is a little more accurate in an urban context than a rural one. The problem was especially severe in Appalachia and across the South and Southwest, where in most states 30 percent or more of all residents lived in these communities…

The South may have the greatest share of its population packed into poor neighborhoods, but the growth of concentrated poverty was actually fastest in the Midwest, as shown on the graph below. The poor-neighborhood population also became more suburban and rural compared to 2000, according to the Census…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Researchers have paid more attention to such neighborhoods in recent decades and yet the problem seems to have gotten worse.

“The digital divide has been replaced by a gap in digital readiness”

Having access to technology isn’t necessarily the same as knowing what it can do or feeling comfortable with it, as a new study suggests:

A new survey suggests that the digital divide has been replaced by a gap in digital readiness. It found that nearly 30% of Americans either aren’t digitally literate or don’t trust the Internet. That subgroup tended to be less educated, poorer, and older than the average American.

In contrast, says Eszter Hargittai, a sociologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, who was not involved in the study, those with essential Web skills “tend to be the more privileged. And so the overall story … is that it’s the people who are already privileged who are reaping the benefits here.”

The study was conducted by John Horrigan, an independent researcher, and released 17 June at an event sponsored by the Washington, D.C.–based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Funded by the Joyce Foundation, the study of 1600 adults measured their grasp of terms like “cookie” and “Wi-Fi.” It asked them to rate how confident they were about using a desktop or laptop or a smart phone to find information, as well as how comfortable they felt about using a computer. Of those who scored low in these areas, about half were not Internet users.

Horrigan believes that policymakers have ignored the problem of digital readiness while concentrating on providing people with access to the Internet and the necessary hardware. Relatively little attention has been paid to teaching people the necessary skills to take advantage of online classes and job searches, he maintains.

It can take quite a while to feel comfortable with new technology, particularly for those not immersed in it. The problem may be compounded by the relative speed of new technologies and their increasingly fast spread throughout the population.

It would be interesting to then see the differences in productivity, comfort, and acquisition of information (or whatever other metric you want to use to measure technology use) among different groups. Imagine we measured improved efficiency in life from using new technology amongst three groups: power users, average users, and non- or limited-users. I imagine we would get a classic Matthew Effect graph where the power users would be able to expand their initial advantages at a higher rate than others.

Buy a South Dakota town for $399k

I haven’t seen one of these stories for a while so take note: you can purchase a small South Dakota town for $399,000.

The owner of Swett, pronounced sweat, is selling the roughly 6-acre  town that includes a tavern, a three bedroom house, three trailer homes and a former tire shop about 100 miles southeast of Rapid City, South Dakota.

Swett’s population peaked at 40 residents in the 1940s when it had a post office and grocery store, but now stands at two: owner Lance Benson and his wife, three if you count their dog.

Benson acquired Swett in 1998, later gave it up in a divorce settlement and then reacquired the town in 2012. He will toss in a 1990 Volvo semi-tractor now used for hauling trailers, according to a real estate listing by realtor Stacie Montgomery.

Benson, who owns a traveling concession stand, told the Rapid City Journal last week he wants to sell the town to focus on his business. He will keep the tiny prairie domain if no one wants to buy it within a year, he told the newspaper.

Not much of a town seeing that the Census doesn’t keep any facts on it and there isn’t much to see on Google Maps. But, it doesn’t have an interesting history in recent decades going from several dozen residents to part of a divorce settlement.

Perhaps we know this selling-a-city thing is going somewhere when a more substantial location goes up for sale. Imagine a community of 500 or 1,000 people is experiencing severe financial difficulties. In order to help make this up, the town tries to find a private owner or manager with a cash sum up front meant to help counter the debts. Or imagine Detroit decides to sell off a whole neighborhood to a private developer who makes some sort of deal to improve the community. I don’t even know if the first option is legal; can an incorporated community be sold to a private owner or corporation? I assume there are some guidelines in incorporation laws intended to protect community members…

San Francisco the country’s “largest gated community” because of limits on development

San Francisco is an expensive place to live and as one writer argues, this is due to intentional housing policies:

Or consider San Francisco, one of the least-affordable major cities in the United States. San Francisco’s population is about 825,000. If it had the same population density as my hometown, New York City, it would instead have a population of 1.2 million. Note that I’m referring to the population density of all five boroughs of New York City, including suburban Staten Island and the low-rise outer reaches of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. A San Francisco of 1.2 million would not be a Blade Runner–style dystopia in which mole people were forced to live cheek-by-jowl in blighted tenements. San Francisco at 1.2 million people would still be only half as dense as Paris, a city that is hardly a Dickensian nightmare.

One of the many benefits of allowing for more housing in a city like San Francisco is that it would likely lead to sharp reductions in carbon emissions. San Francisco is among the greenest cities in the United States, thanks largely to its superb climate. The same goes for San Diego, San Jose, and Los Angeles. The economists Edward Glaeser and Matthew Kahn have estimated that a San Francisco household spends one-fourth as much on electricity as a comparable household in Houston, as coastal Californians have far less need for air conditioning. To be sure, California does face serious environmental challenges. For example, that California’s water resources are stretched thin. But redirecting water resources from agricultural to residential uses would make an enormous difference, as would pricing water resources more intelligently. The environmental upside of supersizing San Francisco and other coastal California cities far outweighs the downside.

So what exactly is the problem? Well, the idea of a much denser San Francisco strikes many residents as appalling, not least because they fear that new development would threaten the city’s distinctive architectural character and the gorgeous views afforded by its stringent land-use regulations. While I love quirky Victorian houses as much as the next bobo, aesthetic considerations can’t justify the fact that San Francisco has become an oversize gated community. Rents in San Francisco are three times the national average, and they are rising at a fearsome clip. The housing crisis is even more severe in booming Silicon Valley, where the housing stock has barely increased over the last decade, despite the fact that the region has become a magnet for tech professionals from around the world. When skyrocketing demand meets stagnant supply, the predictable consequence is that housing costs soar and low- and middle-income families find themselves displaced…

In The Gated City, Ryan Avent observed that high housing costs in America’s most productive cities had forced large numbers of middle- and low-income households to either accept long, costly commutes, which eat into the ability of families to work and save, or to move to low-cost, low-productivity regions. Over time, this greatly impairs the ability of working- and middle-class Americans to climb the economic ladder. Moreover, when you move large numbers of people from high-productivity, high-wage regions to low-productivity, low-wage regions, you lower the productivity of the entire country. In other words, the rich homeowners who are fighting development in San Francisco and throughout coastal California are actually making America poorer. That’s not cool.

Thus, a gated community with economic gates rather than physical structures intended to keep people out. This is a similar story to that of many suburbs where exclusionary zoning practices intentionally limit development and push up prices to guarantee only certain kind of people can live there. Nothing is done explicitly in the name of class or race but an ongoing set of policies ensures housing availability only for some people.

The irony here is that this is notable in San Francisco, a city many might think would be attuned to these issues. This is also lurking behind the recent animosity between the buses sent by tech companies to take their employees to work and local residents. Yet, these concerns plague many important cities whether labeled with the terms gentrification or affordable housing or right to the city: how to balance or adjudicate the interests of powerful corporations, residents, and politicians versus those of average residents who are just trying to get by?

Airbnb turning cities into villages?

The CEO of Airbnb argues his company is reversing the effects of urbanization:

“Cities used to be generally villages, and everyone was essentially kind of like an entrepreneur,” he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “You were either a farmer, or you worked in the city as a blacksmith, or you had some kind of trade. And then the Industrial Revolution happened.” World War II followed, and “suddenly cities became more and more mass-produced. And we stopped trusting our neighbors.”…

“At the most macro level, I think we’re going to go back to the village, and cities will become communities again,” he added. “I’m not saying they’re not communities now, but I think that we’ll have this real sensibility and everything will be small. You’re not going to have big chain restaurants. We’re starting to see farmers’ markets, and small restaurants, and food trucks. But pretty soon, restaurants will be in people’s living rooms.”…

Chesky hopes these transformations will make us question the strange way we parcel out trust. “You trust people more than you trust anything in life—if you know them,” he noted. “You’ll trust your mother, your sister, your daughter, you’ll trust your friends. You’ll trust them more than big governments, big corporations. But a stranger—you’ll trust less than anybody.” Chesky’s question: Why?…

What I find most interesting, though, is that Chesky sees village-like networks sprouting in cities at a time when urbanization is also going in the polar opposite direction. More than half of the world currently lives in cities, and the United Nations predicts that two-thirds of the global population will be urban-dwellers by 2050. In 2011, there were 23 “megacities” of at least 10 million people around the world. By 2050, there will be 37. It’s possible that as cities balloon to overwhelming sizes, we’re coping by carving out smaller communities. But it’s also possible that the phenomenon Chesky is describing is primarily playing out in Western countries. After all, Asia, where Airbnb has a relatively small presence, will account for most new megacities in the coming decades.

I can’t decide whether this is a blatant case of boosterism for his product or some naive thinking about countering the mass process of urbanization. This line of thinking about the differences between villages and cities motivated numerous early sociological thinkers: Marx focused on the effects of industrialization in cities, Durkheim looked at mechanic and organic solidarity as well as the increasingly specialized division of labor, Weber emphasized bureaucracy and rationalization in modern society, and Simmel worried about the effects on individuals. They all saw a big shift taking place and we’re still experiencing the process as well as its effects today.

Yet, haven’t cities always contained some village-like features? Think of the romantic notions about neighborhoods, whether emphasized in a place like Chicago with its 77 community areas or Jane Jacobs’ celebration of Greenwich Village-type places. These smaller units allow residents to know some people closely and to participate in local life. Airbnb might do some of this by erasing some of these traditional geographic boundaries and allowing people to connect. But, it doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term interactions that build up community life.

All together, urbanization is a process with profound effects on everyone. Even suburbanites who think they have escaped urban ills are intimately tied to urbanization through their residence in metropolitan regions.

Millennials move into suburbs and less dense big cities and other urban population shifts

A new report from Trulia looks at where millennials and Baby Boomers moved as well as population growth in cities:

Extrapolating from the census data, a separate report from San Francisco-based real estate research firm Trulia Inc. showed where different age groups lived in 2013. Contrary to popular thought, millennials – Americans 20 to 34 years old – actually moved more into big-city suburbs and lower-density cities rather than dense urban areas. The three fastest growing millennial metropolitan areas were Peabody, Massachusetts, a town north of Boston, Colorado Springs, Colorado and San Antonio.

Americans 50 to 69 years old also flocked most to the “second quartile of counties,” wrote Trulia Chief Economist Jed Kolko, or big city suburbs and lower density cities. The fastest growing areas for baby boomers were Austin, Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Dallas – all places that already have high concentrations of young people. In fact, Austin has the highest share of millennials than any other large metropolitan area, the Trulia report showed…

“The trend in the past year was that boomer growth [took place] in millennials’ favorite places,” Kolko says.

The population of the youngest Americans, or those ages 5 and younger, grew fastest in big cities like Washington, D.C. and New York. Frey has studied demographic changes in New York and says since 2010, there’s been a growth in the under 5 population in all of the boroughs except for Staten Island.

The biggest surprise here seems to be that more millennials moved to “big-city suburbs & lower-density cities.” At the same time, the population growth differences between the four quartiles of counties are not that large – the analysis shows roughly 0.2% differences.

Another note: the South and West continue to lead the way (all those less dense cities due to different zoning rules, annexation policies, and waves of development) in this analysis with the occasional city from elsewhere sneaking in occasionally.

Changes in foreclosures, single-family rental market

One housing expert discusses the state of the housing market in regards to foreclosures and single-family rentals. First, foreclosures:

Yes, the pig has finally made it almost through the python. At the peak of the crisis, we were looking at about 14.5 percent of all loans being either delinquent or in the process of foreclosure. In a “normal market” that number is between 4 and 5 percent.

Right now, we’re roughly at 7.5 percent of all loans, so we’re down by half from the peak but almost twice as high as normal. In the next two to three years, that number should work its way down to the norm…

We’re seeing pretty much historically unprecedented loan performance — historically speaking, about 1percent of loans will be in foreclosure in a given year, and now we’re looking at about half of that…

And this suggests that we probably have over-tightened credit. Not that we want more people in default, but we know that people are having a hard time getting loans. Loan standards are just too tight.

Second, changes to the rental market:

Before the Blackstones of the world, 95 percent of single-family rentals were owned by people who owned five or fewer properties. It was a cottage industry, literally.

What I’ve seen happening is, these little guys are becoming the property scouts for the big investors…

They’ll buy the houses, do the repair work and flip them to the Blackstones. They’ve moved from being landlords to being flippers.

Some interesting changes with continued fallout from the bursting of the housing bubble. And it is still hard to know whether these changes are “the new normal” or the market could overheat again as we are eight years or so from the peak of the bubble.