Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
The buzz in Chicagoland has been about the newly redesigned Chicago Spire. The Chicago Plan Commission recently approved this new design. Architecture fans are gushing over its sleek, winding, glass superstructure, politicians are fawning over how it will add to the sky line and the city's marketability for the Olympics, and your average citizen is wondering why the silhouette of the building resembles a popular sex toy. More importantly, the people of Streeterville living in the immediate vicinity of the future 150 storey structure worry about the building's impact on traffic and public space.
However, I think the biggest roadblock to the project is simple economics. I'm going to assume the popular estimate of the project costing $2.2 billion to be accurate, though I'm sure cost overruns are going to push it higher. The biggest folly is the fact that it's going to be mostly residential with some retail shopping on the ground floor. No mixed-use, with partial office space: it's pure condo.
Since I work downtown, I've witnessed many new condo and hotel constructions planned and under construction. Also, more than a few office buildings have been converted to condo as well. The market is clearly saturated. If you don't believe me about the Chicago housing market having too much supply, these numbers on housing inventory back me up. All these condos are going up downtown, but the amount of office space is proportionally going down. You need high paid workers to live in all these fancy luxury condos.
So what do these other condos have to do with the Chicago Spire? The Chicago Spire will be competing against all these other condo developments. Given, the Chicago Spire will be the tallest building in North America when completed, I'll give it that much. However, a simple calculation based on the projected costs of the project ($2.2 billion) against the number of units for sale (1200), reveals a very disturbing statistic. In order for the project to break even, the average price of each condo will have to be $1,830,000. A quick search on ziprealty shows that you can get yourself a mammoth greystone rowhouse from the 1880's for that price fairly close to the city center. To each his own.
Let's take a different approach to that condo price though. Traditional methods of calculating housing affordability suggest that one should not spend more than 30% of one's income on housing payments. Another way is to multiply your household income by 2.5-3.0 to determine how much house you can afford. Let's be generous and assume a multiple of 3. This means to be able to afford living in this glass and steel phallus you must make about 610,000 a year. How many people make that kind of money? According to the latest US census data (2005) only 31,506 households make more than 200K a year in Chicago proper. The number making more than 600K a year is probably a fraction of that. That's not a lot of high-rollers go to around. My educated guess is that they will try to find more value for their money, like an all-stone Victorian mansion.
But never fear, the mainstream-media says all is well! National Public Radio interviewed some economic experts for us and broke it all down. The first person, a Realtor®, stated "if we're able to get a totally different and new group of buyers into the marketplace they're going to create more demand... it will help push up pricing especially in the premium buildings in the city". He thinks the key is to sucker foreigners who don't know any better to buy up our overpriced property. Expert number 2 from the Trump International Hotel and Tower says that Chicago can definitely handle the higher prices, because we have more luxury projects in the works (i.e., more supply of expensive condos will mean more demand for expensive condos). And of course, the baby boomers will swoop in and save the day! The pulverizing logic of faith-based economics has won me over. It's all good, build away.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
We’re not haterz, we’re just watching the train roll by, yelling at you to pull the brake:
I started out just surprised that someone managed to get so badly in debt without a plan, then became engrossed in watching the trainwreck. Not just any ordinary train wreck, mind you. No, Casey has managed to set up conditions that are well beyond a normal train wreck. It’s all in the details, too, and that’s how I became a Haterz(tm).
Going through his blog week by week I found that Casey has managed to assemble a frightening collection of rolling stock. What’s in this freight car? Oh, a bunch of cases of dynamite. And in this one? Some kegs of gunpowder. Another is full of matches. We find the latest is now filled with tons of rotten, spoiled food because, D’oh! Snowflake forgot to turn on power to the refrigeration car.
Robert Kiyosaki watches the train roll by, gathering speed, since it’s on a downhill. How steep? Oh anywhere from 8% to 14% slope, it seems. RK points and laughs. “Kid, you are *so* screwed” he yells.
Casey’s in the engineer’s cabin, staring at a big lever labelled “BRAKE”. Does he pull it? No. He pulls some other lever that’s unlabeled. He thinks about pulling the brake lever, but PrLinkBiz flashes her thong. Casey’s distracted and forgets about the brake lever.
Tim from MBA calls on the radio, trying to coach Casey into at least slowing the train down. Tim describes to Casey what a brake lever looks like and how to use it. Casey smiles and nods in that way people do when they don’t speak the language, hangs up, and decides to eat some vegetarian shrimp.
Casey thinks again about trying to find the brake lever. Nobody flashes their thong. Casey’s distracted and forgets the brake lever.
Casey pulls on some things that don’t even remotely look like levers, becomes distracted, sets the alarm for 5:30, and goes to sleep so he can be well-rested for pulling on everything but that brake lever the next day.
Casey sees Homeless Bob hop on his train. Homeless Bob starts throwing sticks of dynamite out the door. Casey notices, thinks about shaking his fist in rage at Homeless Bob, then decides taking a nap is a wiser course of action.
People lined up along the route are yelling at Casey to pull the brake lever. “It’s the one with B-R-A-K-E written above it!”. “Spelling’s for loosers, I’m an ideas man”, Casey yells back.
Casey watches the couplings pop and the freight cars behind him go lose(tm). All Casey can think of is how sweet it would be to add 200 more freight cars to his train.
Casey puts out a sign advertising “Become a Locomotive Engineer! $39 Training Course”.
Nigel flashes his thong (leopard print, did someone say?). Casey’s distracted and forgets that he’s on a train.
Finally, the train approaches a curve. The locomotive is going too fast and jumps the rails, with Casey merely holding onto his blue ball in the hope that it will cushion the blow. Before the locomotive and Casey have a chance to slide to a stop, the freight cars that had all popped lose(tm) come flying around the corner, each jumping the rails and hitting Casey from behind (I’m too lazy to work in any jail metaphors here - y’all can think them on your own). All these hits have pushed Casey towards a cliff.
One final freight car is jumping the rails. It’s full of about 15 million pennies. They’re heavier than ordinary pennies because they’re dirty. Lots o’ momentum here, enough to push Casey over the cliff.
Down below? A river. Is this the end? Naaah, this trainwreck has so much more to play out. There’s a barge that Casey might land on. Not any ordinary barge, though. This one’s engulfed in flames. Steering wheel’s broken. A few hundred yards downstream? A waterfall. Sharp pointy rocks below, piranha in heat swimming around. There’s also a plane with CashCall written on the side that hovering around. Seems the engine’s stalled and it’s starting to plummet, aimed right at our “hero”. It just goes on and on.
Come all you Haterz(tm) if you want to hear
A story ’bout a flipper with no fear,
Casey Serin was the investor’s name
“Twas in the Central Valley that he won his fame.
Casey Serin, he wanted passive income.
Casey Serin, chugging wheatgrass shots with glee.
Casey Serin, how can he be so dumb?
Thinking that no work will bring him money for free.