Categories Narrative

Headphones Are the Latest Office Accessory

I am always on the lookout for new trends in the Commercial Office market and potential side effects/tangents. You may recall in a previous narratives my ongoing discussion about “open plan” office space. Since I was one of eight founders of Lee & Associates Arizona in 1991, we have worked in this type of environment. We are very familiar with the pluses and minuses. An “open plan” can definitely provide a positive environment for collaboration and free flowing communication, but for those that don’t thrive in such an environment the below article shows how creative employees and employers are overcoming this obstacle with head phones. I use a headset with one ear piece, but in the past I have used one with two for noise reduction and focus. With the Beats sale to Apple, maybe there is market share here.

As usual I have highlighted the key points below.

I must admit, from time to time I keep my phone headset on to “close my door” when it’s time to grind.


P.S. A few months back we discussed the rebuilding of the World Trade Center buildings. The last article is an update for those interested. The market is slow and rents are being forced to drop at the One Trade Center.

What It Means to Wear Headphones at Work

Yahoo Tech

By: Rob Walker
May 14, 2014

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Nobody seems to agree just why Apple is buying Beats, as is rumored to be happening soon, to the tune of $3.2 billion. But given that Beats is primarily known for its line of conspicuously branded headphones, now seems a good time to consider why headphones have become so monumentally valuable.

Generally the rising interest in headphones is discussed as a side effect of the rise of smartphones, tablets, and MP3 players: We’re entertaining ourselves in public more frequently, from the kids enveloped in games in the back seat to the subway commuter lost in the new Black Keys album.

I think there’s another, less diversionary factor: Thanks to the rise of the so-called “open plan” office, an even less-private evolution of the familiar cubicle farm, headphones aren’t just a handy way to make a commute more tolerable. They’re necessary office equipment.

Headphones aren’t just the new hat – they’re the new walls.

The value of Crayola-splat styling
I reached out to a variety of open-plan-office denizens, from head honchos on down, to see how the evolution of headphone form and function is playing out in the workplace.

Turns out that at SoundCloud, the audio platform, headphones areliterally standard office equipment: Every employee gets a pair of Urbanears headphones in her new-hire onboarding kit. “They’re nice because they’re all different colors and also extremely visible,” explains Diana Kimball, who works in the firm’s Berlin headquarters, “so you can tell when someone is ‘head-down’ or ‘open to conversation,’ based on whether they have a Crayola splat on their heads.”

SoundClouders can swap these for Urbanears in-ear models, and many opt to use their own headphones or earbuds. (Kimball uses an in-ear Sony set.) “Headphones with mics in the cord are considered essential,” she adds, “because we spend so much time on Skype and Google Hangouts.”

RealNetworks’ Seattle headquarters used to be mostly offices, but in the fall the company moved into a space that’s almost entirely open plan.

“When I walk the halls now I see way more headphones, for obvious reasons,” says founder and Chairman Rob Glaser, the tech-audio pioneer. No single brand seems to dominate, but there are far more over-ear headphones than ear buds.

Still, he adds: “I think it’s more of a functional reality than a fashion statement; people want/need to isolate when they want to concentrate in an open-plan environment.”

An open office plan

Maybe so. But plenty of office workers seem to be aware of the big headphone brands, and what they signify — even if they’re a little shy about discussing the matter on the record. One employee in an open-office scenario told me he uses a Skullcandy set: “It felt young/skater-ish, which I’m decidedly not, but they were cheap at Radio Shack down the street.” He picked a model with black-on-black styling, making the logo as obscure as possible.

That’s not a fashion statement; it’s a plea for privacy.

Headphones are the new door
And what about Beats? The brand has made a fortune recognizing, exploiting, and accelerating the idea that what’s on the exterior of a set of headphones can mean as much to mainstream consumers as what’s flowing through the interior (and into your ears). But it wasn’t popular in the offices of my various informants.

That may be precisely because Beats, more than almost any of its rivals, has established such a powerful brand (by way of its many celebrity endorsements and aggressive marketing) that its meaning is just too specific. As one person I heard from put it, Beats are associated with high-school kids influenced by Lebron James and Dr. Dre, and with young Wall Streeters for whom it’s basically “just a conspicuous consumption thing.”

Actually, Beats’ domination of the high-end headphone market is even more stunning when you fully appreciate the degree to which audiophiles roundly dismiss its actual quality as a listening device. But this just speaks to the cleverness of founder Jimmy Iovine’s original insight: “Apple was selling $400 iPods with $1 earbuds,” as he has put it. Aside from dissing their quality, this suggests that as crucial as the white default earbuds were to the iPod’s rise, there was, eventually, something just plain unserious about them.

So while a typical office worker may not want to signal fashionability, there’s still more to office headphones than the pure function of blotting out distracting noise.

“The thing I love about headphones,” another open-plan denizen (and Skullcandy-wearer) told me via email, is that they are “a visual signifier that I AM WORKING AND THIS BETTER BE IMPORTANT IF YOU ARE GOING TO COME OVER HERE AND TALK TO ME. Like I imagine it might work if I had an office and could close the door.”

In fact, maybe that’s what distinguishes the perfect visual signal that workplace headphones can send: “I’m busy; I’m serious about what I’m listening to. These headphones aren’t just walls; they’re a door. And it’s closed.”


Office Rents Cut at One World Trade
The Tallest Tower at the World Trade Center Is 55% Leased

By: Eliot Brown
May 27, 2014

One World Trade Center_A
Slow leasing has led to rent cuts at One World Trade Center, pictured in September 2013. Associated Press

The owners of the tallest tower at the World Trade Center are cutting office rents just months before it opens because of slow leasing activity.

Only one private tenant has signed a lease at One World Trade Center in nearly three years: a one-floor deal with advertising firm Kids Creative that was signed last week. The 3.1-million-square-foot skyscraper, formerly named the Freedom Tower, is 55% leased.

The owner—a venture of developer Douglas Durst and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey—is cutting asking rents nearly 10% to $69 a square foot for larger tenants on the building’s middle floors, down from $75 a square foot, Mr. Durst said in an interview Friday.

“The market’s not there,” said Mr. Durst, whose Durst Organization bought a stake in the tower from the Port Authority in mid-2011. “When we started in 2011, everybody expected the economy to take off, and obviously that hasn’t happened.”

The move adds to the financial challenges for the 1,776-foot building that is set to open its doors by the end of the year. With a construction cost of $3.9 billion, it is set to be the most expensive office tower ever built and has little hope of proving to be a good financial investment in the short term.

To be sure, parts of the downtown office-leasing market have seen increased deal activity recently. Time Inc. last week said it would move from Midtown to take 700,000 square feet at Brookfield Place, the former World Financial Center. Bank of New York Mellon Corp., which considered One World Trade, is in negotiations for more than 400,000 square feet at Brookfield Place, according to people familiar with the matter.

But Mr. Durst said the other large deals downtown were in the $50s a square foot, making it difficult to compete. Downtown average rents sought by top-quality buildings were $53.87 in the first quarter, according to real-estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield Inc.

“We have a lot of people looking at the space, but because of the asking rent, we are not able to really put anything over the finish line,” Mr. Durst said.

The rent at One World Trade is being cut amid a debate over how much more office space should be developed at the 16-acre site.

Developer Larry Silverstein, who has built one tower on the 16-acre site and has the rights to build two more, wants to start construction on his second tower and has asked the Port Authority to modify a prior aid package and guarantee $1.2 billion in debt on the planned 2.5-million-square-foot 3 World Trade Center.

Despite support from the Port Authority’s staff, the measure hit resistance from multiple members of the agency’s board of directors wary of making more bets on real-estate development, particularly when leasing at the site thus far has been slow. Some real-estate executives, including Mr. Durst, also have criticized the modification.

The Port Authority board is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Wednesday. In recent weeks, agency officials have reworked the modification to increase potential payments to the agency.

It now is less risky for the Port Authority, according to Scott Rechler, the agency’s vice chairman who has pushed the deal.
But the commissioner who has been most critical of the plan, Kenneth Lipper, said he thinks it won’t have enough support to pass. “I believe it will be formally defeated,” he said.

One World Trade’s leasing troubles echo the early years of the original World Trade Center. With 10 million square feet of space, the Twin Towers struggled for years with slow leasing, renting significant chunks of the buildings to government agencies.

The rebuilding of the towers that were destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has been more gradual. Mr. Silverstein in 2006 built 7 World Trade Center, a 1.7 million-square-foot tower across the street from the main complex, which is now fully leased.

The next two buildings to start were One World Trade and Mr. Silverstein’s 4 World Trade, a 2.3 million-square-foot tower that opened last fall.

But leasing has been slow. One World Trade has one major private tenant, Condé Nast, which took about 1 million square feet in 2011. Meanwhile, 4 World Trade is 51% leased to two government agencies. Mr. Silverstein has been asking in the $70s and $80s a square foot, comparable to the rents at One World Trade, before the latest price cut.

Mr. Silverstein and other downtown boosters have said they believe rents and occupancies are likely to rise in coming years downtown. They point out that many tenants prefer modern, newly constructed towers, of which there are few in lower Manhattan, and they are willing to pay a premium to be there.

At 4 World Trade, Mr. Silverstein is in negotiations with advertising company MediaMath for more than 100,000 square feet at rents above $70 a square foot, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Silverstein also recently signed a 515,000-square-foot lease for 3 World Trade with advertising firm GroupM for an undisclosed rent. That deal isn’t big enough to enable him to secure private financing, which is why he wants to rework his aid package with the Port Authority.

Another possible obstacle for office leasing at the World Trade Center, particularly the towering One World Trade: security concerns. Port Authority officials have long worried the history of the terrorist attacks could damp demand.

But Mr. Durst said he doesn’t believe safety concerns are an issue. “We really have not seen that,” he said, calling it “the safest building in the U.S.”

Categories Narrative

This Is Not Your Ordinary Call Center Space

For years, US-based companies outsourced their call centers overseas to save money. In many cases, this created a backlash from customers because of poor language skills, limited knowledge of the product and an inability to get through to someone who could actually help solve your problem. We did a deal with an India based company called Tata a few years back where they brought over 100 customer service reps at a time to let them live in the US, learn the language and the slang. They would stay here for 12 to 15 months and then go home to work in the call centers.

That trend is changing now. US companies are bringing back their call centers, placing a higher priority on those workers and making the job a real opportunity. Below are a couple examples and some photos. You will not believe these spaces are this nice and in buildings this cool. I think the best is Zappo’s new HQ where the call center is located on the top floors of the building. Customer service reps are placed on a pedestal. I included a short article on Zappo’s obsession with customer service reps at the bottom. Consider how this adds tremendous value.


U.S. Call-Center Space Gets Makeover

PNC Buys and Renovates Pittsburgh Building for Phone Operation; Other Companies Also Upgrading


November 26, 2013

call center 2
Kyle Bliss handles a customer call at PNC’s new Pittsburgh call center. James R. Hagerty/The Wall Street Journal

PITTSBURGH—Call-center workers often toil in dreary offices, sometimes in dying strip malls or converted warehouses.

In the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, though, call-center employees of PNC Financial Services Group Inc. this month moved into luxurious space inside a six-story granite building that once housed Mellon National Bank and later served as a Lord & Taylor department store.

PNC Center 1 2

The newly renovated Classical building features the original marble columns, with ceilings as high as 32 feet and antique bronze chandeliers updated with LED lighting.

The new space is so bright and white that “it feels like we’re in the Apple Store,” said Shawn Buys, one of about 700 PNC employees working in the 90-year-old building across from Mellon Square Park.

PNC Center 2 2

PNC Center 4 2

Some other employers also are giving call-center workers more pleasant quarters.

At an eBay Inc. call center in Draper, Utah, the company has provided two basketball courts, indoor bicycle storage and a massage-therapy room, among other amenities.

ebay Office 2 2

Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer owned by Inc., houses call-center workers in its new downtown Las Vegas headquarters, where they get the same types of desks and chairs as executives and have access to a rooftop deck, said Rob Siefker, director of Zappos’ “customer loyalty team.”

Zappos Office 9 2

Upgrading call-center workspaces makes economic sense, said Matthew Dixon, an executive director at Corporate Executive Board Co., a research and advisory company based in Arlington, Va., that did a recent study of call centers. They tend to handle more complex customer questions and problems than they did years ago, Mr. Dixon said. Customers get basic information from websites, and that leaves the more complicated matters for the call centers.

Companies also are striving to avoid being “blasted on Facebook or Twitter ” for lousy service, Mr. Dixon said. As a result, they are making more efforts to recruit and retain high-quality call-center people. Those efforts sometimes include offering something more than “nondescript buildings in nondescript locations,” he said.

Despite the offshoring of some call centers, it is still a big business in the U.S. As of last year, about two million Americans worked as customer-service representatives, many of them in call centers, according to the Labor Department. That was up 6% from a decade before. About 68% of those workers are women.

“Companies are more likely to keep call-center operations in the U.S. today than they were 10 years ago,” said Jeff Lessard, a managing director at Cushman & Wakefield Inc. in New York. Workers have become more available amid a weak job market, and employers like the idea of having more control over their call centers, he said.

New call centers often are being created in small cities with plentiful labor, said Mark Seeley, a Phoenix-based senior managing director in CBRE Group Inc.’s labor analytics group. Because lots of employee parking is needed, empty supermarkets or other retail sites can be good candidates for conversion to call centers, he said.

The PNC workers used to occupy a warren of beige cubicles in leased space in the nearby U.S. Steel Tower. PNC figured it could house them less expensively inside the former Mellon building, which PNC acquired for about $3.8 million last year, while also providing a better working environment.

PNC considered suburban locations for the call center, said Gary Saulson, the banking company’s real estate chief. But Mr. Saulson didn’t believe PNC could have found a suitable location in the suburbs that would have been cheaper. Another consideration: Any suburban location would have been inconvenient for some of the current employees and might have prompted some to quit.

“There’s a huge cost to turnover,” Mr. Saulson noted.

After the Lord & Taylor store closed in 2004, the building stood empty for years. “Nobody could figure out what to do with it,” Mr. Saulson said. PNC decided it was a bargain, even though it needed heavy renovation.

The building’s history is on display. The reception desk is made from a slab of marble once used for writing Mellon Bank checks. Bronze gates that once stood outside the vault are hung on the wall. Other bits of the bank’s past, including velvet-covered railings that kept customers in line, are scattered around the building.

Lord & Taylor also has left traces, including a brown marble wall in one break area. Outside the basement cafeteria, Mr. Saulson told a visitor: “The floor you’re standing on was the Ralph Lauren shop.”

Photos of eBay Campus in Draper, Utah

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ebay Office 3

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ebay Office 1

Photos of Zappos Headquarters in Las Vegas, Nevada

Zappos Office 1 2

Zappos Office 8


Zappos Office 14

Zappos Office 4

Zappos Office 5

Zappos Office 6


Zappos Office 13

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Why the Best Customer Service is Unsexy and What You Can Learn From Zappos

By: Olivia Cole
January 9, 2014



We have entered an age of customer obsession. Businesses have begun to realize the value in focusing on providing excellent, efficient customer service and are exploring new tools and fancy options for serving their users’ needs. But a recent article by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is drawing some attention for its endorsement of what Hsieh calls “unsexy” customer service. Zappos is known everywhere for its stellar customer service, so what does Hsieh credit with Zappos’ success? The telephone.

“Our belief,” Hsieh says, “is that as unsexy and low-tech as it may sound, the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there. You have the customer’s undivided attention for five or 10 minutes, and if you get the call right, he or she remembers the experience for a very long time and tells friends about it.”

That belief has gotten Zappos ranked in the top 10 for best customer service for several years in a row. So what is Zappos doing right and how can you do it too?

They Put Phone Numbers on Every Page

“We put our phone number at the top of every single page of our website because we actually want to talk to our customers,” says Hsieh.

Zappos has the right idea. When you place a phone number on each page of your website, not only do you provide an easy way for your users to reach out to you with any problems they encounter, you get a host of other benefits. For example, with unique trackable phone numbers on your website, you have the ability to have that data passed into your CRM so that you know exactly what page the caller was viewing when they picked up the phone (as well as the marketing source – like Google search ads or email marketing – that brought them there). This makes it easier for your brilliant call center staff to address the questions your callers have: when they know what the caller was looking at, they’re one step ahead of the call. Whisper messages—a “whispered” audio message to the call center rep that only they hear before the call that provides information about the customer’s situation—are also very helpful for businesses focused on excellent customer service: the more information you have to solve their problem, the better and more efficient the interaction will be.

They Use the Phone as A Branding Device

“Usually when marketing departments do their ROI calculations,” says Hsieh, “they assume that the lifetime value of a customer is fixed. We view it as something that can grow if we create positive emotional associations with our brand.”

Zappos nails it when it comes to the power of the telephone in creating a strong relationship between customers and your brand. The phone (however unsexy) represents something personal that has been lost in an age of impersonal communications. It can be a tool with which to create a relationship built on trust and reliability. A business relationship is all rainbows and butterflies until the customer needs to contact you and can’t get beyond a contact form on a website. They want to talk. Make it possible. It will mean better things for your branding than you can possibly imagine.

They Staff Their Call Centers With Their Own People

“We didn’t trust that a third party would care about our customers as much as we did,” says Hsieh. “So we agreed that Zappos employees should staff the call center.”

Ultimately the decision to staff their call centers with their own employees as opposed to a third party meant that the people taking their customers’ calls were dedicated to living up to the Zappos standard. This can mean the difference between lackluster customer service and life-long customers. The increasing sophistication of the virtual call center makes it even easier for businesses to provide Zappos-level customer service, even if they can’t afford the kind of space Zappos has on the West Coast. Customer service reps can work from home more easily than ever before with the capabilities offered by a virtual call center. Employees can take calls from anywhere on any phone, so your customers will always find someone to take their question.

We’re with Zappos on this one. The phone might be “unsexy,” but when it comes to customer service, reliability and a personal touch ranks higher than sexiness.

Categories Narrative

22 Gorgeous Startup Offices You Wish You Worked In

We all have this picture of a startup office, at least I do – Steve Jobs, working out of his parents’ garage. Mark Cuban, making his first billion dollars by starting a company in his dorm room. We now have commercials where they wax nostalgic about startups (Here is a Dell commercial in case you have not seen it:

Oh how times have changed….for some. Below is a list of 22 startups with photos. These are really cool, and way cooler than the space we occupied when we started Lee in 1991. Back then, the eight founders took over Bob Gosnell’s conference room. Fast forward almost 25 years and we are still not occupying space like you can see below.

My favorites?
–Etsy’s space
–Google (Not quite a startup is it, but this is their Dublin space)
–Dropbox (Ok, in January they raised $450 million with an almost $10 billion valuation)
–Homeaway’s patio

Scroll down to see for yourself.


22 Gorgeous Startup Offices You Wish You Worked In
It is totally acceptable to judge a company by its insanely beautiful office.

By: Peggy Wang
November 21, 2013

1. 37signals’ Downtown Chicago Office



The 37signals office looks like a huge, modern hotel lobby with its sharp, clean lines.
[source: Quora]

2. Mojang in Stockholm, Sweden

Per Kristiansen, Niklas Storbjörk /

Per Kristiansen, Niklas Storbjörk /

Mojang, the company that makes Minecraft, has an office that is decidedly un-dorky.
[source: Quora]

3. Etsy’s New York Offices

Flickr: superamit

Flickr: superamit



The Etsy Dumbo office is like a microcosm of itself — it’s filled to the brim with brightly colored tchotchkes and evokes a cozy living room feel.



Etsy’s Hudson office has more room to breathe, with a very minimalist appeal. It features an apothecary of natural remedies for the staff to use, a salvaged pool table, and hula hoops.

4. Hub in Madrid, Spain

Daniel Torrelló /

Daniel Torrelló /

Daniel Torrelló /

Daniel Torrelló /

According to Office Snapshots, “The Hub is an interesting combination of incubator, coworking space, and social entrepreneur hangout.”
[source: Quora]

5. Square in San Francisco, California



Jack Dorsey has good taste in wallpaper.



6. Evernote in Redwood City, California





Chalkboard paint + vertical air plant garden + Eames = Pinterest dream come true.

7. in London, England




26 makes these cute little business cards that you can order online with the utmost of ease. They’ve incorporated every color of the rainbow into their office.

8. Dropbox’s San Francisco Office

Bruce Damonte /

Bruce Damonte /

Bruce Damonte /

Bruce Damonte /

Bruce Damonte /

Bruce Damonte /

The conference room is filled with Legos and the conference rooms have funny names. In addition to being an elegant and modern office space, they’ve managed to incorporate a lot of character.

9. Airbnb’s Listing-Inspired Offices in San Francisco

Helynn Ospina, Robert Hatch, and Chad Riley

Helynn Ospina, Robert Hatch, and Chad Riley

Helynn Ospina, Robert Hatch, and Chad Riley

Helynn Ospina, Robert Hatch, and Chad Riley

Helynn Ospina, Robert Hatch, and Chad Riley

Full of quirky, lived-in details, it’s evident that whoever decorated the space did a really good job of raiding the thrift store.
[source: Quora]

10. CouchSurfing in San Francisco, California

Flickr: nomadjim

Flickr: nomadjim

[source: Quora]



Swings are scientifically proven to enhance productivity.

11. Quid in San Francisco, California




It’s like fancy downtown art gallery meets stately uptown library.
[source: Quora]

12. Pionen in Stockholm, Sweden





Pionen holds a data center in an old nuclear bunker, situated underneath the bedrock of Stockholm, and is locked away from civilization by a 16-inch thick door. It’s a metaphor for the how secure the data is kept.

13. Path’s SF Office





Two words: THAT VIEW.

14. LivePerson’s NYC Office





You would feel happy swimming in all those colors everyday.

15. Google’s Dublin Campus

Peter Würmli /

Peter Würmli /

Peter Würmli /

Peter Würmli /

All of Google’s offices are pretty amazing (see also Google Zurich) but the Dublin office is possibly the best designed.

16. Quirky’s NYC Office





The exposed brick, the bike rack, the DINER marquee — this is basically Little Williamsburg.

17. YMedia in San Francisco





This office takes the “accent wall” to a whole new level.

18. Draugiem in Riga, Latvia



Twitter: @DraugiemGroup



Draugiem is a social networking site that surpasses Facebook in usage in Latvia. Its office features tons of lush, beautiful greenery.

19. Migo in Manila, Philippines

Utwentysix Architecture Studio

Utwentysix Architecture Studio

Utwentysix Architecture Studio


20. Zazzle in Redwood City, California


Not having Zazzle Poetry emblazoned across the walls seems like a missed opportunity, but this office is so fabulous, I can perhaps forgive.

21. Fueled Collective in NYC





It isn’t technically a startup, but rather a collective office space. It houses quite a few companies, like Elevatr and Coinsetter. Find out more about renting office space here.

22. Homeaway’s Office in Austin, Texas





Since the site is all about vacations, the office is designed to MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU ARE ON A VACATION. Which is just an absolutely beautiful contradiction.

Categories Narrative

Tiniest Homes on Earth

I have sent you $100 million homes and condos that are now reaching that same level. I sent the top ten land owners including Ted Turner who once again was the top land owner in America with over 2,000,000 acres. Today, you get to see the world’s smallest homes. How small? Less than 500 square feet. One of these is so cool, I dug up a whole article with a number of photos at the bottom. Be sure to scroll down to see Chris and Malissa Tack’s home in Seattle. Amazing.

This is a trend you will continue to see in major metropolitan areas as prices increase. In Phoenix, the Shemer Art Center holds an annual Micro dwelling competition. Here is the link to see some of the cool designs from the competition this year:


The 24 Tiniest Homes on Earth

Business Insider

By: Melissa Stanger
January 10, 2014

Think your place is small?

These small spaces will put your 500-square-foot studio to shame. Small spaces are trending in real estate these days, and these folks are grabbing the bull by the horns.

Here are 24 of the smallest homes we could find, from all over the world. They’re on roofs, on wheels, and in backyards.

They may make you feel claustrophobic, but their owners have found them to be quite livable.

New York City will get 370-square-foot micro apartments.
Tiniest Homes 1
NYC Mayor’s Office/Flickr
Size: 250 to 370 sq. ft.
Location: New York, NY

Last January, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg finally revealed the design of the studio apartments that will be no more than 370 square feet.

These apartments would be an affordable housing solution for young professionals and will be able hold a kitchen, bathroom, living area, and sleeping area.

The affordability is debatable, however, as the micro apartments will still cost between $940 and $1,700 a month to rent.

This 330-square-foot apartment in Hong Kong transforms into 24 different room combinations.
Tiniest Homes 2
JellyWoo1014 via YouTube
Size: 330 sq. ft.
Location: Hong Kong, HK

Gary Chang, an architect in Hong Kong, turned his family’s tiny 330-square-foot tenement apartment into a sleek and efficient living space with 24 different room combinations, including bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and even a guest bedroom area.

So, how does he do it? Chang installed a number of sliding panels which he can move around the space to reveal hidden areas and storage. It’s a system he calls the “Domestic Transformer.”

San Jose is also getting its own 300-square-foot micro apartments.
Tiniest Homes 3
screenshot via Studio E Architects blog
Size: 300 sq. ft.
Location: San Jose, Calif.

In August 2012, the San Jose Department of Housing built a development of 42 affordable single-room-occupancy apartments, each one 300 square feet or less. Designed by Studio E Architects, each unit measures about two parking spaces and includes a full kitchen, a bathroom, and a combined living/sleeping area.

There is a long wait list for one of these studios, but at a price of $650 a month, the wait may well be worth it.

People like Peter Miller have already made home in places smaller than 300 square feet in Seattle.
Tiniest Homes 4
Size: < 300 sq. ft.
Location: Seattle, Wash.

Peter Miller lives in Seattle’s Footprint Wallingford, a community of 40 micro-apartments, in one of Seattle’s most desired hotspots. In less than 300 square feet he has a bed, lofted above the living area; a bookshelf and desk for working; and a wardrobe. While he has his own bathroom, he shares a kitchen with the other building residents.

It’s not ideal, but at $950 a month in a neighborhood where the median rent is $2,429, Miller gets the luxury of location and month-to-month commitment, should he decide to opt for a bigger space in the near future.

Twelve Cubed is a company that makes 10- and 12-foot cubed housing units.
Tiniest Homes 5
james stuart via YouTube
Size: 288 sq. ft.
Location: Vancouver, B.C.

When James Stuart learned of a homeless woman who died of a fire in her cardboard shelter on the streets of Vancouver, he decided to found Twelve Cubed, a company that designs and manufactures 10x10x10-foot and 12x12x12-foot homes.

Each home, which is up to 288 square feet when you consider that it is two levels, has a bed, a living area, desk area, kitchen, and bathroom. It can even come equipped with a washer, dryer and a dishwasher. Stuart himself lived in one of these units for eight months to prove that it can be done, and is hoping cities will be interested in buying them as housing options.

This 258-square-foot home in Barcelona was once an old pigeon loft.
Tiniest Homes 6
kirstendirksen via YouTube
Size: 258 sq. ft.
Location: Barcelona, Spain

When photographer Christian Schallert moved to Barcelona in 2003, he went searching for the perfect, affordable home. He found it in an old pigeon loft on top of a building, about 100 steps up.

When Schallert arrived, the 258-square-foot space was dirty and had not been maintained, but he designed and remodeled it into a warm, open, “Lego-style” apartment. The walls slide to reveal different room set ups. Moving panels hide his kitchen, closet, bathroom, dining room and living room, and the bed is stored under the terrace balcony that overlooks the city of Barcelona.

San Francisco is getting tiny 220-square-foot micro apartments meant for two people.
Tiniest Homes 7
Panoramic Interests
Size: 220 sq. ft.
Location: San Francisco, Calif.

In November 2012, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approved plans for 220-square-foot apartments, but only on the condition that they cannot be occupied by more than two people.

375 units of these apartments will be built to help manage the affordable housing crisis in San Francisco, where the average studio currently rents for $2,000 a month. The new micro-apartments would rent for $1,200 to $1,500 a month, which is considerably cheaper, but still surprising for the size of the apartment.

A Yale student built a 144-square-foot environmentally-friendly home instead of living in traditional student housing.
Tiniest Homes 8
Michael Janzen via YouTube
Size: 144 sq. ft.
Location: New Haven, Conn.

When grad student Elizabeth Turnbull was accepted into Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, she built her own 144-square-foot tiny house instead of opting for university housing.

During the building process, Turnbull made sure to keep in mind the environmental impact her home would have and to minimize any potentially harmful effects by using all FSC-certified wood, non-toxic paints and finishes, and recycled windows.

This 140-square-foot home is beautifully designed.
Tiniest Homes 9
Chris and Malissa Tack
Size: 140 sq. ft.
Location: Seattle, Wash.

Chris and Malissa Tack built their 140-square-foot home just outside of Seattle. They had both been working in the tech industry and decided to leave their complicated, material lives behind and make a clean break, starting with a smaller, simpler home.

The home has cut their living cost substantially, and they predict the home will be paid in full in just two or three years. Chris Tack, who now works as a photographer, has taken many beautiful photos of the home, which has a kitchen, living and dining area, bathroom, storage area, and sleeping loft.

A Colorado couple prefers to live in their 124-square-foot mobile in the middle of nowhere.
Tiniest Homes 10jpg
Screenshot, TINY: A Story About Living Small
Size: 124 sq. ft.
Location: Colorado

Colorado couple Christopher Smith and Merete Mueller began building their home back in 2011 and documented the journey in a new movie called “TINY: A Story About Living Small.”

The house has a small galley kitchen, a bathroom, and a sleeping loft nestled between the floor and the 11-foot-high ceilings. For storage, the couple makes use of a small closet and two built-in bookshelves, and works from a built-in desk a reclaimed hardwood table.

This 112-square-foot mobile house traveled across 9,000 miles.
Tiniest Homes 11
OutdoorResearch via YouTube
Size: 112 sq. ft.
Location: Mobile around the U.S. and Canada

Zach Griffin and four friends decided to take an epic, cross-continental ski trip, and built a 112-square-foot mobile pod house where they lived for the six week, 9,000 mile-long trip.

The tiny house has a “drawbridge” bunk bed that comes down from the two-person sleeper loft, and a pull-out sofa bed. The skiers relied on the kindness of hostels and strangers for bathrooms, as the pod has none. It does, however, have electricity, a generator, and a toaster oven and propane stove as their kitchen.

They even made a movie about their trip in their tiny, temporary home.

This 100-square-foot environmentally-friendly house will actually earn you money.
Tiniest Homes 12
thehypnoguy1 via YouTube
Size: 100 sq. ft.
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland

This home is called the “Eco-cube.” At 10 feet cubed, it’s still sizeable enough to hold a small living room, dining area, kitchen, washer and dryer, a closet, full shower, toilet, and full-sized bed.

It was designed by Dr. Mike Page of the University of Hertfordshire and founder of the Cube Project, an initiative created to prove that a person could “live a comfortable, modern existence with a minimum impact on the environment.” With solar panels, the Eco-cube can earn you $1,600 a year through the UK’s feed-in tariff.

This Manhattan studio measures just 90 square feet.
Tiniest Homes 13
kirstendirksen via YouTube
Size: 90 sq. ft.
Location: New York, NY

Felice Cohen pays just over $700 for her 90-square-foot micro studio in Manhattan, where a studio could typically rent for an average of $2,569 per month.

Cohen, who is a writer and professional organizer, has made efficient use of the space with high, narrow storage units and a lofted bed that is just 23 inches down from the ceiling. The studio has no true kitchen, but Cohen has a toaster oven and mini fridge, which she restocks a couple of times a week.

The bathroom, surprisingly, is a decent size.

This 89-square-foot home has an “entertainment area,” a kitchen, and even a fireplace.
Tiniest Homes 14
screenshot via YouTube/Fair Companies
Size: 89 sq. ft.
Location: Sebastopol, Calif.

Jay Shafer is the founder of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, which constructs small homes ranging from 65 to 874 square feet.

Shafer’s own tiny house, at 89 square feet, has an “entertainment area,” a kitchen with plumbing, a working fireplace, shower and toilet, lofted bed, and shelves on almost every wall.

This 84-square-foot home cost just $10,000 to build, and even less to maintain.
Tiniest Homes 15
radley87 via YouTube
Size: 84 sq. ft.
Location: Olympia, Wash.

Dee Williams returned from an eye-opening trip to Guatemala and decided to downsize her home from 1,500 square feet to just 84 square feet. She moved out of her big house, built a small one from scratch, and parked it in her friend’s backyard.

This home, which she calls “The Little House,” cost about $10,000 to build, and even less to maintain. With a propane tank for heat and solar panels for electricity, Williams pays very little to live there.

This 80-square-foot home was listed for an incredible $145,000.
Tiniest Homes 16
via CNN Money
Size: 80 sq. ft.
Location: London, England, UK

The 8-by-10-foot London apartment is in a prime location right near the famous Harrod’s department store on Brompton Road.

The location may account for the steep price: The flat was originally on sale for $145,000, but more than a dozen offers were made on the tiny pad. One person was even willing to pay $280,000, according to CNN Money.

Famed architect Renzo Piano jumped into the tiny homes business with these 79-square-foot German models.
Tiniest Homes 17
Ariel Huber for Vitra
Size: About 79 sq. ft.
Location: Weil am Rhein, Germany

Best known for Manhattan’s New York Times Building, London’s The Shard, and the Paris’ Pompidou Museum, now Piano is turning his attention to the tiny details — specifically, to “Diogene,” a tiny house prototype built for German furniture company Vitra.

The house, constructed of wood and aluminum paneling, collects, cleans, and reuses water; it also supplies its own power, and features photovoltaic cells and solar modules, a rainwater tank, a biological toilet, and natural ventilation.

The owner of this 75-square-foot house in Rome rents the space to friends and tourists.
Tiniest Homes 18
Photo by Matteo Rossi
Size: 75 sq. ft.
Location: Rome, Italy

Architect and designer Marco Pierazzi saw the potential in an abandoned, one-room alleyway house just steps from Roman landmarks like the Pantheon and Saint Peter’s Square. He bought it, fixed it up, and lived there with his wife until their child was born.

While it’s not commercially available, Pierazzi now rents what he calls the “smallest house in Italy,” making it a convenient place to stay on a Roman holiday. All the comforts of home, the little house has a full kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, a small lofted sofa bed, and an LED TV with Hi-Fi sound system.

This 60-square-foot home is the smallest house in the UK.
Tiniest Homes 19
mel vyn via YouTube
Size: 60 sq. ft.
Location: Conwy, Wales, UK

Also known as the Quay House, this tiny red home, which measures just 10 feet by 6 feet, is known as the smallest house in the U.K., and has actually become a tourist attraction in Conwy, Wales.

The home has been occupied by various people since the 16th century, including a 6-foot-3-inch fisherman. The house has room for a stove, water tap, bed, and bedside storage.

China is building 50-square-foot apartments which are meant for two people.
Tiniest Homes 20
screenshot via New York Daily News
Size: 50 sq. ft.
Location: Wuhan, China

In the city of Wuhan, China, where housing is getting more and more difficult to come by, the city is building 50-square-foot “capsule” apartments which are meant to be shared by two people.

One six-story building in China’s Hubei Province has been divided into 55 separate capsules, each of which functions simultaneously as a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen. The apartments primarily house young adults recently out of college who are un- or underemployed.

This 5-foot-wide home in Poland is possibly the skinniest apartment in the world.
Tiniest Homes 21
Photographed by Bartek Warzecha
Size: 46 sq. ft.
Location: Warsaw, Poland

This 46-square-foot apartment in Warsaw, Poland, is just five feet wide, possibly making it the skinniest apartment in the world.

Polish architect Jakub Szczesny sandwiched the tiny home, called “Keret House,” in an alley between two other buildings. With no windows, a microscopic fridge, and a shower that aims almost directly over the toilet, this place is as small as they come. The kitchen table has room for two chairs, and the fridge has room for just two sodas.

This small home in China is built on top of a tricycle.
Tiniest Homes 22
Courtesy of the People’s Architecture Office
Size: About 33 sq. ft. when folded
Location: Beijing, China

Beijing’s People’s Architecture Office and People’s Industrial Design Office designed and built a polypropylene mobile home so small that it can be folded up, accordion-style, and carted around on the back of a tricycle.

The expandable home can attach to others for more space, or to portable gardens to give the appearance of a “yard.” Facilities in the house include a sink, stove, bathtub, and water tank. All the furniture is convertible: The bed becomes a dining table, the countertop becomes a bench for seating, and it can all fold up into the front wall.

This 15-square-foot bike camper home was designed to be a residence for the Burning Man Festival.
Tiniest Homes 23
Paul Elkins via YouTube
Size: About 15 sq. ft.
Location: Black Rock Desert, Nev.

Designer Paul Elkins needed a convenient and eco-friendly way to get around during the Burning Man Festival, so he designed a wind turbine-powered bicycle camper that functions as a bedroom, living room, and kitchen. It’s even equipped with a solar-powered oven.

As for the bathroom, you’ll have to resort to the great outdoors for that.

This 11-square-foot home in Berlin is dubbed the “world’s smallest house.”
Tiniest Homes 24
CNN via YouTube
Size: 11 sq. ft.
Location: Berlin, Germany

Architect Van Bo Le-Mentzal built a one-square-meter (11-square-foot) house which is light enough to pull on its wheels, and provides just enough room to sit or lie down and sleep (but only when tilted on its side).

Le-Mentzal says he designed the structure not as a way to address homelessness or create a new kind of emergency shelter, but as a thought experiment to make people think about the way they define the concept of “home.”

However, that hasn’t stopped governments and private citizens all over the world from contacting him about the plans.


Chris And Malissa Tack’s Tiny Home Transformed This High-Tech Couple Into Simple-Living Converts

Huff Post Home

By: Michelle Manetti
January 7, 2013

Although living tiny is a unique way of life, there is a wide variety of people who choose to do it. And surprisingly, in this community, you can find some unlikely converts, such as Chris and Malissa Tack. For this couple, simply hearing about the movement from tiny home enthusiasts encouraged them to trade in their busy, technologically advanced lifestyles to try out something new.

Before the husband and wife built their very own 140-square-foot tiny home near Seattle, Washington, both worked in high-tech fields. He was a “lead creative” for Apple, Inc. and she a 3-D artist with a focus on animation. And although their careers are still technologically focused, they decided to ditch this high-tech mindset in their personal lives when he learned about tiny homes from a customer at his store and shared the idea with his wife. “I barely had walked in the door when her excitement came bursting out,” he said.

She then started to create mockup blueprints of possible living spaces. They decided they would begin the process once they had money, so the two moved forward with the plans by taking out loans and using their vehicles as collateral. But getting the means to fund their dream wasn’t the hardest part. Like many tiny home dwellers, the Tacks were determine to build their own abode by hand but had minimal combined construction experience. So they took to the internet to read blog posts from tiny home owners and watched YouTube videos to learn specific processes such as installing windows.

Six months later they were reaping the benefits of their new home, especially after Tack lost his job just seven months later. Since small living is relatively inexpensive, their overhead costs were low and the home will actually be paid in-full in just two or three years. “Without the substantially lower cost of living, we would be struggling financially,” Chris Tack said.

The couple has even become more polite to each other since living small. “We have definitely learned the importance of respecting space; for instance saying ‘excuse me’ when passing each other in the kitchen,” he said. The positive experience has made them open to living small “indefinitely.” And in true tiny home owner fashion, they look forward to spreading the word about this style of living. “If you think differently and embrace the non-traditional, you can come up with some pretty amazing game changing possibilities,” he said.

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Categories Narrative

Week 3–The Changing Office Market…Into Condos??

I have bemoaned this anemic job recovery to no end. Without jobs, office space is difficult to lease. One outcome of this slow recovery is that owners and developers are getting creative with their buildings. Or, more likely, the new owners who bought the building from the bank that reposed the project are now redeveloping them. Over half of the space being removed from the office market is being returned as a condo or apartment.

There are two ways this is happening. I have previously sent out an email showing the top six or seven office sites in Phoenix that have been sold to apartment developers and are now being built. These projects took over 3,000,000 potential square feet of office permanently off the market. In Phoenix, we have had just a few over the past decade. The most notable is 3033 N. Central.

In big cities like San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia, developers are also taking old office buildings and converting them to cool apartments or condos.

Before we started the Lee & Associates Arizona office in 1991, I began my brokerage career at Grubb & Ellis. One of the most creative brokers I ever worked with was Brian Day O’Connor. One of the deals he spent a lot of time on was selling the Valley Annex Building at Central and Monroe. That was over 25 years ago. Fast forward 25 years, a number of owners, a couple bankruptcies and you have the building in the exact same condition it was when Brian was selling it. At the bottom, I have included an article on the latest announcement of guess what? You got it—almost. A developer is buying and going to convert the building into a hotel. I think the time is finally right–For this project. For conversion development, there is no wrong or right, rather project by project careful analysis is necessary.


P.S. My favorite North American city (outside metro Phoenix) is Vancouver. One reader suggested the pricing in that market has gone crazy with mainland Chinese buyers. Now only second to Hong Kong pricing. At the bottom, there is a great article on what is happening in that market.

Developers Increasingly Find It Can Pay To Convert Office Buildings Into Apartments and Condos
More than Half of Office Space Removed from Inventory Returns To the Market as Residential


By: Randyl Drummer
October 29, 2013

Office Buildings to Condos

Analysis presented at CoStar’s recent Third-Quarter 2013 Office Outlook and Forecast found that developers added 39 million square feet of new office space over the last four quarters. However, the net impact was muted as another 22 million square feet of office space was removed from the market, either demolished or converted into other uses, with more than half of that former office space being converted to residential uses such as apartments and condominiums.

“Clearly, we see a shift in how real estate is being used and what developers are building,” said Walter Page, director of office research for CoStar. “So far, over half of the office recovery has been driven by removals of space. We’re still at a very low level of [net] completions, due mostly to demolitions.”

Outdated office buildings nearing the end of their usable lifecycles have long been subject to the wrecking ball in favor of other uses such as upscale condos and apartments.

In the current cycle, however, developers are not just looking to demolish or convert lower-quality office buildings. They’re also repositioning higher quality office properties to meet growing demand for urban residential space, particularly in transit-oriented markets such as New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

The trend has been especially prevalent in Manhattan where planned conversions are a key component in some of the largest office transactions of recent years, including 650 Madison Avenue, which sold for $1.3 billion, or about $2,200 per square foot, and 550 Madison Ave., which Sony Corp. sold for $1.1 billion to an investment group headed by developer Joseph Chetrit that is exploring a conversion into luxury condos, a hotel and upscale retail space.

Abundant capital is available for office-to-residential conversions in submarkets where existing office buildings still suffer from vacancy overhang, noted James Murphy, executive managing director in Colliers International’s Investment Services Group. Residential condos in the same areas can command investment sale prices of up to $5,000 per square foot, far exceeding the going rate for even high-quality office buildings.

“In Midtown, you’re seeing some of these [4 and 5 Star] buildings in a ring around Central Park being converted [in condos] and going for sky-high pricing, targeted at the sometimes-New York foreign crowd,” Murphy said.

The majority of the office buildings being taken off line are older 1 or and 2 Star quality buildings that are no longer competitive, said Aaron Jodka, manager of U.S. research for CoStar forecasting and analytics company Property and Portfolio Research (PPR).

“In many cases, the better use is not as an office building, and that’s really weighing on the demand side of the market,” Jodka said, noting that opportunities to reposition and convert obsolescent office properties to housing and other products make this “a great time to be a value-add office investor.”

The office-residential conversion trend has also been a major source of transaction activity in Baltimore, Chicago, San Francisco, and especially, Philadelphia and Northern New Jersey.

Northern New Jersey’s overall office vacancy rate has continued to inch down this year, fueled by an uptick in demand for vacant suburban office buildings for residential conversions and other redevelopment opportunities.

“Vacant buildings considered functionally obsolete by today’s office users are likely to remain on the radar screen for potential medical, mixed-use, multi-family or assisted living conversions,” said Daniel J. Loughlin, managing director and Jones Lang LaSalle’s office brokerage lead in New Jersey.

In many submarkets of Baltimore, landlords continue to struggle with chronic vacancy that has led to an increasing number of obsolete office buildings, which are now being considered for conversion to apartments, noted according Patrick Latimer, JLL senior research analyst.

In Baltimore City, the conversions will change the CBD landscape by helping offset the vacancy holes left by large tenants, such as Miles & Stockbridge, who over the past several years shifted from second- and third-generation space along Baltimore and Charles Street to newly-renovated Five Star product along Pratt Street. Over 800,000 square feet of office space has been removed from inventory in the Baltimore CBD for residential conversions in the last year.

Downtown Baltimore, however, may see the largest changes in 2013 as planned residential conversions could reduce vacancy by over 2% and spark the transformation of the traditional office oriented CBD to a mixed-use environment. The success of such projects as 10 Light Street, where Metropolitan is turning a 435,000-square-foot office building into 445 apartment units, may serve as a barometer for the viability of conversions for downtown office landlords, Latimer said.


Downtown Phoenix Art-Deco High-Rise Will Get $40 Million Makeover

ENR Southwest
By: John Guzzon
February 13, 2014

The 13-story Art Deco Professional Building at Central Avenue and Monroe Street in the heart of downtown Phoenix has been sold to CSM Corporation and will be converted into a premium select-service hotel.

Phx Art-Deco High Rise
Image courtesy CSM Corporation
Rendering of the Professional Building at Central Avenue and Monroe Street in downtown Phoenix

The building originally opened in 1932, housing the offices for Valley Bank and Trust and the Maricopa County Medical Society above. It is traditional Art Deco style with strong vertical lines, a central tower with setback wings and windows, and decorative grills above the main entrance. at Monroe Street and Central Avenue. The building was immortalized in Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic 1960 film, Psycho. In 1993, the Professional Building was included on the National Register of Historic Places and was vacated in 2000.

An earlier planned restoration failed with the bankruptcy of the project’s primary lender, Mortgages Ltd. It was due for completion in 2008.

The CSM restoration project is currently budgeted at $40 million, and is planned to include renovation of the exterior, installation of new insulated windows, new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, and full renovation of the former bank lobby. It will include a lobby bar and coffee shop. The facility will comprise 165 guest rooms on 12 floors, 5,000 square feet of meeting space, a 1,300-square-foot fitness center, a business center, a rooftop terrace, and parking. The plan also includes about 8,000 square feet of retail space along Central.

Completion of the project is scheduled to be completed in time for the National Football League’s 2015 Super Bowl.

The 13-story Art Deco structure opened in 1932, housing the offices for Valley Bank and Trust on the three lower levels, and the Maricopa County Medical Society above. Its classic Art Deco style is reminiscent of the period with its strong vertical lines, central tower with setback wings and windows, and decorative grills above the main entrance at Monroe Street and Central Avenue.

According to CSM, the company is currently in negotiations with potential tenants and is exploring partnership possibilities, including branding options such as Hilton and Marriott. CSM expects the opening of the hotel to add 105 jobs to the downtown Phoenix marketplace, and its construction is expected to create 106 jobs. In additional to the $40 million project price tag, the overall economic and fiscal impact to Phoenix is estimated at $18 million, according to a study by Elliott Pollack.

CSM’s hospitality management, ownership, and development division owns and operates 39 hotels throughout the United States.

“Our company has a particular love for bringing landmark properties back to life, transforming them into hotel space the public can enjoy, and providing a future of commercial viability,” Bill Upshaw, president of CSM Lodging, said in a press statement. “CSM Lodging feels this property is ideally situated to be converted to a premium select service property, which is currently missing from the downtown market.”

Vancouver’s Skyrocketing Housing Prices: Are Mainland Chinese Investors To Blame?

Int'l Business Times

December 17, 2013


Vancouver skyline

Vancouver 2 2

Vancouver, Canada Reuters

Vancouver, the gleaming city in British Columbia in far western Canada, boasts the highest real estate prices in North America, and second-highest in the world (after only Hong Kong), according to a study by Demographia International Housing Survey, a housing pricing service.

For example, the average house in the wealthy West Side district of Vancouver clocks in at C$2.1 million (US$2 million), second only to Hong Kong. Over the past five years, the average price of detached properties on the West Side has soared by 45.3 percent, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. On the city’s less affluent East Side, the average price for a home is still a hefty C$850,000, having surged by 35.2 percent over the past half-decade. In Vancouver’s suburbs, including such satellite towns as Burnaby and Richmond, prices of single-family detached homes have jumped by 24.4 percent to C$922,600 over the past five years.

Much of the blame (or credit, depending upon one’s perspective) for Vancouver’s skyrocketing housing costs has been directed at deep-pocketed immigrants from mainland China who have poured into British Columbia in recent years, buying up luxury properties en masse. Joy Mo, 42, a Chinese-born Vancouver-area resident for 11 years, is one who blames wealthy investors from mainland China, shunting off prospective buyers like herself. “I’m quite disappointed,” she told the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong. “This is a place for all of us, and if you drive all the local buyers out of the market, what is the community going to be?” Mo and her husband are renting a home in the suburb of Port Moody, about 20 miles east of Vancouver, after having sold their home in 2008 (just before the huge spike in local property prices). Now, they find it impossible to afford a home in Vancouver proper again.

But she won’t blame all Chinese immigrants for Vancouver’s soaring housing costs. “Most immigrants who came here before 2008 or 2007 were mostly independent immigrants who came here with certain technical backgrounds,” she said. “They tried to find a job, settle themselves here. But after that, all of a sudden, there are a whole bunch of investor-category immigrants. Those are the ones that have a lot of money. They are generally not working and they don’t really care about finding a job because they have a business back in China.”

Indeed, literally tens of thousands of millionaire “investor-class” migrants from China have entered Canada simply by loaning C$800,000 (US$750,000) apiece in cash to the local provincial government – interest-free for five years. (That federal program ceased in 2010, according to the Globe and Mail, due to criticism and a huge backlog of applicants). Over the past eight years, almost two-thirds of the nearly 37,000 “investor-class” migrants who settled in British Columbia originated in mainland China. (Adding migrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan, that proportion climbs to 81 percent).

Mo said she was shocked by the attitude of Chinese in Vancouver who thought real estate prices in the area – where individual homes can cost as much as $4 million or much more — were “quite cheap.” “I just gasped,” she stated. “These numbers are just nothing to them, and I don’t understand why they don’t pay income tax and only pay the same property tax as everybody else. I don’t think it’s right. Our politicians overlooked this or don’t think that it’s a big deal… There’s a loophole here.” Mo said that when she and her husband applied to purchase a home in Vancouver, they were outbid by a Chinese investor.

To alleviate the problem, Mo suggested that foreign home-buyers in Vancouver should be subject to higher property taxes. The 15 percent levy that Hong Kong slaps on foreign buyers might be a good idea for Canada, she thinks. “I’m not sure [such a tax] would actually push the real estate prices down, but at least [offshore buyers] would contribute a little bit more to society,” she said.

Citing data from Landcor Data Corp., the South China Morning Post reported that in 2010, among purchases of luxury homes and properties in Vancouver’s West Side district, as well as the satellite city of Richmond, an overwhelming majority (74 percent) involved buyers with mainland Chinese surnames.

Julia Lau, a Vancouver real estate agent, told the paper that the actual figure is closer to 80 percent, but she views the influx of Chinese money as a boon. “I see a lot of [local] people here who bought in West Vancouver a long time ago, they can sell for a lot of money and move somewhere else outside Vancouver,” she said. Moreover, Ming Pao, a Vancouver-based Chinese-language newspaper, reported that mainland Chinese and second-generation Chinese are the largest buyers of homes valued at $4 million or above in the region.

Thus, the lofty price of housing in Vancouver has far outraced the pace of household income. Put another way, the RBC Housing Trends and Affordability Report determined that in Vancouver it now requires more than 84.2 percent of pre-tax household income to service the cost of owning a home in the area. The comparable figure in Toronto is 55.6 percent, and in Montreal, only 38.3 percent.

However, since it is impossible to obtain exact data on foreign ownership of Canadian properties, the sentiment that Chinese buyers are driving up home prices is largely anecdotal, cautions Craig Alexander, chief economist at TD Bank Group in Toronto. Alexander said foreigners buying Vancouver properties is only one of several factors pushing up local prices. In a telephone interview, Alexander explained that Canada avoided the worst excesses of the global financial crises and emerged largely unscathed during the recovery, making it an attractive place to invest in. “Canada has also enjoyed low interest rates and low fixed mortgage rates, all of which provided a strong incentive for people to buy houses,” he said.

Vancouver, he added, has many appealing qualities for both foreign and domestic home buyers. “It is beautiful, clean, safe and has a very mild climate,” he noted. “As far as Asians are concerned, Vancouver is easily accessible from the Pacific Rim, more so than, say, Toronto or Montreal. Plus, Vancouver already has a large Asian community established, enabling friends and family from overseas to settle there.”

Meanwhile, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has denied that local home prices are jumping thanks to mainland Chinese investors, adding that the Chinese have brought a “great influx of talent and culture” to his city. “We don’t want to take any rash actions that might impact investment in the city,” he said, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “We’re not Hong Kong. They saw real estate prices rise 26 percent last year, which is unbelievable – they had to take rash actions to deal with that.”

But Robertson conceded that Vancouver housing price tags have indeed increased too high, too fast. “There are warning signs that we have to watch very carefully, and we may have to take action in the future if it’s warranted,” he added.

The Post noted, however, that unlike the enmity against mainland Chinese in Hong Kong, there appears to be little backlash against mainlanders buying up Vancouver properties and driving up prices. “It is mostly a mystery to me why more people in the Canadian media do not look more closely at how high immigration and foreign ownership affect the property market,” said Douglas Todd, a columnist for the Vancouver Sun. “That said, journalists are like most ‘nice’ Canadians and are very fearful of offending any ethnic or immigrant group.” Todd added: “I occasionally get accused of writing articles in which hyper-vigilant people say they detect an ‘undercurrent of racism’. They say ‘undercurrent of racism’ because they can’t find any actual racism, because it’s not there.”

Jillian Kohut, an economist at IHS Global Insight in Toronto, suggested that many foreign (that is, primarily Chinese) investors may be buying up properties in Vancouver simply as an investment. “Anecdotally, we have seen Chinese buyers purchasing houses and then letting them fall apart and become dilapidated,” she said in a phone interview. “Ultimately, the real value is in the land, not in the houses. I suspect that what’s really driving this are internal factors in China itself, which is compelling wealthy investors to park their money elsewhere, especially Canada, which is viewed as quite a stable and attractive place to invest.”

The Vancouver Condo Report speculated on what would happen to the local condo property market – already heavily leveraged to Chinese buyers – if and when China’s own precarious housing bubble pops. “If the Chinese housing bubble does burst, Chinese buyers who have invested in Vancouver condos will likely liquidate to shore up assets at home,” the report stated. “But because these buyers have pushed up prices beyond the reach of local buyers, there’s no local market for their condos. Prices will have to drop significantly, and that will mean heavy losses for both the Chinese investors and the developers catering to this market.”

VCR warns that with such a large portion of the local housing market dependent on one source of buyers, speculation places a “huge burden” on Canadians homebuyers. “Households priced out of a market will have to increase their commute time to find affordable accommodation,” VCR predicted. “The result is increased urban sprawl, increased pollution, increased taxes and a deteriorating quality of life.”

Alexander, however, pointed out that making forecasts about Vancouver’s housing market is rather compromised by the fact that there is apparently so much foreign ownership in the region. “Foreign money is not affected by domestic interest rates or most other domestic fundamentals,” he said. “Foreign investment works rather like a wild card in this scenario.” Still, Alexander believes that Vancouver properties are clearly “overvalued,” but it’s too early to call the market a bubble yet. “You really can’t identify a bubble until it has burst, but I think there are some concerns that the market is overheating.”

Kohut of IHS said threats of a bubble in Vancouver were probably greater two or three years ago, adding that the risks have likely waned since as the pace of property price growth has slowed. Indeed, she noted for example that most measures of property values on Vancouver (including the MLS Home price index) actually declined for several months in 2012. “Prices have actually backed off a bit, which tells me the threat of a bubble burst has eased up,” she added.



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