Matrix Blog

Development, Construction, Architecture & Land

[Video] China’s investors and the safe haven of American real estate

August 31, 2015 | 4:10 pm | yahoo!financelogo | TV, Videos |

Here’s a summary of potential future actions by Chinese investors with the recent spate of volatility in the financial markets.

According to Jonathan Miller, president of appraisal firm Miller Samuel, the tumult in China may lead to even more money finding its way into American residential and commercial real estate. “There are not a lot of investment vehicles in China,” said Miller. “You have the [Chinese] housing market, which is a pretty significant bubble. You have thousands of ghost cities that have been constructed. On top of that, you have a pretty volatile stock market situation. So there is some speculation that there actually will be outflow as a result of this and maybe that will end up in the U.S.” Costello concurs with Miller, noting that China’s insurance companies have been allowed by their regulators to invest in foreign real estate only since 2012. “Unless and until they have to cover losses at home, they’re not going to sell these properties,” said Costello. “They’re going to hold them for the long term.”

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Most NYC building permits since ’63 – Brooklyn nearly equals rest of city

July 30, 2015 | 10:20 am | wsjlogo |

Source: WSJ

Yesterday evening Josh Barbanel at WSJ posted a milestone piece on the current building boom: Construction in New York City Goes Through The Roof: New residential permits surge as developers rush to qualify for tax break

There has been an incredible surge in NYC residential building permits, the most in more than 50 years. It’s amazing to see the Brooklyn permit total nearly reach the total of remainder of the city tallied together.

New York City is entering what could be the biggest building boom in a generation, census figures show, as work gets under way on hundreds of residential projects in neighborhoods across the city. In the first six months of the year, developers received new residential building permits for 42,088 apartments and houses in the city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, already more than in any full year since 1963, when nearly 50,000 permits were issued.

While permit numbers don’t translate directly to what will actually get built, it is clearly a sign of a significant pipeline in the making.


  • Expiring tax abatement program encouraged developers rush in and start foundation work by June 15
  • Alternative financing around the globe chasing higher returns that low rates can’t deliver
  • Little regulatory oversight because of Dodd-Frank bogging down traditional commercial lenders
  • Significant pent-up demand from 2008-2012 unleashed on the market
  • Improving economy with near record employment growth

UPDATE – I neglected to be more clear and say that this surge will likely collapse in the near future, since the jump in permits is likely to be wildly exaggerated as a result of the first reason above.

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[VIDEO] Fox Business ‘Risk & Reward’ w/Deirdre Bolton 7-27-15

July 27, 2015 | 10:22 pm | TV, Videos |

Always great to swing by and speak with Deirdre Bolton on her Fox Business show “Risk & Reward.” However today’s show was a bit of a mess for me. Working on 4.5 hours of sleep I said I was talking about “interest-free” then changed it to “principal-free” mortgages – LOL – good grief! Note to self: “interest-only.” Plus my company name was reversed 2x and the chyron had it backwards as well. Didn’t discourage me though – always fun to do the show.

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Will London (or any large city) Become a Bad Version of Dubai?

July 15, 2015 | 2:24 pm |

Dubaization Defined.

This video is an epic condemnation of the new wave of architecture associated with super luxury housing that is redefining the London skyline presented by – The Guardian.

Alain de Botton goes full on, providing heavy criticism that is well worth watching for the answer to the question: Why we are seeing the super luxury/starchitect phenomenon occur?

But the rest of the piece slips into full scale whining.

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Rotating GIFs: Cost of Land Is The Secret to Affordable Housing

July 14, 2015 | 4:48 pm |

Here’s a cool rotating gif map on rising U.S. land prices based on data taken from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (in partnership with University of Wisconsin-Madison).

I’ve used their data for my Bloomberg View column talking about the price of land. In short, the land is what appreciates, not the improvements to the land such as the house itself. The price of land is a key issue in the U.S. affordable housing crisis we are now experiencing.

Here’s a 40 year view on the price of land for residential development provided by


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Bloomberg View Column: How Long Before a Home Lists for $1 Billion?

June 25, 2015 | 10:49 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Charts |


Read my latest Bloomberg View column How Long Before a Home Lists for $1 Billion?. This post went #1 on the Bloomberg Terminal and on the public facing site for about a day and a half. Crazy.


Here’s an excerpt…

When a Los Angeles hilltop home that’s under construction was recently priced at a record half-billion dollars, it looked like a one-off in excess. The same thought occurred to me late last year when real estate investor Jeff Greene, who won big betting against the housing market before the financial crisis, priced his renovated Beverly Hills, California, home at $195 million…

[read more]

My Bloomberg View Column Directory

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Palace: When A $500 Million Asset Is Not A Home

May 26, 2015 | 3:15 pm | bloomberg_news_logo |


When I was called by Bloomberg News about a new Bel Air (LA) listing that was asking $500m and another one down the block by the same architect but different developer at around $400 million, my initial reaction was laughter. I wasn’t doubting that there could be a buyer somewhere out there somewhere…but rather at the absurdity of it. It also seems like a strike against it to have a nearby home done by the same architect, no?

As I told a bank executive/client this morning that it’s clearly a strange world when someone builds spec housing for a handful of buyers worldwide and no houses in the local market have ever sold close to half the proposed asking price (including Jeff Greene’s $195 million listing that has been on the market since December.)

At a combined $100k square feet (main house + 3 smaller houses), it will be bigger than “Versailles” a 90k square foot house outside of Orlando, Florida that was the subject of the documentary “Queen of Versailles.”

According to NAR, the U.S. median home sales price is currently $219,400.

If the Bel Air home is sold, it is doubtful this would end up as someone’s primary residence. Perhaps we should label this type of asset as something else besides a “home?”

How about a Palace?

That’s what the architect suggested:

“It’s very similar to a palace,” he said. “The house is about public functions rather than domestic living.”

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[VIDEO] Chinese Housing Bubble Version of ‘The Truman Show’

April 29, 2015 | 9:31 am | nytlogo | TV, Videos |

To keep the sales going, developers in the massively bloated Chinese housing market are getting more creative. This NY Times short documentary is fantastic and surreal. I’d chalk it up to simply bizarre, if there wasn’t such a desperate undertone to it.

It reminded me of “The Truman Show” movie where everything Jim Carrey’s character saw was fake, made for him. However in the Chinese version, everyone knows it’s fake but embraces it.

With the massive oversupply, no wonder savvy Chinese investors are extracting as much wealth as they can and investing overseas in anticipation of that day of reckoning.

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[Three Cents Worth #279 NY] New York’s Building Boom Doesn’t Mean More Units For Sale

April 26, 2015 | 1:57 pm | curbed | Charts |

It’s time to share my Three Cents Worth (3CW) on Curbed NY, at the intersection of neighborhood and real estate in the capital of the world…and I’m here to take measurements.

Check out my 3CW column on @CurbedNY:

Now that I am fully recovered from Micro Week, I thought I would think a little bigger and present the Manhattan inventory picture by comparing new development and re-sales. I’ve charted it from the pre-Lehman high (PLH for those in the know) through the end of 2014 in two graphs. One shows the year-over-year change, and the other tracks inventory by units to help tell the whole story. Inventory was in a state of free fall for both types from 2009 through 2013, but in 2014 the picture clearly changed…

[click to expand chart]

My latest Three Cents Worth column on Curbed: Three Cents Worth: New York’s Building Boom Doesn’t Mean More Units For Sale [Curbed]

Three Cents Worth Archive Curbed NY
Three Cents Worth Archive Curbed DC
Three Cents Worth Archive Curbed Miami
Three Cents Worth Archive Curbed Hamptons

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Wired’s Phallic Take on the High-Rise Boom

March 2, 2015 | 9:27 am |

When first moving to New York City in the mid-1980s I remember seeing this epic quote in New York Magazine:

“You know what this business is all about? Weenie-waving. Everyone does it. I do too.” -real estate developer Bruce Eichner

Fast forward to the latest copy of Wired Magazine with the theme “Sex in the Digital Age.” The real estate angle includes a mandatory SuperTall building graphic with the theme embedded subtitle.



Good and Bad Super-Luxury Condo Buyers Love the LLC

February 9, 2015 | 9:46 am | nytlogo | Favorites |


One of the great ironies of modern residential real estate has been the expansion in transparency of information, along with greater secrecy of ownership. I think the latter coincides with the much greater wealth that is being put into hard assets like real estate. Privacy and security are indeed very important to many, including the wealthy and especially those near the top of the financial pyramid. There is nothing sinister or unseemly about the desire for privacy. The use of limited liability corporations (LLCs) has been a legal vehicle (and a gift) from lawmakers who created it that allows people to keep certain transactions hidden from view. However the LLC also provides an opportunity for bad actors to shelter their often ill-gotten assets too.

Louise Story and Stephanie Saul of The New York Times have explored this in “Towers of Secrecy: Stream of Foreign Wealth Flows to Elite New York Real Estate,” an epic data visualization along the lines of “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” This article is a must read covering the hypersensitive subject of high end real estate and privacy.

The ongoing debate about the dying middle class versus the booming fortunes of the wealthy, the lack of affordable housing versus the super-luxury residential tower boom and municipal governments grappling to keep construction and development moving forward to keep tax revenue flows coming in, have made this effort long overdue.

Towers of Secrecy” is careful not to stereotype users of LLCs in high end real estate transactions as exclusively foreign buyers. Within the Manhattan market, foreign buyers are not the majority of overall high-end real estate purchasers. However they tend to be concentrated around the Midtown central business district (aka ‘Billionaires’ Row’) whereas domestic purchasers tend to favor markets found to the north and south of Midtown.

UPDATE There’s a great recap over on Curbed NY too:
Scandal-Plagued Foreigners Park Millions in Midtown Condos

Here are a few screenshots of the embedded videos within the “Towers of Secrecy” piece.


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Top 100 Cities Worldwide: Most New Residential Buildings

January 22, 2015 | 12:00 pm |

Here’s a companion table to my Bloomberg View column published today: Living the High Life. The volume of tall buildings recently completed or under development is staggering. Within the list are generally mixed use but have some element of residential included (i.e. rentals or condos) The data was tabulated in stunning detail at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s. Skyscraper Center.


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