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[Three Cents Worth #132] Manhattan for the Converted Carpenter

December 3, 2009 | 11:24 pm | | Charts |

It’s time to share my Three Cents Worth on Curbed, at the intersection of neighborhood and real estate.

Three Cents Worth: Manhattan for the Converted Carpenter

It’s long overdue: This week I decided to look at Manhattan through the eyes of European buyers (i.e., Irish carpenters) who were buying property in droves a few years ago. Interestingly, the point where the Euro jumped was right about the time that mortgage underwriting standards evaporated (not suggesting foreign buyers were getting mortgages, just interesting timing). After completing this chart, I should have excluded co-ops, but I think the point has been made. It hits the nail on the head so to speak (sorry!)…


[Click to expand and read full post on Curbed]

Check out previous Three Cents Worth posts.


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[KMS Commercial] High Flying Irish Residential Real Estate Marketing Firm Turns Deadbeat

November 3, 2009 | 12:42 am |

During the housing boom, a slew of foreign buyers came to New York City to take advantage of the falling dollar. Largely from Europe and with a high concentration from Ireland, this movement was characterized by tales of Irish carpenters buying multi-million dollar luxury condos. Booming economies and a weak dollar made investors hungry to go farther to seek out higher returns.

One of the more well-known Irish marketing firms to find Irish investors to buy luxury condos and other properties was KMS Commercial, and we usually dealt with Cathal McGinley, the Managing Director. Our residential and commercial firms dealt with his firm on several occasions as the housing boom roared on and even after it corrected at the end of 2008.

Here’s where it went sour between my commercial appraisal firm Miller Cicero and KMS Commercial.

On April 28, 2009, Cathal/KMS hired our commercial firm Miller Cicero via a signed engagement letter for a substantial appraisal assignment covering the residential component of 835 Sixth Avenue, a new large mixed-use project going up on Sixth Ave at 29th Street developed by JD Carlisle (Jules Demcheck).

The report was delivered within the agreed upon time and the appraisal fee was due in full.

Hence the reason for this post, which is basically us venting our frustration since KMS Commercial is acting like it doesn’t intend to honor its financial obligations. My partner John Cicero has been trying to collect the fee for past 5 months and has been treated less than honestly – and he’s torqued about that. His first few attempts at contact were met with his assistant saying they were on vacation, etc. until finally there was no response at all.

Appologiese for not reply before but Cathal and I are both on holidays and will not be back in the office until 14th August. I will remind Cathal re payment as soon as we are back and will send you confirmation of same.

After several months with no response, John began to think he had the wrong contact info (they moved) but it was hard to believe such a high-flying well-known firm would simply disappear. Someone we know had a contact in Dublin who went by the building and indicated that KMS Commercial does not appear on the building directory that is listed on their correspondence. Weird.

After repeated efforts by John to contact Cathal, he finally got a response on October 23 which necessitated this post due to their sarcasm:

On Oct 23, 2009, at 9:40 AM, Cathal McGinley wrote:

John

I am in receipt of your 27 various email last night and today. I can confirm that I met today at 11am my time with my partners to advise them of the urgent need to pay your bill which I agree is long overdue for payment. I personally hold a 5% interest in KMS Sixth Avenue LP with the balance of the shareholding held by two others, Liam Smyth 85% and the O’Malley family 10%. As, to date I have not been put in funds, other than my own contribution, by my partners I have been unable to pay the invoice however they have both assured me that they will put me in funds by early next week (it is a bank holiday here on Monday) so assuming this happens I will send the money out probably on Wednesday or Thursday. In the mean time if you like I can send you my $600 today or wait to send it all at once. You’re choice.

Regards

Cathal

Cathal McGinley
Managing Director
KMS COMMERCIAL

The Malting Tower
Grand Canal Quay
Dublin 2
Ireland

t: +353 1 6425220
f: +353 1 6619708
e: c.mcginley@kmscommercial.com

Of course this was October 23rd. Its now November 3rd and our follow up efforts after the above email have not been answered.

It’s a shame that there aren’t any viable options to pursue them in Ireland. It’s hard to believe they can’t afford our appraisal fee (that they agreed to in advance).

We have to pay our staff for the time it took to complete the report which was not nominal. Our conclusion has to be that KMS Commercial is either under severe financial duress or it is a business strategy – 5 months of repeated attempts to contact them is a reasonable period to draw these conclusions.

We recognize that this is one of the risks of doing business and we assume KMS Commercial will never pay us for the services they sought us out for and received. However, our treatment was so unprofessional, we felt it necessary to talk about it in a public forum. For all appraisers out there – if you are contacted by KMS Commercial for an assignment, think twice. If you are, make sure you are paid in advance and in cash. We have twelve thousand reasons to believe this is a tested assumption.

Ok, venting complete – back to work.


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[Vortex] Straight from MacCrate: When Will Real Estate Prices Stabilize in the New York Metropolitan Area?

May 17, 2009 | 10:14 pm | |

Guest Appraiser Columnist:
Jim MacCrate, MAI, CRE, ASA
MacCrate Associates
Appraisal & Valuation Issues Blog

Jim has worn many hats including a Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City and Chief Appraiser at European American Bank. He is a prolific writer on valuation issues and teaches a number of the real estate appraisal classes through the Appraisal Institute and New York University. I have had the pleasure of taking a number of courses taught by Jim.
…Jonathan Miller

Many so called real estate experts have been predicting the bottom to the real estate market will occur in late 2009 or early 2010. No one can predict with any degree of accuracy the future, much less the bottom of the real estate market in any metropolitan area. It is important for real estate professionals to remember that real estate markets vary by location. Some markets will do well while others are doing poorly. For example, the Detroit real estate market was depressed long before the recession was declared official by the federal government and the beginning of the decline in the New York real estate market. The real estate market in the New York metropolitan area has been driven low interest rates and by the growth of the financial, insurance, and real estate sectors of the economy which began in earnest in first quarter of 2004 as indicated in the following chart:

Total employment is now falling with the FIRE and construction sectors of economy taking a big hit in employment beginning with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Real estate salespeople, brokers, and appraisers must stop listening to the noise from Washington, D.C., politicians, and others who have mislead us in the past. What we are witnessing, the economists and politicians have witnessed this before during the late 1920’s, the late 1950’s and early 1970’s. In order to properly value real estate, one must cut out all the outside noise and analyze carefully what the local real estate market data is telling you.

On a Macro Basis the Indicators are all Negative

The recent indicators reported by the government suggest that the economy is improving because the rate of unemployment is declining, consumer confidence is improving, the rate of decline in manufacturing is subsiding, etc. All of the above and other statistics still suggests that economy is not improving and real estate values will not begin to rebound until the economy turns over and employment begins to increase with an increasing payroll income and wealth. That is not bound to happen for awhile.

In the New York Metropolitan area, the leading indicators for increasing real property values are all declining, including the following:

  • Population is stabilized or falling
  • Number of households has stabilized or is declining
  • Total employment is declining
  • Total payroll/income is declining
  • Consumer confidence is negative
  • Businesses are still contracting including manufacturing, retail and the financial services sectors of the economy.

The results of the 2010 Census should be interesting nationwide. Listen to what the leading indicators are telling you about the macro market.

Now, on a Micro Basis

Real estate is fixed and immobile. The value of real property is driven by local indicators which impact the demand for real estate in a specific location. All the macro indicators referred to above are also negative in the New York Metropolitan area. In order to determine if the real estate market is rebounding versus stabilizing at a much lower level of activity and prices, the following factors should be analyzed carefully in addition to the factors that generate demand:

  • Sale price trends
  • Increase/decrease in the number of sales
  • Increase/decrease in the number of listings for sale
  • Increase/decrease in the number of days on market
  • Increase/decrease in sales concessions
  • Response to for sale or for lease advertisements
  • Increase/decrease in the number of foreclosures
  • Increase/decrease in the number of loan defaults.

These trends are extremely important to watch, but the trends will not reverse until consumer confidence is positive and total payroll/income, employment and the number of households is increasing. It must be remembered that real estate prices remained depressed for several years after the recessions of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Why should this time be any different, and, in fact, it is already worse in many markets.


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[Covered Wagons] Roof + Covered = A New Bond Market

July 30, 2008 | 12:23 am |

Ok, now we are getting somewhere, albeit slow as molasses.

Treasury Secretary Paulson is pushing for covered bonds as a financial instrument to create more liquidity for US mortgages.

From my perspective, these are the types of things that have to happen for the US to see our way out of this credit crunch.

Covered bonds are debt securities backed by cash flows from mortgages or public sector loans. They are similar in many ways to asset-backed securities created in securitization, but covered bond assets remain on the issuer’s consolidated balance sheet.

The key here is recourse. In other words, if the bank goes under the bond holder has “recourse.” A basic concept but became obsolete during the securitization hay day because as it turned out, the bond holders had little recourse since the asset was split into so many pieces, it was very difficult to track down the asset.

Covered bonds are big in Europe.

Paulson issued best practices guidance (is that corporate speak or what?) to try to get the market jump started and was joined by FDIC, OTS and OCC as well as Bank of America, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo (WaMu and B of A have experience in these instruments). I wonder if WaMu didn’t attend because they are simply trying to survive?

Bankers involved in the field reckon that a US covered bond market could ultimately outstrip the roughly €2,000bn European market. However, it faces limitations in the near term due to restrictions placed on the bonds’ treatment by the FDIC, which importantly has oversight of banks if they become insolvent.

For example, the FDIC said banks should be restricted from using covered bonds for more than 4 per cent of their funding in order to avoid depleting the assets available to repay ordinary depositors and other unsecured creditors if a bank failed.

In the US, the cost of issuing covered bonds and the FDIC restrictions mean they could lie low in the pecking order of banks’ funding preferences, at least initially, according to analysts at Citigroup. Funding through Fannie and Freddie or through the Federal Home Loan Banks both appear more attractive for now, the analysts said.

FDIC created an expedited procedure for recourse for bond holders in the spring. Covered bonds are capped at 4% of total liabilities so its not a major fix, but it’s a start.

Here’s a better explanation, in the way that only Felix Salmon can provide.

The investors have to be brought back into the fold.

I repeat:

“Covered” seems to be a synonym for collateralized, but it also has other meanings that may be appropriate in this effort to salvage the housing market. Think of covered wagons, which can be circled in times of crisis. With banks reluctant to lend their own money for mortgages, and the private securitization market quiescent if not dead, the cost of mortgage loans has been rising even as housing prices fall, making a bad situation worse. At best, a covered bond market would provide a cheaper source of financing for banks while reassuring investors that their money is safe.

Essentially investors would buy into a pool of mortgages that would be kept on the balance sheet of the bank that made the loans. These would be high-quality loans, and at the first sign of trouble in the underlying mortgages, those mortgages would be replaced in the mortgage pool. Thus, investors would be assured of repayment unless the underlying mortgages suffered major losses and the issuing bank failed. That might make investors burned by existing mortgage securities more willing to return to the market.

At best, a covered bond market would provide a cheaper source of financing for banks while reassuring investors that their money will be safe. It is highly unusual for the government to take such a major role in getting a market established, but Treasury officials said their action was needed to get more money into housing loans.

Paulson may not be a good public speaker, but he brought something tangible to the table.

And credit for his move is covered. (ok, sorry)


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Paulson Proposes Principles-based Instead Of Rules-based Approach

May 5, 2008 | 12:20 am |


It’s About Soccer, Not Football

Chalking this up to weird timing, but Treasury Secretary Paulson announced plans a few weeks ago to fix the financial markets. It would take a long time to legislate and would not likely be completed before President Bush finishes up his term. What the housing market really needed back then, was leadership on solutions covering the immediate problems such as the lack of credit availability or liquidity and a US economy teetering towards a recession.

In James Surowiecki’s excellent Parsing Paulson piece in the New Yorker, he notes:

As the press has noted, the plan would consolidate our myriad and overlapping regulators into fewer, bigger ones. But the most interesting thing about it is something subtler: a push to move from our current system of regulation—often known as “rules-based”—toward a “principles-based” approach. In a rules-based system, lawmakers and regulators try to prescribe in great detail exactly what companies must and must not do to meet their obligations to shareholders and clients. In principles-based systems, which are more common in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, regulators worry less about dotted “i”s and crossed “t”s, and instead evaluate companies’ behavior according to broad principles; the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority has eleven such principles, which are often deliberately vague (“A firm must observe proper standards of market conduct”). This approach gives companies more leeway in dealing with investors and customers—not every company needs to follow the same rules on, say, financial reporting—but it also gives regulators more leeway in judging whether a company is really acting in the best interests of shareholders and consumers.

Football (Rules-based)
In a rules-based environment like Wall Street has now, there a lot of rules that the financial institutions must follow and the regulators enforce the rules. Football, like most American sports, is heavily rule-bound. There’s an elaborate rulebook that sharply limits what players can and can’t do (down to where they have to stand on the field), and its dictates are followed with great care.

Soccer (Principles-based)
The regulators have more authority to interpret and pass judgement on the activities of Wall Street. Soccer is a more principles-based game. There are fewer rules, and the referee is given far more authority than officials in most American sports to interpret them and to shape game play and outcomes. For instance, a soccer referee keeps the game time, and at game’s end has the discretion to add as many or as few minutes of extra time as he deems necessary. There’s also less obsession with precision—players making a free kick or throw-in don’t have to pinpoint exactly where it should be taken from. As long as it’s in the general vicinity of the right spot, it’s O.K.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street favors the principles-based approach rather than rules based (it’s likely to be less complex and less onerous to comply with). Paulson is an ex-Wall Streeter.

Aside
In Newsweek, one of Henry Paulson’s top Treasury Department aides spoke on how United States and world policymakers are responding to the fallout of the global credit crunch.

The short answer is that we are in the midst of a phenomenon painfully familiar to Americans. From the gold rush to the Internet bubble, cycles of innovation, excess, adaptation and recovery to a point of even greater prosperity have defined America’s economic progress. In the present situation, we are seeing the rough edges of the same recent financial innovation that has brought enormous benefits to many investors, businesses and consumers. But these net benefits are of little consolation to the Americans whose lives are being seriously disrupted by the current financial-market turmoil. In response, policymakers in the United States and around the world are taking aggressive and targeted actions to stabilize financial markets, reduce the impact of markets on the U.S. economy and protect against the same mistakes’ being repeated.

blah, blah, blah

But now, focus is shifting to correcting the problems on Wall Street with the adaptation of successful new financial products. Thats where the new solutions to the credit crisis will get interesting.

As the immediate remedies take effect, we have also begun to focus on the weaknesses in business practices of financial institutions that this experience has revealed, and on fragmented U.S. and European regulatory structures that had difficulties guarding against or responding to modern challenges. U.S. and international policymakers are acting in a targeted but comprehensive way to address the causes of current market instability with steps including strengthening the oversight of risk management and reporting practices of global financial institutions; enhancing disclosure of and the process for setting values for complex products; changing and clarifying the role and use of credit ratings; strengthening the process by which national authorities monitor and respond to risk, and reforming the mortgage-origination process. In each of these broad categories, the specific proposals are concrete, widely accepted and, in a number of cases, already being implemented by national or international authorities as well as by the private sector.

Charting the source: Where news happens… or, more accurately, where news is reported from [Reuters]

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[In The Media] BBC World Service Radio Clip For 4-21-08

April 22, 2008 | 7:43 am | Public |

This weekend, in between cleaning my garage and taking my family to the Met (150 year old graffiti on the 2000 year old Temple of Dendur was a fav), I was called by the BBC to give my views on housing. They selected experts from leading economies in Europe, Asia and Latin America to provide their views and wanted perspective on the linkage to the US and it’s housing troubles. Pricing slipping, mortgage costs rising…

For the record, its all about credit.

Here’s the BBC broadcast (6:28).


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Blowing Credit Nose, US Kleenex Box Is Empty

April 15, 2008 | 12:01 am | |

In the grand scale of things, I never viewed the US as creating the global housing boom. Now that the “contagion” is now crossing the border of the US into other countries via the credit crunch so it’s starting to look like we caused the global downturn. This Monday’s page 1 NYT story: Housing Woes in U.S. Spread Around Globe was about the spread of credit problems across the planet (when towns in Norway are going bankrupt because the AAA mortgage-back securities were full of subprime mortgages, it’s global)

The collapse of the housing bubble in the United States is mutating into a global phenomenon, with real estate prices swooning from the Irish countryside and the Spanish coast to Baltic seaports and even parts of northern India. This synchronized global slowdown, which has become increasingly stark in recent months, is hobbling economic growth worldwide, affecting not just homes but jobs as well.

During the housing boom of 2003-2006, housing markets were booming from Europe to Australia to India. In fact, many of these markets saw booms before we did. As much as I feel Greenspan contributed to the development of the US credit bubble conditions that we are in now, I don’t think he brought down the planet financial system.

To some extent, the world’s problems are a result of American contagion. As home financing and credit tightens in response to the crisis that began in the subprime mortgage market, analysts worry that other countries could suffer the mortgage defaults and foreclosures that have afflicted California, Florida and other states.

Citing the reverberations of the American housing bust and credit squeeze, the International Monetary Fund last Wednesday cut its forecast for global economic growth this year and warned that the malaise could extend into 2009.

Can someone tell me what effective changes have occurred to rekindle the credit market? I see it’s repair as the key to enabling a housing market bottom.


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Housing Fantasy Is The New Reality Television

March 12, 2008 | 11:56 pm | |

Housing has long been viewed as an emotional investment. Along with the housing boom of the past 5 years, there has a been a boom in reality television shows. My first obsession was This Old House when Bob Vila was host.

Housing has morphed into a national obsession. No surprise there.

Take a look at this week’s television schedule for HGTV.

If we aren’t watching people decorate, we are watching them, sell, buy and flip houses.

This AP story I came across in the Washington Post called Real Estate Cold, Real Estate TV Hot seems to defy reality. Ratings are very high.

Given the downturn in many real estate markets across the country, I am struck by the dated nature of the reality show title “Flip This House”.

  • Are people still flipping?
  • Will buys consider a flip with so much excess inventory?
  • What banks are providing investors financing these days…reality shows???

The irony here is that housing reality shows have become housing fantasy shows.

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[In The Media] Reuters TV Clip for 10-29-07

October 30, 2007 | 5:41 pm | Public |

In Bobbi Rebell of Reuter TV’s Euros fueling NY condo market the weak dollar is discussed as a key driver of foreign demand. Arguably its a very dated topic since foreign demand has been a factor in the New York market for more than a year and also correlates with GDP levels of the various European economies. However, its still a factor in the current condo market, and specifically with new development.

Play video


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1Q 07 KHS Market Report From Paris, France: Looking For Le Big Mac

July 16, 2007 | 12:01 am |

KHS Real Estate has traded emails with me periodically and are avid readers of Matrix. They provide real estate market information and commentary through their web site and blog.

Paris, France real estate market
1st Quarter 2007

Strong market data for Paris real estate

Real estate prices in the elegant and trendy “Saint Germain- des- Prés” district ( 6th arrondissement) in the heart of Paris hit a new record high during the 1st quarter 2007. The official average price per square meter for old and unoccupied apartments rose by 11.3% p.a. and stood at €9,003. The area between the Seine and the “Luxembourg Gardens” has once again been the most expensive, followed by the 7th arrondissement ( “musée d’Orsay” – “Invalides” – “Eiffel tower”) where average apartments cost € 8.385 per square meter.

In Paris “Intramuros”, the average square meter price for old and unoccupied apartments increased by 8,7% p.a. and reached € 5,867. These are the official numbers for the first quarter 2007, released by the Paris Notary Chamber on its press conference on 3 July 2007.

The least expensive districts are located in the north- east of the French capital: the square meter for an average apartment cost € 4,591 in the area around the “La Villette” area, i.e. the 19tharrondissement and € 4,927 in the neighbouring 20th arrondissement.

The market is strong and solid. However, the annual price increase rates have been shrinking since 2005: Whereas the average price per square meter rose by 14.0% p.a. in Q4/ 2005, it came gradually down to 8.7% p.a. in Q1/ 2007.

During the 1st quarter, strongest growth (+ 13,1% p.a.) was observed in the 5th arrondissement (“latin quarter”) where the Sorbonne University is located and where many students live. Prices rose by 11,9% p.a. in the 8th arrondissement around the elegant “Champs- Elysée”.

1st Quarter Stats
KHS Paris Real Estate website
KHS Paris Real Estate blog

But I digress…

But for an excerpt of French related dialog, well not really but its one of my favorite rapid-fire dialogs in the movie Pulp Fiction:

Vincent: You know what the funniest thing about Europe is?
Jules: What?
Vincent: It’s the little differences. I mean they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it’s just – it’s just there it’s a little different.
Jules: Examples?
Vincent: Alright, well you can walk into a movie theater in Amsterdam and buy a beer. And I don’t mean just like in no paper cup, I’m talking about a glass of beer. And in Paris, you can buy a beer at McDonald’s. And you know what they call a, uh, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with Cheese?
Vincent: Nah, man, they got the metric system, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: What do they call it?
Vincent: They call it a “Royale with Cheese.”[2]
Jules: “Royale with Cheese.”
Vincent: Thats right.
Jules: What do they call a Big Mac?
Vincent: A Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it “Le Big Mac.”
Jules: “Le Big Mac.” [laughs] What do they call a Whopper?
Vincent: I dunno, I didn’t go into Burger King. But, you know what they put on french fries in Holland instead of ketchup?
Jules: What?
Vincent: Mayonnaise.


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Housing: Act Local; Think Global, Or At Least Try

March 12, 2007 | 9:54 am |

The Economist magazine has compiled its latest global housing stats [subscr]. The magazine, which I subscribe to and enjoy, has been calling for a sharp housing correction in the United States since about 2003. This compilation showed a slowdown in the rate of appreciation in 50% of the markets surveyed.

America is one of them. In the year to the fourth quarter of 2006, the price index compiled by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), a regulator, rose by 5.9%, the lowest annual rate for seven years. The OFHEO index gives a more accurate picture than more timely series, because it tracks the value of the same houses when they are resold or remortgaged. As a result the index is not pulled this way and that by changes in the mix of houses sold.

The housing slowdown has already made itself felt in the GDP statistics, as homebuilders have cut back on construction. So far, it has not hurt consumption, the principal engine of the American economy. But that may yet happen. Flatter prices may encourage homeowners to rein in their spending. And troubles in the subprime mortgage market may spread, inhibiting lending to borrowers in better standing, and thus feeding back into prices.

The Economist places great faith in the OFHEO for the US stats because the use of repeat sale indicators, which I think is very naive.

American homeowners may take heart from the experiences of two other once-booming markets: Australia’s and Britain’s. Both stalled in 2005, yet both have clocked up house-price inflation of around 10% in the past year.

I am struck by the fact that most of Europe seems to be appreciating faster than the US market and how Japan showed a decline even though their central bank recent increased interest rates.


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Housing Price Survey: Paris or Tehran?

March 6, 2007 | 10:02 am |

Covering the New York real estate market has definitely ingrained a New York-centric perspective on a few things, namely how darn expensive it is to live here. In fact, New Yorkers are proud of how expensive it is here. Sort of like North Dakotans being proud of their harsh winters. Self-rationalization for being here prevails otherwise everyone would live in San Diego (ok, so I am being simplistic).

Its not a housing survey but since toothpaste generally makes people feel good, or at least not afraid to smile, they are more inclined to purchase real estate. Ok, not really but I need a reason to post these stats…

The survey compares the cost of a basket of 160 goods and services in 132 countries. Everything from tobacco to toothpaste to theater is considered.

A survey by the Worldwide Cost of Living survey released Monday by the Economist Group ranks Oslo, Norway (a North Dakota parallel here) as the most expensive. In fact, with New York as the base indicator of the study which I found strange (ok, at least New York gets some recognition), Oslo is 32% more expensive to live in.

Not surprisingly Paris and London are in the top five. Luxury residences in London are going for $6,000 per square foot (on leased land!) while New Yorkers are quick to brag about $3,500 to $4,000 per square foot achieved around Central Park these days.

Growing up, I seem to remember that Tokyo was always number 1, but now, even with their federal funds rate equivalent set at just above 0, Tokyo was ranked 5th. Europe dominated the top of the list. The weak dollar here probably helped.

Tehran, Iran was at the bottom of the list, costing about 1/3 as much to live there as in New York City. Perhaps we’ll soon be saying, (borrowed from the movie Casablanca):

We’ll always have Tehran.

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