Monthly Archives: March 2009

Multi-family development and condo conversions poised as low-hanging fruit as market recovers

High density housing, just beginning to gain steam before the housing downturn hit, is poised to be one of a handful of straws that stirs the soup, according to many housing industry experts.

Addressing that trend is the purpose of the Seventh Annual National Multifamily Trends Conference, held each year in conjunction with PCBC, the West Coast’s annual homebuilding conference and trade show.

The conference look first at the current state and future outlook for the U.S. economy and the multifamily sector, including what developers and investors can expect in the second half of this year and in 2010.

The conference is being produced in partnership with commercial RE giant Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services. Hessam Nadji, managing director of research services for the Encino-based firm and the MFT program coordinator, said the daylong conference has two main goals. “First, the conference will provide practical advice and expertise on the best ways to navigate the current market defensively, including attracting, qualifying and retaining renters, minimizing the downturn operationally and preserving value,” he said.

“Secondly, we have focused a lot of the planning on making sure the speakers offer ideas on offensive strategies for multifamily investors and developers – in short, how to take advantage of the downturn and positioning for the recovery, including market selection and timing.

“We will also address many of the key questions that multifamily investors and developers are asking: When will employment turn positive and what will be the pace of growth in 2010, 2011? Will Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continue to provide financing? When will construction lending ease? And what is the outlook for distressed sales in 2009 and 2010 and to what extent will they impact overall values?”

Showing early interest in this trend is the newly formed Irvine, CA-based Sycamore Urban Properties,  a firm specializing in acquiring and stabilizing new and converted condominium properties that have fallen into distress since the housing bubble burst.

The company recently made its first acquisition – a 41-unit, newly constructed townhome development in Rancho Cucamonga, CA – and is actively pursuing other properties as the multi-family housing market begins to thaw and become more active.  Sycamore Urban purchased the note for the Rancho Cucamonga asset in September 2008 and successfully navigated through the bankruptcy process, taking title to the property via foreclosure in early March.

“There are numerous quality properties out there in various stages of completion that have fallen victim to nothing more than bad timing, and we anticipate many of  these notes and properties  changing hands via note sales or bank REO sales,” said Sycamore Urban President Mitchell Bradford, who founded the firm in early 2008 with company CEO Lew Halpert.

“When the market returns to some level of normalcy, shrewd acquisitions will lead to generous returns over time – as long as the investor has equal portions of patience, cash and courage,” Bradford added.
The multi-family market in this region has seen condominium prices decline by as much as 50 percent, and many are trading at prices well below replacement value.

Once the market begins to recover, Bradford said, there will be a strong demand for condos, particularly in the more affordable price ranges, due to a limited supply. Inflationary pressure on pricing for housing also is expected as a result of the scarcity of developable land, long and arduous entitlement approvals, lack of infrastructure and shortages of labor and materials, he said.

As the market inches towards recovery, companies like Sycamore Urban will be positioned to bring its properties to the market either through bulk sales or as individual units sold through traditional retail sales programs.

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Hitting the ‘send’ button means it may be too late for second chances

In this age of instant communications, it seems there are dangers lurking everywhere.

How often have you had an opinion about, been upset over, or simply weren’t thinking in enough detail about something, wrote an email about it to someone and then hit ‘send’ before really grasping how it would be received on the other end?

Communicating used to be simple.  There were two basic ways to do it: by regular mail or by phone. If you wanted to speak to someone, you picked up the phone and called them.   If you didn’t want to have a live conversation with that person, it was easy.  If they called, you didn’t have to answer the phone, which kept ringing and ringing. No voicemail, no caller ID (so you could thankfully never be absolutely sure who it was) no disembodied automated voices from a machine saying you’d get back to them as soon as you could – just the haunting echoes of a ringing telephone.

If you wanted to communicate by mail, you could choose your words wisely as you scribbled out your best cursive or tapped away on a typewriter (if you were lucky, it had a correction tape).   There was a time element in this that forced greater forethought and, perhaps even more eloquence in the final product. You had to fold the note, seal it in an envelope, place a stamp on it and then find a mailbox.  This prompts the question: how many times did you find yourself completely changing your mind about what you said or deciding not to send it at all before it even got close to that mailbox?

Then came email. It took me a while to realize this, but I am learning how the written word can live well beyond its supposed cyber shelf- life –- capable of being ‘read-into’ too much, twisted and even used as a weapon. For that reason, I try to read, re-read and sometimes save an email as a draft. Then I’ll come back to it, see if I feel differently, edit or even delete it.  On a few occasions, when the email carries some gravity, I’ll call a friend or even my grown daughter and run it by them.  The perspective they lend can rescue me from committing an untimely gaffe that I might forever regret had I not taken that step back from it.

I guess my point here is that oftentimes I forget my manners when emailing people. Frequently in a rush to get to the point quickly in my message, I’ll hit the ‘send’ prompt, forgetting the niceties. I realize I’ve failed to ask how someone is faring, forgotten to show interest in their lives or even omitted ending my email with a polite phrase or two, the way I was taught to so long ago.

It takes so little time and yet it is capable of resulting in a smile or perhaps a good feeling that might make someone’s day.

Just a thought for the day, I suppose.

Uh-oh — I just hit the ‘save published’ button!

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Tanning and its legacy

Beginning around age 13, everything else took a back seat when the warm spring sunshine finally began to wash down on my family’s backyard.

I, and bastions like me, would arm myself with a spray bottle full of ice water, grab the baby oil tinted with iodine, cover my lips with zinc oxide, throw on a pair of shorts and a tank top (if it wasn’t quite warm enough for the swimsuit) and arrange myself so that no shadows could touch me for as many hours as the sun beat down on a towel on our back patio.  Every 20 minutes or so, it would be time to check out the tan line – a surefire way to monitor progress.

This was no frivolous activity. Our tans were serious stuff in those days.  Skin that had been covered during the cold season revealed itself in the spring to appear pasty white to those of us without olive skin or darker, so we gave ourselves no choice.  Shorts and bare arms required a tan—period.

Whether it was hearing songs of California, “where the girls all get so tan” or worshipping the pages of bronzed beauties in Seventeen Magazine, we understood at a young age that un-tanned legs, especially, represented pale unattractiveness (boys in my classes would actually cluck and call them ‘chicken-legs’ . . )

Arms, legs, and face, at a minimum, had to become a shade of brown dark enough to hide flaws and give us what we considered an outdoor, healthy look while clearing up any unsightly ‘zit’ activity in the process.

So we stayed at it – until suddenly reports began to come out about the thinning Ozone layer as well as the number of people being diagnosed with skin cancers.  The aging and damaging effects that tanning causes seemed to have been understood by women in Europe and Asia for some time. Americans, it seemed were among the last to figure this out and some continue to bake on beaches and poolsides anyway.

I no longer tan. I may sit outside for 20 minutes or so to soak up some D-rays with a protective SPF factor slathered on, but have retired all natural suntan products altogether.  How my face fared so well after ravaging it for so many years must be a function of heredity, so I am one of the fortunate ones in terms of wrinkles.  Trust me, I don’t take that part for granted.

The aftereffects of those years, I am finding,  have manifested themselves in me both psychologically as well as physically.  For example,  I can’t, to this day, look down at my un-tanned legs and feel I can display them in a skirt or shorts without getting a spray tan.  I can’t, in all good conscience, wear a sleeveless shirt or sweater because for so long I detested my “pasty” skin tone, reinforced by a shallow ex-husband’s cutting remarks when I needed them least. It is both a curse and a handicap, however I’m not at all sure if therapy would be worth it at this point.

Thankfully, my daughter’s generation doesn’t seem to have these hang-ups. Pale skin and a peaches-and-cream complexion, devoid of even blush or bronzer is a badge of beauty now. In magazines, tanned skin seems to be rarely featured and chances are, the tan sported by the models depicted in those ads is not natural — or they no doubt would be robbing themselves of precious career years.

Although my face was spared, other parts of me were not.  A few years back I noticed a strangely shaped mole appearing on the inside of thigh just above my right knee.  I have moles all over me (in my Greek background, moles are called tiny “olives” and considered attractive), so there had to be something very different looking about this one for me to show it to my doctor.

The doc sent me to a dermatologist, where a biopsy was performed. Before long, I got the news.  There are three common types of skin cancer – basal cell, squamous cell and the dreaded melanoma.  My mole revealed that the third, most serious type was at play.

Another round of surgery went deeper, requiring a plastic surgeoon’s skilled hands to take a wider portion of skin and pull together the tolerance areas around it, forming a scar in the shape of an ‘S’.

To my relief, I was told that they were able to collect any of the cancerous cells, dubbing surrounding skin free of them.

Two years later, another such mole arrived on the opposite thigh, however, and I went through the same trauma.

I am indeed a survivor, evidenced by scars on both thighs. I now see a dermatologist every six months for a complete, head-to-toe body scan, hoping against hope that whatever else may surface can be caught at early stages, like the first two.

My point here?  If you, like me, spent an inordinate amount of time in the sun in your younger years, whether you burned frequently or not, seeing a dermatologist for a scan at least once a year is an excellent idea.  The effects of the sun’s rays from our childhood and teenaged years can creep up when we least expect it – take it from someone who thought that her Mediterranean heritage would protect her from it.

I wish you sunshine and smiles. But bask in the first one rarely while indulging in the second one often.

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Does your name reveal your age?

Did you ever catch yourself guessing the age of someone just by hearing his or her first name?

In which era would you guess people with names like Debbie, Bob, Linda, George,  Bill, Jim,  or Michelle were born?

It’s true that your name just might reveal more about you than you realize. And if you’re a Kathy or a Gilbert, it’s safe to bet that you’re near or within Boomer age.

The only people I know that, for generation after generation, who tend to name their children traditionally (after relatives or saints –who were probably named for saints to begin with) are ethnic groups like mine.

Ever see the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding?   As the main character’s father proceeds to introduce his “dry as toast” in-laws-to-be to his crowd of relatives on his front lawn, he repeats, “And over here are Nick, Nick, Diane, Diane, Nicki, George, Dino, Nick, Diane  . . .”

From 1946 to 1964, the most fashionable girls’ names were Mary, Linda and Lisa while top names for boys were James, Robert and Michael, according to records at the Social Security Administration.

So why don’t you hear of babies named similarly these days?  Is it because these names have, well, become dated?

Among the most popular baby names right now are Emily and Jacob – which don’t sound all that new age to me, but are attractive and traditional-sounding nonetheless.  Other popular names are Madison, Isabella, Ashley, Christopher, Ethan, Joshua, Andrew, and Olivia.

I remember hearing criticism for naming my now 20-something daughter Sophia back in the ‘80s because one set of grandparents considered it too “fresh off the boat.”  As fate would have it, her name became one of the most popular girls’ names over the past decade or so.

Did I know that?  Heck no (does my choice of words tell you how old I am???)  I just wanted to name her something melodic enough to match her last name (an Italian one). And, SHOOT,  it didn’t hurt that the word itself is the Greek word for wisdom while representing a religious martyr and a relative as well.

Many of the rest of us have names like Linda, Bob, Jim, Pat, Carol, Sue, Ron, Jerry and Wally.

And just think about the name Mary. For most of the 1950s, it was the most popular girls’ name in the country.  By 2005, it didn’t even make the top 50.

Cultural anthropologist Robbie Blinkoff implies that Boomer names tend to be  “vanilla and middle-of-the-road.”

Today, names can be unisex, illustrated by the  MacKenzies, Tylers, Taylors,  Alexes and Sydneys, Tracys, and Stacys among us.

And as luck would have it, names like Sandy, Gary, Pat and Joan are reserved for – you guessed it — friends, bosses, and  grandparents.

Darn it! Heck!  Shoot!  Now I have to write another article just on Boomer word usage . . . .

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Mothers and their grown daughters: coming full circle

I’ve got to admit it. Even though I know I am not alone in being a motherless daughter at this stage of my life, whenever I encounter a lady around my age who talks about spending time with her mom, a pang of envy comes over me.

My mom was still in her 60s when she passed away from post-operative complications of  heart surgery. My now nearly 25-year old daughter was only eleven years old at the time, now able to remember only bits and pieces about special times with her “yiayia.”

Recalling the countless times when Mom rallied to my side to help me pack, clean up my old place and set up my new one throughout both my single and married years, I was struck with a sense of pride in the tradition of mother-daughter bonding she left behind for me to emulate.

In supporting my daughter Sophia with her own transition this past weekend, I know that if I had not kept constantly busy with doing important tasks – such as helping her make lists, emptying boxes, finding logical places in her new apartment for her belongings, piling up giveaways and throw-away items and sorting laundry – I would no doubt have sat down and had a good cry.

The road leading to the kind of relationship my daughter and I have has not always been strewn with flowers, especially during her early teens. Having only one child, I constantly questioned my parenting skills, wondering just what chaos I might have wreaked on her later life.

And as she reached her 20s, I am certain the grey hair that I now so regularly mask became more abundant knowing of the risks she took. The bond of which I speak is examined in depth in the book, Friends for Life: Enriching the Bond between Mothers and Their Adult Daughters,  by authors Susan Jones and Marilyn Nissenson. The book’s description includes words to which I can relate: “There is a razor-fine line between dispensing advice and nagging, between expectations and unconditional support, and the authors argue that recognizing these boundaries is essential to a healthy and loving relationship with a daughter.”

To my delight (and as an answer to my prayers) Sophia is now a busy and successful businesswoman, blowing my hair back with the kind of commitment and creativity I somehow knew lay deep within her.

Whenever we spend one-on-one time together, especially when attacking projects such as these,  I am reminded of  my daughter’s adolescent days, when  “picking up” her clothes meant seeing everything piled on her bedroom floor suddenly being jettisoned down the laundry chute, followed by a quick, “I’m finished. Can I go now?”

Sophia’s newfound domesticity is a breath of fresh air after having seen her living environment take a backseat for so many years.  With a penchant to mix the traditional with the new, she excitedly talks about her plans for a big IKEA run to buy things for her apartment along with the pride she takes in two little 1970s-style contemporary loveseats she displays in her living room once belonging to her grandmother.

And so life comes full circle. I can’t imagine the joy I will experience if someday I am blessed with a grandchild or two, with fond memories of how my mother again flew to my side to help me with young motherhood.

In the end, the one-liner that seems to creep out of me whenever my daughter exclaims her awe in my commitment to help at times like these is always the same:  “I’m doing this because my mom did it for me. And maybe someday, if you are lucky enough to have a little girl,  perhaps you’ll do the same for her.”

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Author asks, ‘How will Boomers want to be remembered?’

We staged sit-ins to protest a war from which our friends and family members were coming home in flag-draped coffins.

Women burned bras and found freedom in a little pill that gave us a sense of sexually equality.

And we swore that rock ‘n roll would never die.

They say that there is a sense of restlessness in the Boomer generation, as if there is unfinished business.

In his book, 10,000 Days: A Call to Arms for the Baby Boom Generation, author David Mills tells us just what this phenomenon may be.

He believes Baby Boomers lost their way after their endless protests, disdain of the “establishment” and other tremendous changes took place in the 1960s. As Boomers grew to adulthood, they ventured into the business world, raised families, accumulated wealth and discovered that pretty cars, nice homes and big screen TVs weren’t so bad after all.

Mills asks, “Was it worthy of a generation that proclaimed it would change the world? Those are the thoughts percolating in the back of many minds now that the 21st century is under way.”

So will Boomers take up the reins again? The author challenges us to make the next 10,000 days the best years of our generation, taking into consideration that many of us now have the time and the money to think lofty thoughts – thoughts about something other than ourselves and our bank accounts.

“The question begs. Is it time for Baby Boomers to step back into the fray? “ he queries, calling us to recapture some of the idealism we so staunchly swore would never leave us.

In his book, Mills explores how we got to this point in our history as well as how to leave this world a better place for the next generation. He interviewed dozens of Baby Boomers for their perspective on the past, present and future for the book, asking them how we might take the lead once again.

“Our final chapter has not been written. What will our legacy be?,” Mills writes. “What we did when we were young — or what we did when we were old?”

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The Real Deal: Finding Love in Midlife

I thought my own mid-life marriage (one of us the product of a terminated long-term marriage and the other a never-married partner aged 45-52)  was a rarity. But when two close 50+ female friends of mine recently became engaged and the same phenomenon occurred, I began to wonder if this was becoming a trend.

A USA TODAY analysis of Census records of Americans ages 45-55 shows that the percentage of those who said they had never been married in 2006 had doubled since 1990, and the percentage of those who were currently married had dropped by 9%.

My friends and I are among a small but growing group of older adults involved in marriages where one or both partners are marrying for the first time after age 45.   Awhile back, older singles would have been known as the “spinsters” or “confirmed “bachelors.”  But perhaps longer life spans now mean that there is still plenty of life ahead. Pair that up with the Boomer’s “perennially young” attitude and a greater number of aging singles in the population, it seems more likely that those who want to marry actually will.

It’s not easy getting a handle on this segment of the singles population, since no entity seems to track first marriages at specific ages. The closest count is the median age at first marriage, which in 2006 (the latest year for which data are available) was at its highest point: men at 27.5 and women at 25.5, according to the U.S. Census.

A tally by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention taken over a 20-year period, 1970 to 1990, shows that in 1990, only 0.4% of women and 0.6% of men married for the first time at ages 45 to 49.

According to the most recent data from the federal Survey of Income and Program Participation, which includes marriage, 13% of those who wed in 2003 were 45 and older and that number is increasing as we speak.

Internet dating has, of course, enabled many of the later-life first marriages. It’s only in recent years that some sites have started monitoring that demographic.  According to USA Today, among them is Yahoo Personals, based in Santa Clara, Calif., which reports a 33% increase from January 2006 to November 2007 among users ages 45 and over who say they have never been married.

As I mentioned in my earlier article, dating websites have been reinventing themselves since online dating took off in the mid-1990s. They’ve begun emphasizing a more scientific approach, which often includes compatibility and personality testing.

Why have these individuals never taken a walk down that flower-strewn aisle? The biggest reason cited is that they would rather go to the grave unmarried than marry the wrong person. In fact, marrying the wrong person is cited as their number one fear  — by a margin of 10 to 1.

When I think about why my friends and I did not let that stand in our way, only one common thread among us pops into my head.  That is that none of us lost hope or faith in the institution of marriage itself.

Funny thing. None of us found our life mates through internet dating.  One couple met in a classy local restaurant/bar surrounded by good friends, the other at an ethnic festival, and as for myself, he was the brother of a good friend whom I had never gotten to know beyond the usual pleasantries when we would bump into one another over a 20 year period when I was married. It was not until I left my ex that I was invited to the same social event he was attending and found that he had been interested for a very long time and, being a gentleman, never let on.

All of us lived with our future mates for a while first, one person in each couple had grown or nearly grown children, and although we would have had no problem with living together in perpetuity, we somehow decided that proclaiming our commitment and love for one another publicly and/or religiously was the way to seal the deal.

I have to admit that it makes me feel great when stories like this give the single people in my life hope that it can still happen for them.

The key in all three of our cases, however, is that we all got out there and circulated with people we knew.

Networking, in my mind, is just as important in our personal lives as it in the business world. And although there are never any guarantees in life, marrying in your 40s and 50s make it more likely that you will have (1) better judgement in a potential mate (2) fewer of the hang-ups you did when dating in your 20s and 30s and a LOT more life experience in common (3) usually grown or nearly-out-the-door children if one of you was married before, and (4) a gratifying feeling that you have just teamed up with someone who understands that growing old together just may be the most beautiful thing of all.

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