Saturday, May 31, 2008

Housing Valuation as a Social Construct

I changed the name of the Photo pool from "Home Inspection Nightmares" to "Home Construction Nightmares". I didn't want to confuse this with the This Old House (TOH) website, nor limit it to existing [older] homes -- as a considerable amount of new construction is also equally (if not) more horrific in its poor execution.

A perfect example of the kind of builder incompetence in "new construction" is shown courtesy of a fellow Flickr member: Shutters to Think. [click on the photos for a jaw-dropping close up view.]

Home owners and would-be owners should be aware that just because a house is newer, doesn't mean it has fewer defects or is built to a better nor safer standard than much older homes. Just because a house costs more, doesn't mean it's a better home -- or even a better place to live.
In fact, in many ways, I am convinced now that much of the new housing stock (built by for-profit developers & builders in the last 25 years) is of a lower quality than anything seen in the last 100 years.

I feel the "HOME Construction Nightmare" Flickr photo forum is a good way to prove that thesis. I am working on building the visual evidence of what I have seen the last 15 years: that the quality and visual appeal of homes is in decline (in the USA), because (in part),
the design of houses has been given/taken over by unqualified builders and money grubbing developers at the expense of safety and without any substantive consideration of end-user's long-term needs.

Housing quality and safety will not improve until consumers demand it and place their money where their concerns are. This is one reason why I know the housing bubble had to burst, and why I believe housing is currently as much as 60% over-valued in much of America. It's actually in the nation's (and consumers') long-term interest that the value of housing come down from the present [decade 2000s] irrational levels.

It's a fallacy to equate high cost of housing with quality or safety. And not unlike social issues surrounding race, property values based on LOCATION is a social construct [bias], often not based on economic costs or even true value in any objective, democratic measurable means.

Human valuation of commodities like housing/property, jobs/salaries, objects, time, expertise etc., is a strange, interesting and constantly changing phenomenon. For example, we all know that water is far more valuable than diamonds, yet the retail cost of acquiring small diamonds far exceeds the retail cost of acquiring drinkable water (in most industrial nations). And while that may be an imperfect example, I hope you see my point.

[A few notes about these photos, with thanks to Intangiblearts: Notice the window/shutter problem in the top photo. Also notice the fake applied "brick" on this building facade. There's no drainage for moisture that gets behind the soon-to-be mortar or fake brick-ettes. The doors and windows don't have drip caps and are already rotting and peeling. Lastly, can we all agree this kind of visual foolishness is beneath what our communities deserve?]

How a cheap vinyl-clad (carcinogen laden) house in one suburb is worth $475K while it's worth $225 in another area as close as 50 miles away (allowing for size, amenities, lot size, view, environmental issues, access, etc. all being equal), is nothing more than a sham and a social and economic lie.
We are beginning to see the corrections of a system that recognizes the inequity and the COSTS of such an obvious social [fairness] imbalance.

This is a thesis I'm flushing out.. but I hope you will all begin to consider the questions I'm raising.

More on this issue to come.
copyright ©2008
All rights reserved. This post may not be used or re-posted without permission.

Friday, May 23, 2008

My Corrupt Condo Association

There are a few fellow bloggers here in my Hyde Park Chicago neighborhood who regularity cite tales of crazy neighbors, thieving contractors and asinine developers. Who needs reality TV when our own neighbors and foes provide so much material & entertainment? And I often think, there but for the grace of God goes my dysfunctional community. Except, my own Condo community is [already] filled with liars, cheats and fools. And that describes the majority of the makeup of our Condo Board the last 15 years.

But my Condo Association has now hit a NEW ALL-TIME LOW.
(And it's really too bad, because we have a nice building/complex and a wonderful view of the Chicago skyline & Lake Michigan. See photo above.)

Now for the drama:
As it turns out, a former Board President and past Board member for our Association
(who still lives in the complex), has not been paying her assessments for the last, oh-- 6 to 12 [freakin'] years- - as far as the property management company can tell !

While this broad was on the CONDO Board, SHE WASN'T PAYING ASSESSMENTS !!! WTF!!??

The Property Management company is claiming they can only VERIFY the last several years have not been paid-- but that it could be more. Since the present Board is made up (in part) of crooks, liars, incompetents and pansies, it's not even looking as if the Board feels any compunction to sue this liar/thief for the money. It seems as though SOME of the current Board members have KNOWN about this "issue" for months-- if not years, but FAILED to take action until a more recent manager made it a PUBLIC issue.

Come the F--- on !?!!

In a somewhat relevant side note: last year, our Condo Board decided not to renew the contract with the Property Management Company-- D&K-- under whose watch the overwhelming majority of this corruption occurred. In my opinion, both the Board and the past Property Management company are culpable AND complicit. Severing the relationship with D&K was long overdue. Unfortunately, ending the management contract last year was way too little, way too late.

Now getting back to the crooked former Board member ---
One of the current Board members-- whom I believe is a co-conspirator [to the deadbeat former Board member] and whom I believe is also a thief-- is trying to spin the situation and talk her fellow nimrod Board members into RAISING the assessments in order to cover the shortfall (and not suing the past president for the money). WTF??!

The Condo Association's attorney has recommended trying to settle out of court and suggested placing a lien on the property-- in case the broad dies first or tries to skip town. The fear is that a protracted lawsuit would cost the Assn. much more (in attorney's fees, discovery, audits, etc.) than the amount to be collected-- about $24,000 [that we know of.] And I would agree w/ that analysis, except it would give me much pleasure to see this thieving wench with a theft and/or embezzlement conviction on her record. (The spectacle would be great. I think I would attend the trial.. I say pay the cost of the investigation and trial and throw the bitch in jail.)

Unfortunately, the now VP of the Board is trying to get this thing to go away, without a lawsuit, without collecting the money, and without doing any kind of audit or investigation. WTF ?!!

It's not clear if the newly elected & current Board president has a mind of her own, or if she will be easily manipulated by the long-time Board members.

Hhmmm.. sounds incredibly fishy-- doesn't it? Now you know what kind of "people" I am dealing with.

Now before you start to feel sorry for the master liar under scrutiny, understand her husband (who died several years ago) owned a Hardware store chain and probably left her a considerable amount of money. She has family, so she's not broke and destitute. It's not a hardship situation. She's just a lying, thieving, selfish crook (and that was the nicest thing I could think of to say.)

As for the current Board, I think the primary reason the now VP of the Board wants to give this crook a pass, is because I think the long-serving, do-nothing, know-nothing Board members are fearful that during Discovery (and a true audit of the Association's finances), that some OTHER BOARD MEMBERS will be outed as having pilfered funds from this 730+ unit, multi-million dollar complex too.

My theory is that the present Board is not looking to show mercy for the crook, so much as it's an effort to save their own sorry asses.

I also know specific [current] Board members have used their Board position to gain favors, preferential treatment by maintenance/repair staff, outside contractors, etc. So the thought of a trial (under oath) & Discovery is probably this Board's worst nightmare-- next to being convicted for their crimes.

Thus, it's not clear what will happen to this thieving broad. I am trying to bring this issue to the attention of my neighbors. Unfortunately, my neighbors are an apathetic bunch of dullards who are more concerned about whether or not their cable TV is working than the idea that the Board they ALLOWED to take office has been stealing money from them FOR YEARS --perhaps DECADES !!!

Of course, the current Board has been working very hard to keep this issue under wraps. Some of the current Board members are pals of the [former] Board member under scrutiny. It would be an understatement to say that the current Board has a vested interest in NOT seeing a full audit of payments and financial dealings for the last 10-15 years. (And I must add that I have caught some Board members lying to me and others regarding Association business. So, there is a culture of lying that pervades this Board and many of its past and present Board members.)

But a full and extensive audit is exactly what needs to occur. The Board has a history the last 8+ years of REFUSING to release copies of audits and other pertinent financial info to Association owners when requested in violation of the State of Illinois Condominium Act. I know.. you are shaking your head.. but it's true. And not a single person in the complex has the backbone to sue or to make it an issue. It's totally disgusting what has happened the last 20 years with this Assocication... I've tried blogging and getting the word out to neighbors, but it's difficult when less than a handful of people are interested in pursuing these issues out of a community of over 1000 people.

But like most crooks, the people behind this coverup are stupid and it was inevitable that they would trip themselves up. Stupidity, selfishness and arrogance are the three primary traits of thieves.

If there are any lawyers out there interested in taking this case pro-bono for me, please email me. I have a limited budget, but maybe something else can be worked out. I've been trying to solicit my neighbors to pool money to sue the entire Board.
We need to weed out the thieves.

Oh, and I'll have to also tell you guys about the current Board member who is (supposedy) a University of Chicago Grad, who TRIED TO OPEN FLAME BAR-BE-QUE INSIDE her carpeted apartment (complete with charcoal briquettes). F---ing amazing, isn't it? And this fool won re-election to the Board. WTF??

There's a lot more to the story, I just can't post it all in one sitting.

[Coming soon, my commentary on the Federal Indictment of Chicago Building Department staff for bribery. What took the Feds so long?]
© 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Developer MIA

Hmmm, the chatter & number of Blogs documenting the shadiness of the Construction/Development world (in the USA) seems to know no end...
Horror Stories surrounding Contractors, Developers and low-quality residential construction are abundant.

As I told my brother-in-law 5 years ago, "you can't keep building houses for $170K, then sell them for $800K to people making $85K, and not expect this whole thing to blow up. At some point, market forces are going to realize that a $170K house is not worth $800K-- almost regardless of location."

Read how one Bentley driving Northside developer has allegedly fled the country -- owing money all over the place []

Personally, I don't think developers and contractors should ever be given the benefit of the doubt. Experience tells me they almost always lie.

(Also, Please consider posting your horror story photos to the Shantyworld "Construction Nightmares" photo group.)