Archive for the 'Real Estate' Category
My wife and I downsized earlier this year, to save money, reduce debt, and put money into the beginning of a rental empire we hope to build. We have good cash flow, income, and excellent credit. And yet, maybe because we earn money as a small business – read: law firm – the underwriting process was hellish.
This wasn’t our first time on the rodeo. We have bought and sold – having moved a number of times, once from Phoenix to North Carolina, and several times in each state. But it seems as thought these last two mortgages were the most difficult to get, even though we are in the best spot financially we’ve ever been in.
My wife, who did most of the legwork in tracking down last-minute documents requested by the bank, remarked that if they made it this difficult on us to close, imagine how difficult it must be for an average buyer.
I suppose part of the problem is that we are self-employed, and so there is quite a bit of (understandable) concern about the stability of our income. But, having filed and reported above-average incomes for 5 years straight, you’d think a mortgage company would take those seriously – after all, we aren’t exactly excited about paying high taxes to Uncle Sam, and it would be stupid just to do that in order to show good “income” to a future mortgagor.
Any thoughts?1 comment
Debra Brady and I are experts at VA-financing. One of the things we do very well is secure a VA condo complex approval for condominiums which aren’t agency approved. Some comments from a recent YELP review:
I started the home buying process while still on deployment, and Brian graciously worked with me across 13 time zones to begin explaining the ins and outs of home buying.
This is actually kind of fun for me. With technology, deployed service members can communicate with me well in advance of buying. Many times, when deployed, they have free time with little to do. They use Gchat, Facebook Messenger, Skype, and email to communicate with me. Sometimes it makes for some weird hours but I enjoy finally meeting them when they return to the States.
I googled VA home approval, and his was the first name to pop up. Brian is an absolute master at working with the VA.
That’s what I love to hear–that we come up first on Google Search for this topic.
This is how Debra and I work. I spend most of my time “selling” real estate agents and educating clients and Debra gets the loan done. When we’re clicking properly, I am “Mr. Outside” and she is “Mrs. Inside”. Clients know that she is in the office, every day from 8AM until 230PM each day and available on the telephone. This frees me up to: (a) find more business for us and (b) properly educate home buyers about the process. We pride ourselves on “no surprises” during the loan process.
That’s what I hope to hear on every VA loan we close. It doesn’t ALWAYS happen but, I’m proud to say, it does happen more often than not.
“Couldn’t you, just once, tell somebody what they really want to hear?” my wife asked, almost immediately after I got off the phone with the Redfin recruiter.
“Is that a rhetorical question? You just asked me a rhetorical question!” I snapped. Ever since I turned fifty-five I get snappy when someone I love questions my intentions, especially when I’m hungry.
She didn’t answer but instead, continued her Words With Friends game on her iPad. I walked into the kitchen.
“They’ll call me back,” I said after a few moments of silence, my fat head deep into the refrigerator looking for just one thing to shove into my mouth that didn’t have soy as its main ingredient; something with a little gluten, perhaps. Is this too much to ask?
“No they won’t,” she countered from the other room. “You just used the F word during a job interview.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did. I heard you.”
I walked over to the sofa with some type of pickled vegetable wrapped in a grape leaf. My wife did not look up from her backlit screen.
“Does Xerox really have two x’s in it? Is that even a real word?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, now a little stunned by what might have just happened on the phone; not sure of anything at that moment. Appetite quickly waning.
“Two x’s? I don’t think so. Well, maybe…And it wasn’t really a job interview. It was only an initial phone call. Introductory.” No longer hungry at all, I tossed the unsavory snack into the waiting mouth of our slobbering dog who, in turn, spit it immediately onto the floor.
“Hmm,” my wife said to nothing in particular, or perhaps, to everything in general.
That was six months ago, and although the names and details are a bit blurry now, the gist of the episode remains clear.
It all began with a conversation I had earlier that same week with a fellow Realtor—-an old-schooler, like me. We were seated at our favorite Starbucks window bar nursing triple espressos when he mentioned a new type of Redfin partnership program that offered leads to selected non-Redfin Chicago brokers. You just had to pay a referral fee at closing with no other upfront costs. He pointed out two young women with strollers who were enjoying mommy-time with their toddlers out on the patio.
“Both of them are Redfin partners who work part-time in my office,” he said. “Pretty sure one of them doesn’t even know how to spell condominium and she already has three deals this month. I think the other skinnier one is a yoga instructor for her real job.”
“A yoga instructor?”
“I think so,” he said. “She’s always wearing yoga pants. At the very least that makes her a housewife. Either way, they both drive nicer cars than me.”
“If this Redfin thing is such a good deal, why don’t you sign up for it?” I asked.
“I hate this business too much already,” he said. “What I don’t need is a flock of twenty-somethings texting me every time they log on to Trulia and get a real estate stiffy.”
While my buddy, clearly, was too jaded for the job, I somehow felt that I wasn’t. With fifteen years experience, I figured I was a slam dunk partnership candidate; just what the Redfin folks might be looking for—a full-time, condo slinging, non-yoga instructing, ass-kicking, downtown Chicago real estate professional. And besides, business was slow and I could use a little boost. A slow drip of fresh blood would blend nicely into my current marketing mix; a few extra ‘my watch cost more than your car‘ condo buyers here, a couple ‘coffee is for closers’ listing appointments there. A steady stream of new prospects could keep me in the real estate game until retirement. All I needed were the good leads. The Glengarry leads. You know, the ones Mitch and Murray send in from downtown…
So I Googled Redfin, found the program, applied on-line, did the tutorial, attended the interactive webinar (even kept my mouth shut), and scheduled my initial phone interview which, true to form, I forgot to enter into my calendar and promptly forgot about.
A couple days later, my phone rang at an inopportune time–as it always does, the screen flashing a familiar Seattle area code. I was certain it was that Dave character from Zillow’s advertising department who had been calling every month for three years trying to get me to pay him for posting my listings on his real estate site. Go figure. Anyway, when I answered the call I was ready to let poor Dave from Seattle have it, right between the zillows.
“Hi GG! Sky from Redfin here! Can you talk?!”
“Sky (or maybe it was Sea) from Redfin! We have your interview scheduled for 2 p.m. Pacific!”
“Oh yes Sky. Of course (??)”
“Cool. GG. Let’s do this! What made you want to become a Realtor?!?!?”
It was such a stupid question I honestly don’t remember what I told him. Truth is, seven years ago I wouldn’t have even considered such an arrangement. Everybody and his gardener had a real estate license back then but we were all stacking paper. My biggest professional worry in those days was which Rolex to buy next and how to keep the nicks and parallel parking scratches off the bumpers of my big body Benz.
“What are your best qualities as a Realtor, GG? What makes you outstanding?”
Or something along those lines. And to be fair, there was an echo on the phone connection so maybe I was imagining the GG part. Maybe I was just in one of my snappy ‘Meano Geno’ moods that day. (Another Realtor actually called me that once, right before hanging up on me. “Meano Geno!” Click.) Anyway, like I said, this all went down six months ago. And I’m getting old.
“What I’m really good at, Sky, is negotiation. I’m really good at getting the other side to cave-in, thus procuring the best possible deal for my client.”
“Yeah. Cave in. You know, win,” I said.
“Win/Win, you mean?” he asked.
“Yeah, I guess. Win/Win. Sure. Why not.”
“Okay, cool,” he said. “Now, what do you think makes you exceptional as a real estate agent?”
“I don’t know, Sky. I suppose the fact that I’ve negotiated over three hundred deals and more than a hundred million in transactions in my career. Something along those lines. What do you think?”
“Coool. And how do you envision the Redfin Partner Program fitting into your current business model?”
“Come on man. What kind of questions are these? You send me the leads. I get them to buy something they like. Get them a good deal. Everybody’s happy. It’s pretty simple. Just keep me on the North Side. No foreclosures. No suburbs. No ghettos.”
“Okaayyy…..What was the biggest obstacle you’ve ever had to overcome as a Realtor?” he asked.
“You’re f*king kidding me, right Sky?” I replied…
Anyway, it was about two seconds after that when my wife asked me the rhetorical question. A week later I received the following email:
To: Geno Petro
Subject: Redfin’s Partner Program
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider you for the Redfin Partner Program and taking the time to speak with us. While we are impressed with your success as an agent, after careful consideration we have decided to pursue other candidates in your market at this time. We will maintain your application in our active files and contact you if there is an opportunity for a future partnership.
We do wish you continued success in your real estate business. Thank you again for your time!
To be honest, I forgot all about this nonsense until a Redfin ‘Partner’ called on one of my listings last week, requesting a 7 p.m. showing on a Friday night. After bitching about the time (and weather) for thirty seconds, I finally agreed. And even though I’m apparently not qualified to have her job (but am somehow qualified to show her one of my properties on a Friday night in the middle of a week-long ice storm), she sounded very nice. Like someone’s wife.
So she shows up thirty minutes late with her three-year old daughter and a 2014 Infiniti QX60 full of Millennials. Everyone was holding Starbucks cups and wearing North Face and UGGS.
“Sorry we’re late. Traffic sucks,” she says.
“Yes it does,” I tell her. “That’s why I left my yoga class thirty minutes early. To arrive here on time.”
“You practice yoga?” she asks me.
“No,” I reply, as I watch them slosh, one by one, across the family room carpet, “I just like wearing the pants.”
Let’s get back to it.
We’re all sitting around today, plotting and planning our strategies for 2014…
Writing down goals. Looking over our numbers, canceling the crap that aint working and signing up for stuff that might…
For me, (ever since I read MREA back in 2004) the modus o has always been “If I get a shitload of traffic, and generate a shitload of leads, and set them all up for some kind of semi-automated follow up, I’ll make more money.”
Guessing a lot of the folks reading this agree, though some of us have bigger “balls” then others and are willing to spend a lot more on lead gen then we do on food…
How are you doing it?
(I’ll show you more about mine if you show me yours…)5 comments
1- We funded a $900,000 Orange County purchase with just 6.5% down payment and no mortgage insurance
2- We funded an Orange County condo, with a VA loan, and got both the Master Association and Condo Association VA approved in 30 days
3- We funded a $600,000 San Diego County purchase, with just 5% down payment and a seller-carry back second mortgage and a conventional first mortgage.
4- We funded a 7-unit San Diego apartment property, $820,000 purchase price with just 10% down and a 20% seller-carry back second mortgage.
5- We funded an “underwater” property with loan values at 135% of the appraised value in Los Angeles County.3 comments
Kicking this back to the top. Happy Independence Day! — GSS
Celebrating the father of our freedoms: The freedom to own real estate
By the time you read this, Independence Day will have passed, but I thought I’d give you one more reason to celebrate our freedoms: Real estate.
We call our culture Judeo-Christian, but we owe our laws and political institutions to the Greeks and the Romans. The Greek Hoplites, in particular, are the model upon which Western Civilization is based: Individual family farmers, freeholders in the land they farmed, who owned their own weapons of warfare and who banded together as a virtually unconquerable infantry when their lands were attacked.
What accounts for the independence of the Greeks? Was it their unprecedented military tactics? Was it their superior weaponry? Or was it the savage dedication of free men fighting for their own land?
The Hoplites fought against ragtag slave armies, engaging in combat only out of fear of the lash, never losing sight of the chance to dessert. But the Greeks fought to retain the rights they had wrested from despots, rights ordinary people, until then, had never known.
We derive many more treasures from the Romans, among them the story of Cincinnatus, the retired general called back to battle and given dictatorial power because the situation was so dire. Instead of abusing that power, Cincinnatus won the war, set down his arms and picked his plow where he had left it.
We honor the citizen-soldier in the conduct of George Washington, who could have declared himself king of America, but who instead, like Cincinnatus, surrendered his power and went back to his farm.
Politicians will tell us that we owe our freedoms to representative government. This is twice false. The interest we share in government is the land we each own individually, like the Hoplites. Moreover, representative government without free ownership of the land is tyranny in camouflage.
Americans are free because we have the uncontested right to buy, use, enjoy, rent, let and sell the land we live on. If you have any fire-crackers left over, you might light one for the freedom that is father to all the others: The freedom to own real estate.
We started here, and still the question rings in my ear:
If almost-as-good is free or nearly free, what is the market value of slightly-better?
Big changes in the world since then. Brick ’n’ mortar retail is all but dead. Books, records and software ‘apps’ are aiming for a price point under ninety-nine cents — many of them all the way under. The supermarket real estate magazines are gone, and the thinning out of the classifieds put the newspapers on a strict diet. Their putative replacements, realty.bots like Zooliapads.com, are by now just sleazoid lead vendors. Unwired Realtors are enjoying their retirements while we are doing business without a fax line or even a land line.
That much is cool. I’m less sanguine about the people in this business than I am about the business itself. One of the things I haven’t loved about real estate has been seeing some of the incredibly scummy things people will do. Most of my clients have been great, and I love all of the people I work with long-term. But I’ve fired people who have left shit on my shoes forever, and this is not a happy outcome for me.
BloodhoundBlog has been a similarly-mixed blessing. I’ve met some wonderful people through this blog, and we’ve published some remarkable content. But I’ve seen the howling mob at its worst, and every day I get to see sleazy SEOs working overtime to make me regret sharing link juice with commenters. And meanwhile, the vendorsluts and their raving wraiths have turned our part of the internet into just another Realtors’ brothel. Don’t get any on ya.
And I am off to Planet Elsewhere. I wanted to hit the road for a while in the first quarter, but my Mammy died and then Odysseus started looking all deathful. So here I am mounting the expedition in the third quarter instead. I’m going to be in Las Vegas for the last three weeks (three nundinae, actually, but who’s counting?) of July, and then I will be in Orlando for the last three nundinae of August. I’m interested in making plans for September, October and beyond if you would like to see me in your town.
Meanwhile, there is the question of what to do about BloodhoundBlog. I’m not writing here much, nor is anyone else. I think this is a valuable resource, especially when the entirety of the vendorslut mafia is howling as one mob. But it’s stoopid to have thirty mug shots staring at us from the sidebar and have all but none of them writing new content.
So I need for the dawgs to figure out what they want from this place. When I come back from Sin City, I’ll reconfigure the roster accordingly.
Your call: What happens next?10 comments
From KJZZ Radio in Phoenix, The Way of the Bloodhound:
‘“From now on whenever you’re driving on the freeway look for a truss,” Swann said, referring to a roof truss on the back of a truck. “And when you start to see a truss every day, then things have turned around. If you see three trusses a day, then things have really turned around. But if you can go five days without seeing a truss on the freeway, then no one is building anything.”’
The linked story is from Peter O’Dowd, a journalist for whom I have huge respect — not alone because he listens when I talk about bug’s-eye-view real estate.4 comments
It’s not mentioned in the Reason article, but the real curse of zoning is the prohibition of innovation. By forbidding all projects, land-use tyrants exclude not just the dreck but also the sheer genius. Some builder coud have come up with the modern equivalent of Wright’s Five-Thousand Dollar Home, but that guy works in software instead, where innovation is celebrated and rewarded.
When a news crew showed up to film a public meeting in tony Darien, Connecticut, in 2005, some of the residents were less than thrilled. “Why don’t you fucking shoot something else?” one demanded. Hundreds crammed into the hearing, sneering and jeering during the presentation.
The fresh hell residents showed up to protest? A proposal to replace a nondescript single-family home on a one-acre lot with 20 condos for senior citizens.
In Snob Zones, journalist Lisa Prevost describes the heights of entitlement to which property owners ascend when faced with the prospect of new development, especially multi-family dwellings in neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes. Prevost tours New England and finds an aging, declining populace bent on excluding outsiders. In town after town, affluent and working-class alike, residents line up to shout down new development no matter how modest.
In Darien, the need for the proposed project was clear; the town’s senior housing center had a long wait list, as did the last condo development built in the area (in 1994). Still, many townsfolk, expecting the project to open the floodgates to more high-density projects in the resolutely low-density burgh, were incensed.
Incumbent homeowners have a powerful weapon for vetoing change: zoning. In Darien and other exclusive zip codes, mandated minimum lot sizes kneecap developers who want to build something other than super-sized homes. In the process, they put entire towns out of reach for all but the wealthy. In hardscrabble Ossippee, New Hampshire, where it’s not uncommon for the working poor to live in tents during the summer months to save on rent, the zoning code flatly prohibits new apartment buildings.
Though Prevost, who covers the real estate beat for The New York Times, has no problem with the traditional justification for zoning (but for it, she believes, dirty industries might locate in residential neighborhoods), she has written as damning an indictment of zoning as any free marketeer could hope for. “The market is hungry for apartments, condominiums, and small homes,” says Prevost, “if only zoning restrictions would get out of the way.”
Where libertarians see an infringement on property rights, Prevost sees a problematic tradeoff between local demands for low density (tinged with fears that undesirables might move in next door) and regional needs for affordable housing. It amounts to the same thing, however: established residents using government force to kill the low-cost housing that would exist in a free market. In the words of the pioneering community planner (and ardent urban renewal opponent) Paul Davidoff, those who wield zoning laws “have not bought the land but instead have done the cheap and nasty thing of employing the police power to protect their own interest.” Nice.
Read the whole thing. Here’s a sweet joke for incentive:
In the words of one developer who switched to building cottage homes during the recession: “I used to say, we’re building homes for people who can’t afford them, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t know. You could just see it—it was stupid.”10 comments
The “silver lining” in our five-years-and-running Great Recession, we’re told, is that Americans have finally taken heed of their betters and are finally rejecting the empty allure of suburban space and returning to the urban core.
“We’ve reached the limits of suburban development,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan declared in 2010. “People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.” Ed Glaeser’s Triumph of the City and Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Great Inversion—widely praised and accepted by the highest echelons of academia, press, business, and government—have advanced much the same claim, and just last week a report on jobs during the downturn garnered headlines like “City Centers in U.S. Gain Share of Jobs as Suburbs Lose.”
There’s just one problem with this narrative: none of it is true. A funny thing happened on the way to the long-trumpeted triumph of the city: the suburbs not only survived but have begun to regain their allure as Americans have continued aspiring to single-family homes.
While they’ve weaved a compelling narrative, the numbers make it clear that the retro-urbanists only chance of prevailing is a disaster, say if the dynamics associated with the Great Recession—a rise in renting, declining home ownership and plunging birthrates—become our new, ongoing normal. Left to their own devices, Americans will continue to make the “wrong” choices about how to live.1 comment
And in the end, it boils down to where people choose to live. Despite the dystopian portrays of suburbs, suburbanites seem to win the argument over place and geography, with far higher percentages rating their communities as “excellent” compared to urban core dwellers.
Today’s suburban families, it should be stressed, are hardly replicas of 1950s normality; as Stephanie Coontz has noted, that period was itself an anomaly. But however they are constituted—as blended families, ones headed up by single parents or gay couples—they still tend to congregate in these kinds of dispersed cities, or in the suburban hinterlands of traditional cities. Ultimately life style, affordability and preference seem to trump social views when people decide where they would like to live.
We already see these preferences establishing themselves, again, among Generation X and even millennials as some move, according to The New York Times,toward “hipsturbia,” with former Brooklynites migrating to places along the Hudson River. The Times, as could be expected, drew a picture of hipsters “re-creating urban core life” in the suburbs. While it may be seems incomprehensible to the paper’s Manhattan-centric world view by moving out, these new suburbanites are opting not to re-create the high-density city but to leave it for single-family homes, lawns, good schools, and spacious environments—things rarely available in places such as Brooklyn except to the very wealthiest. Like the original settlers of places like Levittown, they migrated to suburbia from the urban core as they get married, start families and otherwise find themselves staked in life. In an insightful critique, the New York Observerskewered the pretensions of these new suburbanites, pointing out that “despite their tattoos and gluten-free baked goods and their farm-to-table restaurants, they are following in the exact same footsteps as their forebears.”
So, rather than the “back to the cities” movement that’s been heralded for decades but never arrived, we’ve gone “back to the future,” as people age and arrive in America and opt for updated versions of the same lifestyle that have drawn previous generations to the much detested yet still-thriving peripheries of the metropolis.
It was just seven short years ago that the prices at the epicenter of the housing bubble, Los Angeles, CA rose by 50% every six months as the nation experienced its first parabolic move higher in home prices courtesy of Alan Greenspan’s disastrous policies: a time when everyone knew intuitively the housing market was in an epic bubble, yet which nobody wanted to pop because there was just too much fun to be had chasing the bouncing ball, not to mention money. Well, courtesy of the real-time real estate pricing trackers at Altos Research, we now know that the very worst of the housing bubble is not only back, but it is at levels not seen since the days when a house in the Inland Empire was only a faint glimmer of the prototype for BitCoin.
A lot of the people I talk to in Phoenix are trying to time their exit. It wasn’t this way in 2005-2006; I had people still eager to buy ten months after the market had turned.3 comments
I was walking around the house Saturday — busily working away, headset in my ear, making phone calls and dealing with emails — when it hit me:
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is the world’s first peripatetic computer.
It’s easy and natural to work — to do real work — while walking. Salesmaniacs know that you work better on the phone when you’re walking and talking, but that’s just one aspect of the the sheer utility of doing the desk work where the work is, instead of trying to disgarble the mangled reports of intermediaries.
Comprehensive reviews of the S4 abound, pick your poison. I’m Apple to the core since 1985, so this was a big move for me. I have zero doubt that all smartphones are rip-offs of Apple, that without the iPhone, cell phones would still look and disappoint like the the Nokias and Motorolas of yore. But Samsung is number two and it is trying harder than Apple is now — a lot harder.
The unique features of the phone are gee-whiz and boy-howdy both, doubt you nothing, but that’s all just geekery (and the whole Android universe is rife with the kind of self-satisfied jargonistic needlessly-arcane asshattery that made normal people shun Unix (Eunichs?) geeks even before they made DOS for the dumb ones). What makes the S4 work is the way it’s made for work.
* Size: Nice in my hand, maybe just a touch big for the wimminz, but very pocketable, unlike the largely-comparable Galaxy Note 2. (Between the lines: Leaving the phone out of the iPad and iPad Mini was an unforced error on Apple’s part.)
* Weight: That plastic shell feels cheesy, but it makes the phone super-light. I can hold it stationary in one hand indefinitely, easily, without rest or stress. I sold my iPad 2 because the weight of the thing made it, de facto, a crippled laptop, not a usefully-mobile computing solution.
* Software: This is still the weakest link for true peripateticism, computing while ambulating, working while you walk, but we’re getting there. The whole “app” diversion has been a disaster, with millions of people possessed of dozens of one-off (cr)apps, each one of which is really just a showy database client. But because Google is (dimly, slowly) catching onto the idea that the essential component in computing is not the device, not the code and not the data but the end-user, device-irrelevant computing gets better and better. As it does, the amount of work you can get done wherever you are grows dramatically.
* Camera: Better than my point-and-shoot — by a lot. The sharing support everywhere is first rate, but it’s easy to move photos or videos wherever you want them.
* Battery: It’s a slow charge for a long life, a good trade-off. Much better, the battery is user-swappable, so dedicated road warriors can keep a spare or two fully-charged.
But wait. There’s more.
Take a look at this docking station. Power, monitor, hard-disk, keyboard, mouse — desktop. The S4 and this dock are, as of now, the perfect solution for working a conference: The workstation stays at your seat as you, the phone and your headset work the breaks, then everything is back to a desktop/laptop-like solution when you sit back down.
Invite me to your show. I want to prove this will work beautifully!
I’ll have more to say about the S4 as I have more time with it. But so far it’s doing for me what my Macbook Pro, my iPhone and my erstwhile iPad could not do: Giving me a way to work when the only flat surface available to me is my left hand.10 comments
From my mail this morning:
That’s a spoofed email — no links back to the mothership, and a big, fat executable at the bottom. I’m betting it’s WinPoison, so it probably won’t hurt my iMac, but I won’t be researching that question.
But: Be alert. Whether it’s spam, malware or a phishing line, nothing goes wrong until you make the mistake of clicking on the wrong file or link.2 comments
Joel Kotkin at The Daily Beast:
Once considered backwaters, these Sunbelt cities are quietly achieving a critical mass of well-educated residents. They are also becoming major magnets for immigrants. Over the past decade, the largest percentage growth in foreign-born population has occurred in sunbelt cities, led by Nashville, which has doubled its number of immigrants, as have Charlotte and Raleigh. During the first decade of the 21st century, Houston attracted the second-most new, foreign-born residents, some 400,000, of any American city—behind only much larger New York and slightly ahead of Dallas-Ft. Worth, but more than three times as many as Los Angeles. According to one recent Rice University study, Census data now shows that Houston has now surpassed New York as the country’s most racially and ethnically diverse metropolis.
Why are these people flocking to the aspirational cities, that lack the hip amenities, tourist draws, and cultural landmarks of the biggest American cities? People are still far more likely to buy a million dollar pied à terre in Manhattan than to do so in Oklahoma City. Like early-20th-century Polish peasants who came to work in Chicago’s factories or Russian immigrants, like my grandparents, who came to New York to labor in the rag trade, the appeal of today’s smaller cities is largely economic. The foreign born, along with generally younger educated workers, are canaries in the coal mine—singing loudest and most frequently in places that offer both employment and opportunities for upward mobility and a better life.
Over the decade, for example, Austin’s job base grew 28 percent, Raleigh’s by 21 percent, Houston by 20 percent, while Nashville, Atlanta, San Antonio, and Dallas-Ft. Worth saw job growth in the 14 percent range or better. In contrast, among all the legacy cities, only Seattle and Washington D.C.—the great economic parasite—have created jobs faster than the national average of roughly 5 percent. Most did far worse, with New York and Boston 20 percent below the norm; big urban regions including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and, despite the current tech bubble, San Francisco have created essentially zero new jobs over the decade.
The reality is that most urban growth in our most dynamic, fastest-growing regions has included strong expansion of the suburban and even exurban fringe, along with a limited resurgence in their historically small inner cores. Economic growth, it turns out, allows for young hipsters to find amenable places before they enter their 30s, and affordable, more suburban environments nearby to start families.
This urbanizing process is shaped, in many ways, by the late development of these regions. In most aspirational cities, close-in neighborhoods often are dominated by single-family houses; it’s a mere 10 or 15 minute drive from nice, leafy streets in Ft. Worth, Charlotte, or Austin to the urban core. In these cities, families or individuals who want to live near the center can do without being forced to live in a tiny apartment.
And in many of these places, the historic underdevelopment in the central district, coupled with job growth, presents developers with economically viable options for higher-density housing as well. Houston presents the strongest example of this trend. Although nearly 60 percent of Houston’s growth over the decade has been more than 20 miles outside the core, the inner ring area encompassed within the loop around Interstate 610 has also been growing steadily, albeit at a markedly slower rate. This contrasts with many urban regions, where close-in areas just beyond downtowns have been actually losing population.
Pressed by local developers and planners, some aspirational cities spend heavily on urban transit, including light rail. To my mind, these efforts are largely quixotic, with transit accounting for five percent or less of all commuters in most systems. The Charlotte Area Transit System represents less a viable means of commuting for most residents than what could be called Manhattan infrastructure envy. Even urban-planning model Portland, now with five radial light rail lines and a population now growing largely at its fringes, carries a smaller portion of commuters on transit than before opening its first line in 1986.
But such pretentions, however ill-suited, have always been commonplace for ambitious and ascending cities, and are hardly a reason to discount their prospects. Urbanistas need to wake up, start recognizing what the future is really looking like and search for ways to make it work better. Under almost any imaginable scenario, we are unlikely to see the creation of regions with anything like the dynamic inner cores of successful legacy cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago or San Francisco. For better or worse, demographic and economic trends suggest our urban destiny lies increasingly with the likes of Houston, Charlotte, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Raleigh and even Phoenix.
The critical reason for this is likely to be missed by those who worship at the altar of density and contemporary planning dogma. These cities grow primarily because they do what cities were designed to do in the first place: help their residents achieve their aspirations—and that’s why they keep getting bigger and more consequential, in spite of the planners who keep ignoring or deploring their ascendance.
Read the whole thing. I’ve been pimping Kotkin here for years. When you see his name out on the nets, give him your time. He’s been dead right about what’s happening in American cities, where Richard Florida has been dead wrong.1 comment