Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Update on the Eminent Domain Case in Seoul










The dependent variable that the valuation algorithm solves for is the price per square meter of land area, not building area, because land in Seoul is worth far more than most buildings on it due to the shortage of land.
Notice that almost every input variable is a dummy variable. Dummy variables are binary variables with the value of 1 or 0, depending upon the presence or absence of a particular condition, such as being “adjacent to a narrow road”.
There are only two quantifiable input variables in this model: the land area and the distance to railways or highway. Missing from this model are so many quantifiable variables such as distance to subway stations, distance to shopping, distance to schools, quality of schools, floor area ratio (ratio of building area to land area), and land slope.




Public assessment agencies often conduct their own internal assessment/sales ratio studies (or sometimes sales price/assessment ratio studies) to calibrate their systems.  Some masterful studies have been published by the states of Washington and Virginia in the U.S.

The Korean client’s lawsuit against the private taking ultimately lost in Korean courts, but the treaty between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea mandates an international arbitration for a U.S. citizen.  We expect to be heard at the International Arbitration Centre in Hong Kong.











Sunday, October 21, 2018

Why I Don’t Appraise in Antarctica

Saturday, September 1, 2018

An Industrial Building Appraisal Done to both USPAP and RICS Red Book Standards














"This appraisal should not be considered a report on the physical items that are a part of the appraised property.  Although the appraisal may contain information about the physical items being appraised (including their adequacy and/or condition), it should be clearly understood that this information is only to be used as a general guide for property valuation and not as a complete or detailed physical report.  The appraisers are not construction, environmental, or legal experts, and any statement given on these matters should be considered preliminary in nature.
24) The observed condition of the foundation, roof, exterior walls, floors, heating system, plumbing, insulation, electrical service, and all other mechanical and constructions based on a casual inspection only and no detailed inspection was made.  The structures were not checked for building code violations, and it is assumed that all building components meet applicable building codes unless so stated in the report.  

Because no detailed inspection was made, and because such knowledge goes beyond the scope of this appraisal, any observed condition or other comments given in this appraisal should not be taken as a guarantee that a problem does not exist.  Specifically, no guarantee is made as to the adequacy or condition of the foundation, roof, exterior walls, interior walls, floors, heating system, air conditioning system, plumbing, electrical service, insulation, or any other detailed construction matters.  If any interested party were concerned about the existence, condition, or adequacy of any particular building or site component, we would strongly suggest that a construction expert be hired for a detailed investigation."





Monday, August 27, 2018

More Appraisals in British Columbia: How Helpful is USPAP in Preventing Mortgage Fraud?


An applicant for a loan from my client was about to bid on a court-ordered sale of an assortment of foreclosed British Columbian land properties scattered all around the province.  The foreclosing lender had been a victim of mortgage fraud, feebly assisted by a supposedly reputable Canadian appraisal firm. 







Remnants of the disaster 11 years ago at Lake Chehalis


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Another EB-5 Regional Center Failure: Imperial Regional Center




The goal of the EB-5 regional center was to develop a 78-acre commercial center (“Imperial Center”), in the unincorporated town of Heber, in Imperial County, California, containing over one million square feet of building area, mostly focused on retail, wholesale and food and beverage operations, with a hotel, cinema, and public space. There are 135 Chinese investors who have supplied $67.5 million in funds in order to secure a U.S. green card. The first phase of the center, which was an ARCO gas station and AM/PM Minimart, has been successful.  The second phase consisted mostly of food and beverage operations, including 4 restaurants and a nightclub. All are open now. The third phase has not started, and an aerial map from March 21, 2015 shows no further development since that time more than 3 years ago.

Mr. Lo also owned several other companies, one of which is “Veggie & Tea House”. A “Veggie and Tea House” truck was on site during my inspection, making me believe that he and his wife were the restaurant suppliers to the center, a possible conflict of interest, and maybe the reason why this fledgling center already has 5 food and beverage operations.
If Imperial Regional Center is not paying its loans or property taxes or contractors, perhaps some of its income is being diverted to the Lo family through Veggie & Tea House.

The attorney writing the complaint for the cheated investors is Jing Wang, Esq., Kingswood Law, Diamond Bar, California. 




Thursday, June 21, 2018

Another Budding EB-5 Scandal in California's San Gabriel Valley



An attorney retained me at the request of a skeptical investor in this EB-5 project sponsored by the America FX Regional Center, LLC, approved as an EB-5 regional center in 2016, well after it was understood that there was an ethical crisis in the EB-5 regional center industry. I was supplied with an initial Offering Memorandum, dated 6/1/16, and a restated Offering Memorandum dated 4/24/17 for the project "FX Boutix Duarte EB-5 Lender".


The goal of the offering was to develop a 318-room FX Boutix hotel across from the City of Hope, one of America’s top ten cancer research centers, in the middle-class Los Angeles suburb of Duarte, California. The total project floor and parking area was to be 445,000 square feet. So far, they have received more than $53 million from 96 Chinese investors, but have never received development approval for their oversized project, and the development application was withdrawn several weeks ago, according to City Planner Jason Golding.

The principals of this EB-5 regional center are Sherry Ho and Alvin Tzuen-chung Ho, former chairman of the Chinese hotel firm FX Hotels Group. He is also known as Hou Zunzhong, depending upon whether the name is pronounced in the Mandarin or Taiwanese dialect. The FX Hotels Group is a hotel corporation traded on the Taipei Stock Exchange, but with almost all its hotels based in the People’s Republic of China. This corporation has lost 95% of its share value since the beginning of 2014. As of today’s closing share price of 3.05 Taiwanese New Dollars (worth about 10 U.S. cents), this company’s market capitalization is equivalent to about 6.3 million U.S. dollars. One Asian stock analyst joked that FX’s only success was taking Taiwanese money and dumping it into bottomless pits in China.

Here’s the chart action in recent years, and consider that one U.S. dollar is approximately equal to 30 Taiwan New Dollars.

It seemed that the Mr. and Mrs. Ho misled investors in the America FX Regional Center by stating that Mr. Ho’s family owned the FX Hotels Group and that FX Hotels Group was interested in foreign development. Most of FX Hotels Group is owned by other Chinese hotel corporations such as Furama and Fu Lihua. Almost all FX hotels are in China.


The second Offering Memorandum for America FX Regional Center has no mention of Mr. Ho or any affiliation with the FX Hotels Group. This might be because Mr. Ho was fired in spectacular fashion at an FX shareholders’ meeting on 3/28/17, after another year of losses, which was video recorded and published on the China Times web site, including police called in to quell Mr. Ho. http://www.chinatimes.com/realtimenews/20170406001317-260410  He had not been notified in advance that he was going to be replaced on the spot by the leading shareholders.

Perhaps this news was behind Mr. Ho’s ouster:

“FX Hotels Group Inc. Auditor Raises 'Going Concern' Doubt
Mar 31 17
FX Hotels Group Inc. filed its Annual on Mar 31, 2017 for the period ending Dec 31, 2016. In this report its auditor, Deloitte and Touche LLP, gave an unqualified opinion expressing doubt that the company can continue as a going concern.”

Meanwhile, a new, restated Offering Memorandum for the America FX Regional Center was published less than a month after his ouster, and there is a disclaimer that investors should not expect FX Hotels Group to manage the property.

The most outrageous inaccuracy in the Offering Memorandum, stated on page 2, is the claim that the hotel would be built across the street from the City of Hope Medical Center, which includes a 217-room hospital with 40 extra rooms for visiting family members. Most patients are cancer patients.

The City of Hope is actually located 1.2 miles from the location of the hotel project, as measured in the Google Map below. The gold and red colors along the route indicate traffic bottlenecks due mainly to shoppers patronizing Wal-Mart and Home Depot in the immediate area.

Visiting investors must have instead been shown the closed Santa Teresita hospital across the street behind the discount retail center anchored by “Dollar Tree” and “Smart and Final” stores, shown in the top photo. Santa Teresita surrendered its surgical/acute care license in 2004, and the 5-story building in the background is composed of offices and vacant space, but there is also an adjacent 131-room senior care home.

The architect's drawing seem to have no compatibility with the L-shaped site, as seen below:









In terms of locational advantages, this project is also a miss because it is not located on the Gold Line light rail system serving the San Gabriel Valley, including a stop for the City of Hope. The nearest west stop on the Gold Line, Arcadia Station, includes several all-suite hotels such as Springhill Suites, Hilton Garden, 2 Extended Stay Americas, Residence Inn and Doubletree, all with a better restaurant selection than Duarte offers. Visiting families would not need to rent a car or deal with the Duarte traffic jams associated with Walmart and Home Depot. The subject hotel project, on the other hand, is not located on the light rail line.

So, there should be 96 Chinese investors asking, “Where’s our money?”

The actual City of Hope
The attorney writing the complaint for the cheated investors is Jing Wang, Esq., Kingswood Law, Diamond Bar, California. She also successfully litigated against the California Investment Immigration Fund, also previously reported on this blog.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Timeshares, Fractional Vacation Home Ownerships and Condotels are a Bad Deal



Fairway Forest


By now there are millions of disappointed investors in these types of properties. The most important lesson learned is that buildings are a deteriorating asset.


When these property types were originally conceived in the 1980s, the U.S. economy was beset by a high rate of inflation. Real estate was known to provide protection from inflation, because property values were increasing at a similar rate, and leveraged rates of return were even higher. In the early 1980s, condotels had also become the rage in Miami Beach.


My mother was a realtor at the time, and she and her fellow agents were all encouraged by their broker to buy timeshare units at a resort known as Fairway Forest in western North Carolina. They were told that they were fixing their vacation costs at 1980s prices while their investments would continue to appreciate in value as vacation travel would become more expensive in the future. I even co-signed the deed.

By 2007, my mother was retired and living off a limited fixed income. The maintenance fees on the timeshare had increased to $40 per month and she asked me to take over the deed and use the unit as I wanted. I never visited the actual unit, but since it was part of Club Wyndham, I exchanged my week for other places each year – Hawaii, San Francisco, New York, San Antonio and Mexico. My week only counted for 3 days, though, for a stay in Honolulu, San Francisco or New York.

In a few short years, the maintenance fees were increased to $80 per month, meaning that I was paying $960 for 3-day stays in Honolulu, San Francisco and New York, which I could get for a similar cost without any sort of vacation club ownership. Units at Fairway Forest could be rented for just $850 per week. I was also losing money in opportunity costs, as twice I had to turn down profitable appraisal assignments because I had already invited friends to vacation with me in Hawaii. I would rather lose money than lose friends.


I quickly learned that listing a timeshare unit for sale only attracted scammers. I offered the unit for free to my brother and his family, but he told me that he could get better deals on vacation residences just by shopping around. The $960 in maintenance fees was a deal breaker. Meanwhile, I received constant letters from scammers on soliciting their help to stop paying maintenance fees.

Just Google “Wyndham Timeshare” and you will see what I mean.


Luckily, belonging to a scuba diving club, my offer of a free timeshare in Club Wyndham attracted a taker, someone who had come along on our diving trips to Hawaii and Cozumel.

Meanwhile, the various hotel awards programs I belong to have recently been calling me with the secret mission of selling me timeshares.  Today it was IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group), known particularly for its Holiday Inn franchise. When a caller with a foreign accent tells you that they are "recording this call for quality purposes", it means that they are about to try sell you a timeshare and they want recorded proof of your order. Why do they need proof so badly? Just hang up.  

Why are timeshares and  condotels a bad deal?

It's the maintenance fees, Stupid!

This leads me to an important concept that gets forgotten in the real estate investment world, that buildings are deteriorating assets. Hospitality assets deteriorate even faster because of the exacting standards of the hospitality industry, under constant pressure to renovate. This is why maintenance fees are always rising for timeshares and condotels and other fractional vacation interests.


Meanwhile, an excess of vacation properties was built between 2005 and 2008, and values plummeted in the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and many have not yet recovered due to the oversupply. The only phenomenon I see is maintenance costs increasing faster than property value appreciation, of which I have not seen any. That is today’s economic reality as we live in a world of low inflation. Your timeshare or condotel just might be worth nothing as an investment, but you can still use it for fun.

As for condotels, I first witnessed them in the early 1980s, spurred by the 15-year Accelerated Cost Recovery System enacted by the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, but the Tax Reform Act of 1986 took away these benefits, and the burgeoning oversupply of vacation units killed the condotel industry, a historical fact that keeps getting forgotten after each time this industry collapses.

Constant problems with condotel investments include high maintenance fees, on the order of $10 per square foot per year, having to share 35 to 50% of revenue with management without any guarantee of occupancy, having to frequently buy new furniture packages to comply with the hotel franchise rules, HOA dues, housekeeping fees, special assessments and elevated insurance costs. On top of that, this is an investment type that rarely experiences capital appreciation. If capital appreciation was reasonably expected, the hotel developer would never have needed to sell units prematurely.

Condotels continue to re-emerge as a brilliant new concept before crashing in flames yet again and forgotten. Now I am once again getting e-mails from Mondinion about a brilliant new concept: the Condotel.

Industrywide failure to consider buildings as deteriorating assets

The real estate industry in general in the 1980s newly embraced a valuation method called “Discounted Cash Flow Analysis”, in which valuations were based on 10-year cash flow projections. That is what I was hired to do after graduating from SMU in 1984 with an M.S. in Real Estate degree. The only problem is that most of the DCF practitioners inflated income and expenses at the same rate of inflation, not acknowledging that buildings were deteriorating assets. Every DCF valuation thus became inflated, and hundreds of millions of dollars were lost in the collapse of the commercial real estate industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s.


In a book I was commissioned to write for the Appraisal Institute in 2011 (see sidebar), I was prohibited from mentioning that over the long term, expenses always increase faster than rents, because buildings are deteriorating assets. If you don’t believe me, think about your car expenses. Are they really increasing at only 2.5% per year according to the CPI (Consumer Price Index)? Of course not, as cars are also deteriorating assets.


As for Club Wyndham, I was satisfied with the exchange possibilities, but displeased with the high-pressure sales tactics used on me whenever I showed up to peacefully use my reserved unit. Club Wyndham, why could you not just leave me in peace to enjoy my vacations without high pressure salespersons?

In the last 2 years, in Manhattan, the unit would never be ready, even if I arrived at 8:30 pm, and I would be handed off to a high-pressure salesman trying to convince me to buy more points or I would never be able to stay at their place again. 

There was also the Mandatory Information Breakfast Meeting I was required to attend during every stay at any Club Wyndham property. The first time, in Hawaii in 2007, I showed up and was denied admission because I did not bring identification, which was fine with me. They must have thought I was a tourist attempting to steal their orange juice and plastic-wrapped muffins.


In San Antonio, I attended their Information Meeting on a Sunday morning, to which I was bussed several blocks away, thus assuring I would not escape during the Texas summer heat. The speaker casually chatted with me before the Meeting started, mentioning that he had been a flight attendant before entering the career of timeshare sales. I had orange juice and muffins and scrambled eggs. 

When he started the presentation, the only information he provided for the first 15 minutes was about himself, in which he had elevated himself to being a former airline pilot. Then he asked all of us to chant the phrase “Today is the Day!” I felt like I was trapped in an Amway sales rally and quietly left, walking several blocks back to a nice unit on the San Antonio Riverwalk. I lived nine years in the Texas heat and humidity, so I could handle the walk. Plus, if you have read my other posts, I have done plenty of work in tropical locations, and sweated profusely in places such as Acapulco, Fiji, Costa Rica, St. Maarten and Roatan.

When I returned to my building, the doorman had already been alerted of my escape. He asked me if there was a reason why I left the Information Meeting so suddenly. I just said, “Today is not the day.

Now chant after me: Do not attend the Information Meeting!