Watergate to go on the block

Monument Realty hopes the action on the Watergate Hotel Tuesday will rival what made it famous. The storied property, a monument to our eventual freedom from President Richard Nixon, is set to be auctioned. The real estate developer that bought it five years ago – hoping to restore it – received a foreclosure notice and had to find a buyer. Originally, Monument had its figurative fingers crossed for some relief form lender PB Capital, but it’s pretty clear that the Tooth Fairy wasn’t listening.

Before we rush to lament the forced sale of the most famous hotel in our nation’s capital, keep in mind that it hasn’t been open since Monument bought it in 2004. The company still owes $40 million on the hotel. Nothing’s happening. And, while we can blame today’s economic climate for the failure of this endeavor to launch, the reality is that Monument pissed away several months of prosperity.

Stupidity – rather than economics – is the driver behind this auction.

Dim Sum Dialogues : Top 10 Facts About Hong Kong

Before I start to dig deeper and bring you the best of what Hong Kong has to offer, I think it’s appropriate to share some of the most essential pieces of information that I’ve discovered about the territory in my past few months here.

1. The name Hong Kong is a phonetic rendering of a Cantonese name meaning “fragrant harbour”.

2. With a population of 7 million people but land area of only 1,108 km, Hong Kong is the 4th most densely populated territory in the world.

3. In 1997, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The territory was a colony of the United Kingdom from 1842 until 1997, when it was handed back to the Chinese government.

4. All land in Hong Kong is owned by the government, and leased to private users for periods of 50 years (before the 1997 handover, lease terms were 75, 99, or 999 years). New real estate is being reclaimed from the harbor for commercial development.

5. The average work week is 47 hours.

6. Hong Kong has no sales tax and offers extremely low corporate and income tax, making it a favorable location for businesses to operate. The government is able to maintain income through its real estate leases.

7. Hong Kong is the world’s eleventh largest trading entity, with many of the exports consisting of products made outside of the territory and distributed from Hong Kong.

8. Hong Kong is home to a highly developed network of transport – buses, ferries, railways, a tramway system and rapid transit system. Over 90% of all daily travels in the city are on public transport – the highest in the world.

9. As of 2006, there are 114 countries that maintain consulates in Hong Kong, more than any other city in the world.

10. Architect Tao Ho designed Hong Kong’s flag as part of a post-colonial contest. He used juxtaposition of red and white on the flag to symbolises the “one country two systems” political principle applied to the region. The stylised rendering of the Bauhinia blakeana flower, a flower discovered in Hong Kong, is meant to serve as a harmonising symbol for this dichotomy.

New York for sale, $35 million

It’s not as cheap as seashells, but New York is on the block for a new low price! Put up $35 million (though I’m sure there’s room to negotiate), and you could own the city free and clear. You can start smoking indoors and decide whether alternate side parking should have a future. And, snow removal will never be a concern again!

Did I mention this is New York, Dubai?

A group of 300 manmade islands has been based on real locations around the world. Grouped together, they form a living map off the coast of Dubai, inviting the wealthy to claim their territory. So far, the likes of David Beckham, Angelina Jolie (and Brad Pitt) and Rod Stewart have expressed interest. So has Michael Jackson, but I don’t think he realizes that he can’t actually set up his own laws there. Prince Albert of Monaco is said to be interested, possibly because buying one of these islands would triple the size of his country. Click to get a sense of who’s already spent some cash.

The $10 billion project began in 2003 by Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum along with Nakheel, one of the biggest real estate developers in the world. Their new “map” was completed two weeks ago. Already, Ireland, Shanghai, France and Siberia have been purchased. Along with New York, Chad, Mongolia and Saudi Arabia are open … but only if you have $20 million on hand.

Sorry Dubai, the money’s in my other coat. Maybe next time.

[Via NY Post]

[Thanks, Ron @ De La Concha, for the tip]

[Photo by Brian Sayler]

Talking Travel with Lisa Schreier: Confessions of a ex time-share hawk

Want to get the real scoop on time shares? Here to shed some light on what actually goes on inside the industry is Lisa Schreier, author of Timeshare Vacations For Dummies and Surviving A Timeshare Presentation…Confessions From The Sales Table

What is your background in the timeshare industry?

I started in the industry as a total “green-pea” out of necessity in 1998 as the Owner Referral Manager at a timeshare resort in Orlando. I earned my Florida Real Estate License in 1999 and for the next 6 years, I was a salesperson, a sales manager and the manager of the trial program at a few resorts around town before deciding to dedicate myself to educating people about timeshare.

Are timeshares the right choice for seasoned travelers? Do they lock you down to a single destination year after year?

Timeshares can be a wonderful way to vacation for seasoned as well as novice travelers. Seasoned travelers will enjoy the large range of vacation opportunities around the world, while novice travelers will enjoy the security of having a vacation home that they can return to year after year. With more than 5,800 timeshare resorts worldwide, ranging from quaint cottages to high-rise beachfront condos, there truly is something for everyone with timeshare. However, it is important to know what you want ahead of time so that you don’t get stuck with something that is not valuable or useful to you.

What do you think of the new trend of fractional home ownership?

Fractional home ownership is great for some people. For the traditional timeshare owner however, it can be cost prohibitive. Timeshares are generally sold in one-week increments; and while it is true that some owners own several weeks, fractional home ownership is traditionally 4+ weeks a year. If you don’t use all of your fractional home ownership, you may be stuck with having to find renters to offset your costs. Vacations should be fun, not work!

What are some tips to insure you don’t get scammed by a too-good-to-sound-true timeshare offer?

Well, first of all, let’s differentiate between a “too good to be true” vacation offer that includes a timeshare presentation, and a “too good to be true” timeshare.” Timeshares are still marketed circa 1975. You get a call, fax, e-mail or direct mail piece, or worse yet, are accosted on the beach or coming out of a restaurant, with offers ranging from discounted hotel stays, free or greatly reduced attraction tickets, dinner show certificates or some other “catch.”

Rest assured every single one of those offers is designed with one goal in mind…to get you to a timeshare resort and in front of a salesperson whose mission it is to sell you a timeshare. Are these “too good to be true?” Yes and no. No, in that they are what they are. After the timeshare sales pitch, you will get what you were promised. Thankfully, the days of being promised a “boat” and getting a 4′ long inflatable 2-person raft have gone by the wayside. You have to ask yourself, though, if sitting through a sometimes high pressure timeshare pitch is worth whatever you are getting when you factor in that in most cases, you’re talking about 4+ hours of your valuable vacation time spent at the resort, listening to a pitch and commuting back and forth.

Now, the timeshares themselves…are they “too good to be true?” Understand that the easiest definition of timeshare is the difference between renting your vacation accommodations and owning them. There are differences of course between fixed weeks, floating weeks and points, seasons, locations, etc. I advise my clients at Timeshare Insights to do their homework ahead of time and to stay away from any salesperson or sales manager who uses one of more of these words, “FREE, PERFECT, ALWAYS and/or NEVER.” Free and perfect don’t exist and always and never are very long times!

How difficult are timeshares to sell?

It’s not so much, “are they difficult to sell?”, it’s “what can you get for them”? In 2007, the average price of a 2-bedroom timeshare worldwide was approximately $18,000. If you were to sell that same timeshare today, you couldn’t expect to get more than half of that.

How well do timeshares fare as real estate investments?

In a word, lousy. Don’t think of timeshares as real estate investments, rather as an investment in your future vacations. Timeshares are not “Donald-Trump-type real estate.”

What are the top 5 secrets timeshare companies don’t want you to know?

  • The average price of a timeshare. Last year, the average price of a 2-bedroom timeshare was around $18,000, but the resorts don’t like to advertise this. I think its imperative for consumers to know the average price in order to make wise choices.
  • “Red Time” is not always “Red Time.” In timeshare, “red time” is the terminology used to designate high demand time. Certain places, such as Orlando, Las Vegas and Hawaii are designated as high demand, year round. While it is true that Orlando may still be busier in January than the Wisconsin Dells are in July, if you own a January week in Orlando, it does not have the same trading power as July week in Orlando.
  • Almost everything is negotiable. When it comes to money, you have to remember to figure in the cost of the timeshare itself, the annual maintanance fees, real estate taxes, closing costs, upgrade fees, membership fees, exchange or trading fees, special assessments and so on and so on. If you’re going to be spending $18,000 at a resort, you better ask what they can throw in. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. You should also ask if the price itself is negotiable. Back in the days when I was a timeshare salesperson, I was stunned at how few people actually asked for a lower price. It’s the same as paying “sticker price” at a car dealership!
  • You don’t have to buy it “today.” Here’s one of the reasons the timeshare industry has such a negative reputation. The salesperson and then the sales manager try to get you to part with your money by insisting that the price will be much higher tomorrow, so you had better buy it today. While it is true that some very legitimate timeshare resorts offer what is called a “First Visit Incentive,” I doubt that any of those resorts would refuse to honor that first visit price if you came in the next day with a credit card. However, with due respect for my old profession, DON’T waste your time or insult the salesperson’s intelligence by lying and saying “I’ll be back tomorrow with the cash” when you both know that you don’t have the cash and have no interest in buying the timeshare. The easiest way out is simply to say “No thanks, I can’t afford it” or “No thanks, I’m not interested.” Don’t lie.
  • You do not have to sit through a timeshare presentation in order to buy a timeshare and you don’t have to buy from the developer. Again, this is where the industry gets a bad name. I can’t think of any other product or service where you have to be bribed with offers and then sit and listen to a salesperson before being “allowed” to purchase the product. You are free to visit any timeshare resort in the world and ask to see the property and get some prices without a sales pitch. If they try to get you to a pitch, WALK OUT. On the other hand, you don’t have to purchase a timeshare from the developer at all. There are ways to purchase a timeshare at significantly less than that $18,000 average. The trick is to know who to deal with. Again, that’s where working with an independent firm such as Timeshare Insights becomes valuable. We don’t financially benefit if you purchase a timeshare or not, but we can guide you through the murky waters.

Is it possible to get a timeshare in some off-the-beaten-road places? Southeast Asia? Eastern Europe? South America? If so, what resources would you recommend?

Yes, there are more than 5,800 timeshares worldwide. You are more likely to find them in places that attract lots of travelers, so you probably won’t find any in Vietnam right now, but may find some there in 10 years as global tourism there increases. For instance, if the current trend continues, Dubai will have more timeshares there in 10 years than Orlando! There are pros and cons of buying timeshare out of the country. The most obvious con is if the contract is written in a language that you are not fluent in. If you don’t understand exactly what you are buying, then don’t!

For more information, check her website: Timeshare Insights.

Most Expensive ZIP Codes in the US

Surprisingly enough, the top five priciest areas of the country in terms of property values are not in Manhattan or Beverly Hills. According to Forbes.com, they are in Alpine, NJ and Miami Beach, FL. Median home sale price? $3.4 million.

Honestly, if I had $3.4 million to spend on a house, I think I would just live in hotels. A different one every month to spice it up a little.

Here are the Top 5 Most Expensive ZIP Codes in the US:

  1. Alpine, NJ 07620 and Miami Beach, FL 33109 (tie)
  2. Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067
  3. Glenbrook, NV 89413
  4. Amangansett, NY 11930

Although, to be fair to California, 291 of the top 500 priciest ZIP codes are in CA.