Saturday, May 31, 2008

NYT: Letter from Buyer to Seller, and Response

Friday's New York Times featured a sample letter from a potential buyer to a seller of a home they wanted to buy. And the response back from seller to buyer. The title should link to the entire article, but here are the highlights:

Dear Seller:
I’m writing to let you know that I would like to make a bid on your property. I love the area and am committed to buying a house nearby. And your home fits my needs.
But given that my offer is well below your asking price, I also feel I owe you an explanation.
First, consider the big picture. Nationwide, home prices in the first quarter of 2008 fell 14.1 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index.
That’s the biggest decline in the 20-year history of the data. And just in case you’re wondering, during the housing downturn of the early 1990s, the decline was never worse than 2.8 percent.
Not only that, earlier this month, the National Association of Realtors pointed to the huge number of existing homes on the market. As of the end of April, the total number was 4.55 million. At the rate people are buying right now, that represents an 11.2-month supply.
So buyers have options right now. A lot of them. I’m no different. Your home is great, but it isn’t unique. Few homes are. I know this may be hard to hear, since you’ve spent years creating memories here. But you may be waiting a long time if you hope to find a buyer with the same emotional connection that you have.
My mindset is hardly unique. We’ve all been reading the headlines. The accompanying articles appear prominently in major newspapers and sit on the Web pages where people check their e-mail every day. Everyone sees them, and the psychological impact is real.
Has your real estate agent laid any of this out for you? Maybe so, and you didn’t want to believe it. But it’s also possible that your agent, afraid of offending you and losing the listing, simply doesn’t want to initiate that sort of discussion. It may be worth sitting down for a candid reassessment.
It will be tempting to view my low bid as an insult. Please don’t make that mistake. Your home is genuinely appealing, and I wouldn’t have written this note unless I was serious about buying it. Getting a firm offer in this market is an accomplishment. So congratulations!
Oh, and one more thing. You presumably need someplace to move. My guess is that you’ll find these same points compelling when it’s your turn to buy. You just might succeed in buying for a better price, too.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Yours Truly,
The Realist

Dear Bidder:
Thanks so much for your note. I’m truly glad that you like our home as much as we do. You’re right that my family and I have many great memories of this place, and we hope someday you will, too.
And I just want you to know that I’m not insulted in any way by your offer. The fact is, none of us are very good at buying and selling homes. We don’t do it often, and as much as we know we’re not supposed to let emotions get in the way, it’s hard not to. After all, few people buy or sell anything else as expensive as a home in their lifetimes.
That said, your offer disappointed me. You seem to believe that I’m not aware of how bad things are out there or that I’m in denial. But I do read the headlines, and I priced the house accordingly. I knew I might have to wait awhile to sell it.
I should point out that your data draws on what has already happened in the housing market. Instead, I’d ask you to consider what’s about to happen.
One big reason for the falling prices is that it’s harder to get mortgages. Lenders went from giving money to anyone with a pulse to demanding higher credit scores and larger down payments. All sorts of buyers simply couldn’t make the numbers work anymore.
That may now change. Starting June 1, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which buy mortgages from lenders and help make it possible for them to lend more money, are loosening restrictions on the sorts of loans they’ll buy in many markets. That is supposed to make it easier for people to buy a home with a down payment of 5 percent, or even less. Many more qualified buyers should mean more bids, and I’m willing to wait to see if it turns out that way.
I know you talked about having choices, but presumably we wouldn’t be engaging in this correspondence unless you liked my home best. Given that, I’d ask you to think about something: How often do you find a place that you can actually imagine living in? Sure, there are a lot of other properties out there. But an increasing number are in foreclosure and probably have problems lurking within the walls. So don’t let fear of a falling market keep you out of a home that you truly want.
It’s probably obvious by now that I’m not going to counter with a particular number. This doesn’t mean that I do not want to negotiate. I’d just like you to consider what I’ve said and see if you find it convincing. In the meantime, other shoppers who are interested in my home now have a price to beat. So thanks for helping me out with that.
Just one more thing. Please take another look at whatever mortgage calculator you’re using and see how your monthly payment will change if you brought your price up a bit. It almost certainly is not going to be enough to break you. But it may be enough to get us to a deal.
I look forward to your reply.
The Undaunted

I'm reprinting this because I think it is indicative of the current mind-set out there in the real estate market. Of course, all markets are local, and I think any buyer writing such a letter should use local stats. I also think that sellers should almost always counter, even if an offer seems low. You can't win unless you get in the game.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I'm quoted again in the Burbank Leader

I was quoted again regarding house prices in today's Burbank Leader. The headline title here should link to the article. The article is also on my website.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Play banned in Burbank

Burroughs High in Burbank banned the production of a play about the murder of gay teenager Matthew Shepard (pictured, right). The critically-aclaimed play is called “The Laramie Project” and it was produced in 2002 at The Colony Theater here in Burbank – I saw it and remember it well. However, the students who proposed the play to the school in the first place have found a new venue for production – again at Burbank’s Colony Theater. Read the L.A. Times link here. Way to go, students.

The Burroughs principal was quoted as saying this production “would tear this community apart.” (He has subsequently supported the students’ off-campus production.) But Burbank, what’s going on? Are we living in Mayberry R.F.D.? Here’s the irony: the play is just as much about small-town narrow mindedness as it is about the actual crime – sound like anybody you know, Burbank?

C'mon, Burbank, get over it and enter the 21st Century. Theater was my major in college and I still believe it’s a vitally important form of artistic expression in our culture. I really believe that if you want students to learn, and love, this form of expression, don’t just give them big musicals to perform. Give them big ideas, too.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Yikes! My Visit to the Dreaded Americana

I visited the dreaded Americana in Glendale for the first time last Saturday. The husband and two friends from West Hollywood were along for the ride. Our friends frequent The Grove, and were interested to see how this new Caruso project stacked up.

First, is it possible that it truly has boosted Glendale? Local restaurants were packed. Far Niente was booked until 9:00 pm and Tam O’Shanter was packed at 5:30.

And Americana was packed, too, of course. Our friends thought the crowd was different from the usual Grove crowd. Not surprising. I thought it looked like a Disneyland crowd with fewer children. Of course, the Cheesecake Factory had a long wait, but traffic in most of the stores was kinda light. I didn’t get to do much poking around in the stores – except for Barnes & Noble -- as I was with 3 guys and my husband’s shopping mall anxiety kicked in pretty quickly.

My take: it seemed much more like Universal City Walk than a mall. I think that once the dust settles, it will be a destination for young people who want to hang out rather than a major retail hub. And as far as the retail outlets go, I think the few national chains like Barnes & Noble and Chico’s will survive, but the high-end local stores like Barney’s Co-Op and Michael Stars may not be the same in a year or so. I think most shopping dollars will still be spent across the street at the Galleria, with its plethora of major retail chains like Macy’s, Target, Gap, etc. The Galleria was still mobbed at 9:00 pm, btw. That’s just my opinion, though.

And the condos, priced from $600,000 to over $1 million. Will they ever sell them all? I just can’t see it at those prices. Again, they are going to have to attract affluent young people who want to live over Disneyland.

I was curious about the decisions to build this, so I asked Patrick Duffy, of MetroIntelligence, a commercial real estate consulting firm, for his opinion. He says “…I'm a big fan of The Grove, and saw how its development helped raise property values throughout the surrounding area …I'm also a big fan of Glendale due to its location, somewhat small-town ambience and mix of uses, but I think Americana will certainly pull retail visitors from throughout the SFV and SGV areas. What remains to be seen, however, is how successful the residential components are, although people have been willing to pay a nice premium (i.e, 20-30%) for living in mixed-use communities such as this. But do people want to live in Disneyland every day? I personally like my quiet, suburban neighborhood…that's still 20 minutes from most things I want to do, and prefer to avoid the noise/congestion/constant activity of downtown Hollywood, downtown L.A. and perhaps large mixed-use communities such as this…”

Thanks Patrick. It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Homes for Sale in South Pasadena and La Canada

In the last few days, I've looked at several properties in South Pasadena and La Canada/La Crescenta. These are not areas I look in often, but I'm working with a buyer who'd like the excellent public schools these lovely communities offer. I was amazed at how few properties are available for under $1 million. There's really not a lot of inventory at all in any price range. If home prices are coming down in these areas, I certainly didn't see any evidence of it, nor did I see any short sale or REO properties. I know this is anecdotal, but I think it's additional proof the current housing crisis has pretty much skipped over the more affluent areas of Southern California.
Coming soon: Judy goes to Americana

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Short Sale, Lending and PMI News

Here's some more good news from the lending sector:

Fannie Mae scraps higher downpayment requirements
Friday May 16, 9:54 AM EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) — Fannie Mae says it is doing away with higher minimum downpayment requirements for borrowers in distressed real estate markets.
The government-sponsored mortgage financier said Friday it will require minimum downpayments of between 3 percent and 5 percent for all loans that it guarantees.
That replaces a December policy that required a higher minimum if the loan was for a home in a market with declining real estate prices.
Washington-based Fannie says the move is part of its effort to help resuscitate the flagging mortgage market. Thanks, Dana Dukelow, for the article.

Other lenders are doing the same; however, it appears that the market for second mortgages is shrinking. For the average buyer, this is a mixed blessing: once again, you can get a home with only 5% or 10% down. That's the good news. The bad news is that rather than have two loans (say, one for 80% and one for 10%), a buyer will now have just one loan, but will pay "private mortgage insurance" every month.

In short sale news, it appears that the lenders are finally streamlining the process and it isn't taking so long to get an approval on a purchase contract. Also, in short sale cases where there is both a first and second loan, the holders of the 2nd loan are pretty much giving up and going away for a pittance (about $1000). No wonder the lenders of 2nd loans are dwindling!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Open House Traffic is Better than Expected

Sunday, May 18, I held an open house for my listing at 934 N. Avon in Burbank. It's a great 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath Tudor with both character and modern updates, and it's in a fabulous area of Magnolia Park. I had it advertised in both print and on the internet, of course. The turnout was much better than I expected. Here are my numbers. We had about 19 to 20 groups in (a group can be 1 person or 10 people, but they are all together and represent one purchase). The "normal" number of groups last year, before everything went dead in August, was about 15 groups. It was a first open house, so usually the neighbors account for at least 5 to 6 of the groups. Here, there was only one couple who were neighbors. Everybody who came seemed to be a serious house-hunter. Almost every group was at least a 30-yr-old plus couple and at least half the groups had kids. Of those, several had infants. As we all know, couples with kids are the backbone of the middle-class real estate market. And, the temperature in Burbank was over 100 degrees. Nobody visits open houses when it's that hot except for serious lookers.

What does it mean? Is the housing/credit crisis over? No. But I think last month's loosening of credit -- the first since August -- is certainly responsible for buyer activity. Will we get an offer from this? I'll keep you posted. I expect at least several second looks.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Angry renters = scamming conservatives

I know I'm not the first to blog about this story (thanks, Peter, from LALand, for bringing it to my attention). But the site is produced by anything but. Here's the link to the WSJ story. And here's a quote.

"Though it purports to be a spontaneous uprising, is actually a product of an inside-the-Beltway conservative advocacy organization led by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, and publishing magnate Steve Forbes, a fellow Republican. It's a fake grass-roots effort -- what politicos call an AstroTurf campaign -- that provides a window into the sleight-of-hand ways of Washington."

I love my Republican friends. And there are arguments to be made against a tax-payer funded bailout. But c'mon! This is just typical of the dirty tricks that a bunch of rich conservatives pull to make working people think they're on their side. Is it any wonder that we non-conservatives are always looking for conservative hidden agendas? It's because they're always there! And the agenda is to sell little people ideas that will enrich big people.

I don't believe arguments that "they all do it." I've never seen evidence that the progressives in this country have the lie machine -- or are even as organized, unfortunately -- as conservatives. Allright, enough rant.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It's over, says the Wall Street Journal

Per yesterday's post, here's a May 6 article from the Wall Street Journal. The Journal is usually very conservative, so perhaps there's some political agenda here; I don't know. But it's interesting reading, anyway. While I don't agree with everything the author says, I think their analysis of the relation of housing prices to income is spot on.

The Housing Crisis Is Over
The dire headlines coming fast and furious in the financial and popular press suggest that the housing crisis is intensifying. Yet it is very likely that April 2008 will mark the bottom of the U.S. housing market. Yes, the housing market is bottoming right now.
How can this be? For starters, a bottom does not mean that prices are about to return to the heady days of 2005. That probably won't happen for another 15 years. It just means that the trend is no longer getting worse, which is the critical factor.
Most people forget that the current housing bust is nearly three years old. Home sales peaked in July 2005. New home sales are down a staggering 63% from peak levels of 1.4 million. Housing starts have fallen more than 50% and, adjusted for population growth, are back to the trough levels of 1982.
Furthermore, residential construction is close to 15-year lows at 3.8% of GDP; by the fourth quarter of this year, it will probably hit the lowest level ever. So what's going to stop the housing decline? Very simply, the same thing that caused the bust: affordability.
The boom made housing unaffordable for many American families, especially first-time home buyers. During the 1990s and early 2000s, it took 19% of average monthly income to service a conforming mortgage on the average home purchased. By 2005 and 2006, it was absorbing 25% of monthly income. For first time buyers, it went from 29% of income to 37%. That just proved to be too much.
Prices got so high that people who intended to actually live in the houses they purchased (as opposed to speculators) stopped buying. This caused the bubble to burst.
Since then, house prices have fallen 10%-15%, while incomes have kept growing (albeit more slowly recently) and mortgage rates have come down 70 basis points from their highs. As a result, it now takes 19% of monthly income for the average home buyer, and 31% of monthly income for the first-time home buyer, to purchase a house. In other words, homes on average are back to being as affordable as during the best of times in the 1990s. Numerous households that had been priced out of the market can now afford to get in.
The next question is: Even if home sales pick up, how can home prices stop falling with so many houses vacant and unsold? The flip but true answer: because they always do.
In the past five major housing market corrections (and there were some big ones, such as in the early 1980s when home sales also fell by 50%-60% and prices fell 12%-15% in real terms), every time home sales bottomed, the pace of house-price declines halved within one or two months.
The explanation is that by the time home sales stop declining, inventories of unsold homes have usually already started falling in absolute terms and begin to peak out in "months of supply" terms. That's the case right now: New home inventories peaked at 598,000 homes in July 2006, and stand at 482,000 homes as of the end of March. This inventory is equivalent to 11 months of supply, a 25-year high – but it is similar to 1974, 1982 and 1991 levels, which saw a subsequent slowing in home-price declines within the next six months.
Inventories are declining because construction activity has been falling for such a long time that home completions are now just about undershooting new home sales. In a few months, completions of new homes for sale could be undershooting new home sales by 50,000-100,000 annually.
Inventories will drop even faster to 400,000 – or seven months of supply – by the end of 2008. This shift in inventories will have a significant impact on prices, although house prices won't stop falling entirely until inventories reach five months of supply sometime in 2009. A five-month supply has historically signaled tightness in the housing market.
Many pundits claim that house prices need to fall another 30% to bring them back in line with where they've been historically. This is usually based on an analysis of house prices adjusted for inflation: Real house prices are 30% above their 40-year, inflation-adjusted average, so they must fall 30%. This simplistic analysis is appealing on the surface, but is flawed for a variety of reasons.
Most importantly, it neglects the fact that a great majority of Americans buy their houses with mortgages. And if one buys a house with a mortgage, the most important factor in deciding what to pay for the house is how much of one's income is required to be able to make the mortgage payments on the house. Today the rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage is 5.7%. Back in 1981, the rate hit 18.5%. Comparing today's house prices to the 1970s or 1980s, when mortgage rates were stratospheric, is misguided and misleading. [emphasis mine]
This is all good news for the broader economy. The housing bust has been subtracting a full percentage point from GDP for almost two years now, which is very large for a sector that represents less than 5% of economic activity.
When the rate of house-price declines halves, there will be a wholesale shift in markets' perceptions. All of a sudden, the expected value of the collateral (i.e. houses) for much of the lending that went on for the past decade will change. Right now, when valuing the collateral, market participants including banks are extrapolating the current pace of house price declines for another two to three years; this has a significant impact on the amount of delinquencies, foreclosures and credit losses that lenders are expected to face.
More home sales and smaller price declines means fewer homeowners will be underwater on their mortgages. They will thus have less incentive to walk away and opt for foreclosure.
A milder house-price decline scenario could lead to increases in the market value of a lot of the securitized mortgages that have been responsible for $300 billion of write-downs in the past year. Even if write-backs do not occur, stabilizing collateral values will have a huge impact on the markets' perception of risk related to housing, the financial system, and the economy.
We are of course experiencing a serious housing bust, with serious economic consequences that are still unfolding. The odds are that the reverberations will lead to subtrend growth for a couple of years. Nonetheless, housing led us into this credit crisis and this recession. It is likely to lead us out. And that process is underway, right now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Is, or isn't, the real estate sky falling?

The national media, after convincing us that the real estate sky has been falling, is now beginning to question that assumption. Link to LaLand's story here. Apparently, not that many people are walking away from their homes unless they're in serious financial trouble. I, too, have bought into the Chicken-Little-End-Of-Life-As-We-Know-It, only to find that it doesn't accurately represent the areas where I work. Yes, foreclosures are rampant in Palmdale and the outlying areas. But as a percentage of homes here in SFV, it's still quite a small number. Hmm.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The World Is Your Litter Box at Trinkets & Treasures

Trinkets & Treasures, a very cool jewelry/accessory/gift shop in Studio City's Tujunga Village, hosted a signing for my husband's book on Saturday. The book is called The World Is Your Litter Box and it's a hysterically funny how-to manual for cats, by Steve's cat Quasi. We sold quite a few books and got to hang out in this great area for awhile. Thanks to Linda, Suzanne and staff of T&T for making this such a success. The book is available at book stores everywhere and also on Amazon.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mothers Day! And Sunday Morning Reading

Happy Moms' Day to all you mothers out there. There are some interesting real estate-related articles in today's papers. First and foremost, from the L.A. Times, is an article titled Appraisal Shake-Up Sparks Ire. My take on this: a computer in, say, Des Moines, can't appraise your house. It can't determine your upgrades or ambience (which, yes, do make a difference to prospective buyers). The other articles are from the New York Times. Gretchen Morgenson's first several paragraphs are interesting. You can skip past that. I've also included "When Should the Fed Crash the Party" and an article on storage space "foreclosures." Yikes.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Rim of the Valley is Safe for Now

A bill that may begin preserving open space in the mountains that ring the Valley was signed into law this past week. Actually, it calls for a study by the Department of the Interior on expanding the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Click here for an article about this from the Burbank Leader.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Return of the 10% Loans

10% loans are back for conforming loans (up to $417,000) and for some jumbo-conforming (up to $729,000) and jumbo (over $729,000) loans. Most programs, however, do require full documentation and good credit scores, and very few allow "stated income" documentation. I'm told that Countrywide has a 10% program without mortgage insurance. That's the first I've ever heard of that, although I'm also told the rate is higher. While we're on the subject, here's a clarification: although in recent months many people have referred to "stated income" loans as "liar" loans, that's not necessarily the truth. Most people who are w-2'd by their employers can easily get full documentation loans. Most folks (like me) who are independent contractors, have their own businesses, and/or receive 1099s instead of w-2s are "stated income" buyers as their income can change year to year.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

New Listing! Remodeled Tudor in Burbank

I'm pleased to have this new listing at 934 N. Avon. It's priced at $749,000, and more pictures can be found on my site. Here are the details: 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, vintage charm + modern updates + the best Magnolia Park has to offer. This gorgeous, 1674 sf. Tudor offers a formal living room with built-ins, formal dining room, remodeled sunny kitchen with new maple cabinets, and new, long countertops and appliances. The circular floor plan also features a special central living space that would be perfect for a breakfast area, a family computer or a play area. Three bedrooms and 1 + ½ baths are also downstairs. The private new master suite is upstairs and features a peek-a-boo view, new luxe bathroom with separate shower and tub and lots of closets with built-ins. A custom bonus office is wired for digital video. Of course, there’s a special security parking area plus a two car garage. The rear of the home features a charming patio area with custom brick work and a large green backyard with a solid shed and lemon tree. Other features include dual zone a/c, newer all-copper plumbing, newer electrical, newer windows and cat 5 wiring throughout the home.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Jacarandas are back in bloom

Ah, the Jacarandas are in bloom again. To me, the lavender blossoms are the first sign of, summer, no, June gloom season here in the Southland. For great vistas of lots of Jacarandas, drive down Glenoaks towards Glendale or up Kenneth to Burbank.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Brooklyn is cheaper than the San Fernando Valley

Believe it or not, there's a super-affordable home in Brooklyn, NY. Features include Completely redone top-to-bottom, front-to-back!* Tumbled stone entrance walk* Renovated Bath* Renovated Kitchen with newer stove, new cabinets and new stacked washer/dryer* Bedroom with Murphy Bed + 'Built-ins' ... (doubles as a den)!* Walkout to fenced patio* 100 Amp service* 2 Satellite Dishes and Receiver * Window Air Conditioner Available. All this for only $179,900! You can't get a price like that in the Valley yet. Oh, yeah. One other thing. It's 300 square feet on an 800 square foot lot. But it's in hipster capital of the world, Brooklyn! I bet they'd thrown in the window a/c for a full price offer. Thanks, Paula, for the tip.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

3 Ways Sellers Sabotage Their Sales

The current real estate climate here in Southern California has changed considerably, as we all know. It is a buyers’ market now, just like it was a sellers’ market a short time ago. These days, there are fewer qualified buyers, lower house prices and more inventory. Somehow, though, many sellers have just not gotten the message, no matter how loudly it has been broadcast. If you’re a seller, here’s what not to do.

1. Price your home according to what you “need” to get in proceeds
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “If we price it that low, we won’t have the money to buy a new house.” Or, “We need to get X amount of dollars because…well, we just need to.” What a seller needs to get and what a home is worth in any market are two different things. I’d love for you to make a fortune off your sale and retire, but that’s probably not going to happen, and you need to price your home according to your local market now. To price your house correctly, look at comparable sales. “Comps” are those sales closest in time (no more than 90 days old), closest in size/amenities, and closest in distance. Then, listen to advice from broker caravans and also see how many showings you’re getting. The less showings means the more over-priced you are. The sooner you adjust your price to reflect the market, the more likely you are to get maximum proceeds. The longer you wait to appropriately price your home, the less likely you are to realize profits in a declining market.

2. Assume that the Condition of your Home Doesn’t Matter.
It’s tempting to think that buyers with vision will see past your home’s defects. Nope. They can’t and they won’t. Buyers these days are very educated. Buyers are watching the fix-up shows on HGTV, visiting model homes, going to open houses, and looking at beautiful interior shots on the internet. You’re competing with other homes, so please do what you can to make your home show really well, starting with the outside. I’m not asking for a remodel, just garden, clean, clear, paint, contemporize and repair if necessary. See my showing tips page for ideas.

3. Refuse to Work with Offers.
As a seller, you may receive offers that you think are too low. Don't get mad. You’re probably right – it is too low. But I’ve heard several rationales for dropping an offer: “We haven’t been on the market long enough,” and “Those buyers don’t realize how nice this house is,” etc., etc. If the buyers didn’t really like your home, they wouldn’t have put in an offer in the first place – and these days, they have plenty of choices. They, too, want a good deal, and are probably willing to negotiate. You’ll never know what that offer can work into unless you submit a counter offer, or two, or five. Don’t let your pride get in the way of a sale – work with every offer that comes your way. You can’t win unless you get into the game.

Friday, May 02, 2008

I'm So Sick of Hearing About Americana Part II

Just in case you've been living under a rock somewhere and could have possibly missed this, Americana at Brand in Glendale is now officially open. Talk about p.r.! LACurbed has been taken over with Americana news, there was a full page ad in the first section of the LA Times, and there was even a story about it on NPR. Here's an item from LACurbed about the condos there:

. The 100 units are still under construction, but this is the finished unit they're showing off--it's a 1,700 square foot, 2-bedroom that's listed for $1.024 million. The leader of the tour noted that the windows have sound-proofing to entirely muffle all outside sounds. The tour guide also dropped some more information about that fancy concierge service: Apparently, they will dutifully do such chores as send birthday cards to your family members every year if you give them the dates. (That was the example given.) Overheard #1 on the tour: "Nice, but that's expensive." Overheard #2: "This is like Vegas living." Overheard #3: "The elevator is too small." Wow. Who needs a nice vintage Spanish with a view on the hill when you can get somebody to send your birthday cards for you?