Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vanilla Ice Project

When I got an email from Jose in Santa Clara asking my opinion of The Vanilla Ice Project, a  real estate rehab television show, I was taken aback.

THAT Vanilla Ice???  Never heard of the show.  Wish I never heard of this song!

But yes, Robert Matthew Van Winkle, who we all grew to love (and hate) back in the 1990s is now hawking himself as a real estate guru and rehab specialist.

Watching the video on his website made me have Tom Vu flashbacks.

Fistfuls of hundred dollar bills, hot girls wearing almost nothing, Rolls Royce limos, huge mansions, boats, and everything that smells of money.  The only thing missing was Robin Leach.

I have never seen The Vanilla Ice Project so I'm asking for the public's help in learning some more about it.  From the video posted on his website it looks like an ATYPICAL real estate rehab and not one that most single family home rehabbers encounter.

For example, one video features a big mansion being gutted with lots of money for renovations and not much real world accounting for such important matters as the value of the rehabber's time.

For all I know, Vanilla (or is it Mr. Ice?) has made millions in real estate and if true, God bless him and his family.  I'm curious now, which of course makes me want to know more.

But the real problem I have with this advertisement is simple.

Vanilla Ice is NOT a person.  He's a character Mr. Van Winkle plays on stage.  All the gangster, hip-hop lingo ("pimp your place") rings hollow in this serious educational context.  If Mr. Van Winkle wants to be a real estate guru, then let him teach.  But a character in costume spouting lines from awful song lyrics circa 1991 is more laughable than authentic.  People want REAL real estate information, not quackery, and stunts like this give me the willies.

And I guess I have to ask?  What's next?  Flavor Flav's Investing in Tax Liens Home Study Course?

If you have seen The Vanilla Ice Project and can offer me some information about it or your recommendation, please email me at


Monday, June 27, 2011

Notorious Urban Ruin Site for Sale

The remains of the Alfaretta Apartments in downtown Seattle is now up for sale.  This bizarre half-demolished shell of a building has captivated many people since my first blog post on the urban ruin in October 2009.

The Alfaretta Apartments, or more precisely, what is left of it, is still there.  The ruin has become a stop on many tourist routes through the downtown area.  For the record, it is at the intersection of 8th Avenue and Seneca Street, across the street from Seattle's famous Town Hall.

People come to see the Alfaretta for one simple reason.  It's strange.

The site is just plain weird to behold.  It is so captivating I shot a video of the Alfaretta and put it up on YouTube.  I hear about the ruin all the time, get questions about it frequently, and saw the doomed relic for the first time in months today.

For sale sign across the front.

This building site is one of the best in all of downtown Seattle.  Perfect location, perfect zoning, perfect just about everything EXCEPT the perfect market to build new condos in downtown Seattle.

I suspect the Alfaretta's days are numbered, but then again how many more days should a 80% demolished building really have?

See the Alfaretta while you can.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mike's Chili Parlor

No visit to Seattle is complete without a visit to the city's many famous and celebrated dive bars and one of the best is Mike's Chili Parlor in Ballard.

The place from the outside looks exactly like the rundown dump it is.  Inside you will meet a motley cast of characters that remind me of those foggy waterfront bars in every Charlie Chan movie.  This part of Seattle is known for its fishing fleet and even today the waterfront is filled with masts so the comparison is not just my imagination....

Mike's Chili has that seedy, down-on-your-luck feel to it.  In fact, director Bud Yorkin made Mike's a movie star when he featured the bar in his 1985 film, TWICE OF A LIFETIME, which stars Gene Hackman and Anne Margaret.  Some pivotal scenes take place in this bar between Hackman and Stephen Lang which prove how good both actors really are.  Great film!

But what Mike's Chili is really famous for is its chili.  They put chili on EVERYTHING.  And this is the only bar I know where they sell chili by the gallon.

Here is a piece featuring Mike's Chili from the Food Network.

So what does any of this have to do with real estate?

Mike's Chili Parlor occupies a prime corner lot right off the Ballard Bridge.  Real estate does not get much better than this.  This lot defines the old axiom "Location, Location, Location."

So when it was announced that a major new retail project was being built on Mike's block, everyone assumed that Mike's was doomed.

Thankfully, we were wrong.

In one of the most impressive build arounds I have ever seen, Mike's Chili Parlor has been preserved for future generations who want to experience a unique Seattle treasure.  Click here and see the new retail block which includes a Trader Joe's and an LA Fitness.  But in the upper right photo look under the sign that reads BALLARD BLOCKS there is little Mike's Chili and its wonderful corner lot.  This is an amazing photograph, a testament to survival.  No one makes me happier to see how that block was developed right around the old bar.

If you check out the Google Maps entry for "Mike's Chili Parlor Seattle" you get a street view that actually shows you the Ballard Block being constructed around Mike's.  Very cool shot.

View Larger Map

No real visit to Seattle is complete without a visit to Mikes.  Yes, they even have pull tabs!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Short Sale Fraud Increasing

Short sale fraud is increasing and I bet I know why.

"Flops" as they are called cost banks at least $375 million in 2011.  One study said one in every 52 short sales is now deemed "suspicious."

Much like the get-rich-quick real estate gurus pitched flipping courses during the good years, it's now short sale and foreclosure courses during the bad ones.  The same sleazy tactics, the identical corner-cutting strategies, and the usual assorted of half-truths and three-quarter lies are on display in these courses.

I recently reviewed two such home study courses sent to me by a reader of this blog.  I would welcome any other information from short sale courses you own that speak to this level of mendacity.

Let me be very clear.  Not all investor generated flips are flops, of course.  Here is an excellent article that explains the difference.  But many proposed short sales are intentional flops.  Everyone in the business has experience in this direction.

Once again, when you have real estate gurus openly giving seminars on how to commit short sale fraud, the government and the banks should not be surprised that is precisely what you are going to get.

Anyway, here is some excellent advice on avoiding short sale fraud if you are a homeowner or realtor.

My best advice to you on short sales is simple.

Some homeowners need to do short sales to get out from underwater mortgages.  If this is your situation, work only with a real estate agent with short sale experience.  FORGET ABOUT DOING BUSINESS WITH PEOPLE YOU MEET THROUGH FLYERS MAILED TO YOUR HOME OR PUT ON YOUR DOOR!

My advice to investors is to avoid them nearly all of them at the present time.  Short sales are more bother than they are worth.  Many agents do not want to admit their listings are short sales because buyers know the process means more time and paperwork.

With so many motivated sellers these days, why only target those who are underwater?  They may be more motivated but are also in a less powerful place to make deals with you.