We all know that it is looming, that dark unknown cloud coming to your neighborhood - the AVI - where real estate taxes will soar to help fund the ailing Philadelphia School District and the hapless City Council folks who cannot think of any other way to fund the City's budget woes and bankrupt City. I have created a handbook or in the spirit of football season, I have created a Playbook, if you will, of how this game will be played out.
Before I begin, let's all try to get to our happy place. Take several deep breaths. You are going to need some tools: a yoga mat, a hot cup of tea, Jack Daniels, and a valium. Oh, and keep your handbook (and your checkbook) ready for the months ahead. One last thing. Have your go-to attorney ready on speed dial because alttorneys will be busy with lots of appeals.
So what is going to happen ?
1. In December of this year, property owners will get their tax bill for 2013. Don't get too worked up. You can relax as this bill will be based on pre-AVI assessments. (Deep breath in. Deep breath out. It's a good time to grab your yoga meditation mat.)
2. Around that same time, you will get a notice of your new "AVI" assessment. This is the basis for calculating your 2014 bill, which will arrive later in the year. This is the time where you can call your Realtor and ask "Is this accurate?". If not, call your "go-to" attorney which you already have since you read this playbook and begin your appeal process immediately. Have your attorney on speed dial as he or she will be flooded with calls. (Better boil the hot water for that calming cup of tea now.)
3. Now that you've done the Yoga, sipped your tea, head for the bar for that shot of JD. While you are there, call your doctor for that prescription as you wait for City Council to finalize the tax policy as they will set the milage rate (tax rate) and they are not going to be fast about it. Once that rate is set you can actually determine your tax bill for 2014.
4. And most importantly, while you wait patiently on your bar stool, set up a bank account and put money aside so you can budget this increase. This will help ease the pain. Perhaps cutting back on your own excesses - such as the dreaded soft drinks, basic food and water and the like, will be a good idea so we can all pay for the sins of Philadelphia, such as Carl Greene and Arlene Ackerman.
If you are still sober at this time, we can watch how this brilliant plan will effect the real estate market, rents of tenants and the local economy. And pray as several unintended consequences such as property values depreciating, rents escalating and local neighborhood commercial districts suffering in order to fund the budget woes of the City of Philadelphia occur. More properties will go into foreclosure and there will be more tax sales when and if the City ever gets around to collecting the taxes due. And of course, new construction and the hated tax abatements will be even that much more in demand versus the row home across the street whose taxes were just hiked 5X. Brilliance at its best! Remember it is important to not ask Council Members to "DROP DROP" as that is far too important for them to keep with our taxpayer money as they are doing such a great job.
Lastly, we can hope and pray that the City will act more fiscally responsible and that our services will increase and be more efficient after our taxes are hiked. For many, their taxes will be hiked 5X so maybe their services will increase 5X as well? We can only hope so. If not, maybe we can all plan for another AVI in 2016 and do it all over again?
In the meantime, brace yourself, do your yoga and deep breaths in order to prepare, especially if you live in Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Old Kensington, South Kensington, Fairmount, Art Museum, Chinatown, Loft District, Queen Village, Old City, Center City, Rittenhouse Square, Fitler Square, Graduate Hospital, Point Breeze (this area might be protected), South Philly, Passyunk Square and Pennsport or any area that "gentrified". I am sure I am missing a few spots but heck, we have been told it only affects a few areas by our City leaders.
Does Philadelphia Have "Safety First" or "Safety Last" Policy?
Over the July 4th celebration, Michael Hagan of Fishtown was murdered in Society Hill - one of the elite and "safest" sections of Philadelphia. What I found shocking and saddening was the City's response, which has been very quiet. Thank you to David Chang and NBC who reported "Family Remembers Society Hill Victim" which shows the family speaking out and their outcries. What I would like to see is our City's leaders, starting with Mayor Nutter, speaking out as well as outcries from Community Leaders to stop the violence!
As a subculture in Philly, are we now growing numb to violence with a record-breaking homicide rate in 2012 with already 188 murders? It seems that Mayor Nutter's goals of national exposure to getting a seat in the Obama Adminstration's cabinet is more important recently than the lives of citizens. And City Council is more concerned about raising taxes on Citizens than focusing on the number one issue truly affecting the City - crime. I think an entirely new "Safety First" mindset and campaign needs to be implemented and it is not too late for the Mayor, for folks in City Council and every Community Leader, especially in the high crime neighborhoods, for it will have to be a collaborative effort to have a successful outcome.
First of all, why are we comparing crime statistics to 2007? Instead of last year or the year before? It certainly sets the bar low. The City does not need to spin the data...I think Philadelphians are smarter. In real estate and in business we compare to the past year and often times to the past quarter, not five years ago! For example, when I went to find out how many murders we were up to in 2012, the homicide data for 2012 shows we are down 10 percent to 2007. With a one second closer look, it is obvious, we are up dramatically compared to 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011! The same goes for the total homicides where the number was down for 2007 and 2008 but up for 2009 and 2010 compared to 2011. I do not look at that as a success but an outright failure and to claim success is outright "political spinning" and failure of the right mindset to correct the problem.
The answer is not always more police. The answer is a change of mindset, a grass-roots efforts lead by the community that is inspired by the vision of a leader (the Mayor). If we had a "Safety First" policy in Philadelphia, I can guarantee you that crime would go down drastically. Mayor Nutter needs to hold a press conference and announce a no-tolerance mindset to violent crime. For every murder that takes place in Philadelphia, he needs to show up at the crime scene and contact the family personally. He needs to rally City Council and Community Leaders in respective neighborhoods to do everything in their power to bring back a sense of value and pride in the community. It is a change of mindset that will make the difference. More programs like PAL (police athletic league) with community centers opened at all hours of the night to keep the youth off the street. Communities and parents need to rally to help educate their children and not rely on the School District to teach right and wrong. If fathers are not taking part in their children's lives, maybe they can be inspired to do so. And finally, punishment and jail sentences have to be stricter and there simply cannot be parole for repeat offenders or any offender who committed a violent crime. After all, it is these career criminals that continue to commit crime after crime.
With real estate taxes going up 4 years in a row, taxpayers deserve a safer City. If we can increase that sense of pride and value even a little, I am sure that the violent crime rate will decelerate. And a "no tolerance" policy for the offenders has to be in place as a deterrent. The victims of the violent crimes deserve at least that, as well as their families.
We need to come together as a City and instead of placing blame, everyone needs to be unified with a mission from the Mayor and City Council. Mayor Nutter can take a page out of Alcoa's playbook when they hired Paul O'Neill as CEO decades ago. The company's board was shocked when his first priority as CEO was "safety first" instead of profits. Mangers were fired when they kept injury reports from the CEO and over time, Alcoa achieved huge success after a turnaround in safety. And at the same time, their productiviy and profits increased threefold. In Philadelphia, with the current mindset and homicide rate, we take the risk of the migration of taxpayers going to the County or leaving the state altogether. That needs to be reversed immediately to attract more people back into the City of "brotherly love". The City has so much to offer. Let's focus on those things, Mayor Nutter. Let's focus on what you were elected for and not getting a cabinet position in the Obama Adiminstration.
The crime victims and their families need you to listen, Mayor Nutter. Taxpayers need you to listen. Our local economy needs you to listen. "Safety First" instead of "Safety Last" for Michael Hagan and each of the 188 murder victims to date...
What are your thoughts?
[statistics via Philadelphia Police Department]
It is that time again to make bold predictions as 2012 is right around the corner! So let's just get right into it!
2. Mitt Romney will be the GOP candidate.
3. The United States economy will see improvement each quarter in 2012 (which bodes well for the Obama prediction).
4. The turnaround story for 2012 is Housing.
5. Republicans will gain seats in the Senate and the House.
6. The Stock Market (all three indexes DOW, S&P and NASDAQ) will see double digit gains.
7. Congress will continue to look like idiots being in gridlock on every issue.
8. Mortgage rates will remain low but will finally start to trend up the second half of the year.
9. The Green Bay Packers lose in the Super Bowl to whoever they play in the AFC.
10. The 76ers lose in the first round of the playoffs again.
11. The Philadelphia Phillies win another World Series.
12. Carl Greene ends up in jail for solicitation.
13. The Occupy movement is quickly forgotten (no more mic-checks!)
14. Philadelphia real estate heats up locally, especially fringe areas as the first time home-buyer drives the market.
What are your predictions?
It came to my surprise today that my comments were deleted from Occupy Philly Facebook's page. And needless to say, I am unable to make any new comments. I noticed when I went to the page, I had to "relike" the page. What I find very surprising here is that this was supposed to be a movement that prides itself on the Freedom of Speech and democracy, NOT censorship, exclusion and a form of big brother!
Yes, I have been both a supporter and a critic of Occupy Philly. I have written several blogs about the movement and have kept active on all the recent news. None of the comments were obscene. But what is going on here is whoever is moderating the Facebook page might see something they do not like, and simply delete a user instead of allowing additional discussion which goes against everything the Occupy movement stands for.
What are your thoughts?
As our blog readers know, we have been keeping up with the Occupy Philly movement. We are thrilled that the movement is raising awareness across the country and even nationally in regards to the state of the economy, the lack of jobs, government bailouts and the list goes on and on. To hear directly from Occupy folks themselves, I interviewed Derek and Natalie at City Hall to get their views and opinions. It sounds like they are here to stay for as long as it takes!
Moving forward, if the Occupy movement goes into Christmas, the City of Philadelphia will have some tough choices:
1. How will they continue to fund the police presence?
2. How will they politely move the Occupy folks if they want to begin construction for an ice skating rink?
In addition, with the unfortunate reality that "the demands" will not be met quickly or maybe not be met at all, how long will these protesters be camping out? The risk I see is that the Occupy Movement is going after so many topics (curfew, police brutality) that the overall message will be diluted. And when the faceless movement at some point has leaders going in so many directions, credibility can be lost in an instant, especially as soon as the past of some of those folks are identified. It will be interesting how this plays out.
In the meantime, I say thank you to the Occupy folks for raising the awareness around the country and to Derek and Natalie for doing this interview!
What are your thoughts?
I originally had mixed feelings about Occupy Philly and Occupy Wall Street, or to be honest, I was negative about it. I mean I kept thinking to myself the protesters have it wrong, they should be protesting against Congress and Capitol Hill instead of big banks and corporations! So as usual, I am bantering on my Facebook and Twitter and have some threads that go 70 plus comments long with some very interesting discussion. It really gets me thinking - who are these "protesters" and who am I to say what the protesters should be protesting against?? So inspiration grows to the point where I clear my schedule, and my assistant Mary and I hail a cab down to City Hall to check things out.
And the big difference is when you substitute people versus ideas in your own head, your perspective changes a little bit (or a lot). I must be honest, I was originally thinking on my way down I was going to take a photo or a video of one or two "freaks" to mock the whole thing and dismiss it. I saw later that is what Erin Burnett of CNN (Erin Burnett video) did and I think she missed the whole point of this movement (on a side note, I loved Erin when she was on CNBC, but I think her CNN show will not last more than 6 months). When I was down at City Hall, the energy was palpable, intensity was in folks' eyes, and signs were everywhere expressing individual beliefs. You could feel the unrest, frustration and anger by listening to the stories of everyone there.
Various chants of democracy were shouted out from time to time and the unity would come together in full circle. It did not matter what race, sex, age you were. People united in Philadelphia and are coming together all over the country sharing the same message of frustration and discontent. The bottom line is that there is this huge underbelly of Americans who are disgusted with the way the country is being run - their anger may be towards corporations and bailouts or towards the political system. But for heavens sake, it is America and folks have the right to express themselves. I hope their message is heard by politicians from coast to coast. Neither Republicans nor Democrats really know what to do with these rallies as of yet, whether to embrace the "99 percent" or not.
And not for nothing, I am frustrated too. I have been mostly frustrated for the last 3 years with the tremendous gridlock in Washington, DC and with the political games that have been played that in essence has hurt our country. In the last 12 months, there has been severe wealth destruction in the stock market, especially in the last quarter which was the worst performing quarter since 2008 during the financial crisis. Hard working Americans have seen their largest assets - their 401ks and their houses depreciate. And Congress refuses to come up with a meaningful plan that will incentivize small businesses and the private sector to hire. Until the economy starts to grow, there will continue to be this unrest and frustration. And the biggest issue in my opinion is the fiscal policy coming out of Congress and the Obama Administration and the excessive regulation that is handcuffing corporations to grow. Those same corporations that people hate now they will love again once they are hiring and providing nice benefit packages. I guess that is the love/hate relationships of capitalism.
In the meantime, there needs to be immediate stimulus for the housing market. I will write about this in a future article.
For now, I want to say thank you to the folks who started the "Occupy" movement. And I want to say "Thank You" to my Facebook friends for starting a healthy debate. It is a lot different from being behind a computer and saying things in a quick instant versus talking to people face-to-face and seeing pain, frustration and anger in their eyes. I remember in 1990 (man I am old) when I graduated from college... it was pretty tough back then, it took me awhile to find a job even with a CPA license. I think it is much harder now for college graduates today. And to come out of college with debt and student loans only to struggle finding a well paying job has to suck. Period!!
If you have not had a chance to march around City Hall or participate in this movement, why not? Engage. I was skeptical. Yes, the message is garbled, scattered. So what... Obviously, the country has problems and Congress is a hell of a lot more scattered and they are getting paid a lot of money with lifetime health-care benefits. Sucks to be them... Now get the F*Ing job done!
What are your thoughts ?
Let's leave off on this classic Green Day song "American Idiot" , all 99 percent of us!
Stephanie and I had front row seats at N 3rd Restaurant yesterday evening as the Naked Bike Riders streamed down N 3rd St. Most of the restaurant crowd combined with the Brown St block party cheered the brave Riders on with hoots and hollers as they biked on by with their nakedness and freedom.
What is the Philly Naked Bike Ride?
From their site: "PNBR: is about riding together to promote fuel conscious consumption, positive body image and cycling advocacy. Ride with us and bring your own message too!"
Here are some photos we captured:
I was asked the following by a close friend who is struggling with where he wants to live in Philadelphia.
"Stephanie, if you could live anywhere in Philly no matter what the cost, where would you live?"
I said, without a moment of hesitation, "I'd live right where I am, here in Northern Liberties". If Northern Liberties did not exist I would live in any of the Fringe Neighborhoods such as: Art Museum, Graduate Hospital, Queen Village, Passyunk Square, Fishtown, etc..
"Do you want to know where I would not live? Center City," I say, "In your face, Center City!"
You can keep the pretense and high prices of Rittenhouse Square and the drone-like Business District, and the grit of Center City East. I am happy right where I am, in the Fringe of Center City and I think a lot more people are beginning to agree with me based on recent real estate sales activity.
Here is why:
On Friday, I cut out of the office a little early to pick up a hard copy book at Barnes and Noble at 18th and Walnut. I grab a cab very easily on North 2nd Street in Northern Liberties. There was no way I would have even considered driving into Center City since I would never have found parking. The cab ride was a nightmare - smelly, hot and slow. I jumped out of the cab five blocks early since I was stuck in a gridlock traffic jam at JFK Boulevard. I would have been better off hoofing it the whole way having the miserable cab ride cost me $15 with a tip. Ouch! Cabs are more affordable in New York City!
Anyway, as I made my way to my destination I was hit in my face with the typical Center City experience: dumpster diving rats in the alleyway in broad daylight, oily grimy puddles that I had to hop over at every corner, and the stench of urine and funk at the subway vents was inescapable. Honkeytonk businesses buying gold and selling a mixed bag of outdated costume jewelry, human hair, and ugly knock-off handbags is not my idea of a Center City shopping experience. The puke in the corners of stairwells and drunk vagrants seemingly passed out cold on every block was stomach-turning. When I approached Rittenhouse Square, I was greeted by a man making kissing noises at me as he leaned against the wall at Anthropologie on 18th and Walnut. In front of Barnes and Noble, I was accosted by some guy with crazy eyes and a clipboard aggressively pressing me to discuss the imminent Alien Invasion, Rapture, or Prophetic Catastrophe approaching. Yikes! I just wanted to buy a frigging book for crying out loud! The Square was filled with a mix of vagrants with all of their belongings in plastic bags stashed under the public benches, pooping primped pups and their dog walkers, and utterly oblivious youth obviously not working who perhaps are not yet hardened by the In Your Face hypocrisy of this renowned park located in the highest priced neighborhood in Philadelphia.
Was I shocked to hear a few few hours later that a violent flash mob converged on Walnut and Juniper on Friday night ? No, sadly, I was not. I was angry, though. I expect more from Center City than what it offers. I deserve better. Philadelphians deserve better!!!!!!!! Those folks who are brainwashed into thinking that the Center City area is a "better neigborhood" than those in the Fringe Neighborhoods, they have yet to convince me. It is not that the Fringe Neighborhoods are free of the byproduct of an urban environment, it is that the sheer volume of vileness is measurably less. And do you know what else is less in the Fringe? The cost of properties (you get so much more for your money in any of the fringe neighborhoods), the cost of really great fine dining and entertainment, less trash, less filth, less of a hangout for the homeless, and the closest thing we get to a Flash Mob in my neighborhood is the annual N 2nd Street Festival.
For a great lifestyle, take a second look at the Fringe Neighborhoods because you deserve better.
And my lesson learned for my most recent visit to Center City is that from now on, I am ordering all my books online through Amazon.com!
We hope that everyone enjoys their July 4th weekend in Philadelphia! Take a break, do not work too much (or at all), and celebrate our Nation's independence! We left our schedule open this weekend as we take a much-needed holiday from the crazy world of real estate. And in Philadelphia, the events are unlimited leading up to the July 4th party on the parkway:
For fireworks information:
[Credit: G. Widman for GPTMC]
Happy 4th of July!
Philadelphia's busiest bridge to New Jersey and certainly its most poetic, the Walt Whitman is up for a $128 million renovation project for the next four years.
While not the most traffic-friendly news that commuters want to hear, the 53-year-old bridge is in need of some re-decking. What will this mean for those that travel daily? Until the makeover is completed, the construction crew will take out one lane of traffic at a time in 2011. Steel decking and asphalt paving will be replaced.
As Walt Whitman once wrote, I accept reality and dare not question it.