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HOMES There were lots of fun stories among last year's real estate downturn

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British agent tells the truth in ads; Manhattan man takes explosive approach in divorce

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 CHICAGO TRIBUNE Sunday, January 07, 2007

real estate news real estate news

Sure, 2006 was full of "real" real estate news — home sales sagging, builders' stock plummeting, people offering everything from Hummers to free college tuition to sell their homes.

But the fringes of real estate were chock-full of their own kind of news in 2006. Some of my favorites:

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Dr. Nicholas Bartha is believed by police to have blown up his own Manhattan townhouse, shown here in 1917, to keep his ex-wife from collecting $4 million. Now she plans to collect on the $8 million value of the rubble-covered land.

•A British real estate agent who said he was sick of the glowing euphemisms used in real estate ads decided it was time to be bluntly honest.

He chose to describe some homes as "grubby, cramped and dirty" or "having all the charm and poise of a vicar on crack" or "suitable for the Addams Family." In one ad, he wrote, "It's difficult to imagine a more disgusting house than this."

Julian Bending of Somerset told local news media that his blunt approach had been well received and that would-be clients thanked him for his honesty.

The BBC asked the local archdiocese if its vicars had been offended by the ads, and they were not, apparently. But one local newspaper finally banned his ads when they started to include sexual innuendo. Bending said he would take his colorful ads elsewhere, thank you very much.

•Poor, unhappy physician Nicholas Bartha — dubbed "Dr. Boom" by the New York Daily News — apparently blew up his townhouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side last summer while he was in it. Investigators believe it was a move calculated to keep his ex-wife from getting her court-awarded $4 million settlement.

But the townhouse, worth about $4 million when it was standing, turned out to be worth $8 million after it was reduced to rubble and turned into that rare thing in New York — a vacant lot in a desirable neighborhood. The lot was sold in December, and the late doctor's former wife is among those in line making a claim on the money.

•Admitting in a statement, "I have built up an intense hatred of real estate agents," an Australian woman pleaded guilty to robbing 25 Melbourne-area residences during open houses, netting $110,000 worth of jewelry and other merchandise. She said she did it to spite her ex-husband, a real estate agent — though not one who was hosting open houses at the crime scenes. And not, of course, an angry Manhattan doctor.

•Richard Jezierski, a retired police officer, ran for the St. Paul, Minn., City Council in November on the "ugly houses" platform. That is, he believed that every American has a right to keep an ugly house — or a boat on the lawn or a gravel driveway instead of a city-mandated asphalt one.

He opposes the overly aggressive enforcement of ordinances that regulate the appearance of private property.

"If you're not creating a safety hazard or health hazard or conflicting with your neighbors' rights, then leave them alone and let them do what they want," he told Brian Bonner of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "They've got a right to have an ugly house."

Of the 16,488 votes cast in his district, Jezierski got 2,772, finishing fifth in a field of five.

•The mad scramble to convert apartments and non-residential buildings into condos finally slowed this year, but not before a developer decided to convert a former Boulder, Colo., mortuary into six living units.

But the company faced that age-old challenge: What, oh, what to do about the unhappy energy that undoubtedly still clung to the funeral home? So it hired a group called Ceremonies for Sacred Living to dance, chant and clang their way through the 84-year-old structure, urging the sadness within its walls to go somewhere else.

•A North Carolina real estate agent who was shot three times while showing houses decided to announce to the world that she was back on the job by attaching magnets that have been made to look like bullet holes to the side of her car. She changed her signs to read, "Need a bullet-proof agent?"

On her Web site, agent Kathleen Yaggi says with considerable understatement: "I am quite familiar with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of this area's real estate market."

•Finally, this: For all of those who blame typists such as myself for the downturn in the residential real estate market, now you can wear your sentiments on your sleeve, or chest.

A Jacksonville real estate marketing company has created a series of housing-bubble-themed T-shirts to call attention to the role of the news media in undermining consumer confidence in the housing industry.

That's according to a news release from Renaissance Creative, which says it will donate proceeds of the shirt sale ($20 each) to charity. The shirt designs can be seen at www.renaissancecreative.com.

One shirt design, "The Attack of the Housing Bubble: Media Hype Runs Amok," is a knockoff of a 1950s horror movie poster and spoofs the alleged panic generated by media reports of the demise of the American dream, homeownership, according to the company.

There's also "The Housing Market Did Me Right," featuring a man and a woman sipping cocktails, surrounded by a sea of dollar signs.

A third shirt sports an image of a pack of Housing Bubble-brand gum and the word "OVERBLOWN" in huge letters.

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