Showing posts with label Real Estate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Real Estate. Show all posts

January 23, 2016

Trump’s Racist Dad and Donald’s Racist Beginning in NY’s Real Estate

=Blizzard Edition=

The following article was written by NATHAN TEMPEY IN  (Gothamist).
 as we wait for the blizzard we might get a little hot under the collar to learn about the rotten apple that fell from the rotten tree,
Woody Guthrie was no fan of fascism. (Public domain)
Folk icon Woody Guthrie, like many valiant New Yorkers before and after him, hated his landlord. Among the legions of aggrieved tenants, Guthrie is unique in that a) he was a pretty handy writer of songs and agitprop b) in the early 1950s he put some of that gift towards griping about his landlord's greed and racism and c) that landlord was Donald Trump's dad and silver spoon provider Fred Trump.
Gawker contributor recently paid a visit to Guthrie's archives in Oklahoma and uncovered a trove of Trump-bashing lyrics inspired by the troubadour's time at Trump's lily-white Beach Haven development in Gravesend, Brooklyn. 
As Gawker explains, the bard lived for two years in the middle-income development, backed by a Federal Housing Administration that, as part of its middle-class-building project following World War II, had become an ardent propagator of racial segregation. The elder Trump would later be investigated for over-billing on public contracts, but during his time as a tenant, Guthrie's chief concern was the racism of his neighbors and the exclusion of black people from "a decent place to get pregnant in and to have your kids raised up in." 
At the time of the 1950 Census, the tract that contained Beach Haven was home to 1,804 people, all but two of whom were white. The census takers did not record the races of the ultra-minorities in the neighborhood.
To an imagined African-American couple, Guthrie wrote in his notebook, "I’m yelling out my own welcome to you."
There were also these little ditties:
I suppose
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
Racial Hate
he stirred up
In the bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line
Here at his
Eighteen hundred family project
And, to the tune of "I Ain't Got No Home":
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
I just cain’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain!
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven looks like heaven
Where no black ones come to roam!
No, no, no! Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!
 The segregation at Beach Haven is one of many instances of overt and alleged bigotry attributed to the Trumps, spanning a period from Fred Trump's youth all the way to his son's current run for the country's highest office on a platform of naked racism and xenophobia. For example:
A man with Fred Trump's name and address was, according to a New York Times articlepublished in June 1927, arraigned after 1,000 Ku Klux Klan members attacked police in Queens. Donald Trump denied the man arrested was his father to the Times, then in the same interview seemingly confirmed it, saying, "It’s unfair to mention it, to be honest, because there were no charges."

A 1978 Village Voice investigation chronicled the fight over alleged systematic discrimination against black renters by the Trumps, and how they leveraged political connections to make millions. (Village Voice)
In the early 1970s, when Donald Trump was in his late 20s and beginning to play an executive role in his father's real estate empire, the federal government sued the Trumps, saying their company refused to rent to black people, and was throwing black apartment-seekers off by instructing supers and agents to claim units were no longer available, represent rents at higher than actual prices, and send them to an office to apply while white renters were given applications on site.
The Donald told the Times the charges were "absolutely ridiculous" and Trump Management sued the U.S. government for $100 million. A judge threw out that lawsuit, and in 1975 the Trumps settled, agreeing to send the Urban League a list of apartment vacancies weekly and let the organization send qualified applicants for one of every five listings for two years. After the agreement expired, the feds sued again, saying Trump Management was back to violating the Fair Housing Act.
Throughout the battle, Donald claimed that his company was being persecuted for refusing to house welfare recipients who couldn't afford apartments, which had no apparent basis in the allegations.
In 1983, the state's Division of Housing and Community Renewal said that two Trump Village developments in Coney Island were at least 95 percent white.
In 1989, the Trump of Our Time told SPY magazine that white people bear the brunt of discrimination these days, saying, "If I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black, because I believe they do have an actual advantage."
The magazine also reported that a Trump Organization executive instructed a temp agency not to send black temp workers. A company spokeswoman denied the allegation, saying, "We have a new [black] gal [and] I think we have another one still with us."
In 1991, Trump the younger was accused by a former Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino president of saying "laziness is a trait in blacks" and "Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day." Trump later told Playboy that the former employee's book was "probably true," but that "the guy's a fucking loser. A fucking loser."
There was also, famously, the full-page ads Trump took out in newspapers during the prosecution of the Central Park Five calling for their execution over their alleged role in the rape of a white jogger. Following the exoneration of the five, Trump has been unapologetic, telling the Daily News
They should be very thankful I wasn’t mayor because they wouldn’t have gotten a dime. They owe the taxpayers of the city of New York an apology for taking money out of their pockets like candy from a baby.
The more recent the racial and nationalistic provocations, the more familiar—for instance, Trump's howling for President Obama to produce his birth certificate—but throughout it all, Trump says he has followed in the footsteps of Papa Fred.
This summer, Trump told the Washington Post, "My legacy has its roots in my father’s legacy."
The Trump legacy of racism doesn't just live on in the candidate's calls for President Obama's birth certificate, or his proposal that we destroy millions of immigrant families, or his calls to register Muslim-Americans. The Brooklyn zip code of Woody Guthrie's former home is still two-thirds white, according to census data, and has an African-American population of just 4.2 percent. The tract containing Beach Haven is even whiter, with 3,701 people of European ancestry living there, 81 percent of the total population, compared to just 142 African Americans, or 3 percent.

March 22, 2014

'Are You A Gentrifier?

No one wants to see their identity lazily compartmentalized into "hipster" or "sociopath" or a "Staten Islander," but assigning reductive labels to describe otherwise disparate populations is what makes our city country Internet great. It's no secret that Bushwick is changing, along with plenty of other neighborhoods—but who's responsible? And does anyone ever want to admit that their mere presence in a place is altering the landscape of the community?
In light of landlords licking their chops (and casually evicting long-term tenants) at the thought of charging higher rent to wealthy newcomers, we decided to take a stroll in the area surrounding the Halsey Street L stop and chat with residents there—some of whom have lived in the neighborhood for a month, others who have never lived elsewhere—about what they make of the changes arriving increasingly rapid-fire to the few blocks of cityscape they call home.
Are long-time residents peeved about entitled art students driving up their cost of living? Are gentrifiers aware they're gentrifiers? Spell check refuses to acknowledge the word "gentrifier" even exists—does it? Or are we all just people trying to get by, man?

March 12, 2014

15 Central Park West, Secrets, Real Estate

Here are the Secrets of the most expensive real estate in the US if not the world. Thanks to CAROLINE HOWE and The Daily Mail UK we have great photos for you and a simple story that details some of the most famous people living there or that have lived there. I would rather have a townhouse on a quiet street if I had their money than go for a white high rise structure facing Central park or any park were there is always people around. But this is New York and we don’t accommodate the rich here, the rich being that we have so many here, they accommodate us.  

Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue…so passé. If you want the good life in the Big Apple and you happen to have a spare $15 or so million check out 15 Central Park West.
Penthouses have sold for close to a mind-boggling $100 million each and residents have included an unlikely mix of Hollywood A-listers, Russian and Chinese oligarchs, hi-tech moguls from Google and Yahoo! and big names from Wall Street.
‘The residents of 15 CPW are our latter-day priesthood of power. 15 CPW is the high altar of their secular religion,’ writes Michael Gross in his latest chronicle of 'real estate porn', House of Outrageous Fortune: Fifteen Central Park West, the World’s Most Powerful Address, published by Atria today.
High-rise for high-rollers: Penthouses in Fifteen Central Park West have sold for close to a mind-boggling $100 million each and residents have included an unlikely mix of Hollywood A-listers, Russian and Chinese oligarchs, hi-tech moguls from Google and Yahoo! and big names from Wall Street
Luxury: Initial asking price on the smallest unit was a modest $1.78 million. The bulk of the rest had asking prices between $5 million and $9,999,999
Luxury: Initial asking price on the smallest unit was a modest $1.78 million. The bulk of the rest had asking prices between $5 million and $9,999,999
'Cramped'? Kelsey Grammer's then wife, Camille, famously complained that a $3,500sq ft apartment was too small. ¿That seems pretty obnoxious [but] I¿m used to living in a substantial sized house,¿ she added
'Cramped'? Kelsey Grammer's then wife, Camille, famously complained that a $3,500sq ft apartment was too small. ‘That seems pretty obnoxious [but] I’m used to living in a substantial sized house,’ she added
According to Gross the residents of 15 CPW are members of ‘the floating crap game of wealth.’  As he puts it, it’s not inherited wealth that gets one a pad at 15 CPW. Instead ‘you just need a big checkbook.’ And there's plenty of fat wallets in residence with billionaires living on top of billionaires.
In 2006, Denzel Washington bought his apartment for $13 million – modest compared to other units in the building. He already owned a mansion in Beverly Hills. Gross says the proximity to Broadway inspired the actor’s purchase. 
'Fortunately,' Washington boasted, 'I’m independently wealthy. I mean, I got enough money is what I’m saying. I got a couple of dollars.'
Still, Denzel didn’t refuse a small discount on the purchase price in exchange for using his name to potential neighbors. As a prominent African-American and A-lister, his buy-in gave the marketers of 15CPW early bragging rights.


Kelsey Grammer, appearing on Broadway in La Cage aux Folles, rented 14K for $29,000-a-month, for himself and his then-wife Camille, a star of the reality show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. 
The show even videotaped a segment with Camille and Kelsey and their children inspecting the apartment, the housewife declaring in the segment that the luxury 3,500 square foot apartment was too small. 
‘That seems pretty obnoxious [but] I’m used to living in a substantial sized house,’ she added.
But by the time the episode aired, eight months’ later, Camille had filed for divorce from the Frasier star. According to Gross, Camille had called her hubby from California and someone in the building told her that Kelsey’s wife was already in the building. 
‘They genuinely didn’t know that Grammer was having a fling’ with Kayte Walsh, a former flight attendant 27 years his junior. 
Sting moved into his $26.5 million digs after a massive renovation and the installation of his own private elevator so he wouldn’t have to ride with another resident. He also has his own private chef and three or four assistants tending to his every need.
Revolving doors: Gross' book reveals how A-Rod would order hookers to turn up just before or after his then girlfriend Cameron Diaz would turn up. He was allegedly hated by the staff
Revolving doors: Gross' book reveals how A-Rod would order hookers to turn up just before or after his then girlfriend Cameron Diaz would turn up. He was allegedly hated by the staff
But it was baseball superstar Alex ‘A-Rod’ Rodeiquez who caused the most buzz in the luxury building.
Once the highest paid New York Yankee (recently suspended for 162 games because of allegations he used performance enhancing drugs) A-Rod was one of the prominent celebrity renters, shelling out $30,000-a-month. He was also an all-star bachelor womanizer. 
'He was a douche,' Gross quotes a 15 CPW staffer. 'No one liked him…Not a nice guy, an unfriendly narcissist.'
One day he was with Cameron Diaz, according to the book, and ten minutes later he was with Kate Hudson. The staff thought Diaz was way too nice for A-Rod who used the residence as home plate with visitors including Madonna. 
'He got hookers all the time,' Gross quotes a building member. 'Usually two at a time, two times a week. One time he had two go up, they came down and left, and ten minutes later, Cameron Diaz walks in. He doesn’t care. I hate the guy. He thought he was God.'
'Fifteen,' observes Gross, 'is the most outrageously successful, insanely expensive, titanically tycoon-stuffed real estate development of the twenty-first century – with jaw-dropping excess.'
So what does a mogul get for his or her big bucks?
To serve its demanding tenants, the building has a staff of more than four dozen – seven concierges, six doormen, eight white-gloved lobby attendants, three package-room attendants, eight porters, a maintenance man, four security guards and 12 part-time engineers.
There’s a walnut wood-lined library, a fancy screening room, a private 66-seat restaurant offering room service, a health club and a seventy-foot pool – in a prime New York location overlooking Central Park.
With all the luxuries, 15 CPW has become a celebrity in its own right, a building with fascinating and iconic DNA.
The location itself, the southwest corner of Central Park, was a potential goldmine. In the years following the economic decline after the stock market debacle in 1987, the Mayflower Hotel, a 'comfortable' residential hotel, stood where 15 CPW now soars. 
The Mayflower had once been the home of Felix the Cat creator Patrick Sullivan and the eccentric Max Schaffer, who owned the bizarre Times Square emporium Hubert’s Museum on 42nd Street and its fabled flea circus. The hotel also was home to the Bolshoi Ballet in 1979.
But by 2000, the Mayflower, which opened in 1926, was long past its glory days. 
The only thing it had going for it was 'a front row seat on the park that’s as comfortable as a Barcalounger', according to the 2000 New York Times Guide to Hotels in New York City.
The area around the hotel had become run down, too. 
Indiscreet: Camille Grammer caught Kelsey cheating on her when she called from LA only to be told his 'wife' was already in the Manhattan building
Indiscreet: Camille Grammer caught Kelsey cheating on her when she called from LA only to be told his 'wife' was already in the Manhattan building
Secrets: Michael Gross' book goes behind the curtain of the super-exclusive address
There was an ugly fence around the statue of Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle, a block south of the Mayflower, and homeless people and derelicts slept on blankets on nearby sidewalks and peddled old books, annoying passersby and tourists. 
Still, anything near Central Park was considered top real estate.
Enter the prescient and shrewd Zeckendorf brothers – Will and Arthur, developers of luxury buildings - who picked up the Mayflower for what was a New York song - $401 million, and would turn it into an unimaginable tower of power by 2008.
'The Zeckendorfs were targeting the rootless, new global elite, the newest new money, the kind of customers who will pay $10 million or more for a Central Park-view apartment,' Gross writes.
'Major wealth was created by those people,' stated Arthur Zeckendorf referring to the buyers, and it was money just sitting around waiting to be spent.
Apartments were sold at 15 CPW before they were completed and the prospectus promised that that the building would 'meet every reasonably exacting standard'. 
Initial asking price on the smallest unit was a modest $1.78 million. The bulk of the rest had asking prices between $5 million and $9,999,999.
The penthouse on the 42nd floor, with what is described as 'the incredible King of the World terrace' has a living room open on three sides and a master bedroom with Gay White Way views.
It also includes a maid’s room and a kitchenette off the master bedroom where the owner can have a late-night snack or get an espresso in the morning.
But it’s been the celebrity and masters of the universe inhabitants of the building that caught Gross’s imagination and that of the New York media, which often ran gossip column items about the comings and goings of the rich and famous.
Paparrazi wait outside hoping to shoot not only the superstar tenants but also the celeb friends of owners who often drop by - the likes of  Alec Baldwin, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Robert Downey Jr., Robert De Niro, Lady Gaga, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen and Jake Gyllenhaal who have graced the halls.
As Gross reported, the staff sees all - and don’t always keep their lips sealed. 'We know your secrets,' one staffer promised.
Gross tracked down an engineer, identified by the presumed pseudonym of Pasco Cornejo, who formerly worked on the building’s staff. 
He recalled going into one apartment that had a water issue, and was shocked to encounter a wide variety of sex toys and the resident 'walking around with very sexy see-through. We’d see her diddling herself,' Cornejo revealed.
One high profile condo owner is Lloyd Blankfein, CEO and Chairman of Goldman Sachs. He had a wall of security around him and was, according to Gross, inundated with no less than 100 pieces of hate mail a day following a 2009 expose of Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone. 
The 15 CPW Staff were not permitted to address him by name. 
Wall Street mogul Sandy Weill also has a security detail and had installed an elaborate security system in his $43.7m pad that raised his bill another $10 million.
Thank you, Sir: Staff at the building can expect to earn around $22,500 in tips at holiday times. The residents' manager takes home $600,000
Another resident installed moisture sensors that email the resident manager if there is a leak, temperature sensors on water pipes and an anemometer on the roof that measures wind speeds and retracts the canvas awning on the terrace.
It pays to work at 15 CPW, Gross noted, because staff tips could be astronomical.  Sandy Weill handed out $90,000 in tips the first year. The typical resident gave $100 to $500 to each employee. 
In 2011, Gross reported, the average employee’s holiday take was about $22,500. Concierges and anyone performing special favors can pocket up to $100,000. The resident manager’s income was estimated to be $600,000 – even before tips.
Condos had become preferable to co-ops and nosy co-op boards that insisted on seeing a buyer’s financials as well restricting renovations when 15 CPW went up. 
These new buyers had no way of showing credit history because there was no history. They were willing to pay whatever it took. 'They go to developers and say, "You’re asking fifty million dollars? Here’s sixty, but we close next week,'” real estate lawyer Edward Mermelstein told Gross.
The building was as glamorous as anything on ritzy Park or Fifth Avenues and changed the face of the West side of Manhattan.
And it gained a new status when early buyers started flipping or selling their apartments without even occupying them. 
A $13 million investment could yield $27 million. One penthouse was going for $90 million, the other being offered for $80 million in September 2005. 
One broker, Dolly Lenz, stated she knew of four 15 CPW listings asking as much as $150 million. Renting out one’s unit could net as much as $75,000 a month.


March 14, 2013

People Leaving California in Buckets (Census)

California State Flag
Between municipal bankruptcies, rising taxes, the proposal of new taxes, and the promise of friendlier business climates in other states, the exodus of business leaders and residents from California is wholly unsurprising.
And this isn’t some new phenomenon. No, the Golden State has been bleeding residents for years, which is a shame considering all that the state is capable of.
“For most of its history, California has occupied a special place in the mind of most Americans. From the height of the Gold Rush through the 1980s, California’s warm weather and booming economy drew enterprising, educated and talented immigrants from across the country. California was the melting pot of America’s melting pot, leading all states in the number of residents who were born in other U.S. states,” theWashington Examiner’s Conn Carroll writes.
Sadly, as Carroll notes, that California does not exist anymore.
“According to a 2012 University of Southern California study on state demographics, you have to go back to the early 1990s to find a time when more Americans were moving to California than leaving it for other states,” he writes. “Thanks to high housing prices and a weak job market, California is now a net exporter of U.S. citizens to other states.”
And in case you’d like help visualizing some of this, we have you covered. The below chart from the U.S. Census Bureau perfectly illustrates Carroll’s point:
This Revealing Chart Shows You Exactly What the Calif. Exodus Looks Like
U.S. Census Bureau

July 5, 2012

Chelsea Mercantile a Good Place to Hide from Scientology at $22.5Mil

The Chelsea apartment building where Katie Holmes is staying, in the wake of filing for divorce from Tom Cruise, is benefiting from all the attention it’s getting. One broker says that interest in his listing, at the Chelsea Mercantile, is five times what it was prior to the media frenzy taking hold.
“We went from showing once or twice a week to five showings today, four on Thursday and seven on Friday so far,” said Ryan Serhant of Nestseekers, who is listing a $22.5 million apartment at the building with his colleague Regis Roumila. “We may even have an open house this weekend, just to handle the traffic.”
Holmes filed for divorce on June 29. She and Cruise had been married nearly six years, and have a 6-year-old daughter, Suri, who is living with her mom at the Chelsea Mercantile.
It’s all “thanks to Katie,” Serhant said, adding that “celebrities boost exposure and brand value.”
He added, “When people know a building is good enough for a celebrity, it is automatically more valuable. You don’t pay $500 for Oliver Peoples sunglasses because they’re better, you pay that because Brad and Angelina wear them.”
Serhant’s listing, a 4,000-square-foot apartment at the Chelsea Mercantile — at 252 Seventh Avenue, between 24th and 25th streets — came online in February after an 18-month hiatus. So far, it has lingered on the market. The 12th-floor loft unit is owned by Manhattan interior designer Christopher Hyland. It was previously listed for $22.45 million, in 2010 and was featured on “Selling New York,” with broker Michael Graves, of Core, and Kirk Rundhaug, formerly of Core and now of Prudential Douglas Elliman.
Serhant insists that the recent surge in interest in the property is not from gawkers or nosy fans hoping to take a peek inside Holmes’ new building.
“We’re vetting everyone,” he said. “A broker called this morning and said her client called her and wanted a big apartment in Katie Holmes’ building after watching the news. The client is well known and very wealthy, but he didn’t know about the apartment otherwise — nor did he know he even wanted it.”
Hyland, who also publishes a high-end interiors magazine named Hyland, said the underrated building is being revived as a result of Holmes’ stay. “People are interested in the building in a way they hadn’t realized,” he said. “It’s a question of a sea-change.”
The Chelsea Mercantile had fallen out of the news, he said, despite its role as one-time home to other celebrities, such as Jane Fonda, Nick Jonas, Marc Jacobs and Kyle McLachlan.
As The Real Deal previously reported, since the beginning of June, the Chelsea Mercantile has leased out several units: A three-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom unit rented for $12,500 a month on June 13, according to In addition, a one-bedroom, one bathroom unit, listed for $6,500 a month, was no longer available as of June 12. And a $8,995-a-month two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with 1,351 square-feet of interior space was no longer available as of June 13. It was not immediately clear which unit Holmes is occupying.
Rundhaug said a celebrity endorsement is commonly a motivating factor for buyers. “When I was selling and renting at 40 Bond,” he said, “people loved to know that they’d be living in building where celebrities were.”
Ricky Martin was reported to have lived at 40 Bond Street. The Olsen twins were also linked to the property.  

December 2, 2011

PSSST…Need a Cheap Couch to Stay in NY? } Illegal

Illustration by Peter Arkle  
By S.Jhoanna Robledo

Bunking in other people’s apartments is a growth industry. There’s a whole (and growing) online universe of apartment-swapping, of sublets, of short-term rentals, promulgated by firms like And, as it turns out, nearly every such deal is illegal here. Last spring, a law went into effect that bans the rental of New York City apartments for fewer than 30 days, providing what the mayor’s office described as “a clear definition of what constitutes transient and permanent occupancy.” Yet “the legislation hasn’t changed behavior,” says Paul Gottsegen, president of Halstead Management Company, adding that his firm continues to field complaints from neighbors about illegal renters. Stuart Saft, president of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, says that owners in buildings he represents have begun demanding that their boards act upon transient guests.
One problem for managers: Few people know how to enforce the law. Says attorney Robert Braverman, whose firm represents about 120 co-op and condo buildings, “Who do you call? Is it 311? There’s no language in the statute regarding who has jurisdiction.” (For the record, yes, you’re supposed to call 311, and a task force will take it from there. The key words to drop are “illegal hotel.”) The NYPD probably isn’t going to be much help, but having the law on the books gives building managers muscle. Many now rely on building staff as lookouts, and some hire private investigators or install video cameras. Still, as’s Teri Rogers points out, it’s hard to tell the difference between a houseguest and a paying tenant.

So managing agents are prowling websites to find listings in their buildings, and they’re plentiful. Last week, there were 8,324 properties in the New York area on Airbnb. had 1,221; Craigslist, at least a thousand. Surely many of these deals are noncompliant, yet “there are no mechanisms in place to prohibit these postings,” says attorney Steven Wagner. “The law addresses the conduct, not the advertising.” (An Airbnb spokesperson says that the site’s terms of service demand that users comply with the law, and Homeaway’s rep says the site “encourages owners to educate themselves on the individual rules and regulations that may apply.”)
Playing landlord sure does pay. A seven-room prewar on the Upper East Side is being offered for $295 a night; a West Village studio for $199 a night. Leslie, who rents out her rental studio on Craigslist, says she made $900 for nine nights before the New York City Marathon. (She stayed with friends.) She worries about being caught but intends to continue: “I’d rather not do it, but I don’t make enough money,” she says.

Cease-and-desist letters are most management companies’ first salvos, and evictions can and do follow. A number of Saft’s buildings have instituted four-figure fines that increase with each violation. Braverman says he’s gone to court in at least six cases this year. Still, with so many tourists elbowing for far grimier accommodations, many New Yorkers are going to continue marketing their best asset. Marie, an ad exec who earned $15,000 last year via Airbnb, is one of them: Her apartment, she says, is “currency in a really tight economy.”

November 11, 2011

Cuba } Door Opens To Residential Property Market

For the first time in 50 years, Cubans can now buy and sell homes. Here, a Cuban woman stands on the balcony of a dilapidated building earlier this month in Havana.

STR/AFP/Getty Images
For the first time in 50 years, Cubans can now buy and sell homes. Here, a Cuban woman stands on the balcony of a dilapidated building earlier this month in Havana.    
First-time visitors to Havana immediately notice two things about the city: the graceful architecture of its buildings, and the fact that so many of them are in ruins.
But walking through the crumbling Centro Habana neighborhood this week, there was another sight: homeowners beating back the decay on nearly every block.
That's because a new law takes effect Thursday allowing Cubans to buy and sell residential property for the first time in 50 years.
Antonio Gonzalez repairs the facade of a house in Havana in May. The new law means many property owners are now updating long-neglected buildings. Well-kept single family homes in prime neighborhoods are listed at $100,000 or more.
EnlargeFranklin Reyes/AP
Antonio Gonzalez repairs the facade of a house in Havana in May. The new law means many property owners are now updating long-neglected buildings. Well-kept single family homes in prime neighborhoods are listed at $100,000 or more.
The reform measure may be President Raul Castro's biggest nod to market economics yet, with the potential to attract millions in investment capital from abroad, and transform Cuba's neighborhoods.
New Interest In Appearances
Antonio Tresol and his son are among those giving their home a makeover. They heave cement blocks off a delivery cart, finally fixing an exterior wall on their home that had been patched over with ugly sheets of scrap metal.
The buildings on this street are spider-webbed with cracked masonry. Paintbrushes haven't touched them in decades, and their once-elegant iron grillwork is now brown and chipping with rust.
But with new loads of building materials available in state stores and everyone now talking about what their houses may be worth, Tresol has a new interest in appearances.
"We're making it look beautiful again," he says about their home.
For the past half-century, there hasn't been much incentive for Cubans like Tresol to fix up their homes, never mind the lack of money and materials. Fidel Castro's communist revolution made nearly everyone a homeowner, but barred them from buying or selling their property, allowing only complicated "trades," while others made illegal black-market deals.
Now, millions of cash-poor Cubans suddenly have a valuable liquid asset, and no one quite knows what will happen next, says Havana architect and urban planner Miguel Coyula.

Small apartments in rundown sections of Havana are now listed for $5,000 to $10,000 in online classified ads. Well-kept single family homes in prime neighborhoods are expected to go for $100,000 or more.
"Havana is a city that [appears] to be a city frozen in time. And now you suddenly open the market. You can buy, you can sell. And the question will be, in my opinion, the impact of this in the society, in the market. We are opening a new opportunity, a new field, for which we are not completely prepared, many people are not prepared," he says.
Financial Challenges
But those fire-sale prices may not last. The new market is expected to draw big dollars from Cubans living abroad who will buy or repair property through their relatives, since legal ownership is restricted to Cuban citizens and permanent residents.
Jorge Gonzalez, a black-market cement vendor, gives a tour inside a seven-story Havana apartment building constructed in 1926. Though the building's original elevator still works, cracks as wide as a rum bottle spread through the structure.
Buildings like this one are probably too far gone to save, Gonzalez says, but others will be restored, as long as government stores can keep construction supplies in stock.
"The government is finally giving people a chance," says Gonzalez. "In the past, if they caught you with black-market construction materials, they would confiscate them. But now the state is making them available, and everyone is motivated."
Cuba's government isn't opening the door to a free market free-for-all. Homeowners will still be limited to one property in the city and one vacation home.
And with no mortgage financing available and large sums of cash involved, buyers will have to go through government banks and prove they amassed their funds legally.
Still, with so much pent-up demand and many seeing a different economic future for Cuba, no one seems to doubt that the money will be there.

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