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Thursday, May 25, 2017

If you can afford the renovations, Italy will give you a castle

For all you Fixer Upper types out there:

Old houses, inns, farmhouses, monasteries and ancient castles are all up for grabs - and you won’t have to pay a penny. In total, 103 sites are available, dotted across the country from north to south.

One of the castles up for grabs. Photo: Agenzia del Demanio


The only catch is that those who take up the offer will have to commit to restoring and transforming the sites into tourist facilities, such as hotels, restaurants, or spas. Successful applicants will get an initial nine-year period to work on their project, with the possibility of extending it for a further nine years.

The buildings are all located off the beaten path, with 44 of the sites situated along historic or religious walking routes, and the remaining 59 along cycle paths.

They can be found along the Appian Way (a Roman road connecting the capital with Brindisi on the southern coast), the Via Francigena (an ancient pilgrimage route stretching from Rome to the northern border), and several of Italy’s cycling routes.

Former school in Puglia

Interested entrepreneurs willing to take on an ancient fixer-upper can browse the list of properties, and submit an application. More at The Local.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The End of a Long Controversy Over a Striped Townhouse

Not your usual HOA spat - this townhouse in London is valued at 15 million UK pounds - approximately $19.3 million dollars. It's interesting to realize that property restrictions in the U.S. (in places with restrictive HOAs) are much more draconian than they are in the U.K.

A woman who angered her neighbors by decorating her multimillion-pound townhouse with red and white stripes can ignore a planning order to repaint the property, the high court has ruled.

Zipporah Lisle-Mainwaring, a property developer, painted candy stripes on the three-storey facade of the terrace home in South End, Kensington, west London, in March 2015.

She has denied that the paint job was done to spite neighbors who objected to her plans to demolish the property, currently used for storage, and replace it with a new home.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea served her with a notice under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, requiring her to repaint “all external paintwork located on the front elevation white” within 28 days.


Mr Justice Gilbart, who said the painting of the house had been “entirely lawful”, posed the question: “Is it proper to use a section 215 notice where the complaint is not lack of maintenance or repair, but of aesthetics?”

He ruled that using section 215 “to deal with questions of aesthetics, as opposed to disrepair or dilapidation, falls outside the intention and spirit of the planning code”.

Gilbart said he noted the crown court’s finding that Lisle-Mainwaring “painted the house in stripes as a matter or pique”. He added: “She may well have done, but section 215 does not entitle one to address the motive of a landowner. 


More at the Guardian

Friday, April 21, 2017

The World's Most Stubborn Real Estate Holdouts

Some interesting real estate holdouts.

People who refuse to sell their properties are called holdouts. Eminent domain (wiki) generally only comes into play when the government wants private property for public use (though there have been some exceptions).  If it’s a private development that wants your place and you refuse to sell, there’s often not much they can do.

Edith Macefield's Seattle house—sandwiched in the middle of a shopping mall
Around 2005, a Seattle neighborhood called Ballard started to see unprecedented growth. Condominiums and apartment buildings were sprouting up all over in a community which had previously been made up of mostly single family homes and small businesses. Around this time, developers offered an elderly woman named Edith Macefield $750,000 dollars for her small house, which was appraised at around $120,000. They wanted to build a shopping mall on the block where Macefield had lived for the last 50 years.

Macefield turned down the money. Developers went forward with the shopping mall anyway, and they ended up constructing the mall around three sides of the house. Here's lots more on the Edith Masefield story.

The Macy’s shopping bag on 34th and Broadway in New York City hides a holdout building
If you look closely at the corner of 34th and Broadway in New York City, you might notice something a little off. Macy’s, the ginormous department store that has taken up an entire city block there since 1902, does not form a complete rectangle. Instead, the retail behemoth has a corner notch in which a narrow, five-story building sits. 

The odd setup goes back to a 19th-century competition between Rowland H. Macy and a rival, Henry Siegel, a partner in Siegel-Cooper, a bygone store situated between 18th and 19th streets on Sixth Avenue. In the 1890s, Macy’s, Rowland Macy began to acquire the land his store now occupies, but before he could purchase the small corner lot at 34th and Broadway, Siegel bought it. The story goes that Siegel hoped he could exchange the sale of it for a lease of the old Macy’s location. Macy refused, and Siegel eventually sold the building to someone else. 

Though Macy’s has never owned the holdout, it has advertised on its exterior since the 1940s. A billboard made to look like a huge Macy’s shopping bag is currently wrapped around the narrow structure, declaring Macy’s “the world’s largest store.”

The owner of this tiny home refused to sell to developers eyeing the block of Massachusetts Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets NW in Washington, D.C. in the 2000s. 
Austin Spriggs, the man who owned the Massachusetts Avenue home, rebuffed developers who offered him nearly $3 million to buy his mid-block parcel to make way for the large new developments rising in the area during the 2000s construction boom. The redevelopment eventually happened anyway, around him.


This four-story townhouse sits across Bloomingdale’s, protruding from the side of a 31-story office tower on East 60th Street near Lexington Avenue. A memorial to one of New York City’s best-known holdout battles, the former townhouse had been converted to five rent-stabilized apartment units by the 1980s.

When the developers began construction, four of the five tenants moved out. The fifth, Jean Herman, refused. She believed the developers had a responsibility to find her a suitable replacement, a new apartment that had both the neighborhood appeal and affordability of East 60th St. The developers, unable to meet her request, decided to build around the townhouse, even shaving off the fifth floor, above Ms. Herman’s unit.

Drivers cruising along a highway in Wenling, China, had to slow down and drive around one heck of an unusual roadblock: the five-story home of duck farmer Luo Baogen, the sole holdout from a neighborhood that was demolished to make way for the new thoroughfare. When Luo refused developers’ offers, they simply built around him, assuming that being in the middle of a construction zone and later, a highway would drive him out. In the end, it was all the media attention that did it.

More on real estate holdouts here, here, and here.