From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Posts Tagged ‘Eminent Domain

…of Japan, earthquakes, and real estate

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It’s hard to overstate our sympathies for our friends in Japan who find their country in tatters, with hundreds — if not thousands — of their fellow citizens dead, thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds of thousands?) more homeless, and the economy at a standstill. Fortunately enough, the Japanese are a terrifically resilient and stoic people, with a hard-working culture and more experience dealing with earthquakes than any other developed nation. I have no doubt they started the clean-up and rebuilding process the moment the aftershocks ended.

At Greenfield, we’ve enjoyed a terrific relationship with the Japan Real Estate Institute over the years. It almost seems embarrassing to talk about business while people are still dying, but a quick “google” search on news about the earthquake shows that the top page of stories deals with how this will affect global business, ranging from impacts on energy prices to the availability of Apple’s Ipad-2. Our focus, of course, is real estate, and that may prove to be one of the more interesting problems in this aftermath.

After WW-II, the Japanese people adopted a new constitution which was largely written by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the occupying forces. MacArthur really thought of himself as a Viceroy, and fashioned himself as an expert in governance. (In actuality, his administration of post-war Japan was probably the highpoint of his stellar career.) Despite being relatively conservative in most things, he was a very traditional liberal (albeit in a Victorian sense) in governance. As a result, the Japanese constitution provided for women’s suffrage. It also provided extraordinary rights to small, private property owners, as a mechanism to break-up the hold feudal land holdings. Indeed, eminent domain “taking”, as we think of it in the U.S., is very hard to accomplish in Japan. Small property owners — even the owners of the smallest pea-patch — have exceptionally strong property protections under law.

As great as this sounds, it makes it very difficult to clean up after a disaster. In 1995, Kobe was struck with what is known in Japan as the Great Hanshin earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.2. About the same time (1989), California was hit with the Loma Prieta earthquake, which measured 7.1. Both earthquakes hit in highly populated areas, although the Kobe quake killed over 6,000 while the Loma quake only killed 63. The Kobe quake destroyed about 200,000 buildings, while Loma damaged about 18,000 (12,000 homes and 6,000 businesses).

Of more direct comparison was the destruction in California of Oakland’s Cypress Street Viaduct and a portion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. In Japan, about 1km of the Hanshin Expressway collapsed.

In California, the highway collapses were repaired quickly. Indeed, one of the repair contractors won a huge bonus award for completing a large chunk of the work in record time, and the Bay Bridge was reopened in 32 days. The Cypress Street Viaduct required longer to replace, but traffic was rerouted quickly.

In Kobe, on the other hand, rubble from the expressway was still piled up five years later. Why? At the heart of the problem was access to private property under, near, and surrounding the expressway. Many of these small parcels had hundreds of individuals listed on deeds, and each of those individuals had to be contacted and permissions gained before reconstruction could begin.

Eminent domain can be a contentious issue here in the U.S. — taking agencies typically try to acquire property on a shoe-string, and my own analyses of “takings” appraisals show that they’re not done very well. That having been said, at least we HAVE mechanisms for handling these problems in the U.S., and should be thankful for that.

Again, our best wishes to our friends and colleagues in Japan. They’re going to need a lot of support as they emerge from these trying times. I also don’t want to forget our friends in New Zealand who had, on a relative level, an equally devastating earthquake in Christ Church. I have great friends from that country, and have enjoyed doing business down there. Best wishes to all of them.

Written by johnkilpatrick

March 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm

October 10 — Update #2

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Since my last post, I also had the privilege of attending (and speaking) at the semi-annual meeting of the Real Estate Counseling Group of America (RECGA). RECGA is a small but highly influential group, founded in the 1970’s by the great real estate valuation leader, Dr. Bill Kinnard, and over the years has counted in its membership many of the presidents of the Appraisal Institute and other leading groups, editors of several of the top real estate journals, noted professors and highly influential authors in the field.

The Fall meeting was held in Washington, DC, and the core of the meeting was Friday’s educational session. Max Ramsland opened up with a presentation demonstrating the impact of the number of anchor tenants on the appropriate cap rate of shopping centers. Carl Shultz, a member of the Appraisal Standards Board, followed with a discussion of impending changes to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). These changes are currently discussed in an Exposure Draft, which he invited RECGA members to revieww and submit comments about, and will be incorporated (with appropriate changes) in the 2012 edition of USPAP. Both Mr. Ramsland and Mr. Shultz are also RECGA members.

Two non-members followed with somewhat related presentations on eminent domain. Scott Bullock from the Institute for Justice was one of the attorneys who argued the famed Kelo case before the U.S. Supreme Court, and he discussed the status of eminent domain law since that landmark case. With a somewhat different perspective, we heard from Andrew Goldfrank, a U.S. Justice Department attorney who heads up all Federal takings litigation.

The afternoon session kicked off with David Lenhoff, a RECGA member and former editor of the Appraisal Journal, who discussed the complex issues surrounding hotel valuation. I followed with a brief synopsis on the Gulf Oil Spill, focusing on the current status of the claims and litigation processes. Reeves Lukens, a RECGA member, and his son, Tripp Lukens, discussed the state of pharmaceutical properties in the U.S. Joe Magdziarz, who is the incoming president of the Appraisal Institute (AI) discussed the current issues facing that organization, with a particularly emphasis on the recent controversies between AI and the Appraisal Foundation (AF). Notably, the founding Chair of AF, Jeff Fisher, is a RECGA member and was able to provide some historic commentary. RECGA members Jeff Fisher and Ron Donahue brought the day to a conclusions with discussions about the state of the securitized real estate market, including REITs.

For more information about RECGA, visit the web site,

Written by johnkilpatrick

October 10, 2010 at 11:24 am

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