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Victorian mansion for sale with spaceship attic


There are lots of £3,250,000 mansions around London's Crystal Palace, but there aren't many whose attics have been converted to spaceship control rooms. The estate-agent-ese in the posting is enough to melt your eyeballs, but I gather that this place is has 8 bedrooms, is about 7,000sqft, and is both Gothic Grade II and Victorian Grade II listed (or possibly these are interchangeable).

11 bedroom detached house for sale (via Geekologie)

Should you short the London property bubble?


Economist Tim Harford answers my question: How would you short the London property bubble? in a column that also asks the important question: should you?

Read the rest

How would you short London?

Here's a finance riddle: how would you short London's property bubble? House prices are up GBP50K in the last six months, our freeholder is making noises about either buying or forcing us out in order to build a giant tower, and they sold off Scotland Yard (!). They say the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent, and I've been marvelling at the irrationality of London's property market since I moved there in 2003. Just for the sake of argument, if you wanted to put a bet down on a property value crash, how would you make it? Cory 91

Facebook passwords: many employers can snoop them, and don't need to ask

US senators are calling for action on employers' habit of demanding employees' Facebook passwords, but no one seems to notice that many companies configure their computers so that they can eavesdrop on your Facebook, bank, and webmail passwords, even when those passwords are "protected" by SSL. In my latest Guardian column, "Protecting your Facebook privacy at work isn't just about passwords," I talk about how our belief that property rights -- your employer's right to control the software load on the computer they bought for your use -- have come to trump privacy, human rights and basic decency.

Firms have legitimate (ish) reasons to install these certificates. Many firms treat the names of the machines on their internal networks as proprietary information (eg accounting.sydney.australia.company.com), but still want to use certificates to protect their users' connections to those machines. So rather than paying for certificates from one of the hundreds of certificate authorities trusted by default in our browsers – which would entail disclosing their servers' names – they use self-signed certificates to protect those connections.

But the presence of your employer's self-signed certificate in your computers' list of trusted certs means that your employer can (nearly) undetectably impersonate all the computers on the internet, tricking your browser into thinking that it has a secure connection to your bank, Facebook, or Gmail, all the while eavesdropping on your connection.

Many big firms use "lawful interception" appliances that monitor all employee communications, including logins to banks, health providers, family members, and other personal sites.

Protecting your Facebook privacy at work isn't just about passwords

Update: To everyone who says that your employer has the unlimited right to spy on your computer use because you're on company property, here's a paragraph from later in the piece:

Besides, there are plenty of contexts in which "company property" would not excuse this level of snooping. If you met your spouse on your lunchbreak to discuss a private medical matter in the break room or car park, you would probably expect that your employer wouldn't use a hidden microphone to listen in on the conversation – even though you were "on company property". Why should your employer get to snoop on your private webmail conversations with your spouse during your lunch-break?

China's housing bubble: ghost malls, ghost highrises, and ghost cities

Here's an Australian TV documentary about China's housing bubble which has given rise of bizarre ghost malls, ghost highrises, and even ghost cities. It's symptomatic of the growing divide between China's rich and poor, which has left many Chinese without adequate housing. Unlike the US bubble, the Chinese property bubble isn't founded on cheap credit, which makes the analyst hosting the show believe that it won't burst in the same way as American one.

China's Ghost Cities and Malls

Activists seize Saif Gadaffi's London mansion

A group of activist squatters have occupied Saif "War Criminal/Plagiarist/Zillionaire" Gadaffi's swanky £10M mansion in London's Mayfair.
A spokesman for the group said "We didn't trust the British government to properly seize the Gaddafi regime's corrupt assets, so we took matters into our own hands."

"The British government only recently stopped actively helping to train the Libyan regime in "crowd control" techniques, through the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and a midlands based arms manufacturer, NMS Systems. As well as training the regime in repression, British corporations are also guilty of providing the same weapons that are now being used by Gaddaffi against the Libyan people."

The mansion is managed by Gaddaffi through a holding company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The spokesman for occupiers said "Gaddafi, Mubarak, the House of Saud and numerous other tyrants use front companies in British protectorates to avoid paying tax and above all to protect their anonymity. Britain actively assists tyrants, corporations and the super rich to rob their people blind. Our aim is to make sure that the assets stolen by Gaddafi are returned to the Libyan people and don't disappear into the pockets of governments or corporations. In the meantime we want to welcome refugees from the conflict in Libya and those fleeing tyranny and oppression across the world."

Saif Gaddafi's london mansion occupied (Thanks, Tim!)

(Image: Nusibab)

US house prices fall to 1890s levels (where they usually are)


According to Case-Shiller/S&P, US housing prices have fallen to levels not seen since the 1890s (adjusted for inflation, of course), in 11 of 20 markets. It looks like this is slightly skewed by the serious economic problems in rustbelt cities, which is not to say that things aren't pretty terrible -- and the same analysis predicts a further decline of 15-20%.
Some years back, Yale Professor Robert Shiller produced a long-run nominal home price index for the U.S. by fusing together data that had been gathered from a number of historical archives.

Shiller then adjusted the index for inflation revealing the very interesting fact that, in real terms, prices for U.S. homes changed very little over the span from 1890 to the mid-1990s.

This might come as a surprise to many since recent "common sense" notions held that homes were always a great investment carrying the implication that they must typically increase in value yet, the reality is that over the long run home prices must stay in-line with changes in the level of income (the source generally used to fund the home cost) or else typical households would not be capable of making a purchase.

Home prices falling to level of 1890s

Corporate developers abandon "underwater" property -- why not individuals?

Tishman Speyer Properties and its co-investors just walked away from the largest real-estate deal in US history, simply defaulting on the properties and the loans that bought them and leaving their creditors in the lurch. The properties, Manhattan's 56-building, 11,232-unit Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, were "under water" (worth less than the debt hanging over them), so the corporate developers elected to simply jettison them.

They're not alone -- Morgan Stanley recently dumped five San Francisco office buildings, stiffing their creditors when the buildings went underwater.

As a business-strategy it makes sense: why repay loans secured by assets that are worth less than the loans? Just turn the assets over and cut your losses.

But individuals are shamed, bullied, and counselled not to do this when it's their private homes that fall underwater. Everyone from former US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to credit counsellors to the Mortgage Bankers Association tell you that defaulting on underwater property is low and dishonest (unless you're a Wall Street player -- then it's just "protecting shareholder value").

Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson once said: "And let me emphasize, any homeowner who can afford his mortgage payment but chooses to walk away from an underwater property is simply a speculator - and one who is not honoring his obligations."

The head of the Mortgage Bankers Association, John Courson, played up the moral argument against walking away, telling the Wall Street Journal last month: "What about the message they will send to their family and their kids and their friends?

But corporations and businesses don't play by those rules. Like CalPERS's McKinley said, "You come to a point where you write it off or stay in the game. If you want to stay in you got to put in more capital. We reached our limit on that. It was not a prudent thing to put more money into it.

"You get to a point where you can't keep throwing good money after bad," he said. "These are illiquid investments. You gotta fish or cut bait."

As for homeowners walking away en masse -- perhaps lenders' biggest housing-related fear -- McKinley added: "We're hopeful that won't happen."

Don't Look Back: Major Players Continue To 'Walk Away' From Poor Mortgages (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Image: Friendly's Underwater Restaurant, a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike image from nlnnet's photostream)