Tuesday, 24 October 2017

What percentage of one's assets should be in real estate?

A very large amount!

This answer is obviously different for everyone…but I would suggest 75% or higher. There simply is no other investment that is setup for the type of ease and returns and tax breaks that real estate is…especially if your goal s passive income. (If your goal isn’t passive income…why not??)

Lets say you’re torn on putting money into real estate vs the market. How much do you have? 50k? Great.
Market- You find a good financial advisor, put your $50k in and start collecting. Your advisor will tell you about a great annual return, lets say 7%. He’s happy to help out and (because he believes in you as an investor) will charge you a percentage/fee to help out and watch your money (with of course additional fees for every time he looks at it, touches it or moves it). Now… for as long as you leave the money in the investment you’re collecting 7% of $50k.
Real Estate- We aren’t looking at buying a home for yourself, because that's not an investment…that’s a home. Trust me, as long as you’re paying the bill every month we aren’t talking about an investment (certainly not a good one).
So you take your $50k and buy a rental. The bank (because they also believe in you as an investor but are more generous than your advisor) will not only match your $50k, but they’ll back you with another $200k!

So now with your 50k (25% down on the property) you are expecting annual growth (lets say again 7%) on $250k. So to recap, we put the same amount of money in, but in optionA we collect 7% of $50k and in optionB we collect 7% of $250K.
Are we still having a discussion or did you already run out to pull the money from your IRA to buy a rental?

But wait, there’s more!
The bank was kind enough to loan you that extra 200k, but they don’t care who makes the payments for it, so you find a renter to “housesit” while you’re away and they actually pay the mortgage/bank for you. The payments, the interest on the loan, everything. How generous.

You know who else has faith in you as an investor? Uncle Sam. In fact, he’s so excited about your real estate venture that he’s going to let you write off the interest. Yep, the same interest your tenant already paid on your behalf…now that’s generous!! You know what else he’ll let you write off? Just about everything… repairs, upgrades, updates, the management team you hire to find good tenants and handle repairs while your out looking for your next investment (or y’know, enjoying life). What a great uncle sam is.

At the end of each year you want to make sure you’re dong everything you can do, because your goal (like everyone else’s, is to retire early)… so you’re proactive.

Market- Your advisor has some good suggestions and moves your money around for only a small fee.

- update - 7% of 50k investment (plus growth achieved).
Real Estate- You send a letter to your tenant letting them know that rents are increasing. It’s only a couple hundred bucks a month, but that goes straight into your pocket and you save it for a nice trip at the end of the year to celebrate your successful venture. You earned it!
- update - 7% of 250k investment (plus growth achieved) and a small monthly income that grows year after year. Passive Income!

So lets say we get a few years down the road and both of your investments have grown that 7% year over year… are you gonna pull the money out of either? Not likely, we’re in this for the long game!!
Market- you call your advisor and tell him that you’ve been thrilled things are going so well and you want to ramp up! You’ve been working hard at your job to keep the money coming in, and want to do what you can to make your investment grow faster so you don’t have to work 40 more years.

He suggests you work harder at the job and offers to pull money out of your check every month. He also has some good suggestions and moves your money around for only a small fee.
- update - 7% of 50k investment (plus growth achieved).
Real Estate- You call you bank and tell them the same story. “What? you’ve had a job this whole time, you’re making more money than before (rental increases), AND your property has gained in value?? Good for you!” 

In fact, they’re so proud of you that they will lend you more money for second property…but this time instead of making you show up with a $50k down payment, they’ll simply pull some equity out of your first investment. Lets say you’re not yet ready to jump to a duplex or larger investment… so its just another $250k rental for now.
- update - 7% of 500k investment (plus growth achieved).

Do these two curves seem like they’re on the same trajectory?
They aren’t. Our banking and tax systems are simply setup to afford growth and success in real estate.

We now have:
An investment in the market of $50k value (plus growth) growing at 7% a year plus whatever monthly payments you can afford to subtract from your month salary each month to make it grow more rapidly.
Real estate investments of $500k (plus growth) growing at 7% a year that is also sending us a monthly income that grows year after year (or allows you to trade up to a higher and higher number of properties/investments).

Lets talk about long game… 10, 20, 30years down the road. You’re approaching middle age (or past it, who cares…its none of my business), you’re getting tired of that job and looking for other options. Maybe you’ve been dreaming of a big trip, maybe you’ve got a business idea or maybe you just want to stop working and retire early.
Market - Your agent breaks the news that you can’t really access your account until you’re 59.5 (unless by then the fed have moved that line further back to help the economy). You insist its your money, so they allow you to withdraw part of it, snack a 10% penalty on you and charge you income taxes. Enjoy your trip/business venture/retirement.
Real estate - You’ve been increasing rents year after year and the checks from tenants by now likely matches or surpass your paycheck from work, so you’ve already been thinking a LOT about just giving up the job… but maybe you want more money coming in or cash in hand for those other ideas.
It’s your house (though oddly you haven’t been paying for it) so you can sell it any time you want… no fees included.
Don’t want to pay income taxes on it, well there’s already tax incentives to help with that as well… you look into a 1031exchange to get into a larger property that pays you even more monthly income (without the job), or maybe you decide to move into the house for 2 years so that you can sell it outright… but now tax free.

Im not suggesting you shouldn’t (also) invest in the market, just pointing out that the two systems aren’t exactly equitable.

Go ahead and place a call into your financial advisor/brker suggesting that you give him 25% and he add the other 75%. While you’re at it also suggest that instead of him drawing out of your paycheck every month that he send you one…
Just don’t hold your breath. ;)

Bryan Danger, freedom seeker, life hacker, small home designer, vanlifer

Monday, 23 October 2017

China's Home Prices Rise in Fewest Cities Since January 2016

Bali News and Views Comments; I would not be investing in China homes now. I believe it will be the next bubble to burst following Singapore, Perth and soon Melbourne , Brisbane.

Bali has already fallen 20% to 50 % and is heading back up after the first correction in modern history . Check out the Best Property for sale at B.A.R.E. Best Asia Real Estate

Bloomberg News
October 23, 2017, 9:38 AM GMT+8 October 23, 2017, 11:29 AM GMT+8

Values gained in 44 cities in September, versus 46 in August
Home sales data showed first year-on-year drop in 30 months

China September New Home Prices Rise in 44 of 70 Cities

China Sept. New Home Prices Rise in 44 of 70 Cities

China home prices rose in the fewest cities since January 2016, adding to signs of a property slowdown as curbs on buyers bite.

New-home prices, excluding government-subsidized housing, in September rose in 44 of 70 cities tracked by the government, compared with 46 in August, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday. Prices fell in 18 cities from the previous month and were unchanged in eight.

Stabilizing home prices in the nation’s largest cities are a welcome sign for Communist Party leaders gathered in Beijing to map policy for the next five years. President Xi Jinping renewed a yearlong call that homes are built “to be inhabited’’ and not for speculation in his speech at the twice-a-decade Party Congress, inking the language in one of the nation’s top policy frameworks.

Data last week showed home sales last month fell from year-earlier levels for the first time since March 2015, declining 2.4 percent by value, and 5.7 percent by area, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Xi’s speech showed “that instead of easing, we are more likely to see more tightening during or after the party congress,” Alan Jin, a property analyst at Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. said before the data release.

Home prices fell 0.5 percent in southern Guangzhou, the second consecutive monthly fall. Values in Shanghai and in Beijing declined 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent respectively. In Shenzhen, prices were unchanged.

A Bloomberg Intelligence index of Chinese real-estate owners and developers fell when the property-price data were released, but later bounced back, up 0.5 percent as of 11:15 a.m. local time.

— With assistance by Emma Dong, and Eric Lam

This $14 Million Atlanta Home With Bunker Is ‘Safest in America’

Have trouble sleeping at night? Perhaps the anti-ballistic bedroom doors, 15,000-square-foot bunker, and off-grid water and power access at this Atlanta home will make you feel a little more secure.By
Sara Clemence
October 21, 2017, 3:39 AM GMT+8

An undated photo of the house, under construction. Courtesy of Paul Wegener

Call it the Wayne Manor of the South.

The cream-colored, colonnaded facade of the Rice House, situated on 3.5 acres just outside Atlanta, hides far more than a private theater, bowling alley, and infinity swimming pool.

A rendering of the sprawling car vault.
Courtesy of Paul Wegener

The master and guest bedrooms have ballistic doors that can withstand fire from an AK-47 assault rifle. The car vault is large enough to hold 30 vehicles and has an entrance designed to be concealed by a waterfall. Secret doors lead to a 15,000-square-foot bunker in which an embattled owner could conceivably hole up for years, with off-grid power and water drawn from three artesian wells drilled 1,000 feet into the ground. The house had its own security architect who spent two decades designing secure buildings for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Listing materials boast that it is “one of, if not the, safest home in America.”

“This is a home where you could put a $20 million painting on the wall and sleep comfortably at night,” said listing broker Paul Wegener, of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty. “The same goes for your family.”

The entrepreneur who owns the Rice House spent six years and some $30 million to build his 36,000-square-foot fortress of an estate, Wegener told Bloomberg. And that was mostly for kicks.

These door locks are not messing around.
Courtesy of Paul Wegener

“He said to me, ‘If anyone wants to get me, they can find me at Chick-fil-A,’” Wegener said. It was something of an intellectual exercise to create an impenetrable home, a personal Batcave that the owner could peel his Bugatti Veyron out of.

It was just relisted for $14.7 million, a drop from the original $17.5 million. The estate also needs to be finished, which Wegener estimates would cost an additional $3 million to $5 million.

Courtesy of Paul Wegener

The owner planned the Rice House as a family legacy, only to learn that his son wasn’t interested in living there. The home has been completely built, with eight bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, three kitchens, a private museum, a wine cellar, an indoor shooting range, and commercial-grade elevators. But instead of layering on the finishes appropriate to his collection of 18th century furniture, he left a blank canvas for the next owner.

“The mandate was the best of everything,” Wegener said. To construct the foundation, workers dug down to bedrock and then bored down into it. The walls are made from extra-strength concrete reinforced with rebar. The car vault originally was designed with 18 columns, but the owner pushed back until engineers figured out a way to use custom-made bridge beams, so no pillars would be needed to support the ceiling. The Rice House is highly energy-efficient, with geothermal heating and cooling and a solar energy system.

Though it’s not included in the listing—to maintain that hush-hush feel—the Rice House is in Country Club of the South, a manicured, gated community in Alpharetta, Ga., about a 30-minute drive northeast of central Atlanta. Homes in the 733-unit subdivision range from the high six figures up to, well, this.

An artistic rendering of the completed house.
Courtesy of Paul Wegener

Over the years, a number of celebrities have reportedly owned homes in Country Club of the South, among them retired Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, Usher, Whitney Houston, and NBA Hall of Famer Allen Iverson. The neighborhood has 19 tennis courts, an 18-hole, golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, basketball courts, a concert venue—and, of course, 24-hour security.

Not that the new owners will need it.

What is the biggest mistake people make when investing in real estate (rental property)?

57 Answers

Mark Ferguson

The biggest mistake I see is when people buy for appreciation and ignore the cash flow. Rental properties can be expensive to own and most people underestimate the cost to own them. It is also expensive to sell a rental. If you plan to buy a rental simply for appreciation you will pay 6 to 10 percent of the sales price in selling costs.
Not only do prices have to increase 6 to 10 percent just to break even on the property when you sell it, you are losing money every month when you only buy for appreciation. A lot of people think a good rent is one that simply has higher rent than the mortgage payment, but you have to consider other costs as well:
  • Maintenance: Things will break and tenants will do damage. At least 10 percent of the rents should go towards maintenance items.
  • Vacancies: Houses will be vacant at times and once in a while you will need to evict people. I think 10 percent is a good number to use for vacancies as well.
  • Property management: Yes you can manage a property yourself, but that is time you could use if you were not managing properties. Property management will cost around 10 percent a month as well.
If your mortgage payment is $1,500 a month, and your rent is $1,800 a month you are still losing money. The other costs would add up to $540 a month meaning you lose $240 a month. This assumes there are no other costs like HOAs, utilities, and the taxes and insurance are escrowed with the mortgage payment.
If you own the property for three years you would lose $8,600 from the rent not meeting expenses. Rentals can be awesome investments with the right rent to value ratio, but you have to account for all the expenses. Most people who buy properties simply hoping they go up in value or hold a property because they cannot sell it for enough now, end up regretting it.
I have a cash flow calculator that will figure what the expenses will be:
As well as a cash on cash calculator that will tell you what % you are making on your money:

Spence shares the key milestones in the journey of Karma Hospitality.

‘I owe a lot to Goa, in fact, everything for our growth’
Monday, October 23, 2017, 15:51 Hrs [IST]

It was an impromptu visit to Goa in the early 90’s that transformed John Spence,an aspiring guitarist and music band operator, into a resort operator. A strong believer in the Indian philosophy of Karma, you reap what you sow, Spence went on to set up unique chain of hotels under the Karma brand in 14 countries in the world. Although he left the entertainment business long ago, the differentiating factor at Karma is built around wholesome enter tainment. In an email interview to Hospitality Biz, Spence shares the key milestones in the journey of Karma Hospitality.

Q You have said in one of your interviews that your travel to Goa to participate in a conference in the 90’s was a turning point in your career? Can you explain briefly how that visit turned John Spence the musician into a hotelier?

My career began in the music business; which traced back to the fact that I wanted to be a guitarist. I bizarrely thought I was the best guitarist in the world, but as it turns out I wasn’t. Once the realisation struck, I started managing music bands in London and became an agent. My job revolved around looking after a lot of music bands in the early 80s, some famous ones like Eurythmics and the Culture Club, while some not so well known. It was a fun experience altogether when one thinks of it now.

I then moved to the Canary Islands, and started working for an American firm developing tourism and real estate. It was in 1993 that I got the chance to come to India, to speak at a conference in Hyderabad about the emergence of Private Member Clubs in tourism where I was invited. Whilst I was there, I thought of exploring more as I had never visited before and was already inclined towards the cuisine there.

I took the chance, and really fell in love with the country. Goa was the first place I went to and saw a huge potential there. It was the beginning of the British coming in for holidays there as it was cheap, and direct chartered flights were starting at the same time. I saw this magnificent state with great beaches and realised that the Indian middle class was not the way I had gauged and they liked the complete experience of a holiday, Goa with its beaches, and having a beer. So I took the plunge and made a decision. I initially tried to persuade the company I worked for to come but they didn’t see the opportunity I did, so I resigned. I cashed in all my money; mortgaged my flat in London and managed to recruit some of the top people. Then we came out here and bought our first resort in Goa. It was an incredible; packed in an envelope opportunity despite us having little money and very little cash flow. We lived in non-air conditioned units on the beach and really struggled, but it took off from those humble beginnings. The company grew and we went truly international.

As of today, we are in 14 countries in the world and we are growing rapidly. It all began in Goa, so I owe a lot to Goa, in fact, everything for our growth.

Q How did you derive on the name ‘Karma’ for your global venture?

The original operation was called Royal Resorts, it was a royal Goan beach club and a few other resorts. Sometime later in our expansion curve, in about 2000 we decided to develop some real estate projects and we wanted to distance them from Royal Resorts which were very luxurious, so we settled on the name Karma. I like the concept of Karma, you reap what you sow, and you do positive things and it will rebound in the Universe. We truly love and believe in the philosophy, and we knew it would resonate with a lot of cultures in the west. The idea of Karma is very strong, and it was the name that spoke of our Asian exposure and passion and yet was a strong brand globally. Over the years, we’ve rolled it out and it’s become the Karma brand.

Q What is Karma’s concept? How do you distinguish from other uber luxury resort chains in the world?

Well, we are extremely different from other Hotel chains, primarily because we don’t see our main responsibility as providing beds. We are not in lodging business; we are in the entertainment business.

We very strongly believe that we provide our clients with a wholesome entertainment experience, be it by virtue of our kids’ clubs, beach clubs, spas, restaurants, top DJs, wine making events, fashion shows or any other touch point which caters to such recreational needs. Our primary business is the development and sales of private members clubs, so most of the people who stay with us are members. We run a lot of events in the city and globally like art; fashion; races; sports at several locations to keep them engaged as well.

So unlike most companies that see themselves as providing lodging, we don’t. Karma is more of a lifestyle.

Q How a membership based resort concepts works on a global level?

Well, it works very well because we have managed to create 27 unique properties in this segment. Our members come from a wide range of countries across the globe with their own set of requirements. We started in India, and we are going to continue to concentrate on it as even now we see a huge opportunity there. Apart from that though, our presence has been established in other South East Asian regions as well like Singapore, Bali, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan. Globally, we are also present in Australia, England, Germany, France and we are just developing in the Caribbean. People tend to travel around our resorts a lot, and some people like to go to one geographical area repeatedly. But the people that our product appeals to the most are avid travellers who are globetrotters. Since our membership is a global one, this segment which likes to travel to diverse locations, ties to our offering beautifully.

Q How Karma evolved into a global entity with clear segmentation and sub-brands?

It was always our strategy. As I say we started in India, and we saw opportunity in the nearing areas as well which made us move to Thailand and Taiwan, and then to Australia. So we’ve been a bit like a band of wandering gypsies that keep going to different parts of the world. We’ve realised in many ways that the world is a village and it is easier to travel around it now when it is also cost effective. As a global developer company, we look at opportunities at a global basis in their own merit.

Currently I am looking at potential properties at Bali, South America, Caribbean, St. Martin, England and three more in India. So we look at opportunities from a global perspective and then take it ahead basis their due merit. Our goal and passion is to expand at a global level and increase our overall footprint.

Q You have announced your plans to grow your footprint in India and South East Asia. How do you plan to go about it and what is the size of Karma portfolio that you have in mind in the next three to five years?

At the moment of India we have 6 resorts – 4 in Goa, 1 in Jaipur and 1 in Kerala. We’ve discussed this at our board that we want to focus on India and we are putting aside funds from our group treasury for the same. Our plan is to add two properties a year translating to 10 by the end of five years. The group will be present in Goa because there is certainly a soft corner for it but we also want to move outside Goa. The vision is to be across the country since it is such a huge one with so many interesting places to discover. Currently we have a resort in the south where we want to expand more, and then move towards the eastern side or the northern part of the country.

Indonesia looks to build on recent tourism growth

IndonesiaTourism Economic News 23 Oct 2017

A more diverse product offering and a broadening of the destination base are at the centre of a new campaign to attract investment to Indonesia’s rapidly growing tourism sector.

Under a plan first mooted in 2016, Indonesia is ramping up efforts to develop regional destinations as major tourist centres under its 10 New Balis programme. The scheme seeks to replicate the success of the resort island of Bali, which currently attracts some 40% of all inbound tourist arrivals.

Australia, one of Indonesia’s key tourism markets, is supporting the project, committing $2.3m in funding in August through the World Bank to assist in advancing several destinations on the list.

Indonesia is also seeking to involve the Australian private sector in the programme. To this end, in August Indonesian officials conducted a five-city investment roadshow across Australia showcasing opportunities in tourism and infrastructure development.

Looking to engage other regional investors, at the Singapore-Indonesia Investment Forum in September, Arief Yahya, Indonesia’s minister of tourism, spoke of the ministry’s aim of adding 120,000 hotel rooms, thousands of eateries and up to 100 recreation parks to existing stocks in the regions.

Three of the 10 locations have been earmarked as developmental priorities: Lake Toba, Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara province, and Borobudur-Yogyakarta-Prambanan in Central Java province and the Special Region of Yogyakarta.
Broader goals for tourism development

The 10 New Balis effort falls within the broader Indonesia Tourism Development Programme (ITDP) being undertaken with assistance from the World Bank, which, in a draft document published in June, outlined proposals to provide a $180m loan to support the initiative and a further $570m using a Programme-for-Results financing instrument. The implementation of the latter involves “monitoring the performance of the institutional arrangements, and monitoring and verifying results”.

There are four “results areas” under the broader plan: improving the sustainability and tourist capacity of selected destinations; promoting domestic participation in the sector; creating an environment conducive to private sector investment; and increasing the capacity of institutions to facilitate tourism development.
Regional competition and sector fundamentals

Currently, Indonesia lags behind some of its South-east Asian neighbours in regards to tourism, ranking 42nd of 141 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017. By comparison, Malaysia was 25th and Thailand 34th.

Nonetheless, Indonesia’s position in the latest report represented an eight-place improvement on the previous year’s index, and it is likely to move further up the index in future thanks to improvements under the ITDP to tourism service infrastructure, where it ranked 96th, and the supply of hotel rooms, where it placed 93rd.

The fundamentals of the sector have strengthened significantly in recent times, with arrivals rising by 7.2% in 2016 to 11.5m, according to data issued by the Central Statistics Agency. The upward growth trajectory continued this year: in the January-July period, 7.81m tourists entered the country, an increase of 23.53% on the same period last year.

Inbound traffic also rose in July, when it hit 1.35m, representing increases of 30.8% year-on-year and 21.5% month-on-month.
Challenges to development

However, several obstacles could weigh on progress towards the ultimate vision of 10 New Balis. First and foremost among these concerns Bali itself, with recent seismic activity at the island’s Mount Agung widely predicted to be indicative of an impending volcanic eruption.

Thousands have already been evacuated from the exclusion zone that stretches 12 km from the crater, and regardless of the severity of any eruption, the tourism industry will certainly be impacted at least in the near term.

Diversification of tourism offerings – as per the government’s goals – would certainly help the country weather similar circumstances in the future, but some industry insiders have also stressed the need for differentiation in the pursuit of the initiative.

“While Bali can be a source of inspiration for other regions across Indonesia, the challenge for each of the new tourism hubs will be to identify each destination’s uniqueness, thereby differentiating their tourism products,” Talef Rifai, secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation, told OBG “This will allow each to stand on its own merits and attract a specific market.”
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Saturday, 21 October 2017

Hong Kong-listed Logan Property bags Florence Regency for S$629m

FRI, OCT 20, 2017 - 12:21 PM
LYNETTE KHOOlynkhoo@sph.com.sg@LynetteKhooBT

The Singapore-incorporated subsidiary of the Hong Kong-listed Chinese developer has picked up the 336-unit development at Hougang Avenue 2 for S$629 million through a collective sale.

FLORENCE Regency, a privatised HUDC estate in Hougang, has finally found a buyer who is willing to match the independent valuation of S$629 million - and that buyer is Logan Property.

Florence Regency's sole marketing agent JLL said that the Singapore-incorporated subsidiary of the Hong Kong-listed Chinese developer has picked up the 336-unit development at Hougang Avenue 2 for S$629 million through a collective sale.

This marks the second land parcel in Singapore snapped up by Logan Property, which had in May tabled the top bid with Nanshan Group for a 21,109 square metre site in Stirling Road under the Government Land Sales programme at a whopping S$1.003 billion or S$1,050.7 per square foot per plot ratio (psf ppr).

The public tender for the collective sale of Florence Regency had closed on Sept 27 with three bidders refusing to raise their bid prices to match the valuation. The collective sale agreement drafted by law firm Lee & Lee required that the sale price be no lower than the valuation.

Monday, 16 October 2017

BC Home Sales Ratchet Higher in September

Vancouver, BC – October 12, 2017. The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) reports that a total of 8,340 residential unit sales were recorded by the Multiple Listing Service® (MLS®) in September, an increase of 9.9 per cent from the same period last year. Total sales dollar volume was $5.8 billion, up 30.2 per cent from September 2016. The average MLS® residential price in the province was $693,774, up 18.5 per cent from September 2016.

"BC home sales rose nearly 5 per cent from August on a seasonally adjusted basis," said Cameron Muir, BCREA Chief Economist. "Total active listings on the market continue to trend at ten-year lows in most BC regions, limiting unit sales and pushing home prices higher. While the economic fundamentals support elevated housing demand, rising home prices are eroding affordability, particularly for first-time buyers."

Year-to-date, BC residential sales dollar volume was down 12.8 per cent to $57.6 billion, when compared with the same period in 2016. Residential unit sales declined 13 per cent to 81,608 units, while the average MLS® residential price was down 0.2 per cent to $705,501.


For more information, please contact:
Cameron Muir

Chief Economist

Direct: 604.742.2780

Mobile: 778.229.1884

Email: cmuir@bcrea.bc.ca

The British Columbia Real Estate Association (BCREA) is the professional association for about 22,000 REALTORS® in BC, focusing on provincial issues that impact real estate. Working with the province's 11 real estate boards, BCREA provides continuing professional education, advocacy, economic research and standard forms to help REALTORS® provide value for their clients.

To demonstrate the profession's commitment to improving Quality of Life in BC communities, BCREA supports policies that help ensure economic vitality, provide housing opportunities, preserve the environment, protect property owners and build better communities with good schools and safe neighbourhoods.

For detailed statistical information, contact your local real estate board. MLS® is a cooperative marketing system used only by Canada's real estate boards to ensure maximum exposure of properties listed for sale.

To subscribe to receive BCREA publications such as this one, or to update your email address or current subscriptions, click here.

Hong Kong's Fifth-Tallest Tower Sells for Record $5.15 Billion

Economic Journal Says By Peter Vercoe
October 16, 2017, 8:17 AM GMT+8 October 16, 2017, 9:58 AM GMT+8

Chinese-led group buys The Center, Economic Journal reports
73-story building in Central district is city’s fifth-tallest

Li's H.K. Tower Sells for Record $5.15B: Report

Li Ka-Shing’s CK Asset Holdings Ltd. sold its 75 percent holding in The Center to a Chinese-led group for HK$40.2 billion ($5.15 billion), a record for a Hong Kong office tower, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.

The deal will be announced in the near future, the Economic Journal reported, without saying where it got the information. Some domestic investors are also part of the consortium, the newspaper said. Representatives at CK Asset didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.

The Center
Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

CK Asset shares rose as much as 3.2 percent in early trading, and were up 2.4 percent to HK$66.35 at 9:57 a.m. Hong Kong time.

The deal is the latest to signal Hong Kong’s red-hot property market shows no signs of slowing down. LVGEM (China) Real Estate Investment Co. last week announced the HK$9 billion purchase of a building from Wheelock & Co. a record per-square-foot price for a commercial building in Hong Kong’s Kwun Tong area.

Earlier this year, Henderson Land Development Co. paid HK$23.3 billion for the first commercial land to be sold by the government in the Central district in more than 20 years.
For CK Asset, which recently changed its name from CK Property, the proceeds would give the company funds to diversify away from its main real-estate business. CK Asset and affiliate CK Infrastructure Holdings Ltd. earlier this year agreed to buy a German maker of smart meters for about 4.5 billion euros ($5.3 billion), building on the company’s expansion in infrastructure and energy.
73-Story Tower

CK Asset’s properties, which include the Cheung Kong Center and Hutchison House, spanned about 17 million square feet (1.6 million square meters) as of June, with more than 80 percent located in Hong Kong, according to the company.

The 73-story building in the Central business district is the city’s fifth-tallest, according to the Skyscraper Center. Hong Kong’s skyscrapers command the highest rents in the world, according to a report last month from Knight Frank, which said rental costs are more than four times higher than in Singapore. Rental growth will continue to be robust on an influx of mainland Chinese tenants, Knight Frank said.

News involving the sale of The Center has been trickling out for at least a year, with the Hong Kong Economic Journal saying last year that ICBC Asia approached CK Asset about buying the stake in the tower for HK$34.8 billion. At the time, ICBC denied the report, saying it didn’t engage in talks nor purchase the stake.

— With assistance by Dominic Lau, Frederik Balfour, Young-Sam Cho, and Fion Li

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Trump’s global resorts put profit first, environment last, critics say

By Mongabay Oct. 12, 2017

Donald Trump’s entrance to Bali is not a smooth one.

Donald Trump’s negative environmental record in Scotland and elsewhere has conservationists concerned in Bali, where Trump firms are developing a major resort and golf facility known as Trump International Hotel & Tower Bali. Another resort under development, the Trump International Hotel & Tower Lido, a 700-hectare facility including a six-star luxury resort, theme park, country club, spa, villas, condos and 18-hole golf course threatens the nearby Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, one of Java’s last virgin tropical forests.

Mongabay looked into Trump’s claims that he is an environmentalist, winning “many, many environmental awards.” We were able to locate just two — one a local New York award, and another granted by a golf business association. The Trump Organization did not respond to requests to list Mr. Trump’s awards. Trump’s environmental record as president, and as a businessman, is abysmal, say critics. His attempt to defund the U.S. Energy Star program, they say, is typical of a compulsion to protect his self interest: Energy Star has given poor ratings to nearly all Trump’s hotels, which experts note has possibly impacted his bottom line.

Trump Tower in New York City. A Mongabay review of Donald Trump’s claim that his properties have received “many, many” environmental awards only uncovered two minor awards, one of them from a golf association. The Trump organization, when requested, did not provide any information on the topic. Photo by Brad_T/Flickr

Who doesn’t like a luxury resort and 18-hole golf course set atop a sheer cliff with breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean? Revered Hindu Gods that inhabit the temple nearby, according to the local Balinese concerned over plans to open the Trump International Hotel & Tower Bali. Local environmentalists aren’t keen on the resort either.

The Balinese worry that the Trump development will loom over the centuries-old Tanah Lot, a temple that sits upon a rock off the west coast of the wildly Instagrammed and oft visited Indonesian island.

This particular holy site is one of the most venerated temples of the “Island of Gods.” And while the Balinese are ever welcoming to tourists — important to the island’s economy —their religion, and laws, stipulate that all non-religious buildings not exceed 15 meters, or the height of temples, and more or less the height of a coconut tree.

The Tanah Lot Temple in Bali, Indonesia, which is about to become a next-door neighbor to a Trump resort. Photo by Justine Hong/Flickr

The Trump tower, resort and golf course, now still in the planning stage, also pose environmental concerns. Suriadi Darmoko — Executive Director of the Indonesian environmental NGO, Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WHALI) Eksekutif Daerah Bali — believes the island does not need more hotel suites and jacuzzis.

A 2010 study by Indonesia’s Culture and Tourism Ministry, he notes, found Bali had a surplus of 9,800 hotel rooms. And according to a report by the HVS consulting firm, the average occupancy of upper luxury hotels in 2013 in Bali achieved only 60 percent.

Darmoko is especially worried about the Trump project’s plans to expand the property around the existing Pan Pacific Nirwana Bali Resort. The amount of “farmland in Bali drops” when land is transferred to “becoming tourist accommodations and supporting facilities” he told Mongabay. “What Bali needs is a tourism accommodation moratorium,” during which the government could “conduct a study to calculate the supporting capacity and supporting ability of the environment in Bali.”

The Trump tower project will be developed by MNC Group, Indonesia’s leading investment firm, and will be managed by the Trump Hotel Collection. As reported by Reuters last February, Herman Bunjamin — the vice president director at PT MNC Land Tbk (MNC Group’s property unit) — has assured the Balinese that the company would follow local government environmental regulations, and respect the Hindu religion.Donald Trump speaking to supporters at a rally at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona. During the campaign Trump declared: “[W]e’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”
Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr

However, this is not the first time a Trump construction project has experienced a swirl of controversy around its potential environmental impacts. And that worries local Balinese communities and conservationists, even though Trump himself has claimed many times that he is an award-winning environmentalist — a claim we’ll explore in some detail later in this article.

Ever since the 70-year-old billionaire was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States in January 2017, watchdog organizations have paid extra close attention to the past, and ongoing, international environmental record of Trump’s companies, especially considering that Trump has largely retained his ownership interest in his businesses.
Trump: mixing politics, golf and the environment

According to Investopedia, before becoming president, Donald Trump had amassed a net worth of an estimated $3.5 billion. The Trump Organization LLC acts as the primary holding for Trump’s firms, and serves as an umbrella company for his investments in real estate, brands and other businesses, ranging from golf courses to hotels.

Among its key executives are two of his sons: Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, who last March told Forbes he will not talk business with his father in order to prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest, but will only pass financial reports to him. Ivanka Trump, the President’s elder daughter, resigned from her father’s company in January and today works as an unpaid adviser to him in the White House.

Ivanka Trump speaks in Aston, PA on 13 September 2016, during the presidential campaign. The President’s elder daughter resigned from her father’s company in January 2017 and today works as an unpaid adviser to him in the White House. Photo by Michael Vadon/Flickr

Golf is one of the many businesses that made Trump rich. According to the financial disclosure form published last June by the Office of Government Ethics, Trump’s golf courses alone reported $288 million in income from January 2016 through April 15, 2017.

In recent years the sport has increased wildly in popularity, and today golf is a multi-billion dollar industry: as of year-end 2016 there were golf facilities in 208 of the 245 countries in the world. However, the perfect manicured green color of the globe’s 33,161 courses comes at a high price to the environment.

A study by Kit Wheeler and John Nauright of Georgia Southern University found that golf course construction often consists in “clearing of natural vegetation, deforestation, destruction of natural landscapes and habitats and changes in local topography and hydrology” in order to roughly replicate the barren Scottish Highlands in which the game originated. That unnatural landscaping often leads to erosion and habitat loss, not to mention the fact that the maintenance of a standard 9-hole needs a great deal of synthetic chemicals — many deemed hazardous to wildlife — to keep it lush and green, including fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides and fungicides.

The environmental problems associated with golf, the authors note, are particularly acute in Southeast Asia due to the sudden boom of the sport there and due the fact that golf course maintenance in the tropics is far more difficult than in other parts of the world because of the higher levels of rainfall, greater numbers of pests, diseases and weeds.

According to UNEP, golf course maintenance can also deplete freshwater resources — an average course in a tropical country needs 1,500 kilograms (3,307 pounds) of chemicals annually, and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers. This astronomical use of resources is hard to justify in the developing world where competition for water and cropland, amid soaring populations, is intense. The problem is further complicated by weak environmental regulation and enforcement plus corruption, all too typically seen in developing countries.

Golf Course at the Trump International Doral Miami. Golf courses generally use tremendous amounts of chemicals to create and maintain Scottish Highland-like settings in the tropics and sub-tropics, and they can do significant harm to habitat. Photo by slgckgc/Flickr

Today, Trump Golf boasts a portfolio of 17 courses across the globe stretching from the jagged California cliffs to the (previously) barren desert of Dubai. This empire is expanding, and 2018 will see the opening of Trump International Hotel & Tower Lido, a 700-hectare (1,730 acre) development including a six-star luxury resort, theme park, country club, spa, luxury villas, condominiums, and, of course, an 18-hole signature championship golf course.

This new Trump-branded property will be set in the mountains of West Java, around 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Jakarta and beside the Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, one of the island’s last virgin tropical forests.

The project has become a major concern to RMI, the Indonesian Institute for Forest and Environment, an NGO whose goal is the promotion of community-based natural resource management and biodiversity conservation in the region.

“[T]here are major concerns from the local villagers on [how much of the] water supply that will still be available to them because the project is estimated to demand [lots] of water for their luxury facilities,” RMI’s Executive Director Mardha Tillah told Mongabay, pointing out that the Trump facility will be built in an important water catchment area.

2018 will see the opening in Java, Indonesia, of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Lido, a 700-hectare (1,730 acre) development including a six-star luxury resort, theme park, country club, spa, villas, condominiums, and an 18-hole championship golf course. Its location next to Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park (pictured here) has environmentalists alarmed. Photo by Lip Kee/Flickr

After “a public discussion that was organized by local youth, the local sub-regency government officials stated that the environmental impact assessment was not complete yet, although some construction had been undergone — e.g. a reservoir,” she said.

The Associated Press reports, that the development is causing concern among Indonesian environmentalists, who fear for the nearby national park and its threatened animals, including the Critically Endangered Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), the Endangered Javan leaf monkey (Presbytis comata), the Vulnerable Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas), and Endangered Javan silvery gibbon (Hylobates moloch).

Tillah shares these fears. “I am very much keen on looking at the EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] document that shows how this resort does not affect any wildlife in this area,” she said.

Considering the President’s abysmal environmental record and his anti-environmental pro-business views, it is hard not to imagine that this anti-regulatory philosophy permeates Trump’s companies. During the election, Donald Trump stated that, “[W]e’ll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can’t destroy businesses.”

Both Trump’s Balinese and Javan projects will be developed in partnership with MNC Group, who is also building the new Bogor-Sukabumi toll road, scheduled for completion at the end of 2017 which will provide direct access to Lido Lakes, reducing the drive time from Jakarta.

The Vulnerable Javan leopard (Panthera pardus melas), seen here in a zoo, could be put more at risk by one of Trump’s new resorts in Indonesia. Photo by Vachovec1

The highway, like tropical pavement around the world, is transforming the pastoral region. “The toll road has changed the landscape of rural areas of Bogor — paddy fields are replaced by the toll road projects,” said RMI’s Tillah. “If only it was not for this resort project, [the] toll road might not be constructed, because it was neglected due to lack of investors for more than a decade.”

“On the other hand,” she added, “improvement in [regional] train service and an increase of [operating] frequency [could] already [have served as an alternative] solution for [moving] people.”

ABC revealed that Donald Trump personally lobbied for the road with senior Indonesian politicians in September 2015 at Trump Tower in New York, when he was both in negotiations over the Lido development and running for the presidency. According to ABC, the meeting was not authorized by the Indonesian Government, and was held with the direct assistance of Trump business partner Hary Tanoesoedibjo, President Commissioner and Founder of the MNC Group.

Tanoesoedibjo, a media mogul who created his own Indonesian political party in 2015, attended Trump’s inauguration last January. As the Nikkei Asian Review pointed out, he is the subject of a police investigation for allegations of intimidation and corruption, which he claims are politically motivated.

A Javan Gibbon in Gunung Gede, Java, Indonesia. No one really knows with certainty what impacts the Trump resort, or the new road to it, will have on the region’s biodiversity. Photo by Francesco Veronesi/Flickr
The Scottish saga

One of the best places to view the ongoing relationship between Trump’s businesses and the environment is in Scotland; the fact that golf originated there has done little to make that association run more smoothly.

For more than a decade, Trump’s golf course on the coast of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, has been at the center of a heated dispute between those who support and oppose it. Trump International Golf Course Scotland won planning permission in 2008, but conservationists objected to the project because it would radically transform large parts of one of the country’s rarest coastal dune habitats.

“The construction of Trump International Links has had an irreversible and unjustified impact on a fragile dune system, in particular a large area of the internationally important Foveran Links Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI],” Bruce Wilson, Senior Policy Officer of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, told Mongabay.

“Unfortunately this planning application was approved by the Scottish Government despite evidence that it was easily possible to build two world class courses on the Menie Estate without destroying the SSSI,” he added.

Trump has also been involved in a long-running row with the Scottish government over the impact of windfarms on his golf course.

Before his White House campaign, he sent letters to the then first minister of Scotland Alex Salmond to urge him to withdraw his support for windfarm development. In this series of messages, obtained by the Huffington Post thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, Trump labeled windfarms as “monsters,” suggested without evidence that “wind power doesn’t work,” and told Salmond “your economy will become a third world wasteland that investors will avoid,” if the green energy alternative was embraced by Scotland.

Trump Golf Course Scotland restaurant place setting. Trump has repeatedly butted heads with Scottish authorities regarding an offshore wind power facility near his golf course. Photo by Chris Hoare/Flickr

Trump’s resistance didn’t end there. The U.S. president-elect exhorted the leader of UK Independence party (UKIP) Nigel Farage and key associates to lobby against the Scottish windfarms. However, none of this aided Trump’s crusade against the turbines, and in December 2015 he lost a Scottish Supreme Court battle against the installation of an windfarm located several miles offshore of his course.

Last July the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the country’s principal environmental regulator, also raised formal objections to the Trump company’s proposals for a second 18-hole course in Aberdeenshire. Now the organization will have to revise its plans to make sure its project does not violate sewage pollution, environmental protection and groundwater conservation rules.

A statement by Trump International Golf Links published by the BBC reads in part:

The recent correspondence between Trump International, the local authority and statutory consultants is a normal part of the planning process and the regular ongoing dialogue conducted during the application process. SNH and Sepa always reference a range of policy considerations and factors which is standard practice and nothing out of the ordinary. Our application is making its way through the planning system and this dialogue will continue until it goes before committee for consideration. The Dr Martin Hawtree designed second golf course is located to the south of the Trump estate and does not occupy a Site of Special Scientific Interest therefore is not covered by any environmental designations.

We are extremely confident in our proposal and that this process will reach a satisfactory conclusion acceptable to all parties on our world class development.

Trump’s EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Pruitt is a long time enemy of the agency he now heads. Photo by Gage Skidmore/Flickr
What’s good for Trump is good for the U.S. and world…

During his campaign Donald Trump said he wanted to get rid of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “in almost every form.” Now that he is President, Trump appears to be moving toward that goal, and some of his businesses are among the institutions that could benefit from a dramatic roll back in environmental regulations. A look at Trump’s attacks on the U.S. EPA, and the business rationale for those assaults, is enlightening when studying the actions of Trump businesses around the world.

For instance, Trump issued an executive order commanding the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS) — a rule that greatly irks golf course developers.

Last March, Bob Helland, director of congressional and federal affairs of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), issued a statement that makes clear why his association opposes the Clean Water Rule as written: “Under the rule, golf courses could likely be required to obtain costly federal permits for any land management activities or land use decisions in, over or near these waters, such as pesticide and fertilizer applications and stream bank restorations and the moving of dirt. The impact on golf course management could be dramatic.”

In 2016, the GSCAA praised Trump as “a president who understands the value of the game of golf, both as a golfer and golf course owner,” who “is also familiar with the H-2B Visa program that a number of golf facilities utilize, including one of his own in Florida.” This visa program allows U.S. employers, or agents who meet specific regulatory requirements, to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs. “This could lead to a breakthrough in the red tape that makes using the program so frustrating,” said GSCAA. These statements shine a bright light on the imbalance between the administration’s business, environmental and immigration policies.Protesting Trump’s global assets at the People’s Rally, Washington DC. Photo credit: Lorie Shaull via Visualhunt.com

World-class hotels form another cornerstone of the Trump financial empire. So when the president proposed cutting all funding to EPA’s very successful 25-year-old Energy Star Program, a program meant to save energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions, CNN launched an investigation to see how Trump businesses might benefit from its elimination.

It turns out that the government’s Energy Star for Hotels ranking process provides an assessment of the energy performance of a property relative to its peers, taking into account local climate, weather and business activities at the property. Energy Starclaims these ratings can affect the value of a property — the media investigation discovered that Trump’s properties tend to receive low ratings.

According to CNN, “[t]he most recent scores from 2015 reveal that 11 of his 15 skyscrapers in New York, Chicago and San Francisco are less energy efficient than most comparable buildings. On a scale of 1 to 100 for energy efficiency, Manhattan’s old Mayfair Hotel, which Trump converted into condos, rated a 1,” the lowest rating possible.

The House Appropriations Committee rejected the Trump’s administration proposal to eliminate Energy Star, but its spending bill for 2018, which came out in early July, proposed reducing funding by roughly 40 percent, a cut to $31 million.

Critics say that such a deep reduction will be significantly harmful to the environment. “We appreciate that the committee has rejected the administration’s proposal… but a 40 percent cut would be crippling as well,” said the President of the Alliance to Save Energy Kateri Callahan in a press statement.

In 2014, EPA estimated that Energy Star has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2.5 billion metric tons since 1992, while also providing energy cost savings to consumers, hotels and other industries.

“I have to wonder where this is coming from,” Callahan said, stressing the fact that Energy Star is one of the most popular government programs in U.S. history and has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since it was created under President George H.W. Bush.Trump’s properties have often not received good grades from the U.S. Energy Star for Hotels program, which aims at preventing energy waste. Critics say this is the likely reason that the Trump administration is now trying to defund the long-running, highly successful program. The Trump Taj Mahal, pictured here, was once considered an Atlantic City, NJ crown jewel; it went bankrupt in 2016. Photo credit: iirraa via Visualhunt.com
Donald Trump, award-winning environmentalist?

Donald Trump has been claiming he is an environmentalist at least since 2011, when he told Fox & Friends that “I’ve received many, many environmental awards”.

“I am a big believer in clean air and clean water. I’m a big believer. I have gotten so many awards for the environment,” Trump said during a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa. “I won many environmental awards, I have actually been called an environmentalist, if you believe it,” he repeated at a rally in Atkinson, New Hampshire.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross echoed that assessment on NBC’s Today show. Trump, he said, “is an environmentalist. I’ve known him for a very long time. He’s very pro-environment.”

Politifact found a grain of truth in Trump’s statements. A decade ago two local groups did award Trump for specific projects. In 2007, he received the Friends of Westchester County Parks’ inaugural Green Space Award for donating 436 acres to the New York state park system, and in the same year his Bedminster New Jersey Trump National Golf Course received the first annual environmental award of the The Metropolitan Golf Association (MGA).

MGA’s press statement reads: “Through the leadership of Donald J. Trump, [director of grounds] Nicoll has implemented an environmental strategy that has resulted in the preservation of a dedicated 45 acre grassland bird habitat on the property, as well as intensive erosion control and stream stabilization management plan. The impacts of golf construction and operations on this land have resulted in a significant environmental net gain from the previous land use. Trump National has made itself readily available to Bedminster Township officials by way of monthly meetings to keep them up to date on the club’s environmental monitoring activities.”The Trump International Doral Miami. Trump’s facilities routinely replace native habitat with unnatural landscaping, including vast stretches of mown grass. However, if there is a tax break to be gained from adding a goatherd to crop high grass, as at the Bedminster, NJ, resort, or adding a little farmland for hay production as a tax write-off, then Trump’s businesses may participate. Photo by slgckgc/Flickr

MGA also said that, while planning the construction of an additional course, the club integrated environmental awareness into their golf course maintenance and construction plans by maintaining more stringent standards than those required by state and local regulations.

However, critics note, if Donald Trump is an environmentalist, he is not an orthodox one. In his tweets, he has referred to global warming as “a canard,” something “mythical,” “based on faulty science and manipulated data,” “nonexistent” or “created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” and also as “a total, and very expensive, hoax,” not to mention “bullshit.”

Nor does he show his environmentalism in the associates with which he surrounds himself. When choosing someone to lead his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump picked climate science denier Myron Ebell, who believes the environmental movement is “the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world.” His EPA head is the former Oklahoma attorney Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic whose LinkedIn profile says he is “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Pruitt in the past sued EPA 14 times to block clean air and water safeguards, and recently denied that carbon dioxide causes global warming.

However, big business can save big bucks by being environmentally friendly, and that is something that did not go unnoticed at Trump’s environmental award-winning New Jersey golf courses. The Wall Street Journal reported that both of them qualify as a farmland because they are not only sports fields, but also home to activities associated to farming such as hay production and woodcutting. The Bedminster golf course is even home to a small goat herd that grazes overgrown grass. It is not clear exactly how much the tax breaks save Trump, but the Journal estimates the courses pay less than $1,000 in annual taxes instead of the $80,000 that would be standard for such properties.Trump’s high end real estate empire has a poor environmental reputation, and has seen regular opposition from those concerned about the impact of Trump’s golf courses and hotels on local wildlife, habit, aquifers, and even religious traditions. Photo by kellybdc/Flickr

Still, experts note, anyone saying that Donald Trump always puts profit and his assets ahead of the environment would be wrong. In truth, Trump’s policies could do serious harm to his businesses. As Buzz Feed News notes, Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement likely means continuing rising sea levels and more extreme storms, which both threaten his low-lying properties, including the Trump National Doral in the Miami suburbs, a luxury golf resort that could end up submerged. Indeed, had Hurricane Irma tracked east of Florida instead of west, as originally expected, it’s likely the storm, supercharged by some of the warmest Caribbean waters on record, would have made a direct hit on Mar-A-Lago, the so-called Winter White House.
Conflict of interest?

The U.S. Congress has exempted the president and vice president from conflict-of-interest laws Title 18 Section 208 of the U.S. code. This decision was based on the premise that the presidency wields so much power that virtually any possible executive action might pose a potential conflict of interest (COI).

Last November, during his first news conference since his election, Trump declared: “I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president, which is — I didn’t know about that until about three months ago, but it’s a nice thing to have, but I don’t want to take advantage of something.”

Many watchdog organizations have been less complacent than Congress and the President concerning COIs — including those involving presidential power, the Trump companies, and the environment. These NGOs are watching to see if Trump international and domestic business deals have political implications, or if any policies promoted by his administration seem designed to benefit Trump businesses.

The President’s just proposed tax reforms are a case in point — watchdog groups, the media and financial experts began looking for COIs and policy points benefiting Trump’s tax bracket and his businesses within hours of the announcement of the merest sketch of a tax reform plan.

“Presidents have historically understood that there can be a conflict of interest even if the law doesn’t technically apply, and they have followed the same standards that apply to other federal employees,” Clark Pettig, American Oversight’s Communications Director, told Mongabay.

American Oversight (AO) is a watchdog organization that is investigating numerous COIs across the Trump administration. For instance, it sued EPA to force the release of communications between regulators and industry groups, and to uncover the role investor Carl Icahn has played in setting policy. AO has also launched a broad investigation of the administration’s payments to Trump-owned businesses, and has submitted FOIA requests for documents related to the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.“Stop Pruitt” rally to oppose EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, Washington, DC. Pruitt, like almost all others in the Trump administration, comes from the business sector, which critics say has turned the so called “level playing field” on its head. Photo by Lorie Shaull/Flickr

Pettig believes Trump clearly has a conflict of interest as he serves as President while also owning and profiting from a global business empire.

“Rather than “draining the swamp,” the Trump administration has brought unprecedented conflicts of interests to Washington,” he said. “From rolling back environmental regulations that could impact his golf courses, to using diplomatic events to promote his own resorts, President Trump seems determined to use his power to enrich himself and his business empire,” Pettig said.

Laura Friedenbach, Deputy Communications Director of Every Voice, a Washington-based watchdog organization whose aim is to reduce the influence of money in politics, is concerned as well. “When a public official is making decisions on behalf of the American people and also has a large personal stake in the outcome, it presents a conflict of interest,” she told Mongabay.

“The conflicts of interest facing President Trump and his cabinet raise real questions about where the Trump administration’s priorities lie,” Friedenbach said. “Are they doing what’s best for the American people, or are they letting their own interests and the interests of their business partners get in the way?”

“If President Trump and his cabinet are more concerned with boosting profits for companies they have a stake in, and personal ties with, including fossil fuel companies, then the result will be slowing down progress on combatting the effects of climate change,” she declared.

The Trump Organization, Trump Hotels, Trump Golf, and MNC Land did not reply to Mongabay’s multiple requests to comment for this article; nor did they answer questions sent to them concerning their projects’ environmental impacts, Energy Star ratings, Trump’s environmental awards, and steps to reduce project carbon footprint.

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