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I’m With Stupid – September 30, 2016

by Todd Hartley

Todd Hartley-smallHere in Aspen, where the billionaires roam and the dowered and the affluent play, we take great pride in the prices of our homes. Why, just now I did a search to see how much a one-bedroom apartment in town would cost and found a pied-a-terre “within walking/biking distance” to downtown for $895,000. I was aghast at how low the price was.

Honestly, Aspen, the place was on the river. Back in the day that fact alone would have made it worth a million. What have we become?

The condo in question was said to be 505 square feet in size, which makes the cost per square foot $1,772. For comparison’s sake, a 1,854-square-foot studio apartment in Peoria, Illinois, was selling for $37,900, giving it a per-square-foot cost of $20. So Aspen is about 88 times more expensive per square foot than the real world. That sounds about right. Normally, we like to see that number above 100, but whatever. It is what it is.

Still, I can’t help thinking that we’re not keeping up on an international level when I see stories like the one I just read about real estate in Shenzhen, China. According to the story, some homes there cost $2,063 per square foot. Well, they did until the guy selling the homes was forced to stop selling them. Apparently, they weren’t large enough to technically qualify as homes.

By law in China, homes have to be at least 236 square feet in size. That sounds really small but still possibly manageable, right? The places in the story about Shenzhen were reportedly 64 square feet. That’s 8 feet by 8 feet.

Think about that for a second. Your average jail cell is about 8 feet by 6 feet. That’s how bad the housing situation is in China’s cities. People were paying 880,000 yuan, which is about $132,000, to live in something the size of a jail cell. Take that, Peoria.

The tiny apartments, dubbed “pigeon nests” by the local media, boasted fold-down beds and kitchens that also were bathrooms, which is perfect if you like to make toast while you’re taking a bath or cook breakfast while you’re sitting on the toilet. I mean, who doesn’t like to fry up bacon when they’re dropping the kids off at the pool?

Personally, I think living in a home that small would be a great thing. It would certainly give you a good excuse to go out and get some exercise, as sitting around the house for any amount of time might get a little claustrophobic. And you have to think that keeping a place the size of a jail cell tidy must be pretty easy — not if my son lived there, of course, but for human beings.

Sadly, this revelation about the state of housing in China actually represents a step in the right direction. Dedicated “I’m With Stupid” readers might recall that way back in 2010 I wrote about a group of migrant workers in Hangzhou who were having such a difficult time finding affordable housing and that they’d been living for a few months in a public restroom. Of course, they weren’t paying $132,000 for the privilege. They were squatting, if you know what I mean.

But the next time you’re tempted to whine about your housing situation, provided you have one, think about your counterparts in China who are living in public toilets and veritable jail cells and considering themselves lucky. There but for the grace of God, your sense of decency and the laws of your city, county, state and country go you.

And as for you, Aspen, you need to get your act together and get those real estate prices back where they belong. Because right now, do you know what the numbers are telling us? They’re telling us that Shenzhen, China, is more desirable real estate than downtown Aspen (not to mention 100 times more desirable than Peoria). Can you really live with that on your conscience? I know I can’t.

So if you work in the real estate industry in Aspen (what are the odds?), get out there and find yourself a mudroom or linen closet that you can list for about $750,000. It shouldn’t be too hard to market. Just say it’s “low-maintenance” and “encourages a healthy, active lifestyle.” Some dim-witted billionaire with nothing better to do with his or her money is likely to snatch it up just for the novelty of it.

Todd Hartley is renting a room in his home for $27,500 a month. Email him for details.

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