Monday, June 6, 2011

Berkeley's master of bad marketing plans

Bopping around town in the wake of May's student exodus, it's clear that the current rental market in Berkeley is not kind to landlords. There have been more For Rent signs up in windows around town this year than I've ever seen before.

(Do rental markets bore you? Keep reading anyway. This post is about property owners with ... issues.)

Of the many For Rent signs up around the south side of Berkeley, where I live, a noticeable proportion of them look something like the photograph to the right. That sign was recently posted in the lower flat of a two-unit building on Ward Street, a few houses from where I lived through most of the 1980s. Good friends of mine lived in that very flat once upon a time.

All those phone numbers? I'll get back to those in a bit.

Reza Valiyee was my landlord from 1982 to 1989. The For Rent notice in the photograph is posted in a window of one of many buildings that Reza owns. His real estate holdings are assessed at more than $6,000,000 and are worth a great deal more (he has owned many of his properties for twenty years, thirty years, or longer -- a period during which assessments have risen at a much slower rate than actual value of real estate in our little burg; cf. Reza Valiyee, a Man of Perpetual Motion, from the Berkeley Daily Planet, 20 Aug 2009).

Reza owns about a half-dozen of the houses on the block where I lived as his tenant back in the day. He owns boarding houses that he rents out to UC Berkeley students. He owns vacant commercial property on a shuttered stretch of Shattuck Avenue, which becomes the main drag of Berkeley's downtown a few blocks further north.

Those boarded-up blocks on Shattuck? Reza has memorably refused to sell those lots because he believes the powers-that-be will someday decide that a new BART (metro rail) station needs to be built between Ashby and Berkeley stations, which are three minutes apart by train. If they do, he believes, he'll be positioned to make a killing off the neighborhood's transformation.

(From the SF Chronicle, 28 March 1998: "'That's the first time I've heard that one,' said BART spokesman Mike Healy, barely suppressing a chuckle. 'We have no plans for another station in that area.'")

When I was his tenant, we called our block "Rezaville." Reza himself lived on the corner, as he does still, in the lower flat of a tatty two-unit building. The flat is shielded by heavy curtains that I've never seen open in nearly three decades (see photo, below).

Reza may have a lot of real estate, and a corresponding stream of real estate income, but he shows little evidence of being a big spender. It's not just that he lets the buildings he owns go to pot, inviting endless battles with neighbors and the city. Some months ago I saw him haggling with a clerk over the price of costume jewelry at the local Goodwill outlet.

Most puzzling, despite the fact that he has a lot of property and has been renting it out for decades, his marketing blitz doesn't strike me as one honed to fill vacancies. Not anytime soon. I mean, what's with all those phone numbers on the ugly signs?

It's as if Reza's success as a landlord -- and at $6M+ in real estate holdings, there's no getting around the fact of his success -- as if it were predicated on the tenant-brutalizing markets of the 1980s and 1990s, when a property owner could put up an index card in the UC Berkeley Housing Office and fifty prospective renters would phone by the end of the day. Give him a market in which he has to compete? Take a look at that notice full of phone numbers and tell me Reza's got brilliant instincts as a businessman. No, it's not polite to smirk when you say that.

The middle panel of the notice shown at the top of this post (photo taken in March) contains eight phone numbers on a sheet of 11"x17" paper. Though you can't read them in the second photo, the sign in the flat above Reza's own abode -- shown to the left -- displays those eight plus four more, for a total of twelve.

By the way, that sign on the second story of Reza's building? You'd need a pair of binoculars to read it from the sidewalk. Even I, a certified idjut in money matters, could do better than that.

Think about it. If you were looking for a place to rent, would eight or twelve phone numbers crammed onto an informational sign inspire confidence that you're going to reach someone who can answer your questions? Or might you figure something more like ... jeez, that sign's advertising a game of speed-dial Persian roulette.

If I didn't know better, I would wonder what the heck Reza was thinking. But I do know better. Reza Valiyee has always been forthcoming about what he thinks.

I'll write more about that later this month ... stay tuned.



Related posts on One Finger Typing:
The blurry line between Landlord and Supreme Power

2 comments:

  1. those were the (bad plumbing, leaky roof, rickety stairs) days my friend! hell-hole to be sure, but such good memories...

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  2. Of the many For Rent signs up around the south side of Berkeley, where I live, a noticeable proportion of them look something like the photograph to the right. It's as if Reza's success as a landlord -- and at $6M+ in real estate holdings, there's no getting around the fact of his success -- as if it were predicated on the tenant-brutalizing markets of the 1980s and 1990s, when a property owner could put up an index card in the UC Berkeley Housing Office and fifty prospective renters would phone by the end of the day.

    ReplyDelete