A dubious DOJ investigation into an irrepressible visionary, a property purchase mystery solved and the return of a glorious downtown Detroit mural that Dan Gilbert tried to hide. From the wild and woolly world of real estate, here are the hits and misses for this week.
Miss: Through a Glass Darkly. Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice put its prosecution of the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination on hold to aim its focus at another high-profile character with a history of antagonizing the Biden White House. This week, news surfaced that the DOJ launched an investigation into whether Elon Musk was misappropriating Tesla funds to allegedly build a glass house that might be used as his residence. Details on this glass house are scant – even the Tesla board of directors are clueless on this endeavor, which is known within the company as “Project 42.” The DOJ’s targeting of Musk is curious for two reasons: there is already an investigation of “Project 42” by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (which is the proper agency to handle this type of probe), and this is the second DOJ assault on Musk in a week – he is also being sued for not hiring non-citizens at SpaceX. But considering the embarrassment that Musk created for the Biden administration when he released the Twitter Files that showed collusion between the Executive Branch and the social media company in stifling free speech online, one must question whether the DOJ is in pursuit of justice or revenge.
Hit: Riding High on Builder Stocks. After limping along during the pandemic era, shares of publicly traded home builder companies are now among the hottest investments on Wall Street. CNN reported that while the benchmark S&P 500 index chugged along for a gain of about 17% this year, home builder stocks have soared: PulteGroup shares jumped roughly 80% year to date, while Toll Brothers was up 64%, DR Horton enjoyed a 34% upswing and Lennar rose 32%. How long this upward journey can last is anyone’s guess, but in view of the continued reluctance of many homeowners to sell their properties it is up to the builders to bring desperately needed new inventory to the market – and they are reaping the rewards of their labors.
Miss and Hit: NAR’s Scandal. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) unexpectedly found itself in the media spotlight for the wrong reasons this week after a New York Times article detailed accusations of sexual harassment aimed at its 2023 President Kenny Parcell. Although he insisted the charges were “categorically false,” Parcell abruptly resigned and was hurriedly replaced by 2024 President-elect Tracy Kasper, who began her term immediately rather than waiting for its official start in November. NAR deserves a Miss for being caught seriously off-guard by the Times’ coverage and for not having a contingency media relations strategy ready to address the scandal, although it deserves a Hit for quickly getting the highly respected Kasper into place to fill the void left by Parcell’s exit while acknowledging damage has been done and members need to be assured of the organization’s commitment to a safe workplace.
Hit: The Masked Buyer Unveiled. The mystery of who purchased roughly 52,000 acres in California’s Solano County – including 20 parcels around the Travis Air Force Base – was revealed this week, and mercifully it wasn’t the Chinese Communist Party. Instead, it was a group of Silicon Valley executives who plan to use their acquired to build a new city that would feature tens of thousands of new homes along with a solar farm, orchards and open spaces. One might imagine the last thing California needs is a new city, and building a planned city entirely from private money rather than as a state-funded project is something that you rarely see in real life – in fact, the only example I can think of is the sinful metro of the Brecht-Weill opera “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.” But if these moneybags can pull it off, more power to them.
Hit: Freeing the Whales of Detroit. One of the few genuinely breathtaking examples of public art in downtown Detroit is Robert Wyland’s “Whale Tower” mural on the rear façade of the Broderick Tower. Completed in 1997, it spans 20 floors of the 34-story building and offers a truly magnificent depiction of whales swimming with balletic above and beneath the waves. In November 2021, Dan Gilbert’s Rocket Companies inexplicably decided to cover this glorious presentation with a truly hideous vinyl advertisement featuring amateurish smiley faces drawn by a decidedly less talented artist (you don’t need to know his name). Rocket ignored repeated calls from the public to remove the advertisement – the company obviously chose to place it on the Broderick Tower because it could be seen clearly from neighboring Comerica Park – but mercifully Mother Nature intervened. The Detroit Free Press reported the ugly Rocket ad was ripped in half last week during heavy thunderstorms. Unable to repair the damaged vinyl, the building’s management removed it and allowed for the liberation of the “Whale Tower” that was obscured for nearly two years. As you can see in the photo below, “Whale Tower” is a work of art that deserves to be treasured, not hidden.
Cover photo by Terry Kokley USAF, reimagined by Joshua Clancy Hall; “Whale Tower” photo courtesy Wyland Foundation.
Phil Hall is editor of Weekly Real Estate News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.