A telephone box near British spy agency GCHQ is now adorned with a trio of snoops, after a mural was added to a wall this weekend. The art is believed to be the work of street artist Banksy.
Some of the biggest players in the housing bubble were house flippers, people who'd buy a house, fix it up and sell it – sometimes at a huge profit. When the bubble burst, the flippers fled. But now they’re back, even in areas that have been overlooked by the big hedge funds and foreign investors.
For example, take Prince George’s County, Md., which doesn’t have the glitzy condos of Miami Beach or new housing developments of Vegas that big investors like. But it does have lots of housing for middle and low-income families.
That's just fine for Rich Minor, who's been flipping houses for about 30 years. I meet him at his latest acquisition – a house in Bowie, Md.
As he shows me around, Minor explains that he laid low during the housing crisis. He was on one of the first flippers to come back to Prince George’s County in 2009, when you could buy foreclosures cheap. Now, there’s actually a lot of competition, because flipping is back, he says.
“It’s back, and it’s back with a vengeance now, because the deals are much harder to come by,” Minor says.
And even if you get a deal in Prince George’s County, it may be in a neighborhood that's a little dilapidated. That's one reason the big hedge funds and international investors aren't that common here.
“We’re not getting the big boys here, we’re getting the small fries,” says Anthony Sanders, a professor of real estate finance at George Mason University.
The small-fry flippers know they’re going to spend a lot to fix these houses up and that they can’t sell them for too much, because they’re still not in great neighborhoods. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of competition for fixer uppers, even if rough areas.
“On the open market, we don’t really have a ghost of a chance of acquiring any of these homes," says Maryann Dillon, executive director of Housing initiative Partnership, a non-profit which buys rundown houses, fixes them up, and sells them to low income buyers. "We cannot compete with investors who are all cash offers, who can close in a week or two weeks."
Dillon’s organization is able to buy some houses through a federal program that gives them first dibs over private investors. But there are no such protections for the low-income buyers Dillon tries to help. She’s seen people who’ve clawed back from foreclosure trying to buy a new house, but losing out to the flippers.
Percentage of total home sales to flippers
“They lost their nest egg during the recession. And now that things are coming back and there’s an opportunity to rebuild their wealth, they’re losing out yet again," Dillon says.
But at least they're just competing with the small flippers.
“These are not the big operations you find in Las Vegas or Phoenix," says Sanders, "where they’re going to the courthouse and buying up 20 properties, 30 properties and flipping them over the course of a couple months."
Sanders says, if you live in a place dominated by small-fry flippers, be thankful – it could be worse.
Obamacare set national rules for appealing a denied health claim — a process that used to vary by employer and state. Consumers should appeal more often, advocates say. Half the time, they'll win.
Looking back, sending a man to the moon seems like an easy sell. But in the 1960s, NASA had to convince the American public that the space program was a good idea.
"In the 1960s, it was just a radical idea," says David Meerman Scott, co-author of "Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program." "Can you imagine deciding that we’re going to send 12 people to the surface of the moon and it's going to cost 4 percent of the national budget and 2 percent of the national workforce for a decade? So we had to sell it."
And unlike their Soviet counterparts, NASA allowed their success and failures to be public.
"They were selling it not only to the American people, but to the world," says Richardz Jurek, co-author of the book. "It was really the vanguard of real time communication happening with the whole world watching."
To keep Americans interested, NASA hired former journalists to run their publicity campaign. And NASA's publicity department had help from outside marketers, too. As Americans became more interested in the Apollo program's success, they became more interested in buying items associated with the astronauts.
Any company making something for the astronauts – from Stouffer's to Tang to Omega Watches, used the space program in ads to sell their product.
"The brilliance of what NASA did at the beginning is they focused on what we would call today 'brand journalism' in marketing speak," says Jurek.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has spoken about the idea with President Obama, and Japan is reportedly willing to include billions of dollars in loans to help underwrite the expensive project.
A federal judge put a "stay" on his ruling, though, which apparently means his order affects only the four couples who sued to have their names put on their children's birth certificates.