O.J., Maloof, Countrywide And Me (Viva Las Vegas)


So I'm in Las Vegas, naturally on the day O.J. Simpson is questioned over an alleged robbery. It's an evolving story. Seems he's being named a suspect in the case though he says his involvement was part of a 'sting' operation to get the stuff back. Everywhere I go, every story I do, everything eventually leads back to O.J. On a brighter note, I met billionaire bachelor George Maloof, next to a rotating circular bed with a huge mirror above us. Just ponder that for a while.

Actually, we were inside his Palms Hugh Hefner Sky Villa which rents out for $40,000 A NIGHT. I'll find out if anyone's actually paying that much in the story I'm doing for "On The Money." Maloof tells me anyone who wants the massive suite has to pay full price for the room, even high rollers (and you gotta see this place--I felt like a Puritan grandmother in there). The only person who gets comped is Hef himself, who's stayed twice. Maloof told me even HE, the owner, has to pay, though he hasn't stayed there yet. I told him, "You can't afford it." Which he found highly amusing. I think.

I am also here to cover real estate. Like a CSI investigator, I'm looking for clues in the reported death of Las Vegas property values due to speculator homicide. Well, don't call the coroner yet. Along the Strip, they're building like the boom is just beginning. The official bird here should be the crane, the construction crane. About 11,000 condos are coming onto the market in the next three years (some say more).

The current median price is $700,000, but the most expensive one is the $12 million penthouse suite at the Mandarin Oriental, opening in two years at the massive MGM Mirage CityCenter. And, yes, I'm told it's sold. However, there are problems at some developments. People who put 20% down are discovering they may not be able to get financing to close the deal once the condos are completed. And finding funding is getting tougher even for rich people (but not rich enough to pay 100% cash).

A mortgage banker here tells me that Countrywide , whom he used to count on, has lowered its maximum loan amount for Vegas condos from $6 million to $2.5 million. He says people needing funding above $10 million are having to go to private equity. And private equity is still willing to bet on Vegas real estate along the Strip, where the land alone is now selling for $30 million an acre. Talk about a royal flush.

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