Wikinvest Wire

Sotomayor and Zillow off by a half million

Monday, June 08, 2009

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor recently submitted a 178-page questionnaire(.pdf) to the Senate Judiciary Committee with the page you see below about her personal finances.
IMAGE Yes, you have to put commas where the vertical lines are...

Aside from the real estate and personal property, there's just $32,000 in assets which seems like a stunningly small amount for someone who makes a couple hundred grand a year. On the liabilities side is almost $37,000 in short-term debt which seems like a stunningly large amount for someone about to sit on the Supreme Court, that $15,000 dental bill perhaps being the reason why she smiles so much.

Of course, all of this is dwarfed by the only seven-figure line item above - the value of an apartment in Greenwich Village (or is it SoHo? I live in Oregon now, so I have even less of a clue if I just made some sort of a faux pas there).

After using to get an address (try it - it's truly scary what you can get there), here's what you can find by typing that in over at
IMAGE The White Pages entry seems to be right (unique name with age and family members all lining up), so there's some real intrigue here about Ms. Sotomayor's valuation and that of Zillow.

At first it seemed a sure bet that the questionnaire valuation would be higher than what Zillow would produce given the declining real estate market and all homeowners' natural tendency to err on the high side, but then you look at the Zestimate and the "999 sqft" and you think that must be some kind of a typo.

Anyone from New York feel free to chime in here...

I'm not sure which seems more ridiculous from my vantage point, a spendthrift Supreme Court judge or an apartment less than 1000 square feet being worth either one million dollars or one-and-a-half million dollars in today's real estate market.


Anonymous said...

maybe she didn't want to ruin her street cred (lookin out for the little guy and all) by putting down a million dollars.........

Anonymous said...

Okay, I am a NYer here with some color for you guys.

1) I was able to confirm the square footage, it really is 999 sq ft.

2) I was able to pull a building report on PropertyShark, and I notice that other apartments on Soto's 'B' apartment line were bot for $605,859 in March 2004 and $1.225 million in April 2006. That's a huge discrepancy that speaks to the inanity of the West Village RE market and the fact that the cheaper one was probably unrenovated.

3) Soto bot her pad in August 1998. If I had to guess, I bet she didn't pay much more than $275,000 for it. The WV back then was not nearly as trendy as it is now.

The more I think about this, the more I'm actually stunned. What has this woman been spending her money on? She's got mortgage debt of $381,000 for a small 2BR (maybe 2BR! It could easily be a 1BR) apartment in a crumby WV apartment building.

Seriously, where is she spending her money? And I wonder what her salary is, $37 in short-term liabs??? WTF.

Something is fishy here. If nothing else she is financially illiterate.

P.S. My wife is actually a RE broker, she covers the WV in NYC, sells townhouses FWIW. She says the market there is at a complete standstill, with prices off 30% from their peak. Says few clients want to acknowledge the reality of the situation, i.e. that it's quite possible that prices could fall another 50%. I think that could certainly happen. Prices are unhinged in the WV. Rant over.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I bet Soto would be lucky to sell her pad for more than $600,000 now.

Tim said...

Thanks for the info - there's a bit more on this subject in a CNN/Money story where they ask similar questions about where her money goes.

Justin said...

Remittances to Mexico?

bruno t said...

If it helps I'd like to point out that my personal home went from 3,000 ft to 1200 on zillow recently, so I suppose it could be in error after all.

And for anyone who'd want to defend her by saying it's her business how she spends her money, keep in mind that this says a lot about one's philosophy of life as well and that could affect rulings.

1. Where's the retirement assets? It may indicate a "live for today" mentality and desire for govn't to take over all unexpected and retirement costs for everyone.

2. Why would someone of her status/income have ANY debt other than what's run up each month on credit cards ($5,000 isn't out of order as some pay all bills with them)? But a court justice having to run a line of credit with the dentist?

Anonymous said...

In the CNN piece, read the comments there supporting her saving virtually nothing. They seem to indicate a worldview that someone should not bother to save and be prudent, as "the government" pension will "take care" of this person in retirement, and that it's better to toss around your money to family members and spend it and rely on govn't later than to expect them to carry their own weight. This is exactly the mindset I would hope a justice would not have. (that we should all look to various govn't pensions for support once we're done working, that we should give away our money to perfectly capable people who chose to not make sufficient money for themselves, etc) There is always some excuse. But whatever you do, don't sacrifice and save for the future. Because when you do that, you don't need government.

And before anyone gets sanctimonious, I have a small business that mows lawns and my net worth is nearly what hers even though I've never made her kind of money or close to it. I'm also much younger than she is and have had to support two homes at one period due to work situations. The fact is, lazy Americans want to take from non-lazy ones, (the core value of socialism) and high acheivers like her make enough that they think we can all afford to blow money like they can. She has a "guaranteed for life" type job and that likely warps her mindset with a) guilt and b) a sense of entitlement

Where's my 6 figure pension?

Bewert said...

Re: They seem to indicate a worldview that someone should not bother to save and be prudent


Hmmm...I have more than a few acquaintances that prudently spent the last decade-plus making direct deposits to their 401K. However their retirement account isn't looking as good as it was about 18 months ago.

Just saying...

Sotomayer is far from underwater on her RE, which is far better than many right now.

fatbear said...

Zillow is not good for the city, esp the Village, which is where I live - in a co-op, where units in the same line can vary as much as 25-33%, depending on renovations over the years, or even more if the surrounding bldgs show or hide the view at various heights - the best guide for values down here is Streeteasy, but that bldg has very low turnover, only 3 sales, and none recent

In my bldg, prices held up well until Lehman (one unit sold at its $5MM+ asking price last August), and have fallen about 20% since (it's a large bldg, so there are more comps, and several neighbors are agents) - there are a few sales in contract, and their actuals will clear up some more

So, I think your critcism regarding the value listed isn't valid - I would assume that she got a "good faith" appraisal from a local RE agent (they're still thick on the ground here!) - if you want to ask anyone with better skills than mine, try Jonathan Miller over at Miller Samuel - he's the go-to appraiser in the city

AJ said...

Duh, what do all government fat-cats spend their money on? Hookers and drugs!


Anonymous said "The fact is, lazy Americans want to take from non-lazy ones, (the core value of socialism)"

Gee, I thought the core value of socialism was that we all benefit when our neighbors benefit. Sure, it's possible to delude yourself into feeling as if you are owed the world, but that's clearly as far to one side of moderate as you are to the other side. Attitudes like yours are why some married couples can't raise their kids properly, because the household needs to be bringing in two (or three (or four)) incomes.

Not everyone feels entitled to a 5000 sq. ft home and three SUVs and yearly vacations to the beach or a ski resort. Some people just want a roof over their head, food on their plate, and enough money to pay the bills without a credit card.

Anonymous said...

I echo a previous poster: where's her retirement assets? She's 55 and has only $32k in liquid assets? Not a single dollar in a mutual fund? Something is not right here.

Anonymous said...

You are forgetting she is a government worker. Govt. workers can retire at 55, with 85% of salary, annual increases for inflation, AND lifetime fully paid medical benefits for the entire family.
Govt. workers typically spend money on fancy cars and lavish vacations. No need to save for retirement.

Anonymous said...

NYC assesses the market value of her property at $176,265. Now, the city generally lowballs their assessment vs. what you could on the actual market, often by a few hundred grand. But not by that much.

See for yourself:

Borough: 1-Manhattan
Block: 528
Lot: 1110

Judging by the property documents (ACRIS, also public record), the mortgage amount she claims looks about right. It looks like she consolidated three mortgages together for $350,000 on 10/8/08

Anonymous said...

I keep forgetting how to post links on here. This is a working one:

fatbear said...

In NYC, the "market value" property tax values as set by NYC Dept of Finance for condos (and co-ops) are not market values, but rather under building class R4 are capitalized values from the calculated rental value - that's the law - as it says on a condo notice

We estimate the value for your condominium building or development using a three-step process:
1. We estimate total rent for all of the units in your condominium building.
2. We use a gross income multiplier of 4.790 which is our estimate of the relationship between the condominium's estimated rents and the property's market value.
3. We multiply your estimated total rent by the gross income multiplier to determine the market value of the condominium.


[Using three mathematical factors], we allocate a [percentage] of the condominium building or development value to your unit.

As I said before, go to Jonathan Miller or someone else who knows how to do reliable appraisals in this rather provincial market - if you apply what you know from reality elsewhere, it doesn't work

For another example, co-ops are also under the same calcs; the one I live in has ~300 units; some units have sold for over $5MM in the last 2 years, with the dark back-of-the-building studios selling for anywhere from $500K on up - if all the units were sold, even at today's lower prices, the total would probably be $150-200MM, yet the city's "market value" for the entire building was under $40MM at the height of the market - go figure - its the city version of Prop 13, I guess

Anonymous said...


I didn't realize the rules are different for condos than private homes. I should have seen the link on Finance's site. I own a class A5 in Queens and that valuation goes by recent home sales in the area (or so they tell me). Thanks for clearing that up.

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