Every week, I like to pass along some of the most interesting and entertaining stories happening in the unconventional investing world.
The sorts of stories that go great with a quiet morning, some form of drink — preferably warm and fragrant — and a little time and space to let thoughts unfold.
Relax, read, enjoy.
If You Haven’t Bought by Now, You’re Too Late
It’s a common cry — one that’s been belabored for decades. But there are reasons to think we might be passing a pivot point.
The very people that gentrification was supposed to attract no longer can afford to live in some cities.
About a quarter of Manhattan’s luxury properties sit empty… because they’re too expensive for almost everyone.
In Washington, D.C., a proposal (now dead) called for rent subsidies for everyone making under $140,000 — or nearly triple the median household income (and almost five times the median personal income).
Here in Baltimore, most people I know who missed the window to buy after the Great Recession are locked out now. In my neighborhood, new “luxury” townhomes are being built on virtually every block. And they start at about triple what I paid for my house — just six years ago.
Are we seeing some kind of bubble here? Perhaps. An America that’s too expensive for even well-off Americans doesn’t seem sustainable.
It’s an issue that no one is really addressing yet. Or at least not addressing well.
But that’s going to change — because when the gentrifiers can’t afford gentrification, something has to.
Like a Secret Yelp of You
Earlier this week, I wrote about how credit scores are used around the globe, with China’s “social credit” score being the most invasive.
But the truth is the U.S. has a lot of credit creep happening as well.
In fact, you probably have a hidden score for just about everything. And it can influence just about every financial interaction you have as well.
A bad “secret” score might mean you aren’t allowed to return an item… Or you could be kept on hold longer… Or you might get Phillip from sales sent to help you, because everyone knows Phillip from sales is annoying and incompetent and, worse, he got a flat this morning and he’s in a lousy mood.
This may sound like some kind of wacky dystopia — but it’s real. It’s happening. And you can do something about it.
Not much, it’s true — but at least your secret scores aren’t quite as secret now. If you follow these instructions, you can see how you’re rated by all sorts of companies — based on all sorts of behavior, online and off.
Some secret scoring companies are more responsive than others. Some claim they’ll let you see your scores but rarely actually follow through.
But the primary reason you can even see these scores at all is because some jurisdictions — like the EU and California — are enacting privacy and transparency laws. And it’s easier for companies to just make this data available everywhere, instead of creating multiple systems for multiple locales.
Not to mention similar laws are likely to come down the pike sooner rather than later everywhere.
I recommend checking out a few of your own secret scores to find out just what businesses have been collecting about you over the years… and just how you feel about it.
If you’re as weirded out as I am, you also might want to take steps to protect your privacy. Like, for instance, using a VPN service to hide some of what you do online.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Speaking of privacy, the Firefox browser just came out with an update — and this update is mostly about privacy.
At this point, Firefox is probably the most private, safest browser out there today. Sure, there are Tor and a few others that can go on the dark web… but they’re more complicated to use, and they don’t have the same support network as a major player like Firefox.
Using Google’s Chrome is an absolute joke. Google is tracking everything you do, even when you’re browsing in incognito mode (that mostly hides things from other users of your computer).
Apple’s Safari is fine at privacy but a fairly low priority for the company. It doesn’t get the attention and love that Firefox’s browser does.
And if you’re using a Microsoft product to browse online — especially the defunct Internet Explorer, which is no longer supported or updated — stop right now. Not just your privacy but your online security are at serious risk.
For those who care about their online privacy, Firefox is fast becoming the must-have software. Of course, it helps that the browser is entirely free and has a huge universe of extensions that can help it perform all sorts of tricks…
Including even deeper privacy protection. Hey — we’ve got to get it where we can.
This Is Why I Like Old Houses
An elderly French lady invited an auctioneer over to her house one day. Perhaps she wanted to console him over something, perhaps she was bored, maybe a helpful impish faery whispered in her ear, convincing her to do it.
Whatever the reason, that visit certainly changed her life.
The auctioneer spotted — hanging up in the kitchen, near flame, heat and hearth — an astounding piece of work.
It was a painting by Cimabue — a master from the 13th century.
The owner had thought it was a religious icon of little importance. Turned out her painting set the record for a primitive — or pre-1500 — piece of work.
The pre-auction price guidelines were way too low, thinking the painting would go for something in the $5 million range. But don’t blame the auctioneers too much — it’s hard to price out work like this.
It’s very rare for anything pre-1500 to be sold. And this was the very first work by Cimabue to go under the hammer. No one had any idea how much interest there would be.
Turns out there was quite a bit.
One big lesson that you can take from this: Never assume.
If you take a metal detector treasure hunting and find something… if you wander the halls of an old home… if you spot something incongruous in a living room… don’t assume it’s of modest provenance.
Sure, most of the time it’ll be junk. But great works of art are found in the unlikeliest places every day. And even more often they are passed, unfound, by folks overly concerned with making their next appointment.
Stopping to smell the roses isn’t just a more pleasant way to live. It’s often a more profitable one as well.
Editor-in-chief, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Want to keep yourself safe and protected online? It isn’t easy — but the first step is using a VPN service to keep you anonymous when you go online. One of our favorites is TunnelBear — you can get started today here.
(Editor’s Note: We do receive compensation when you buy from TunnelBear — that’s how we keep the lights on. But we only choose partners we believe in and use ourselves — so you can rest assured, our recommendations are real.)
Ryan Cole is the editor-in-chief of Unconventional Wealth. He’s been covering the alternative investment space for nearly a decade and writing about finance and investment for almost 20 years.
Ryan has walked the walk for years, living a very unconventional life. He’s led snowmobile tours through the mountains of Colorado, settled in Japan for five...