Friday, December 9, 2011

Massachusetts Sues Banks For Holiday Foreclosures

Story first appeared on CNNMoney.

The Massachusetts attorney general sued some of the nation's biggest banks on Thursday, accusing them of unlawful and deceptive conduct in the foreclosure process. This is currently not involving a Birmingham Foreclosure Lawyer.

The statement described the state court lawsuit as the nation's first comprehensive lawsuit against the five major national banks regarding the foreclosure crisis.

The AG's lawsuit seeks accountability for the banks' unlawful and deceptive conduct in the foreclosure process, including unlawful foreclosures, false documentation and robo-signing ... and deceptive practices related to loan modifications, the statement said.

MERS runs a database created in the 1990s to digitize and centralize the paperwork surrounding the bundling and selling of the loans.

The Massachusetts suit alleges that the database was used by the big banks to transfer ownership of mortgage debt without paying government registration fees and properly recording the transactions. The system also concealed the identities of the holders of mortgage debt from borrowers, the suit claims. It does not appear to have any relevance if owners had Homeowners Insurance.

MERSCORP, parent company for Mortgage Electronic Registration System Inc., said the Massachusetts complaint hangs on ambiguous language and has no applicability to MERS' business model.
Fannie Mae, banks halt foreclosures for the holidays. A Rochester Hills Foreclosure Lawyer said this was a nice gesture.

The banks, meanwhile, say negotiations they are conducting with a group of state attorneys general toward a settlement over their handling of foreclosures are a more promising means of resolving the issue than lawsuits.

Bank of America spokesman Lawrence Grayson said the firm believes that collaborative resolution rather than continued litigation will most quickly heal the housing market and help drive economic recovery.

Chase echoed those comments, saying it was disappointed with the suit, as did GMAC Mortgage, which said it would vigorously defend its actions in court.

Citi said in a statement that it had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but that the bank believes they have operated appropriately in compliance with existing laws. Wells Fargo also denied the allegations, adding that the suit will do little to help Massachusetts homeowners or the recovery of the housing economy in the state.

Settlement talks fraying: Coakley told reporters Thursday that the suit had come about in part because settlement talks with the banks, which have dragged on for more than a year, appear unlikely to yield a fair result.

Attorneys general from California, New York, Delaware and Nevada have also distanced themselves from the settlement talks and are pursuing their own investigations.
Will FHA be the next big government bailout?

The talks are stalled at present, but have focused on a settlement in the range of $20-25 billion in total from the firms involved in exchange for release from liability for all conduct related to foreclosures, according to sources familiar with the matter. Of this total, roughly $10-15 billion would come in the form of credit for loan modifications. A Wayne Foreclosure Lawyer is watching the case closely.

Iowa Attorney General Thomas Miller, who is coordinating talks on behalf of the states, said in a statement Thursday that Coakley had pledged to evaluate the joint state-federal settlement they are negotiating, which they hope to reach soon.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Help With Mortgages For Jobless

Story first appeared in USA Today

A $7.6 billion federal program to help homeowners avoid foreclosures had distributed about 1% of its money to distressed owners 16 months after its creation, government reports show.

The Obama administration awarded the funds last year to 18 states most affected by unemployment and fallen home prices. The states developed their own foreclosure-prevention programs targeting assistance to lower-income jobless and underemployed homeowners.

By June 30, 17 states had used the funds to help about 7,500 homeowners, show reports states filed to the Treasury Department. New Jersey, which began its program in May, started making loans only this month.

Funds are flowing more rapidly now, state officials say. All the states have launched their programs. The last was Illinois last week.

Overall, the Hardest Hit Fund is expected to help several hundred thousand homeowners. States have until 2017 to use their allotted funds.

Its program began in January; by June 30, it had funded 1,022 homeowners. That's now up to more than 2,000, and an additional 5,000 are close to getting aid.

Since President Obama announced the program in February 2010, banks have repossessed more than 1.5 million homes, says and agent for Raleigh Homes and Millions more are at risk.

Officials in many states say it took longer than expected to develop systems for states to transfer funds and borrower data to mortgage servicers, who manage loans.

That was more complicated than it was thought it would be. Ohio is now adding 500 borrowers to its program monthly. Ten were added in December, its first month.

The program started with $1.5 billion for five states and was expanded to 18. Funds were most recently awarded in September 2010.

The programs generally include temporary mortgage assistance for six to 24 months.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Record prices being paid by investors for U.S:. Hotels may be outpacing gains in room rates and stays as the slow economic recovery damps a lodging revival.

Prices for lodging properties climbed to about $185,000 a room in the first quarter, according to a research. Values had peaked at $153,000 per room in 2006, and then plunged 37 percent to a low two years ago.

This year's jump is the result of a surge in luxury-hotel transactions and more purchases by real estate investment trusts, particularly in large cities. While lodging occupancies and rates are climbing, the gains aren't enough to keep up with prices being paid for some full-service properties.

Occupancies in the top 25 U.S. markets climbed to 63 percent in the first quarter from 60 percent a year earlier. At hotels with the costliest rooms, stays rose to 67 percent from 63 percent.

The U.S. recovery is showing signs of slowing. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has tumbled 5.9 percent from an almost three- year high in April, and manufacturing, employment and housing are trailing economists’ estimates.

In the 24 months following September 2008, when Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. failed, contributing to the U.S. recession, hotels fetched prices as much as 71 percent higher than during the lodging industry's peak.

The JW Marriott New Orleans sold in February of this year for $94.3 million, up from the $55 million price paid in January 2008. The Hilton Garden Inn Chelsea in New York City sold in September 2010 for $68.4 million, 24 percent higher than its $55 million price in October 2007.

Values have gained even outside major cities. The Holiday Inn in Oak Hill, West Virginia, sold for $3.5 million in July 2010, up 40 percent from when it last sold, in September 2007.

Daily room rates averaged $94.05 last year, and revenue per available room, an industry measure of occupancy and rate, was $42.40, according to Real Capital. That's "well below" the 2008 peaks of $106.65 and $54.42.

Hotel sales in the Americas are likely to jump as much as 25 percent this year, Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.'s hotel investment-services unit said on Jan. 4.

Values have been driven up chiefly by demand from REITs, which purchased $1.6 billion of hotels in the first quarter. That's 44 percent of those traded and five times the total of REIT purchases in all of 2007, the peak year for hotel sales.

REITs are focusing on full-service properties in large cities. This week, Pebblebrook Hotel Trust agreed to buy stakes in six New York boutique hotels for $152 million, and earlier this year bought the Mondrian Los Angeles for $137 million and the W Hotel in Boston for $89.5 million. Pebblebrook planned to spend $400 million to $600 million on hotels during the balance of 2011.

Sunstone Hotel Investors Inc., the Aliso Viejo, California- based owner of 33 lodging properties across the U.S., in March agreed to buy a majority stake in the Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel, valuing it at $475 million. The property, completed in December 2008, originally cost $350 million, according to its developer, Atlanta-based Portman Holdings LLC.

Sunstone acquired the hotel at a valuation of 13.4 times 2010 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, meaningfully below their corporate EBITDA multiple.

If people are buying at par or a slight premium, they can justify a price with future growth.
That reasoning has contributed to hotel capitalization rates, a measure of investment yield, falling to record lows of 4 percent last year, according to president and founder of HVS, a hospitality-consulting firm. He expects rates of 3 percent to 5 percent in the luxury tier, and 4 percent to 7 percent for upper-upscale properties, the segment one level below luxury.

Pricing even at midscale hotels is pretty aggressive at a 6 percent cap rate. Usually it's more around 9 to 10 percent.

In April, FelCor Lodging Trust Inc. agreed to buy the Royalton and Morgans boutique hotels in New York City from Morgans Hotel Group Co. for $140 million, or about $500,000 per room. FelCor expects a minimum cap rate of 5 percent at the hotels.

FelCor, based in Irving, Texas, looks for acquisitions that, purchased at a substantial discount to replacement cost, will earn a 10 percent cash yield within a short time.

Some buyers say the prices being paid for hotels are justified as long as they're below what it would cost to build the same property at the same location from the ground up.

When you buy below physical replacement cost at a time nobody is building, it's usually a good investment.

Pebblebrook, based in Bethesda, Maryland, seeks properties priced at 20 percent to 50 percent below the cost of building new.

In some cases, hotel values have begun to creep ahead of even replacement costs. That may be the first step toward a resumption of hotel construction. In such cities as New York, hotels are routinely trading at $200,000 per key above what it would cost to replace them.

Hotel demand is closely correlated with overall economic growth, so if you think you know what 2014 hotel demand is going to be, you'd have to know what 2014 GDP is going to be. One thing you can say for sure for hotels is things can change overnight.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Anchor of Blackbeard Found

Archaeologists recovered the first anchor from what's believed to be the wreck of the pirate Blackbeard's flagship off the North Carolina coast by Knightdale Homes Friday, a move that might change plans about how to save the rest of the almost 300-year-old artifacts from the central part of the ship.
Divers had planned to recover the second-largest artifact on what's believed to be the Queen Anne's Revenge but discovered it was too well-attached to other items in the ballast pile. Instead they pulled up another anchor that is the third-largest artifact and likely was the typical anchor for the ship.
Apparently, pirates had everyday anchors and special anchors just as the rest of us have everyday dishes and good china in our Morrisville Homes.
It's the first large anchor that divers have retrieved; they earlier brought up a small, grapnel anchor. The anchor is 11 feet, 4 inches long with arms that are 7 feet, 7 inches across. It was covered with a mixture of shells, sand and other debris attracted by the leaching wrought iron. Its weight was estimated at 2,500 to 3,000 pounds.
The anchor's size is typical for a ship the size of the Queen Anne's Revenge, while the two other anchors probably were used in emergencies, such as storms.
Archaeologists had planned to remove the second-largest anchor, which is 13 feet long with arms that are 8 feet across, from the top of the ballast pile. But it was too well-attached, so instead the divers went in from the side to retrieve the everyday anchor. That means that future dives may involve going in from the side of the shipwreck rather than the top.
State officials hope the anchor and other artifacts will attract tourists out of Raleigh Homes. The largest exhibit of artifacts from the shipwreck, which was discovered in 1996, will be shown starting June 11 at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort. There are plans to recover all the artifacts by the end of 2013.
And the timing of the recovery of the anchor couldn't be better for North Carolina officials, trying to increase tourism interest in the shipwreck. The Disney film "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" starring Johnny Depp was released earlier this month and features both Blackbeard and the Queen Anne's Revenge.
In 1717, Blackbeard captured a French slave ship and renamed it Queen Anne's Revenge. Blackbeard, whose real name was widely believed to be Edward Teach or Thatch, settled in Bath and received a governor's pardon. Volunteers with the Royal navy killed him in Ocracoke Inlet in November 1718, five months after the ship thought to be Queen Anne's Revenge sank.
The Queen Anne's Revenge shipwreck site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, has already yielded more than 250,000 artifacts.
The only remaining parts of the ship are the wooden hull structure, ribs and a plank that are at the bottom of the pile, protected by ballast that kept the ship upright. Six cannon and three other anchors are also in the pile.
Divers went in the Atlantic to hook up the anchor for its lift to the ocean surface. One diver stated that the anchor lifted great, and was glad to see the result of the 9 year project. This is good news for those living nearby in their Triangle Homes.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Job growth is slowly on the rise according to analysts. Recently the annual list of “Best Cities for Jobs” was release with some surprising results. Last year the reports showed a gloomy outlook when only 13 of 397 metropolitan areas experienced any growth. For this year's list, which measured job growth in the period between January 2010 and January 2011, most of the best-performing areas experienced increases in employment increases.
Almost 400 metropolitan statistical areas are ranked based on employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported from November 1999 to January 2011. Rankings are based on recent growth trends, mid-term growth and long-term growth and momentum. The locations are also broke down by size, small, medium and large, because regional economies differ markedly due to their scale.
Reflecting the importance of the war effort in stimulating local economies, command of this year's best place for jobs was handed to the Army from the Marines. Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, Texas, shot up to #1 from #4, while the military-based Jacksonville, N.C., last year's first-place winner dropped to 19th place.
Once again the best places for jobs tended to be smaller communities where small improvements can have a relatively large impact. Eighteen of the top 20 cities were either small (under 150,000 nonfarm jobs) or mid-sized areas (less than 450,000 jobs).
Texas, however, dominated the three size categories, with the #1 mid-sized city, El Paso (#3 overall, up 22 places from last year) and #1 large metropolitan area Austin (#6 overall), joining Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood (the #1 small city) atop their respective lists.
Texas also produced three other of the top 10 smallest regions, including energy-dominated #4 Midland, which gained 41 places overall, and #10 Odessa, whose economy jumped a remarkable 57 places. It also added two other mid-size cities to the list with #2 Corpus Christi and #4 McAllen-Edinburgh-Mission. With all this moving there has also been an increase in Truck Bed Liners.
California experience a miserable year with having zero regions in the top 150. This led to a group of California officials to Texas to learn possible lessons about what drives job creation. Gov. Jerry Brown and others in California's hierarchy have a lot to learn as, the fact is, that the city Brown formerly ran, Oakland, ranked absolute last (#65), among the big metros in the report. This is two places behind perennial also-ran #63 Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Mich.
One lesson that green-centric California may have trouble learning is that, however attractive the long-term promise of alternative energy, fossil fuels pay the bills and create strong economies, at least for now. Even outside of Texas, oil capitals did well across the board, not surprising given the surging price of gas. The #2 small metro, Bismarck, N.D., which also is #2 overall, is the emerging capital of the expanding Dakota energy belt. Also faring well are Alaska's two oil-fire cities, Fairbanks (#10 on the small list) and Anchorage (#3 on the medium-sized list).
There were some great improvements as well. Most welcome are signs of revival from New Orleans-Metarie, La., which moved up a stunning 46 places to capture the #2 slot among large metros. The region lost 11% of its population and nearly 16% of its jobs during the last decade. But now the Big Easy seems to be finding its place again among America's great cities. Jobs, up 3.5% since 2006, have been created by rebuilding, a resurgence of tourism and a growing immigrant population. This region’s Hispanic population grew by 35,000 over the past decade.
There were other inspirational improvements this year. Sparked by a revival in manufacturing, a host of former gloomy areas in parts of the Midwest are showing signs of definite improvement. Niles-Benton Harbor, Mich., a long-time sleeper at the bottom of the list, shot up a remarkable 242 places this year to a respectable #121. Another old industrial city, Kokomo, Ind., ascended 177 places to #215, while Holland-Grand Haven, Mich., improved by 172 places to #221 and Grand Rapids, Mich., rose 167 places to #183. Milwaukee, a long-time loser among the largest metros, moved up by a healthy 163 places overall to a better-than-average #143.
The Northeast Corridor has also made strong progress. The stimulus has been particularly good for the vibrant economies surrounding the ever-expanding federal leviathan. Among the large metros, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, Va., did best of all the cities outside the South, repeating its #6 ranking among large metro areas. Right behind, at #7 on the large city list, sits the primarily suburban Northern Virginia metro area, while Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, Md., ranks 12th.
The other big East Coast winners are the financial and university-oriented economies, which have reaped huge benefits from the TARP bailout and the Obama administration's college-centric stimulus plan. After the Texas cities and the imperial center, most of the best performing big metros are located in financial and university centers, including #9 New York City, #10 Philadelphia, #11 Pittsburgh, #13 Boston and #15 Raleigh-Cary, N.C, which is good news for Raleigh Real Estate.
Outside of Oakland and the big Southern California metros the biggest losers including #60 Los Angeles, #59 Sacramento, #58 Riverside-San Bernardino and #50 Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine. The bottom tier consisted of a motley crew of mid-South cities like Memphis (#64 on the big city list) and still-struggling, former big Sunbelt boomtowns Las Vegas (#62), West Palm Beach-Boynton Beach-Boca Raton, Fla. (#56), Ft. Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Boynton Beach, Fla. (#54), Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz. (#53), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, Ga. (#52) and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla. (#51) which are leaving people asking who can Ship My Car?
For the most part, these areas rose with the housing bubble and will not fully recover until the economy diversifies beyond real estate speculation. Already some of the bubble victims are showing signs of life, including #155 Merced, Calif., up 134 places, and #167 Orlando, Fla., which rode a revived interest in tourism to jump 89 places since last year.
While energy, America's three wars, the recovering financial markets and real estate problems have played the lead role in setting the stage for the best places to do business, the Intermountain West has shown resilience with Salt Lake City, at #20 among large cities; Provo-Orem, Utah, Ogden-Clearfield, Utah, and Boulder, Colo., at Nos. 10, 25 and 26, respectively, among mid-sized cities; and Logan, Utah, and Fort Collins, Colo., at Nos. 9 and 38 among small cities.
The weak economy continues to reek havoc on new jobs, however, small increases are a good sign. California, Florida, and Nevada have had a bleak year, but improvement can still be noted. Hope is given to all with a city like New Orleans making huge strides. The next surge is expected to be in old industrial areas with newer infrastructure and appealing climates.

Friday, April 22, 2011

U.S. homes trending toward wireless-only phones

While homeowners battle tough economic challenges, the trend of disappearing land lines is increasing in an number of U.S. household, according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

As of June 2010, about 26.6% of households had only a wireless phone, up from 13.6% in 2007. And the number of wireless-only homes is increased in every state throughout the U.S.

Stephen Blumberg, a member of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics states that "the phrase 'home telephone number' is going the way of rotary dial phones."

The trend of more people using their cellphones more often "poses an even greater sense of urgency to conduct studies to try to determine whether there are or there are not ill effects from the use of cellphones to the brain," says Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "The reality is (phones are) widely utilized, and yet we have minimal information."

Lower economic status households are more likely to be wireless-only, according to the researchers, who used data and trends from tens of thousands of respondents to the National Health Interview Survey and the Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey.

"States such as Arkansas, Mississippi and Kentucky have a higher proportion of households living with low income," Blumberg added, "and giving up a land line is one way to save money."

Even if Raleigh homes have a land line, it is not necessarily used. Many are deciding to cut the cord. "All they get are solicitations, and most calls are done on a wireless phone anyway, so it represents a waste of money," says analyst Charles Golvin of Forrester Research.

The wireless-only trend among Apex homes is not likely to be reversed. "Unless the carriers are able to create some new applications or services such as video calling," Golvin says.

In North Carolina, Cary homes that rely on wireless phones are being advised to check their local emergency preparedness department to see if its "Reverse 911" communication systems can incorporate cellphones.

The trend toward wireless phones presents some difficulties for public safety officials, says Francisco Sanchez of the Harris County Homeland Security office. "But the benefit is that now we have a communications device that people carry all the time. So we need to know how to utilize that if we are going to be able to do our jobs effectively in the future."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

February Shows Weak Homes Sales

In February Americans purchased less previously occupied homes. The weak sales and rise in foreclosures pushed home prices down to their lowest level in nearly nine years.
The National Association of Realtors said Monday that sales of previously occupied homes fell last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.88 million. That's down 9.6 percent from 5.4 million in January. The pace is far below the 6 million homes a year that economists say represents a healthy market.
Nearly 40 percent of the sales last month were either foreclosures or short sales, when the seller accepts less than they owe on the mortgage.
One-third of all sales were purchased in cash -- twice the rate from a year ago. In troubled housing markets such as Las Vegas and Miami, cash deals represent about half of sales.
The median sales price fell 5.2 percent to $156,100, the lowest level since April 2002.
Winter storms also hampered sales in many parts of the country, including five inches of snow in Dallas-Fort Worth area just before this year's Super Bowl. That was nearly twice the metro area's annual average.
Still, housing has been weak for some time. Millions of foreclosures have forced down home prices and more are expected this year. Tight credit has made mortgage loans tough to come by. And some potential buyers who could qualify for loans are hesitant to enter the market, worried that prices will fall further. High unemployment is also deterring buyers. Job growth, while expected to pick up this year, will not likely raise home sales to healthier levels.
The median price of a new home is now 45 percent higher than the median price for a previously occupied home, the Realtors group said. A more normal difference is about 15 percent, an indication that old homes on the market are being sold at comparatively cheap, and affordable, levels.
The number of first-time homebuyers rose to 34 percent of the market, partly because of rising rents. A more healthy level of first-time homebuyers is about 40 percent, according to the trade group.
But home prices and sales are uneven across the country. In Miami, where prices have dropped 18.6 percent since last year, sales have skyrocketed 46.4 percent over the same period. In St. Louis, where prices rose 8.2 percent over the past year, sales have fallen 8.6 percent.
One obstacle to a housing recovery is the glut of unsold homes on the market. Those numbers rose to 3.49 million units in February. It would take 8.6 months to clear them off the market at the February sales pace. Most analysts say a six-month supply represents a healthy supply of homes.
Analysts said the situation is much worse when the "shadow inventory" of homes is taken into account. These are homes that are in the early stages of the foreclosure process but have not been put on the market yet for resale. For February, sales fell in all four regions of the country, by 12.2 percent in the Midwest, 10.2 percent in the South, 8 percent in the West and 7.2 percent in the Northeast.
Sales of single-family homes fell 9.6 percent to an annual rate of 4.25 million units. Sales of condominiums fell 10 percent to a rate of 630,000 units.