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773.818.9054 office/cell
866.381.4238 efax

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Condo Associations Get Tough on Fees

The Wall Street Journal published this today. Funny, because I just presented at my weekly networking meeting this morning and this was exactly the same topic of discussion.

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla.—Three years ago, Claudia Pinchasson defaulted on two mortgages used to purchase apartments at Spring West condominiums here. The units have been turned into rental property, but not by Ms. Pinchasson or her lender. They are being rented out by the condo association.

Condo associations, which have been struggling as troubled homeowners stop paying their condo assessments, are becoming increasingly aggressive about finding ways to recoup unpaid fees. And they have lawmakers on their side.

n Nevada, homeowners associations recently tallied a victory when state legislators quashed two laws that would have limited the amount of fees that the associations can assess on delinquent borrowers.

Florida's state legislature earlier this month passed a law that makes it easier for homeowner associations to collect rent from tenants in delinquent units, with monthly payments going to the associations, instead of the units' owners, until all unpaid fees are covered.

"Two years ago, there would have been a lot more complacency" about homeowners not paying dues, says Donna D. Berger, a partner with Katzman, Garfinkel & Berger, one of several Florida law firms that lobbied for the law. Now, "frustration over seeing people continuing to live in their homes for years without paying" or seeing condos sit empty for years without producing fees, has driven more associations to take action, she says.

Florida, with 60,000 homeowner and condo associations, is at the center of debate over unpaid fees. In many cases, questions have been raised about the rights of homeowners versus those of homeowner associations. The associations have the right to collect fees and assessments to pay for maintenance, utilities and other services, and now, they also have the right to take control of a unit and rent it out when fees on the unit go unpaid. But that right clashes with the rights of delinquent homeowners, who may want to rent out the units themselves and pocket the cash.

Ms. Pinchasson has charged, in a complaint sent by her lawyer to her homeowner association, that the group illegally took possession of her condos, and she wants all the rent on the two units—about $10,000—given to her. She says she is worried that with tenants in her units, she may be liable in case of an accident or other problems. "I just want the tenants out, and I want the bank to foreclose" so she doesn't have to worry about liability, Ms. Pinchasson says.

Leaders of the association declined to comment, but in February, they filed to foreclose on Ms. Pinchasson's units, citing unpaid association fees of more than $12,000.

Typically, associations let lenders deal with nonpaying members. That often meant waiting a few months for lenders to foreclose and resell the unit. But five years into the foreclosure crisis, buyers are scarce and banks are having more trouble foreclosing in a timely manner, due in part to challenges by some who believe lenders acted improperly when seizing property.

The time it takes lenders to foreclose has grown longer each year. Nationwide, residential properties are in foreclosure an average of 400 days, up from 151 days four years ago, according to foreclosure-data firm RealtyTrac Inc. In Florida, it is even longer, growing to an average of 619 days as of the first quarter of 2011, from 169 days in 2007.

The banks are "letting these properties sit, and it's killing the associations," says Steven F. Cohen, who runs A&N Management, a company in Boca Raton that manages properties on behalf of about 50 South Florida homeowners and condo associations. "We're just trying to help these associations fight back."

Mr. Cohen said nearly every association he represents has had an instance where they were forced to foreclose on a homeowner or ask a judge to appoint a receiver for the unit.

Until the new law, homeowner associations could seek a lien in court against a property, based on the unpaid fees. Now, associations can demand that rent payments on delinquent units be paid to the association simply by sending a letter to the tenant. If the association wants to evict a delinquent homeowner and find its own tenants, or find new renters for a unit abandoned by its owner, it must foreclose on the unit ahead of the bank and take title to the property.

At the Gulfside luxury condominium in Naples earlier this year, its condo association foreclosed on a unit with a $710,000 mortgage because its owners owed the association $19,000.

When a unit-owner stops paying, "you've got to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible," said Ewing Sutherland, president of Gulfside's owners association. The group has foreclosed on two of its 112 units for unpaid condo fees.

Tom Salomone, a Coral Springs real-estate agent, says associations' foreclosing on units are problematic because they have no obligation to pay off the mortgage debt on the unit, and that might make lenders reluctant to make future loans on properties in that community.

At Ironwedge, in Boca Raton, its association recently blocked a short sale arranged by Mr. Salamone—in which he convinced the lender to accept a price lower than the debt on the house—in favor of foreclosing and renting the house out. Now, the house's fate is in limbo, and it likely won't be sold until the bank, which holds the first lien on it, decides to foreclose. "It's an absolute mess," Mr. Salamone said.

4:27 pm cdt 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

There is Nothing Short About A Short Sale!
The Los Angeles Times just printed a great article on short sales. I'm reprinting it here. And I have to agree, in representing sellers and buyers in this ordeal there is nothing short about it!

The housing market may be on the ropes, but Curt Beck was ready to come out swinging. He offered $385,000 for a three-bedroom house in Acton. The seller was happy with the terms. But it was unclear if the mortgage holders would allow the deal to go through.

Beck, 56, is typical of many would-be home buyers trying to navigate what's known as a short sale — when a property is sold for less than the outstanding mortgage (or mortgages).

Real estate experts say this can be a particularly challenging process, complicated by lenders trying to squeeze as much money as possible from a transaction, even though a failed deal often results in the property being foreclosed on.

The situation has grown so problematic that the California Assn. of Realtors recently ran ads in newspapers statewide saying more needs to be done to assist homeowners on the verge of foreclosure by expediting the short-sale process.

"Horror stories abound from potential home buyers and Realtors forced to wait 90 or more days for a response to a purchase offer or being required to fax short-sale applications or other paperwork as many as 50 times," said Beth Peerce, president of the organization.

"These delays discourage potential home buyers from considering a short-sale purchase and undermine the process for those who short sales are intended to benefit — the hundreds of thousands of families facing foreclosure," she said.

April home sales in Southern California fell 9.2% from a year earlier, according to market researcher DataQuick. The figure was 25.4% below the month's average since record-keeping began in 1988. The median price paid for a home in the region fell 1.8% from a year earlier to $280,000.

Meanwhile, 21% of homes in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are now underwater, according to the real-estate website Zillow.com. That's another way of saying their mortgages are greater than what the homes are currently worth.

Lenders aren't acting nefariously in most short sales. They're going to take a bath no matter what by allowing a home to be sold for less than is owed for the property. It's understandable they'd want to minimize their loss as much as possible.

But Beck's experience illustrates how a home buyer may feel he's getting the runaround when entering into a short sale.

Beck, of Santa Clarita, had been eyeing the Acton house for months. According to real-estate listings, the house had been offered for $479,000 in October and then pulled from the market a few weeks later.

It was listed again in February for $399,000. In March, the asking price was cut to $374,000.

Wendy Ann Moore, the agent representing the property owner, said no offers were received at the higher prices. But when the house was listed for $374,000, a motivated buyer came forward.

The three lenders holding about $500,000 in loans on the property — GMAC Mortgage, Bank of America and Specialized Loan Servicing — each agreed to the terms of the short sale.

But Moore said the deal fell apart during the escrow process after the buyer lost his job. It was at this point that Beck stepped in.

He told me that as soon as the house returned to the market, he offered to pay the full list price with no contingencies. In other words, he was ready to buy the house as-is.

"My wife and I liked everything about it," Beck said. "We liked the house. We liked the land. We liked the neighborhood."

A few days after making his offer, though, the primary mortgage lender, GMAC, countered that now it wanted $400,000 for the house.

Beck wasn't pleased.

"If they wanted $400,000, they should have told the owner to list it at $400,000," he said. "But it was still listed at $374,000."

After much consternation, Beck reluctantly raised his offer to $385,000. But he felt as if he was being taken advantage of.

"It just seems like they're trying to get more money out of us because they've looked at our credit file and think they can get it," Beck said.

Moore, the real estate agent, said she's been down this road more times than she can count.

"It's very, very frustrating," she said. "It just doesn't seem like banks want to work with buyers and sellers."

Like I say, I get that lenders want to cut their losses in a short sale. But considering that banks filed 68,239 notices of default on California residents during the first quarter, according to DataQuick, you'd think lenders would be eager to avoid repossessing additional properties.

In Beck's case, there's a happy ending. He said GMAC told him the other day that it's willing to accept the $385,000. The other mortgage holders will probably follow GMAC's lead.

But thousands of other home buyers are still struggling to get short sales approved.

Colleen Badagliacco, who heads the California Assn. of Realtors' distressed properties task force, said many lenders don't get serious about short sales until a property owner starts missing mortgage payments. By that time, however, foreclosure proceedings can be imminent.

"This is crazy," Badagliacco said. "You would think they'd work to sell the property before people start missing payments."

The housing crunch won't last forever. We shouldn't be going out of our way to prolong the pain.


6:56 pm cdt 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

If You Have Recently Relocated to Chicago...

If you've recently moved to Chicago, have you found your favorite Chinese restaurant yet? The place for getting your nails done or hair cut? What about a cleaners that's close to you? Or someone who will walk your dog for you while you're at work?

I recently met a woman named Hilary Branch, who has started a company called MetroLaunch. Her idea is fantastic one. She helps people who have recently moved to the area find their essential services.

You can visit her website for more information at www.MetroLaunch.com. Or give her a call at 312.878.7728. Or e-mail her at hbranch@metrolaunch.com.

3:24 pm cdt 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Percentage of Homes With Negative Equity Here Sets Record

Taken from yesterday's Sun Times:

The percent of mortgaged homes in the Chicago metropolitan area with negative equity set another new record in the first quarter, hitting 45.7 percent, according to the latest report from Zillow.

That was up from what was a record 38.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Home values dropped 13.8 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier to $167,900 and are down 38.1 percent from their peak, the report showed. Values fell 4.8 percent from the fourth quarter.

Nationally, 28.4 percent of single family homes with mortgages had negative equity, meaning homeowners owed more on their mortgages than their homes were worth.

Values nationally fell faster than they have in any quarter since 2008, prompting Zillow to revise its forecast of a bottom being reached in the market this year. The bottom likely won’t occur until 2012 at the earliest, the real estate information company said. Values nationally fell 3 percent from the fourth quarter to $169,600. They dropped 8.2 percent from the first quarter of 2010 and are down 29.5 percent from their peak in June 2006, Zillow said.

The report revealed 97 percent of 132 metropolitan markets saw home value declines. Only the metropolitan areas of Champaign-Urbana, Ill., Fort Myers, Fla. and Honolulu saw home values increase in the first quarter, up 0.8 percent, 2.4 percent and 0.3 percent respectively.

“Home value declines are currently equal to those we experienced during the darkest days of the housing recession,” Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries said in a statement, adding, now it’s “almost certain that we won’t see a bottom in home values until 2012 or later.”


9:53 am cdt 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Historical Rise and Fall of the 30-Year Mortgage

Aimee Renkes, a mortgage broker I know well and recommend, recently sent out a very interesting chart tracking the history of the 30 year mortgage over the last 20 years. Seeing the actuality of where rates have been is shocking, and certainly anyone who is on the fence about buying or refinancing should see it! I've reprinted it above here. Just click on the link to download the .pdf. To reach Aimee, go to www.aimeerenkes.com.


8:01 pm cdt 

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