Saturday, December 24, 2011
Americans bought slightly more new homes in November, but 2011 will likely end up as the worst year for sales in history.
The Commerce Department says new-home sales rose 1.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 315,000. That's less than half the 700,000 new homes that economists say should be sold to sustain a healthy housing market.
It's also below the 323,000 homes sold last year - the worst year for sales on records dating back to 1963.
Florida's foreclosure crisis lives on, but a statewide mediation program for troubled borrowers is dead.
Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles T. Canady issued an order Monday ending the effort to encourage lenders and borrowers to avoid foreclosure.
The program was a flop. Only 3.6 percent of cases referred to mediation statewide yielded a written agreement between the lender and homeowner. In Palm Beach County, which began its program in July 2010, a mere 1.6 percent of the 4,632 cases sent to mediation resulted in a written agreement.
Mortgage foreclosure defense attorney Thomas Ice says: "It wasn't real mediation," Ice said. "It was a loan-mod opportunity which was often lost because of paperwork problems. You could never get the actual owner of the note at the table. At best, you could get the servicer on the phone."
Friday, December 23, 2011
Armstrong, 35, and his wife, Amber Hersh, 34, have won the town of Wellington’s Christmas lights display two years in a row, but in June, his Buffalo Creek subdivision HOA passed a rule limiting the amount of permissible lawn ornaments to three, he said.
The HOA is now threatening to fine the family $25 every two weeks until they take the lights down, he said. His display, which has become a neighborhood favorite, exceeds the rule by more than 20.
Merry Christmas from Privatopia, where they're making a list and checking it twice.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Nearly all of this stuff is enforceable, as many an HOA or condo unit owner has discovered, and it makes citizens relatively powerless. The private logic of contact law structures the relationship as individual consumer vs. big corporation with government as the enforcer of the contract, instead of citizens vs. powerful private organizations, with government as policy maker holding jurisdiction over the relationship.
The law calls these boilerplate documents "contracts of adhesion," but the days are long past when judges were willing to throw them out because they were drafted by one party and imposed on the other, there was gross inequality of bargaining power, and there was no real assent to the terms. Now they are deemed essential to the free flow of modern commerce.
My view has always been that policy makers should be willing to step in and reform these relationships if they become predatory or destructive. But there is little stomach for that presently.
On Tuesday, the city’s commission approved a $25,000 program which will buy them one-way bus tickets out of town. The program won’t cost taxpayers a dime. It’s being paid for by the Florida Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which is money confiscated from criminals.
Hey, how about a free visit to your relatives, on us. Just don't come back. The Christmas spirit is at work.
...it seems impossible to treat foreclosure law as entirely distinct from broader questions of housing policy and community development. Incorporating these broader questions means asking about the shelter needs of foreclosure defendants, the disruption in education for kids in enrolled in public schools, and externalities such as neighbors' property values, declines in local tax revenues, and other community effects.
Law prof Melissa Jacoby is talking about mortgage foreclosure, but I think the same thing should be said about HOA/condo foreclosure. There is more at stake than bill collection.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
As you can see on Slide 6, we ended the year at 21.3 net contracts per community just slightly below the level of the past 2 years with a slower beginning of the year and a better ending. For each of the past 4 years, our average sales per community per year is up by more than 50%, compared to our historical normalized average pace of about 45 contracts per year.
These low absorption rates make it more challenging to return to profitability. Nonetheless, we believe we can achieve profitability before sales pays returns to normalized levels.
Hovnanian Enterprises is a major builder of HOA-run subdivisions. On July 15, 2005, their stock peaked at $70.92 per share. Today it closed at $1.50 per share. The transcript from this presentation by CEO Ara Hovnanian is lengthy and detailed, but if you read it carefully you will get a sense of the total devastation that has hit the home building industry. Historically they sell 45 homes per year per subdivision. Last year they averaged 23.3 units sold per subdivision. And check out this sentence: "Our internal projections for the next 2 years assume no improvement in market conditions, so any comp line growth is driven by community count growth." This reminds me of the old joke that "we will lose money on every unit we sell, but we will make it up in volume."
For months, the city has been updating its shoreline rules, guided by a policy that takes a dim view of living on water. It's believed that floating homes are bad for salmon and other aquatic life, and that they diminish public access to shorelines.
Already, the city has proposed a ban on new houseboats. But the latest draft would also ban new boats that masquerade as floating homes, and would impose some environmental rules on existing ones. That's causing angst among Seattle's eclectic community of liveaboards who bob on the city's lakes and bays.
Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Seattle-cracks-down-on-houseboat-like-boats-2400872.php#ixzz1h7M5RFDu
This is a bit arcane for me. I never saw "Sleepless in Seattle." There seem to be differences between "house barges" and "floating homes." Thanks to Mystery Reader, who also helpfully supplied this irreverent blog post that explains it.
Folmer is employed at the Western Maryland Correctional Institute in Cresaptown. Since he was elected president of the homeowners association last spring, there has been some discord among residents of the subdivision located near Ridgeley who have disagreed on several issues, including a ban on school buses entering the subdivision to pick up children.
Tuesday, Fraley explained to the commission that he had been told by some of the residents that Folmer was “wearing his uniform around to intimidate people,” and he had simply called the prison to inquire about the policy for wearing uniforms during off-duty hours.
Shu Bartholomew sent this link to a slice of life. Moral of the story: do you really want to elect a prison guard president of the HOA? Just a thought.
An Oakhurst woman pleaded to guilty to embezzling over $400,000 from a Freehold Township homeowners association, according to a press release from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
Theresa Tierney, 60, entered the guilty plea Thursday before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Richard W. English.
Tierney was the property manager at Strickland Farms Condominiums when she stole the funds, prosecutors said.
Yet another one of those "isolated examples" of property manager embezzlement. Thanks to Shu Bartholomew for the link and the holiday wishes.
The state attorney general's office filed suit Monday against three Chicago-area firms and their principals who allegedly operated mortgage rescue schemes that conned homeowners out of more than $44,000 in upfront fees and provided them with little or no help.
The cases share many similarities, including preying on consumers for whom English is a second language, collecting upfront fees and telling consumers to ignore any mail sent to them by their mortgage companies.
In Illinois, it is illegal to charge consumers upfront fees for loan modification services not yet provided. In at least one of the cases, a homeowner lost his home to foreclosure as a result of the purported fraud.
Thanks to Brian White for the link. Mortgage rescue fraud has been rampant since 2007 and some of their practices, including these up-front fees, are blatantly illegal. But is a total of 50 suits, with 28 injunctions, enough?
Monday, December 19, 2011
Sunlight may be free. But capturing it costs in Privatopia.
The scrooge award goes to the New York City Sanitation Department for the $100 tickets.
Raymond Janson says he received the $100 fine for putting his garbage cans at the curb 30 minutes early.
Read more: http://www.myfoxny.com/dpp/news/trash-can-tickets-in-queens-20111219-lgf#ixzz1h2yg2tH3
When I say that cities are acting like HOAs, this is what I mean: they have discovered how much $$$ there is in abusing your authority by creating all sorts of absurd rules and then soaking people with fines for violating them. The police power becomes a revenue source. The same thing happened when cities discovered that mandating HOA and condo development was lucrative, which amounts to misusing the power to control land use and turning it into a revenue source instead of thinking about how best to develop the area under their jurisdiction. The political process, especially at the local level, is supposed to reflect and embody many values. Unfortunately in this country the political process has become an appendage of the market.
Across the state, a growing number of suburban Texans are getting their water from large, private corporations owned by investors seeking to profit off the sale of an essential resource. State figures show private companies are seeking more price increases every year, and many are substantial. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates water and sewer rates for nonmunicipal customers, doesn't keep numbers, but "their rate increases tend to be 40 and 60 percent," said Doug Holcomb, who oversees the agency's water utilities division. For years, small private companies have played a crucial role in Texas, providing water and sewer service in new developments outside of cities. Analysts say private companies will continue to fill an essential need in the future, when public money is projected to be insufficient to make the billions of dollars in costly upgrades needed in water and sewer systems. Increasingly, however, the companies are neither small nor local.
This story is from Texas, but I think this is where things may be headed across much of the Sun Belt. There is nothing private corporations love more than a monopoly over something you absolutely have to buy. All that propaganda about capitalism being about competition is claptrap.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Several hundred people — ranging from the free-spirited young, retired "snowbirds" from colder climes and the tight-money crowd of all ages — live in a ramshackle collection of tents, trailers, aging mobile homes and other ad hoc dwellings. But this unlikely community appears to be growing, perhaps because of the troubled economy.
"It has a post-apocalyptic look and we like it that way," said Don Case, 41, who worked as a chef in Colorado and is planning to move to Alaska — someday. "It's peaceful here, people have it together."
Three years after the foreclosure crisis began, the process to apply for a loan modification remains a bureaucratic nightmare that is complicating the housing recovery and could dull the impact of any Obama administration initiatives in the works.
The administration's biggest foreclosure-prevention effort, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), targeted to help 3 million to 4 million homeowners, has reached only about a quarter of that since its 2009 inception.
Thanks to Fred Pilot for the link to this update on the failed HAMP program. The basic premise of this approach was that the banks would voluntarily enter into loan modifications if the government gave them monetary incentives to do so. That premise has proved to be mistaken. There is no way banks will do anything voluntarily unless it makes them bigger and richer. The fact that they have been bailed out by the taxpayers from the costs of their own mistakes is of no consequence to them. They just want more.