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04 Oct, 2011

Want to buy Alonzo Mourning's house?

Retired Miami Heat player Alonzo Mourning and his wife, Tracy, have put their Coral Gables, Fla., estate on the market for $14.5 million.

Photos: Private Properties


Retired NBA star Alonzo Mourning's home in Coral Gables, FL is listed at 14.5 million dollars.

Located in a gated community called Coral Gable Estates, the home, built in 2004, is on ¾ of an acre of waterfront on the bay, on a cul-de-sac. The 13,000-square-foot house overlooks the water and has eight bedrooms and 8½ bathrooms. There's also a library, a gym and a four-car garage. Outside there's a kitchen and dining area and an infinity pool.

Mr. Mourning's NBA career lasted 15 years, most of which he played with the Heat. He retired in 2009 and is currently focusing on charitable work.

Mr. and Mrs. Mourning, who bought the home in 2005, are selling because they're looking to downsize, says William Meyersohn of Coldwell Banker Previews International, who shares the listing with Michael Williams, also of Coldwell Banker.

04 Oct, 2011

Foreclosure cases to be reviewed. Is yours one of them?


Millions of current and former homeowners will have a chance to get their foreclosure cases examined to determine whether they should be compensated for banks' mistakes, under a wide-ranging review being planned by federal regulators.

The review process, which could be unveiled in the next few weeks, will be open to borrowers who were in some stage of foreclosure in 2009 or 2010. Estimates prepared by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which will oversee the review, indicate that 4.5 million borrowers could be eligible for review.

John Walsh, acting head of the OCC, unveiled some aspects of the plan in a speech last month to banking executives, when he said the agency was exploring "the best means of ensuring that injured homeowners had the opportunity to seek relief," when they were harmed by lender improprieties.

WSJ's Nick Timiraos has details of a plan by which 4.5 million homeowners who faced foreclosure in 2009 and 2010 could face a review of their foreclosure procedures due to errors by banks. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

The process will include a broad public-outreach campaign, including direct mail to eligible borrowers and a single website and toll-free number. The reviews will be conducted by independent third-party companies that were hired earlier this year by 14 banks that signed consent orders in April with the OCC and the Federal Reserve. The regulators had to sign off on the selection of these companies.

"It's a substantial undertaking at great expense to the banks," said Tim Rood, a partner at Collingwood Group, a housing-finance consulting firm.

Borrowers who are determined to have suffered "financial injury" could be eligible for compensation that would be determined on a case-by-case basis by the third-party firms. Borrowers will have to request reviews before a cutoff date, likely to fall near the end of the first quarter of 2012. It hasn't been determined whether borrowers that accept restitution would have to agree to surrender related legal claims.

Regulators declined to provide estimates of the amount of money that injured borrowers might receive or how much the program might cost lenders.

However, few if any borrowers are expected to have foreclosures overturned.

The review process is one of several continuing efforts to address disclosures that surfaced a year ago over banks' use of "robo-signers," bank employees who signed off on huge numbers of legal foreclosure filings daily and falsely claimed in the documents to have personally reviewed each case. The disclosures prompted some judges to question the veracity of other bank foreclosure practices.

The process is separate from the months-long talks between federal agencies, state attorneys general and banks to reach a multibillion-dollar settlement over foreclosure abuses. That effort took a big step backwards Friday, when California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris called the deal "inadequate" and pulled out of the settlement talks.

The loss of California could cripple any settlement because the state has among the nation's highest volumes of foreclosures. Banks are less likely to agree to the $25 billion price tag pushed by federal and state officials without the participation of California. Banks, federal officials and state attorneys general are set to resume meetings in Washington on Tuesday.

Representatives for both sides said they still hope to reach an agreement despite Friday's setback. The banks "remain committed to the dialogue and continue to believe that a global settlement would be an effective means of supporting the recovery of the housing market and helping to strengthen the economy," said one person familiar with the banks' thinking.

"We are still full-steam ahead," said a spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is spearheading the 50-state negotiations. "With or without some states, we are still moving forward."Borrowers who suffered 'financial injury' could be eligible for compensation. Here, a foreclosure sign hangs in front of a house in Canton, Mich., in March.

In the OCC review process, financial injury could cover a wide range of misrepresentations or errors committed by mortgage companies, according to people familiar with the process.

Banks could be liable if they miscalculated mortgage payments or applied impermissible fees or penalties. A handful of borrowers have alleged that mortgage-servicing companies, for example, improperly placed expensive insurance coverage onto their mortgage, pushing them into default and preventing them from becoming current with their payments.

Borrowers may be able to receive compensation if the review finds that the bank moved a borrower to foreclosure while the bank was receiving partial payments as part of a trial or permanent loan modification. Compensation might also be due if borrowers provide evidence that they provided the necessary documentation required to qualify for a modification but were denied the modification.

A separate report to be released on Tuesday raises new questions over Fannie Mae's oversight of the attorneys that conduct foreclosures on its behalf. The report, from the inspector general for the Federal Housing Finance Agency, faulted Fannie for inadequate oversight of those firms

Since 2008, Fannie has required its mortgage servicers to use designated law firms that are part of its "retained attorney network." The network arrangement allows Fannie to negotiate discounted rates with approved firms, which in turn can lock in business from the nation's largest mortgage investor.

The report said that in June 2010, the FHFA conducted a two-day field visit to Florida, where it found that "documentation problems were evident and law firms…were not devoting the time necessary to their cases due to Fannie Mae's flat fee structure and volume-based processing model."

FHFA staff subsequently informed senior Fannie officials that its attorneys were "increasingly unprepared when they enter the courtroom," leading to a larger backlog of foreclosures.

Fannie Mae declined to comment on the report.

12 Sep, 2011

Buying Rentals! 6 mistakes investors make.

The Miami Real Estate Club read that traditional investments are delivering low returns, and home prices are at bargain levels. Is it time to consider buying some rental housing?

Investing in real estate right now can be surprisingly profitable, if everything goes well. Rents are climbing in many areas, and more properties may be coming on the market. Last month, the Obama administration asked for proposals on how to convert at least some of Fannie Mae's and Freddie Mac's bulging inventories of foreclosed homes into affordable rentals.

Investors used to aim for rents that were 1% of the purchase price, or $1,000 a month for a $100,000 home—an annual gross return of 12%—says Michael McCreary. His firm, McCreary Realty, manages about 300 properties in the Atlanta area. Today, he says, some of his investors are getting as much as 2% of the purchase price.

In general, though, average returns after expenses are far less, more like 5% to 6% of the property value, says Ingo Winzer, president of Local Market Monitor, a real-estate forecasting firm. But that still is well above what many other investments yield.

Before you start scouring for deals, keep in mind that owning rental properties is time-consuming, expensive and fraught with challenges, and many investors lose money. You will want to avoid falling into one of these common traps.

• Mistake 1: Confusing a cheap deal for a good deal.

It is true that you can buy some homes for ridiculously low prices—but that doesn't mean you can rent them out. Homes in deserted subdivisions aren't any more appealing to renters than they are to buyers. The same is true for less-attractive properties or those in less-desirable school districts.

Investors from the San Francisco area often look at the Sacramento market assuming they can get Bay Area-like rents, and end up overpaying, says Robert A. Machado of HomePointe Property Management. He uses several resources, including the website, to estimate rents. Other experts suggest canvassing apartments nearby to see not just their rates, but whether they are offering special deals, like a couple of months of free rent.
Guides from SmartMoney

    Assess Your Insurance Needs
    Manage Tenant Disputes
    Tax Issues for Landlords

• Mistake 2: Overlooking key costs.

Knowing the potential rent isn't enough. Before you buy a property, you should also factor in closing costs of 3% to 6%, the costs to fix up the place and maintain it, and your holding costs. Then add the profit you expect to make (and more closing costs, if you intend to turn around and sell it). Only then can you figure out what you can afford to pay.

• Mistake 3: Forgetting that time is money.

In real estate, "time is your biggest enemy," says David Hicks, co-president of HomeVestors of America, a franchiser whose motto is "We Buy Ugly Houses." You lose money when your property is empty, whether you are painting it or between tenants. You also lose if you buy in the fall and can't replace the roof until spring. You may be better off accepting a lower rent than waiting for a higher-paying tenant.

• Mistake 4: Assuming you will sit back and watch the rent roll in.

"When you become a landlord, you become a rent collector," says Mark Kreditor of Get There First Realty, which manages 1,600 rentals in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Just like homeowners who can't pay the mortgage, tenants lose their jobs and stop paying the rent. Evicting them can take several weeks, and some steal appliances or other property. Mr. Kreditor says that once or twice a month, a tenant removes a home's copper tubing on the way out the door to sell the copper for its meltdown value.

You will need to screen prospective tenants carefully—or pay someone to do it for you.

• Mistake 5: Underestimating repair costs.

As with all homes, you will be making lots of repairs. You may find wood rot or mold when you remove that cracked bathtub. Carpet in rental homes typically must be replaced every five years, and you may have to repaint after every tenant. Tony A. Drost, president of the National Association of Residential Property Managers, or Narpm, suggests setting aside six months of expenses so that you will have funds if a major repair is needed.

• Mistake 6: Assuming that owning a rental is the same as owning a home.

You might put up with flaws in a home that a renter wouldn't tolerate. In addition, many states and communities have strict (and complex) laws for landlords, even if you own only one property. A property manager can handle most of the headaches, but you should expect to pay one up to a month of rent for finding and screening tenants—and up to 10% of the monthly rent for management fees.

You can find property managers through the websites of trade groups Narpm and the Institute of Real Estate Management. In addition, many communities have local Real Estate Investor Associations, which can provide support.

25 Aug, 2011

Cash is King for S.W. Fl. real estate

The Miami Real Estate Club read that for Southwest Florida buyers, cash is king — and shows no signs of abandoning its throne.

At least three out of every five homes and condos in Southwest Florida are changing hands with no financing, something that would have seemed almost unthinkable during the boom years of easy credit.

Multiple Listing Service data show that particular ratio of cash buyers for the 12 months ended July 31 compares with just one out of six in 2006-07.

One reason is that loans are simply harder to come by in the post-recession world. Freshly wounded lenders are risk-averse and they are being extremely picky about whom they loan to.

But another factor is that buyers themselves have developed an aversion to debt.

"Everybody recognizes that excessive borrowing is what got us into this mess," said Kim Ogilvie, a luxury agent with Michael Saunders & Co. in Sarasota. "It's like we've still got a hangover and don't want to touch the stuff."

That sentiment reaches from the lowliest stratum of the Southwest Florida market — where hundreds of investors are at play — to luxury.

So far this year, Ogilvie's three highest sales on Siesta Key were all-cash deals: a $6 million sale at 6701 Peacock Road, a $5.9 million home at 625 Norsota Way and a $4.45 million sale at 8585 Midnight Pass Road.

"I actually can't remember the last time a buyer used a mortgage," Ogilvie said. "I'd say 95 percent of all my sales have been cash."

25 Aug, 2011

Low Appraisals Affect U.S. Housing

When Sean McGowan signed a contract to buy a New Jersey home in November, he didn't expect he'd still be living with his parents nearly a year later.

The deal fell through after two appraisals came in tens of thousands of dollars below the contract price, part of a wider trend of differences over property valuations that is compounding the U.S. housing crisis.

"It was very frustrating. We really wanted to move in," said McGowan, a 31-year-old real estate lawyer.

Many housing experts say low appraisals are yet another headwind for a housing market already suffering from a plunge in prices, high unemployment and tight credit.

Lenders are forced to cap their mortgage loans at the value set by appraisers and buyers and sellers often can't agree on how to make up the difference with an original deal price.

"It's hard to talk about any recovery of the housing market and home prices until the appraisal issue is squared away, and that is a broad issue," said Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, a Maryland-based trade publication.

Sixteen percent of Realtors reported contract cancellations in July, matching June's level, which was the highest since March 2010, when the National Association of Realtors began collecting data.

Nine percent reported contract delays due to low appraisals, and 13 percent reported a contract was renegotiated to a lower price because an appraisal came in below the original price in the last three months, the NAR said.

Appraisers in the United States have long been used to controversy for their role in the country's housing market.

The appraisal system has been reformed in recent years to put a stop to the high estimates of property values that even appraisers admit helped inflate the housing bubble.

Many industry watchers argue the new regime has caused the pendulum to swing too far to the other side, inadvertently causing the opposite problem: artificially low appraisals.

"The industry, both from a lending perspective and appraising perspective, has gotten as outrageously conservative now as they were outrageously aggressive a few years ago," said Rick Sharga, senior vice president of data firm RealtyTrac.


In the run-up to the housing crisis, appraisers were accused of inflating home values to get work with realtors and mortgage brokers.

Mortgage finance agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have barred brokers and Realtors from any role in selecting appraisers since 2009. The Federal Housing Authority, which plays a key role in the U.S. housing market by insuring loans for low- and middle-income Americans, adopted a similar ban.

The three agencies together owned or insured around 90 percent of mortgages issued in the first half of the year.

As a result, 300 to 400 appraisal management companies (AMCs) have sprung up, mostly since 2009, to act as intermediaries between appraisers and lenders, according to the Appraisal Institute, an industry association.

AMCs hire contractors to provide 70 percent of residential appraisals, while the appraising arm of banks perform the rest, according to the same group.

Realtors and mortgage brokers, upset that their deals are often stymied by low valuations, say AMCs are to blame in large part for the conservative estimates. Some appraisers also resent the loss of high fees they used to receive.

"They are hiring these young guys and it's all based on price and not expertise," said Mike Evans, an appraiser and former president of the American Society of Appraisers, a trade organization.

"Some guy blows in from 300 miles away and grabs three comps that may not be in the right area, and leaves," he said, using the industry jargon for comparable sales that are used to evaluate a property's value.

Appraisers in Mexico, Britain and other countries are typically more educated than U.S. appraisers and work at small firms, according to David Bunton, President of the Appraisal Foundation.

AMCs and appraisal arms of banks take a cut of the appraisal fee which averages around $400, according to Evans. That leaves appraisers pushing for volume, not quality, he says.

"Because they don't want the scrutiny, they don't want to seem like they are going high, they just grab the three lowest sales" as comparables, said David Demuro, a residential appraiser in Florida.

Demuro mostly works for AMCs that pay at least $275 per job, but says some appraisal fees are as low as $150. Demuro averages 15 to 35 appraisals per month.

Industry insiders say fear among overworked appraisers of being sued if buyers default on properties they valued too highly, combined with anxiety about being blacklisted by banks and AMCs, keep them cautious.

Not all contract cancellations are linked to differences over appraisals. Tight lending rules that deny would-be house buyers a mortgage and inspections that reveal something wrong with the house are common causes too.

Federal agencies will not begin to regulate the companies until at least January 2013 under the Dodd-Frank Act though AMCs are already required to pay "reasonable and customary" fees to appraisers.

Dennis Blanton, a Coldwell Banker realtor in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina had a buyer agree to purchase a vacation home for $77,500, before the appraisal came in at $50,000.

"It takes the wind out of the sails of the buyer," said Blanton. He noted the appraiser used short sales -- whereby home-owners are forced to sell a home often at discounts of around 20 percent discount to normal sales -- for comparison. His buyer is no longer looking for homes in the area.

Others argue that the move to put AMCs at the heart of buying and selling homes has been healthy for the industry.

"Appraiser independence is a piece of the solution to the mess we are in right now," said Austin Christensen, president of AMCLINKS, a national appraisal company, who says appraisals were too high before AMCs were in the picture.

"Now that you have no pressure on appraisers to arrive at the appraisal, I think they are coming up with accurate values, more so than ever before."

Demuro agrees. He says that five or six years ago, if he couldn't bring in a high appraisal, the realtor or mortgage broker would not give him work again.

That doesn't happen any more, he says.

"I don't have the added stress of thinking about, 'I may lose this client. I may not be able to pay my bills next month because this appraisal is not going to come in and they're going to get upset'," he said.

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