Daily Archives: October 1, 2010

Blumenthal halts all foreclosures in Ct for 60 days

A reader sent me this link – I’d missed it. I don’t think this will do anything but further screw things up but 60 days will take Dick past the election, so that works. And in fairness to Bluementhal, we can’t, as a lawful society, tolerate a judicial process that relies on false documents and oaths. He probably did the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons. My guess is that foreclosures will be suspended nation-wide by the end of next week. And then won’t we have fun!

The bright side, for would-be buyers and homeowners alike is that this might finally get banks to cooperate on short sales, which are not foreclosures but which do require the cooperation of the debtor. The only way around the moratorium is to arrange a sale – debtors’ hands have just been strengthened by ten-fold, I’d bet.

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One last contract snuck in at the closing bell

309 Milbank Avenue

309 Milbank, a 1904 house that probably had electricity and indoor plumbing added to it but little else, was listed for $3.295 back in 2008, right in the depth of the market failure. After a new agent came on, its price was dropped over the years to, eventually, $1.650. Today it’s reported as under contract, but it’s a direct sale, meaning no commission. Serves the agents right for over pricing it to begin with. Assessment is $894,000.

It’s an estate sale, meaning the heirs have been waiting a long time for their money.

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Sale and a contract, two bits

224 Byram Shore, a tear down located on a half acre fronting the Byram River, sold for $1.3 million. Original asking price, back in 2009, was $1.995 million. Assessment is $1.041. Having worked on the Byram River back in 1972 and 1973, I’m not a particular fan of the waterway, but perhaps it’s been cleaned up.

11 Pintail

11 Pintail is under contract. Last asking price was $1.680, started at $1.995. Assessment is $1.061.

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Love this one: Why create an expensive bureaucracy to “protect” consumers from their own stupid decisions?

From William D. Cohan in the NYT Op-Ed pages.

Warren is clearly one persuasive lady. But what hath the mild-mannered Harvard professor wrought? In addition to committing us to creating an entire new bureaucracy at a cost of $500 million (and rising) a year, her brainchild gives us all yet another excuse to avoid taking responsibility for our own actions. Instead of being prudent with the amount of personal debt we take on, instead of reading carefully the documents we sign — be they for new credit cards or new mortgages — and instead of learning how to live within our means rather than light years beyond them, we can now continue to blame others for our own failings. This is not progress.

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Junk science yields junk law

I'll have to call you back

Despite the complete lack of evidence that cell phones are any more distracting than a radio tuner or a harridan mother-in-law yapping, Connecticut has this day increased the penalty for their use while driving. Another example of the “well, everyone knows” school on non-thought producing bad law. Stupid, stupid stupid.

Here’s a study that does find them distracting, but says there’s no difference between hand-held and fixed phones: it’s the talking that does it, not how the phone is held.

And get this, from the same article:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report last month estimating that 3 percent of drivers are talking on hand-held cell phones at any given time of the day.

The study looked only at the use of hand-held phones and did not attempt to link cell phone use and traffic crashes.

NHTSA has released separate information suggesting the distraction of using a cell phone can be blamed for 20 to 30 percent of all crashes.

3% of drivers are on the phone, yet they can be blamed for 20 to 30 percent of all crashes? That’s laughable, except, of course to the NHTSA. Have car crashes increased 30% since the advent of the cellphone? You’d think we’d have heard about that by now. It’s a just a bullshit, made-up number from some jerk in a labratory coat.

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We pause to say a nice word for the Greenwich Association of Realtors

I complain so often about my governing board, I’m delighted to report when they do something right, which they have. First, last spring they eased out our old director, who was a fine person, but was, I believe, not quite up to modern tech (nor am I, but I’m not running the GAR). Then they found a great replacement, Theresa Hatton, who is really doing some great things in the way of modernizing our entire listing service. Good things are happening.

Last night Theresa put together a seminar? Presentation? Whatever – at the Apple Store on the Avenue. Nifty new ways to finally use the Apple OS to access the MLS system. Not all the way home yet but getting there, and it looks as though the iPad is going to be a very useful tool, for realtors. I am much comforted.

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Storm report

Ole's Creek, 5:30 AM, 10/01/10

I was out with a client all morning, travelling as far west as Pecksland, and as far east as Old Stone Bridge (we saw a very nice house at 104 Old Stone Bridge, asking $1.895. Great house, but a little small, we both thought, for a family with two growing boys. I’d live there in a heartbeat, though). From what I could tell, there wasn’t much damage. Nothing like March’s disaster, for sure.

In Riverside at 5:30 AM, I went out to check the creek level (high tide) and experienced very high winds but it hadn’t rained yet, so the leaves were dry. I imagine that spared us worse damage: wet leaves and gusty winds are a bad combination.

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One more sale

23 Deepwoods Lane

I liked this house, which is located in that neighborhood across from the Perot Library. The owner priced it at $2.750 back in 2007 and then rented it out when he couldn’t get his price. He brought back on this spring at $2.250, which was a reasonable starting point for negotiations, and sold yesterday for $1.975. Assessment, $1.352.

By the way: even though the market has been very slow: just 4 contracts all week – that doesn’t mean you can always linger. My clients liked this house as much as I did but left the country for the summer without bidding and when they returned, this was under contract. Moral: if you find a house you like, and can get it for a good price, you should probably do so.

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Some sales

422 North Street

July contract, closed yesterday for $3.537, asking price, $4.395. Assessment, $2.735

3 Old Round Hill Lane

3 Old Round Hill Lane, asking $7.995 for almost two years, sold yesterday for $6.11 million. It’s assessed at $5.895, and sold for $6.5 million in 2003.

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Walk away from your mortgage? Why not? Your lender has.

Banks refusing to honor their commitment to buy back bad loans they sold to Fannie Mae.

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No more private Swiss banks

Switzerland gives in to Germany, will expose private accounts. That’s no problem for me – I’ll just shift my billions to the Caymans, but what will Switzerland do? There are only so many buyers for cuckoo clocks.

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More on foreclosures

This mess is only growing larger.

Evictions are expected to slow sharply, housing analysts said, as state and national law enforcement officials shine a light on questionable foreclosure methods revealed by two of the country’s biggest home lenders in the last two weeks.

Even lenders with no known problems are expected to approach defaulting homeowners more cautiously and look more aggressively for resolutions short of outright eviction.

[T] he near term is more likely to produce paralysis and confusion.

As more defaulting homeowners become aware of the lenders’ problems, they are expected to hire lawyers and challenge the proceedings against them. And if completed foreclosures were not properly done, families who bought the troubled homes could be vulnerable to claims by the former owners.

Apparently alarmed about such a possibility, one of the major title insurance companies, Old Republic National Title, has sent a bulletin to agents saying that “until further notice” it would not insure title to properties foreclosed upon by GMAC Mortgage, the country’s fourth-largest home lender and one of the two big lenders at the center of the current controversy.

UPDATE: Bloomberg is up today with an excellent article on the affect all this is having on title insurance. Looks bad or at least “interesting”.

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No one’s going to steal this house!

Today’s WSJ reports on several $100 million + homes whose owners refuse to cut their prices, even after four years or longer.

More than four years after the housing market peaked, many of the nation’s wealthiest homeowners are slashing prices in earnest. The asking price on the late Brooke Astor’s Park Avenue duplex has plummeted to $24.9 million from $46 million. Thursday Peter Sperling, son of the University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, dropped the price on his San Francisco limestone mansion to $47 million; he had been asking $65 million since 2006.

Then there are the ultimate holdouts: a rarefied slice of extremely wealthy sellers who are holding the line on today’s deal-making, price-slashing mentality. Even as their properties have lingered on the market, these sellers haven’t budged on initial asking prices, some of which were set in the waning days of the housing bubble.

Suzanne Saperstein, ex-wife of Metro Networks founder David Saperstein, is still asking $125 million for “Fleur de Lys,” a 41,000-square-foot, French chateau-inspired mansion near Beverly Hills with gold-embossed leather wall coverings and a ballroom. The listing has been on the market since at least April 2007, a month when the Dow passed 13,000. Mr. Saperstein has an equestrian estate that’s been asking $75 million since at least August 2007.

Also sitting on the market is the 600-acre Carmel Valley, Calif., ranch owned by Jim Kirk, who founded rental equipment company NationsRent, which sold for $600 million in 2006. Purchased for about $10 million after a five-year search, the property—with a four-bedroom main house, hiking trails and other structures—has been listed at $33 million since November 2006.

With housing prices off about 28% from their peak in 2006 according to Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller Index, some real estate agents say waiting is a risky strategy. “Everyone, from bottom to top, got hurt in the financial panic, and it’s reflected in the high-end of the housing market being frozen,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics. He adds that price declines, originally confined to the bottom of the market, have begun migrating upward.

“We’ve never been in a more price-sensitive market,” says Janet Owen of Sudler Sotheby’s International Realty, who recently got the listing for the Chicago mansion of J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon. Originally listed for $13.5 million in 2007, the home as of August was listed at $6.95 million. It went into contract in late September. “The smart sellers respond to the market,” Ms. Owen says.

Proving that the rich can be as silly and stubborn as everyone else, there’s this quote from one such seller:

[I]t’s simply a matter of finding that one right buyer.”

Still, it’s a rule of thumb that the longer a listing lingers, the less desirable it often seems to buyers. For some of these holdouts, brokers have masked length of time “on market” by avoiding officially listing them or yanking them on and off multiple-listing services. Instead, properties are marketed on brokers’ own Web sites, by word of mouth or through targeted mailings. Candy Spelling’s “The Manor” in Los Angeles officially hit the market in March 2009, for example, but was shown in 2008.

Drew Mandile of Sotheby’s International Realty, who represents Mr. Saperstein’s equestrian estate, says he and his colleague “go dumb” any time a prospective buyer asks how long the property has been for sale.

Which, of course is where a buyer’s rep comes in.

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