Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 7/21/2009

It’s just getting harder and harder for business editors to spin rosy real estate articles but creativity abounds — we’re being treated to some very special efforts to keep ads coming for a non-market. The “Silver Lining Award” this week goes to Brian Pearson of the Tyler News who built the sale of four houses into a local market turn-around.

Meanwhile, the same folks who sold risky housing loans are turning profits negotiating new terms on delinquent mortgages.

For a pdf version of the full stories, plus contextual articles on social, legal and environmental areas, contact Bo McCarver at bmccarver@austin.rr.com

Cashing In, Again, on Risky Mortgages

By Peter Goodman   New York Times July 19, 2009

LOS ANGELES — From the ninth floor of a downtown office building on Wilshire Boulevard, Jack Soussana delivered staggering numbers of mortgages to homeowners during the real estate boom, amassing a fortune.

By Mr. Soussana’s own account, his customers fared less happily. He specialized in the exotic mortgages that have proved most prone to sliding into foreclosure, leaving many now scrambling to save their homes.

Yet the dangers assailing Mr. Soussana’s clients have yielded fresh business for him: Late last year, he and his team — ensconced in the same office where they used to broker mortgages — began working for a loan modification company. For fees reaching $3,495, with most of the money collected upfront, they promised to negotiate with lenders to lower payments on the now-delinquent mortgages they and their counterparts had sprinkled liberally across Southern California.

Obama mulls rental option for homeowners -sources

By Patrick Rucker   Reuters July 14, 2009

NEW YORK – U.S. officials are weighing a plan to let borrowers who have fallen behind on mortgage payments avoid eviction by renting their home instead, sources familiar with the administration’s thinking said on Tuesday.

Under one idea being discussed, delinquent homeowners would surrender ownership of their homes, but would continue to live in the property for several years, the sources told Reuters.

A U.S. Treasury spokeswoman said late on Tuesday that “we are constantly reviewing new ways to help struggling homeowners and stabilize the housing market. This is just one idea among many that has been considered, but no decisions are imminent on the matter.”

Officials have been frustrated as red tape and rising interest rates have slowed a housing rescue plan announced in February that was meant to refinance the mortgages of 5 million borrowers and lower monthly payments for 4 million more.

Foreclosures at record high in first half 2009 despite aid

By Lynn Adler   Reuters July 17, 2009

NEW YORK – U.S. home foreclosure activity galloped to a record in the first half of the year, overwhelming broad efforts to remedy failing loans while job losses escalated.

Foreclosure filings jumped to a record 1.9 million on more than 1.5 million properties in the first six months of the year, RealtyTrac said on Thursday.

The number of properties drawing filings, which include notices of default and auctions, jumped 9.0 percent from the second half of 2008 and almost 15 percent from the first half of last year.

“Despite everybody’s best efforts to date we’re not really making any headway against the problem,” Rick Sharga, senior vice president at RealtyTrac in Irvine, California, said in an interview.

US foreclosure crisis spreads to new states

By Laurent Belsie   Christian Science Monitor July 16, 2009

America’s foreclosure crisis – which has been concentrated in Arizona, California, Florida, and Nevada – is beginning to spill over to neighboring states.

As a result, the fallout from the housing bubble looks increasingly likely to spread, pushed by a worsening economy, rising unemployment, and what appears to be a “bubble thy neighbor” effect.

Nationally, foreclosure filings rose 9 percent to reach 1.5 million in the first six months of 2009, according to a report released Thursday by RealtyTrac, an online marketplace for foreclosure properties. That’s the highest total since the Irvine, Calif., firm began reporting the figures in 2005.

El Paso foreclosure filings rise higher than same time last year

By Vic Kolenc   El Paso Times July 16, 2009

EL PASO – Home foreclosure filings increased 42.1 percent in El Paso County in the first half of this year compared with the same time last year – higher than the national increase of almost 15 percent, data released Thursday show.

El Paso County had 1,036 foreclosure filings default notices, auction sale notices, and bank repossessions in the first six months of the year, compared with 729 filings during the same period in 2008, reported RealtyTrac, a California company which tracks foreclosures nationally.

In the April-June second quarter, El Paso home foreclosure filings increased

19.8 percent to 489 filings. In the second quarter of last year, the county had 408 filings.

Vic Kolenc may be reached at vkolenc@elpasotimes.com, 546-6421 For more information: http://www.realtytrac.com

Dallas-Fort Worth home foreclosure postings decline

By Steve Brown   Dallas Morning News July 16, 2009

The number of Dallas-Fort Worth area homes faced with foreclosure has dropped after a series of recent run-ups.

August’s foreclosure auctions will include 4,796 properties, Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service said Thursday.

It’s the first time in five months that postings have dropped below the 5,000 level.

But foreclosure filings in the four-county area are still 5 percent higher than a year ago.

So far in 2009, 39,917 homes have been posted for foreclosure in North Texas – an 18 percent increase from the first 18 months of 2008.

This month, a record 6,072 D-FW area homes were slated for foreclosure – up 62 percent from a year ago.

Foreclosure listings fall to 5-month low in Central Texas

Postings remain higher than in ’08, but drop is welcome, analysts say.

Austin American-Statesman July 16, 2009

Residential foreclosures for the Aug. 4 auction are at a five-month low in Central Texas, reflecting a trend in other parts of Texas, according to data from Foreclosure Listing Service Inc.

On Thursday, experts cautioned against reading too much into a single month’s data, but they said the drop was a welcome break after a steady upward march this year.

“The tide may have changed,” said George Roddy Sr., president of Foreclosure Listing Service, who said the figures offer hope that foreclosures postings may have reached a peak.

In Travis, Williamson, Hays and Bastrop counties, 1,072 properties were posted for the August auction, down 27 percent from 1,464 in July.

Occupancy rates at area apartments slide, but perks are up

As apartment occupancy rates slide, perks abound

Austin American-Statesman July 17, 2009

With apartment occupancy rates and rents slipping in Central Texas, deals abound for renters, according to the latest apartment-market report from Austin Investor Interests.

The overall occupancy rate in the second quarter averaged 87.3 percent, down 4.3 percentage points from a year ago, while rents fell 6 percent during the same period to an average of $781 a month, the report said.

“With some renters sharing quarters, moving in with family members or buying homes, competition has increased among landlords to keep tenants,” said Robin Davis, manager of Austin Investor Interests.

Austin home sales hit highest level in a year

By Claudia Grisales   Austin American-Statesman July 21, 2009

Austin-area sales of existing homes hit the highest level in a year last month, according to figures Monday from the Austin Board of Realtors.

Last month, 2,135 single-family homes were sold in the area, down 4 percent from a year earlier. That was the smallest decline since a 2 percent drop in July 2007, when the market began to soften amid an emerging national mortgage crisis.

This year, sales were down 19 percent in May and 18 percent in April from a year earlier.

Pending sales — those in the pipeline to close in July — were up 4 percent, to 2,084.

“We’ve seen the year-over-year gap in sales volume close steadily throughout 2009, and that momentum continues this month,” said Jay Gohil, chairman of the Board of Realtors.

Home sales on rebound in June

By Chris Van Wagenen   Lubbock Avalanche-Journal July 15, 2009

For the first time this year, Lubbock area home sales eclipsed year ago figures suggesting a renewed wave of home permit construction activity may not be far behind.

Area Realtors moved 385 homes with an attached dollar volume of $52.9 million in June, compared to 376 valued at $48.8 million for the same period a year ago – up a solid 2.39 percent.

Sales of existing home have been steadily on the rise since January following a dismal fourth quarter performance that was triggered by a financial collapse on Wall Street in September.

“I’m surprised. I didn’t think we’d see this until October,” said Bobby McQueen, president of the Lubbock Association of Realtors.

Home-Sales Market Sees June Upswing

By Brian Pearson   Tyler News July 16, 2009

It was only four houses, but to Ann Fitzgerald, president of the Greater Tyler Area Association of Realtors, it perhaps marks the beginning of an upswing in the home-sales market here.

Not since December 2007 has the Tyler area seen an increase in home sales in a month compared with the same month the previous years, Ms. Fitzgerald said.

But that all changed in June.

The Tyler area saw 299 home sales last month, up from 295 in June 2008, according to association figures.

Bulldoze the ‘burbs?

By Eoin O’Carroll   Christian Science Monitor July 16, 2009

A story last week in the Telegraph, a British paper, describes how the city of Flint, Mich., a former industrial powerhouse now facing depopulation and plummeting home values, is dealing with vacant housing.

The solution? Bulldoze entire districts, returning the land to nature, and concentrate the population in the urban core.

Housing the Next Generation with Old Shipping Containers

By William Hudnut   Newgeography July 20, 2009

If the predictions are accurate, America will have to house some 100 million more people by 2040 to mid-century than is now the case. Despite the current round of foreclosures and rising apartment vacancy, over the long term the demand for humane, affordable, sustainable housing is going to escalate dramatically in the coming years.

In this recessionary time, it may be tempting to ignore the coming boost in housing demand. Yet eventually growth will pick up and the housing market will become re-invigorated. Nonetheless, the problem of meeting the demand for affordable housing will remain. For now, the federal government is trying to help state and local governments acquire, renovate and sell foreclosed properties, and individual homeowners to reduce their mortgage payments to thirty-one percent of their income. Federal efforts are also being aimed at increasing funds to redevelop public housing and at giving first-time homebuyers an $8,000 tax credit.

Making Home a Safer Place, Affordably

By Lesley Alderman   New York Times July 17, 2009

Stay put or sell?

That’s the question many older people ponder as they move into their 70s and beyond.

Most older people settle on staying put, according to a recent survey by the Home Safety Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing home-related injuries. (From the source of the survey, you can see where this column is heading, right?)

Staying put makes economic sense. It is not only more comfortable to live out your life in your own home, it’s much more affordable.

The average annual fee at an assisted-living facility — a place where older people live independently but also receive a host of services like medication monitoring and meals — is $34,000. And in the nation’s most expensive metropolitan areas, including New York, the costs may be closer to $70,000.

State Farm plans home insurance rate hike

By Purva Patel   Houston Chronicle July 15, 2009

State Farm, Texas’ largest home insurer, plans to hike rates statewide an average of 8.5 percent.

Homeowners close to the coast will bear the brunt. Those in southern Harris County and in Galveston County will see increases in the 20 percent range, according to State Farm.

The new rates go into effect starting Oct. 1 for existing customers as policies renew, and on Sept. 1 for new customers.

State Farm, which has 1.2 million Texas policyholders, says it needs the rate hike to because of increase in the number of and the severity of claims.

Urban Panning: The 10 Meanest Cities In America?

By Linton Weeks   NPR July 17, 2009

To some people, the Land of the Free doesn’t always seem so free. And America the Beautiful doesn’t look so pretty.

That’s the viewpoint of two Washington-based groups — the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and the National Coalition for the Homeless — that have targeted the country’s mingiest municipalities.

Without further ado, the groups’ Top 10 Meanest U.S. Cities are:

1. Los Angeles

2. St. Petersburg, Fla.

3. Orlando, Fla.

4. Atlanta

5. Gainesville, Fla.

6. Kalamazoo, Mich.

7. San Francisco

8. Honolulu

9. Bradenton, Fla.

10. Berkeley, Calif.

Los Angeles Accused of Criminalizing Homelessness

By Steve Gorman   CommonDreams July 16, 2009

LOS ANGELES  – Two major advocacy groups for the homeless on Tuesday ranked Los Angeles as the “meanest” city in the United States, citing a Skid Row police crackdown they say has criminalized poverty and homelessness there. L.A.’s so-called Safer City Initiative was singled out in the groups’ report as the most egregious example of policies and practices nationwide that essentially punish people for failing to have a roof over their heads.

Others include making it illegal to sleep, sit or store personal belongings on sidewalks and other public spaces; prohibitions against panhandling or begging; and selective enforcement of petty offenses like jaywalking and loitering.

Homeless Alliance receives update on Martha’s Kitchen: Group still seeks permanent housing for shelter residents

By Janice Gibbs Temple Daily Telegram July 16, 2009

BELTON – Those working to find a solution to the Martha’s Kitchen shelter dilemma in Temple are looking to members of the Central Texas Homeless Alliance.

Members of the Homeless Alliance were given an update Wednesday on the efforts to place residents of Martha’s Kitchen men’s shelter and on its plans for the future.

“It’s been a team effort,” said Judy Morales, director of the Temple HELP Center and a member of the Heart of Texas Angels Alliance.

On June 1, Temple’s Building and Standards Commission ordered Martha’s Kitchen, a 25-year-old homeless shelter, to close its thrift store, kitchen, food pantry and men’s dorm by June 8. The city cited problems with the agency’s structures including electrical, plumbing, structural and safety issues, health conditions, bugs and rodents, and unsanitary conditions in the kitchen and restroom areas.