Home Front

A blog about the economy and the Sacramento-area real estate market.

June 30, 2008
Break out the party hats: 2008's first half is history
It occurs to me, that in terms of the housing market, today is a day to celebrate! For today is June 30, last day of the first half of 2008.

 Oh yes, you should have heard all the experts in the last six weeks of 2007, the economists, the analysts, the consultants to the home builders, peering into their crystal balls about the new year. They said 2008 would be difficult, a time of falling home values and rising foreclosures, a time when the much-wished-for bottom would remain elusive.

 They said the first half would be the worst.

After the first half things might - repeat, might - start to show some signs of improvement.

 Even the third quarter might be bad, but it was always possible that during the second half of 2008 we might start to see that the worst was behind us now.

 So today let us bid farewell to the first half of 2008! It was a bell ringer, all right.

 Out in the suburbs we all saw our home values fall like no tomorrow. During the first half we we endured not one, but two discouraging free falls in the stock market - and who knows what today will bring. We saw the bailout of Bear Stearns. Foreclosures reached historic highs with no signs of peaking. Banks and lenders grabbed a 51 percent market share of home sales in the capital region. Builders laid off more staff and several went into bankruptcy.

  Of course, that's only bad news to people who own or are selling houses. The first half of 2008 proved a party for buyers. Investors rushed back in. First-timers found deals. Year over year sales finally rose again in the region for the first time in three years. And there are some who believe we're already at some kind of bottom here in terms of sales.

No one know what the future holds. But the immediate past was just as the experts, analysts and consultants predicted. I say put out the champagne. We've arrived at the end, just hours away now. The first half is history!

Image courtesy of www.ndesign-studio.com

June 29, 2008
What is with those Realtors' gold jackets?


I couldn't help but ask about the origin and purpose of those really loud jackets last week when Tom Kunz, president and CEO of Century 21 LLC., stopped by The Bee's offices for a conversation about the real estate market.

 Friday, we ran an abbreviated version of his response in the print edition Home Front. But the entire longer story was funny, interesting and quite business-like. This is, after all, earth's largest residential real estate firm. (FYI, this picture above is of Kunz on the left giving an award to a pair of Realtors from Australia. Hint, I think you can tell what firm they're with by those loud jackets).

 Here is CEO Kunz's entire answer.

"It's a marketing tool. That's all it really is. When Century 21 was founded in California in 1972 some of the competition in the marketplace was a company by the name of Red Carpet and they had a red coat. And so at the time it was kind of the thing to have.

"Our original colors were maroon and brown. It was something that set us apart and because we marketed it so well for so many years it still stands out. If you watch any TV show or a movie where they want to show a salesperson, a real estate salesperson without a for-sale sign or anything there, they usually call us and see if they can use our coat.

"For a number of years it went away, from about 1992 to about a year and a half ago. Yet it was still recognized as a professional real estate person. When I took the job (in 2004) and we started investigating: do we bring it back, it was one of those hard tasks you have to look at.

"From our agents' standpoint it was either they like it or they hate it. There's no gray area in between. The issue is it doesn't matter if you love it or you hate it. It's a marketing tool.

"When I walk through a neighborhood or get on a plane...I average one and a half to two leads a flight because I dress this way. When I get in because of of what's going on in the industry, when they seem me in this coat they know I work for Century 21 and they want to know: 'What's going on? Is it really going to hell in a handbasket. What's going on?'

It's our Nike swoosh," said Kunz.

(For the record I saw part of the the 1980s movie "War Games" over the weekend. Sure enough, Matthew Broderick's mom was a real estate agent and she wore a gold coat. And who can forget the goofy gold coat scenes in the Adam Sandler golf movie, "Happy Gilmore.)"

Image courtesy of Century 21 




June 26, 2008
Late Chronicle columnist's childhood home foreclosed
caentrib220x224.jpg So I am out taking a lunch walk today in Midtown Sacramento and happen to notice two pieces of paper posted in the windows at 1631 26th St.
  I know the house as the childhood home of Herb Caen, the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist who wrote about the city by the bay from 1938 until his death in 1997.
Sure enough, the paper was what I thought. a foreclosure.
 Caen grew up in the house and often wrote fondly about living in the Midtown neighborhood.
 His family hadn't owned the home for years.
 I called the listing agent Paul Boudier, of Keller Williams Realty in Roseville, who confirmed the foreclosure. The house will come onto the market for sale soon, he said.
"We are going through the process of establishing a price and gauging the market," said the agent.
Caen was born in Sacramento in 1916. His "three-dot" Chronicle column was a staple of San Francisco for almost six decades. Photo courtesy of sfgate.com

Here is the house at 26th and Q streets:

June 26, 2008
BofA to cut 7,500 jobs after Countrywide deal

This just in from the AP:

Thursday June 26, 3:17 pm ET

Bank of America plans to eliminate 7,500 jobs after Countrywide deal closes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Bank of America says it will cut about 7,500 jobs after it closes its acquisition of Countrywide Financial.

The Charlotte, N.C., bank says the cuts will occur over the next two years in locations across the country "in instances where the two companies have significant overlap."

Bank of America expects to close the deal July 1, having received clearance from Countrywide shareholders on Wednesday.

Countrywide had been the nation's largest mortgage originator before a spike in bad loans ravished its business.

June 25, 2008
Uh-oh: California sues Countrywide over loan practices

Countrywide Logo 1.gifThis morning California Attorney General Jerry Brown filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the nation's  largest home loan lender, Countrywide Financial Corp. of Calabassas. He alleges a host of deceptive practices to sell loans without regard to borrowers' ability to repay.

 The announcement is here. A copy of the lawsuit is attached to the news release.
My online story is here and drawing a lot of reader comments. That's not surprising. Countrywide was the biggest lender in the Sacramento region from mid-2005 to mid-2007, according to DataQuick Information Systems.

I called Bank of America, which is taking over Countrywide on July 1. The bank has no comment on the California and Illinois lawsuits.


June 23, 2008
You voted for a housing bond - here comes your money

Sacramento's Railyards received all the regional press this weekend for winning $47 million in Prop. 1C housing bond money. Altogether $388 million was granted statewide, including $3.3 million by the Placer County Redevelopment Agency for a Kings Beach housing project.

The state Housing and Community Development Department released this statewide listing of awards this afternoon as well as a media release about getting the money on the street.

Perhaps you're wondering if the government is spending your money wisely. HCD provides this Web site to show where the money is going and what's left to allocate.




June 23, 2008
Harvard: Housing downturn shaping up as worst in a generation

      This46fb45e9c7.gif from Harvard University today and not very cheerful, either:

 New York, NY - The nation is in the throes of a housing downturn that is shaping up to be the worst in a generation, finds The State of the Nation's Housing report issued today by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

While the falloff in housing starts, new home sales, and existing home sales already rivals the worst downturns in the post World War II era, home price declines and mortgage defaults are the worst on records that date back to the 1960s and 1970s.

"The slump in housing markets has not yet run its full course," concludes Nicolas P. Retsinas, the director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies. "Mortgage rates have barely responded to the aggressive easing of the Federal Reserve, the supply of for-sale vacant units continues to grow, and much tighter underwriting is locking many would-be homebuyers out of the market.

With home prices falling in most metropolitan areas, homeowners are tightening their belts, remodeling less, and staying on the sidelines."

June 23, 2008
Yuba-Sutter counties: state's biggest decline in housing starts

map_search.gifConstruction starts for new homes have fallen sharply across California this year as foreclosures have especially battered it and Florida. As the California Building Industry reports in this media bite today, our own Yuba and Sutter counties have seen California's steepest drop in home starts.

From January through May, they're down 77.2 percent from the same time last year. The only regions close - both in the category of 70 plus percent drops - are our neighbors in Vallejo-Fairfield and Santa Rosa-Petaluma. Why? Foreclosures, a glut of unsold housing and high gas prices is a good guess.

The Sacramento region (El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Yolo counties) has a 48 percent drop, roughly about the state average.

Statewide, the BIA still predicts the fewest home starts for 2008 since it began keeping records in 1954.

nevin_alan.jpg And Monday, Alan Nevin, chief economist for the Sacramento-based home builder trade group, said prospects for "major recovery" by year's end looks less likely.

He put out a bullish forecast in January, saying the market would start to pick up in the second half of 2008. He admitted then he was being contrary to a lot of more gloomier economists. Now he's scheduled a one-hour address Wednesday at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Francisco. All bets are on eating crow and having to become a gloomier economist. It was a nice try, anyway.


Images: Eaglerealty.org, bp3.blogger.com

June 23, 2008
Foreclosure patrol: A deputy's new duties

This morning I took a long ride with Sacramento County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Habecker, seeing a new intersection where the worlds of real estate and law enforcement meet.

The deputy and five others spend much of their time posting eviction notices or ensuring that people are gone from apartments for not paying their rent. But now, rising numbers of foreclosures in the region have given them an extra duty: posting eviction notices and occasionally clearing squatters from houses repossessed by banks.

I will have the full story on this later in the week. Meanwhile, in the video below Deputy Habecker is posting an eviction notice at a two-story house on Bewicks Circle in Natomas. About a week from today he'll return, make sure no one is there and hand over the house to a representative of the bank.


Below is Deputy Habecker explaining how foreclosures have change his routine.



June 20, 2008
The hits keep on coming

I thought I'd share this, from a reader's email that just arrived this afternoon. With so many foreclosures in this region's it's hard to avoid getting hit.

My fiance and I just found out via a "Notice of Trustee" sale that our landlord (who apparently hasn't been paying the mortgage on our rental since February) that the unit we rent was sold back to the beneficiary of the mortgage.  We are now playing the waiting game (we have not been contacted by the bank - and we don't know which bank now owns the home) to find out when we will be forced to move.  Seems to be lots of conflicting info over how to handle this situation, but the bottom line is good people who are paying rent on time, keeping up a property, and trying to save for a home of their own are also casualties of the recent upswing in foreclosures.  The worst part is, that we found out by accident we were never contacted by our landlord, and had we not accidentally found out we would have probably found out when the bank served us with eviction papers.



June 20, 2008
Justice Department launches Operation Malicious Mortage
 Federal prosecutors Thursday announced their national crackdown on mortgage fraud - and local offices, including Sacramento, made their own announcements.

 Here is today's Bee story on arrests, indictments and guilty pleas in the Central Valley and East Bay. Much more detail is available in this news release from the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District - covering 34 inland California counties from Bakersfield north to the Oregon border.

June 18, 2008
Metropolitan Sacramento's May home sales: by ZIP Code
 For those who like a closer look, here is DatQuick's close-in view of May home sales, median price paid, and median price per square foot - both this year and May 2007.

June 18, 2008
May sales: Can buyers refloat this ship?

The first online May sales story is here.
I've been on the phone much of the morning with analysts who seem very encouraged by Sacramento's strong sales showing. It's harder to find consensus on the longer-range question : can it keep up with still more foreclosures dumping homes onto the market.
Some says yes: the buyer pool is deep and broad. Others say so far, so good and have their fingers crossed.

June 18, 2008
Second straight month of year-over-year home sales gains!
 DataQuick Information Systems just minutes ago released these May sales numbers, showing that sales of all new and existing homes combined in the region were up over the same time last year - for the second straight month.

 Sacramento County, the biggest sector of the capital region's real estate market, led the pace with a 30.8 percent year-over-year gain. In fact, the county has almost singlehandedly pulled the region into positive sales territory. In May, only Sacramento, El Dorado,Yuba and Yolo counties showed year-over-year gains.

 The numbers raise the big question: what's it all mean in terms of recovery? We will post online soon and have lots of analysis in Thursday's paper.

June 17, 2008
Repo contracting: A before and after look
Tom Caruthers, owner of the Sacramento area's Federal Energy Services - which helps line up financing and contractors to rehab foreclosed homes - sends these before and after photos. What a difference after a few thousand bucks and a new owner.



After Front.jpg

June 16, 2008
New May sales reports: Sacramento and Los Angeles

Lyon Real Estate released its May sales numbers today for the capital region.
  • Sales of existing homes up 11 percent from April.
  • Average sales price is $276,000 compared to $472,000 in June, 2006
  • Inventory of unsold homes 16 percent below same time last year.
  • We're not at the bottom yet; defaults are still rising.
DataQuick Information Systems also released its May report today for Southern California.
 Highlights from the Southland:
  • 37 percent of sales in six-county region are foreclosures.
  • It's 56.6 percent in Riverside County (very similar to story in Sacramento County).
  • Foreclosure activity at record levels.
  • Use of adjustable-rate mortgages at six-year low.
June 16, 2008
What you see when a city cares about its neighborhoods

A city starts with a house and then more houses that become a neighborhood.

How people feel about that neighborhood depends on how it looks.

And part of how it looks depends on the care the city puts into it.

This is a way to say three cheers to the City of Sacramento for this lushly-planted new median island on Center Parkway south of Mack Road. It's filled with freshly-planted trees and thousands of day lilies that give a cheerful aura to the street near Consumnes River College.

The neighborhood has seen its share of distress from the region's housing crisis. The city's efforts show that it's a neighborhood worth caring about. In Home Front's eyes, that adds up to a city worth caring about.


June 16, 2008
The new boom in repo contracting
I spent several hours this morning with Sacramento contractor John Kukis, prowling around in foreclosed homes. Kukis is a self-described "repo contractor" - a construction niche that's keeping him running and earning money while it lasts. He did the same during the 1990s downturn and goes back to regular home remodeling when the storm passes.

  We're doing a story soon on this born-again contracting phenomenon. Kukis said he spends 12-14 hours a day doing bids and overseeing jobs for real estate agents who are marketing thousands of area homes on behalf of banks that repossessed them.

 Often, banks try to sell "as is." But sometimes it takes $7,000 or $10,000 to spiff up a place: fresh carpet, fresh paint and new linoleum.

Vandals are wrecking bank-owned homes, too, Kukis said.

 We went to one in South Sacramento's Meadoview neighborhood where someone bashed in the back window and hammered on the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. The carpet was dirty and covered in glass. The cabinet doors were all over the place and the walls certainly needed some fresh paint.

There's something rewarding, Kukis said, about finding a place that has endured so much trauma and making it livable again. It's a new side of the region's foreclosure story that's proving good for business. Here, take a tour of one house that's being restored:

Here's Kukis talking about what he does:

June 15, 2008
The 2008 Housing Election: the candidates and foreclosures
I did a post here about six weeks ago speculating that 2008 might turn into a presidential election that hinges on housing. The New York Times weighs in this morning with a similar theme regarding who will do what about foreclosures.



Photos: Los Angeles Times, Socialitelife.celebuzz.com
June 13, 2008
Big developer banks on another boom in Lincoln
I had an interesting interview this morning with two executives with a Southern California developer that just closed escrow Thursday on 510 acres in Lincoln.

  Upland-based Lewis Group of Companies plans 2,000 homes on the site just west of
Lincoln Crossing, the big 2,900-home project that mostly sold out during the housing boom.

 Even they aren't sure when construction begins. 2011 at the earliest, they figured. The market will tell them when to start, they said.

What's most amazing: this is the first big forward-looking land deal I've heard in a long while. Most developers and builders that make news are trying to unload their land - or keep the banks from repossessing it.

 This privately-held developer, known for deep pockets and long view, is betting that job growth will resume in Placer County and make a market for more housing. They said most of the people who move into their development are going to be commuting to Roseville and other places along Highway 65 - NOT to downtown Sacramento.

I'll have the whole story in tomorrow's paper.

We keep looking for these little signs that the real estate market isn't going to stay in the doldrums forever. This appears to be one of those signs. Here's the Lewis logo:

Images: www.farm1.static.flickr.com

June 12, 2008
The Endless War over Down Payment Assistance
A lot of you out there in the trenches selling houses
logo_NCA.gifmay not have heard this earlier in the week:

 The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is again (a third time in less than a decade) trying to ban the down payment assistance gifts developed and championed by Sacramento-based Nehemiah Corp. of America.

We'll have more on this in the print edition of Home Front tomorrow. In the meantime, here is the HUD version of events, followed by Nehemiah's response.

Reading the media accounts and blogs it didn't seem HUD was given great odds of prevailing. Agree or not with the program, one thing Nehemiah and similar providers of down payment assistance have been able to do is rally the political and business sectors for support.
The New York Times had this account.
The Wall Street Journal also covered it here.

June 12, 2008
Is Hope Now making a difference?
Not as much as it claims, according to the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, in reading this dispatch from the Housing Wire.

02hope.enlarge.jpg                                                                                                    New York Times photo
Hope Now is the much-publicized effort by the Bush Administration and the mortgage industry rolled out late last year to freeze interest rates and help people stay in their homes.
  It was announced just three weeks after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his agreement with subprime lenders to work harder to save people from foreclosure. 
We wrote about that effort's lack of spectacular results here in May.

About three months ago Hope Now Executive Director Faith Schwartz came to The Bee for a  Q&A. She counseled patience and said the industry was ramping up to help people as fast as possible. Apparently, the OCC believes otherwise about the results of it all.

The Mortgage Bankers Association said last week in a press conference they believe Hope Now has helped in some places, notably the 20 states where foreclosure starts have leveled off and started to fall. It would be nice if that started to become a trend in California.

June 12, 2008
Mortgage rates jump to highest level in eight months
For sure, this is not something that would-be home buyers want to hear.
 This morning, government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac announced that interest-rates for the benchmark 30-year fixed-rate loan jumped to 6.32 percent.
That's highest in eight months. Just last week rates averaged 6.09 percent.

 Bottom line, someone taking out a $250,000 loan this week is paying $37.32 more a month than the person who got the same loan last week. It's not the end of the world, but it's not what you want to hear while you're sitting at the loan officer's desk.

 Freddie Mac officials attributed the jump to fears that the Federal Reserve is going to start raising interest rates again to fight inflation.


Photo courtesy of Bloomberg.com
June 12, 2008
9.5 percent of Placer County's May sales below $250,000

The Placer County Association of Realtors releases its May statistics here for existing home sales.  Two things jump out:
 1) Fewer sales than the same time a year ago. April had more than in April 2007.
 2)  Placer County remains much more expensive than Sacramento. The suburban county, which isn't seeing near the extent of bank-owned real estate as in neighboring Sacramento County, shows slightly less than 10 percent of its sales priced below $250,000.
  More than half of May sales in Sacramento County are below $250 K.

 If you like numbers, check out the link: PCAR has plenty for you to pore over. Normally, Home Front wouldn't be so obsessive about numbers. But these days people are like ancient soothsayers, looking for signs and omens to divine the region's real estate future: bottoming out, still slipping or something like that Bill Murray movie: Groundhog Day.

Image courtesy of www.kara.allthingsd.com

June 11, 2008
Eyes of nation on Sacramento's repo-mania
foreclosuresign.jpgThe Wall Street Journal takes note of Sacramento Association of Realtors May Sales Report  in a real estate blog post today -  "Foreclosures Make Up Majority of Sales in Sacramento."

  The SAR says almost two-thirds of May sales were bank-owned homes.
  Lots and lots of comments from across the country on this entry, analyzing what it may or may not mean that we're a bank-owned real estate town now. Including this one from a Sacramentan:

"Well, I live in Sackatomato, and let me assure you that the neighborhoods where most of these sales occur are going downhill fast, as are all of the areas around them. We'll need to change the name of the place to Mad Max City pretty soon, and I'm only kidding a very little bit. Comment by dotgovguy - June 11, 2008 at 8:34 pm

  The Sacramento Association of Realtors May statistics show  37 percent of sales were for houses under $200,000.

  Make that 56 percent for houses priced $250,000 or less.

The ZIP Code breakdown is here.

Image courtesy of vickilloyd.files.wordpress.com

June 11, 2008
The world works in mysterious ways
It's probably not funny, but it made me laugh. I heard this at a forum this afternoon on the
 subprime/foreclosure crisis sponsored by the New America Foundation.

 Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, a consumer watchdog that tracks predatory lending and the financial industry, was telling how for years the financial establishment would tell he and his colleagues that too much of their tinkering or regulating would have an unintended consequence: It was likely to dry up credit for well-deserving people who just wanted to buy a house.

Stein said the financial industry would always tell lawmakers that those consumer watchdogs meant well, that they had their heart in the right place, but.....their ideas would cause a clampdown in credit availability that would hurt good borrowers.

Well, Stein said, regulations weren't passed and the financial industry did a huge explosive burst of lending, to one and all, fueling one of the biggest housing booms ever seen.

And when the boom ended and the foreclosures began, a very spooked and sobered financial industry cracked down on credit, drying it up with new restrictions - the very thing they said consumer groups would cause if allowed to prevail.

With all due respect to consumer groups and financial firms, I am somehow reminded of that song for little kids: "The wheels of the bus go round and round."

June 10, 2008
Downgrades for big Sacramento home builders

builder_magazine.jpgSome of the biggest home building companies operating in the capital region had their credit ratings downgraded Tuesday by Fitch Ratings, which cited "the current difficult housing environment."
 This dispatch from Builder Magazine notes credit downgrades to D.R. Horton (#6 for sales in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties from January through April),
to the Ryland Group (#25), Meritage Homes (#8) and Lennar Corp. (#3).

Others downgraded were Centex Homes (#1 in capital region sales), Beazer Homes (#2) and  Pulte Homes (#14).

(The regional sales rankings come from Hanley Wood Market Intelligence).

Two of the region's builders with unchanged credit ratings included KB Home (#4) and K. Hovnanian Homes (#7)
June 9, 2008
"End game of the housing bust is near"
 So says Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial in New York, assessing the National Association of Realtors report this morning that more homebuyers than expected are in escrow. Many of them are in the West, says the NAR, in cities such as Las Vegas and Sacramento that have seen double-digit home price declines and have plenty of discount bank-owned homes on the market.
 Local expectations are that April's pending sales will give the Sacramento region another year-over-over sales gain in home sales in May. That won't be confirmed for at least another week, but it would be the second straight month of gains - after 37 months of year-over-over year declines.

 As usual, there is plenty of hemming and hawing by analysts looking at these NAR stats. It could be something or it could not really mean much. But on a Monday when the stock market is still jittery and gas officially passed $4 a gallon nationally - and most other news isn't very sunny - it's one bit of positive news.

June 9, 2008
Time Magazine's postcard from Elk Grove
Time subscribers will see this May 1 postcard from Elk Grove as old news, but I just heard about it and I'm sure it will be new to many others, as well. It's one of those national dispatches from the foreclosure belt. Time writer Kristina Dell says she was surprised that Elk Grove wasn't as devastated as she'd expected.

June 6, 2008
A home builder and SMUD shoot for LEED Platinum in Folsom
Lots of people have called and emailed today so I want to add some more detail here to today's Home Front story about SMUD's "House of the Future" being built in Folsom.  It is being billed as one of the most energy-efficient houses ever built in the U.S.

 There are lots of interesting links we never have room for in the print edition, including this PDF file from SMUD that explains all the details of the house and lists all the companies and people who part of the project. Also, this file from the U.S. Green Building Council offers a list of all the  LEED-certified homes in the nation, including those that have attained the highest Platinum status. Among those are the first in California, a Santa Monica home profiled here in Business Week.

You'll be able to learn more in mid-June when this SMUD link about the Folsom house goes live. 
June 6, 2008
A sheriff who draws the line at foreclosure auctions

This only- in- 2008  story ran today in the Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:

"With the economy soft and thousands of Philadelphians delinquent on their mortgages, Sheriff Green this spring refused to hold a court-ordered foreclosure auction. His move raised eyebrows on the bench and dropped jaws among lenders and their attorneys, who accuse him of shirking his duty to enforce legal contracts.

June 5, 2008
Judge nixes insurer's TRO against Sidney B. Dunmore
I am just back from federal court downtown, one of the newer arenas to do business pertaining to the Sacramento-area housing market.

karlton2.jpg, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton turned down a request by Travelers Casualty and Surety Co. of America to stop local homebuilder Sidney B. Dunmore from selling several million dollars of his assets. The company, which has writs of attachments on Dunmore's $11 million home in Granite Bay and a $4 million house in Palm Desert, wanted a temporary restraining order blocking any sales.
 Travelers issued performance bonds guaranteeing completion of subdivisions started  by Dunmore Homes of Granite Bay before it was sold and declared bankruptcy late last year. Now Travelers faces millions of dollars in claims from Dunmore's unpaid subcontractors.

Judge Karlton made the decision just before 5 p.m. this evening following a brief hearing in his chambers. That hearing was closed to the public after the courtroom sound system malfunctioned and couldn't handle one of the legal parties appearing via telephone.

 Dunmore Homes attorney Debra Grassgreen from the San Francisco office of  Pachulski Stang Ziehl Jones confirmed the judge's decision. Attorneys for Travelers declined comment.

Dunmore has said in previous interviews with The Bee that he intends to settle his obligations with Travelers. The builder was the first to see his business fail
during a housing downturn soon to be entering its fourth year in the capital region.

  Image of Judge Karlton courtesy of law.com
June 5, 2008
California, Florida driving nation's record-setting foreclosures

The Mortgage Brokers Association reports more dreary record-setting foreclosure numbers during the first quarter of 2008 in a press release issued just minutes ago.

  Says an MBA official: California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada accounted for 89 percent of foreclosure starts in the U.S.

"The problem of foreclosure in California and Florida is extraordinary," said MBA's Jay Brinkman.

"Clearly the issues of foreclosures in California and Florida will get worse before they get better," he added.

Brinkman said the common denominator of most foreclosure problems is new subdivisions.

Brinkman said California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada had 49 percent of all subprime adjustable-rate mortgage foreclosures - and a stunning 91 percent of the increase in the nation's subprime ARM foreclosures during Jan., Feb. and March.

 It's clear evidence that the nation's mortgage crisis is clearly concentrated in a few states.

Indeed, Brinkman says numbers are stabilizing in many other states - and that foreclosure starts have actually dropped in 20 states.

But hardly here.

June 4, 2008
One of nation's most energy efficient homes rising in Folsom
When so many are talking about energy efficiency, you are looking (below) at one of the most energy  efficient homes yet being built in California and the U.S.
  It's rising on Mormon Street in Folsom's Historic District, a residential enclave of older homes near Sutter Street. The only other residential contender so far - for the super-efficient LEED Platinum status  - is in Santa Monica.

 Folsom's 1,900 square foot bungalow with three bedrooms and two baths is an experimental project between SMUD  and custom home builder Bob Walter, who spent years in this region with production homebuilder Morrison Homes.
 We'll have much more in the print edition of Home Front on Friday.

It's another story of how the Sacramento region is setting the bar on housing that is getting closer and closer to producing almost as much energy as it consumes. Very interesting house, this one, and an interesting story behind it. When you ask: what's being born in housing here it is, in video.

June 4, 2008
Home owner associations feeling pinch of uncollected dues

 There has been a rash of stories from around the U.S. about homeowner associations having to raise assessments on their residents as more and more financially-strapped occupants fail to pay their monthly dues. This story recently ran in USA Today and here is another from the New York Times, and another here from the Wall Street Journal.
 If that isn't enough, someone passed along this one, too, from The Tampa Tribune taking it all to a new level. When these people got behind on dues the homeowners association foreclosed on their house over it and booted them out.

A lot of these places say they're having problems collecting dues from banks, too, when they repossess houses governed by HOAs.  Many are suing the banks.

I asked a colleague here at The Bee to check for regional lawsuits to see if HOA's here are suing banks to collect dues. He found nothing on that account, but did find something equally interesting. That was a lawsuit fled in Sacramento County Superior Court by the Park River Oak Estates Homeowners Association in Sacramento against Chuck and Victoria Scott Yeager.
The lawsuits alleges that the Yeagers owe the association $12,000 in overdue assessments and fees.

  Yeager was a star of the movie "The Right Stuff," and the first pilot to break the sound barrier in 1947 at Edwards Air Force Base. He and his wife own two units governed by the homeowners association, says the association in its lawsuit.

 We are attempting to reach Yeager for comment.

June 4, 2008
Et tu, Ed McMahon?
 In the ongoing foreclosure crisis sweeping California add Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon to the list of those fighting for their homes. This Associated Press story has the details.

Image courtesy of eonline.com
June 2, 2008
Plumas Lake residents share thoughts on Sunday story
 Some in Yuba County's Plumas Lake have a different point of view regarding Sunday's real estate story about prospects for commuter communities like theirs in a time of $4 gasoline.

 Here is a forum discussion taking place up there regarding the article and their thoughts on the  region where they live.
June 2, 2008
Sacramento contributes to bank woes weighing down market
 News all this morning shows a sharp downturn in the financial markets due largely to bank woes at Charlotte-based Wachovia and Washington Mutual in Seattle.

Troubles at Washington Mutual, especially -  a $1.1 billion loss the first quarter - are partly due to loans made in housing boomtowns like Sacramento.
After Countrywide and Wells Fargo, Washington Mutual was the third biggest lender for home buyers and people refinancing their homes in the combined region of  El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties during the riskiest time of the market - June 2005 to June 2007. So says DataQuick Information Systems.
WAMU made 22,784 loans worth $4.6 billion in that time frame. That was 5.1% market share.

No doubt, given the trend lines in the capital region, a lot of those borrowers are in trouble.

Wachovia's troubles are apparently from elsewhere. Neither it nor the troubled California-based Golden West Financial Corp. operation  it bought it May 2006 show up as big players during that time period here in the capital region, according to DataQuick.

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