Home Front

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

July 30, 2009
9.5 percent of Sacramento-area mortgages are late

This just in from First American CoreLogic: a report on foreclosure activity, showing that almost 10 percent of mortgages in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties are 90 days or more delinquent. That's up from 6.7 percent a year ago.


July 30, 2009
North End Lofts fills up with new owners

A colleague at work was telling me that North End Lofts, a downtown Sacramento housing boom project that went bust and into foreclosure, has filled up owners and become an anchor to its Mansion Flats district. I went out to check and got lucky, running into the site manager, Frank Sherman. He and Cory Smith were finishing the interior of the last of 11 units sold by the bank at cut-rate prices, reportedly in the low $300,000s. Prices were originally $460,000 they were telling me.

The nice part of this story: it's an urban infill project that went from good to bad to worse and finally back to good again. One of the new occupants hailed from Portland and said she had worked in the Pearl District, where new loft housing like this led to a renaissance in the gritty industrial district. 14th and C streets in Sacramento is kind of rough urban country, too. But now there's a new loft housing in the mix - and it's fully occupied. Here's a video of the exterior.

July 29, 2009
Lawsuit attempts to block state IOUs

The state was sued today over those hundreds of millions of dollars of IOUs it's been issuing since early July.

Nancy Baird, a small-business owner from the San Luis Obispo area, filed a class-action suit against State Controller John Chiang and State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, saying the IOUs are unconstitutional.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, demands that the state stop issuing any more IOUs and immediately redeem the notes issued so far. Even though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the new budget agreement into law Tuesday, the state has said it will keep issuing the IOUs for the time being because of cash shortages.

Baird says she was stuck with $27,752 in IOUs for embroidered shirts she produced for a California National Guard youth camp.

More than $1.1 billion worth of IOUs have been issued so far to state vendors, taxpayers who are owed refunds, and local governments that use state money to deliver various social services.

Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Lockyer, said the treasurer understands vendors' frustration but the IOUs are legal. 

Meanwhile, the city of Sacramento said today it has bought $2.5 million worth of IOUs. The city set aside $10 million to buy IOUs from city residents and businesses.

July 28, 2009
Bankruptcy for Thunder Valley's management firm

The company that runs Thunder Valley casino filed for bankruptcy protection today.

Station Casinos Inc. of Las Vegas, which has run Thunder Valley since it opened, filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Reno.

Doug Elmets, a spokesman for Thunder Valley and its owners, the United Auburn Indian Community, said the Lincoln-area casino won't be affected by the bankruptcy.

"Their financial situation has no bearing at all on the success of Thunder Valley," he said.

But the bankruptcy is indicative of the slump hitting the gambling industry. Thunder Valley laid off nearly 100 workers in May, for instance, while Red Hawk Casino in Shingle Springs reduced employment shortly after it opened last December.

July 27, 2009
California - a 4th straight month of rising median prices
sales-up-for southern-california-homes.jpgJune marked a fourth straight month of rising median prices - and a 10th straight month of existing home sales outperforming the same time a year earlier - the California Association of Realtors says in this statewide report out today.

 Sales prices climbed 4.2 percent from May to June, reaching $247,740, said the statewide trade group for real estate agents. Median is that point where half cost more and half cost less. A year ago, the median stood at $373,100.

(The Sacramento County median was $182,400 in June, up from $180,940 in May, but down from $220,630 a year earlier).

 Sales climbed 20 percent above those of June 2008. That puts the state on track for about 514,110 sales this year if current trends continue.

 Last year, fewer than 400,000 homes changed hands.

Strong demand, especially from first-time buyers, suggests the market might be able to weather new stresses, a CAR official says.
"Although another surge of foreclosures is expected later this year, demand remains strong so the market may be able to absorb more distressed properties without significantly impacting the median price," says CAR Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young.

Lenders foreclosed on 45,667 California homes in May, April and June, researcher MDA DataQuick reported last week, driving the total number of foreclosures to 410,000 since the start of 2007.

The Realtors' association said rising sales have cut inventory levels to 4.1 months. That's the time it would take to sell the market's current supply of homes for sale. That's down by nearly half from 7.6 months in June 2008.

Highest June median home price in California: Beverly Hills, at $1.775 million.

Image courtesy of findforeclosureproperties.com
July 27, 2009
How are you shopping online for a house?
 We're starting a story on how much the Internet has changed how people shop for houses - and how that might be changing the traditional role of real estate agents. It's a trend story. I'd like to hear Monday or Tuesday from a handful of people who are  working - or have worked - the Web in search of a home. What sites are you using, how do you use them? Will you use an agent eventually? 916-321-1102 jwasserman@sacbee.com
July 27, 2009
Defaults starting to tag wealthier Sacramento-area ZIP Codes

In the wake of last week's MDA DataQuick stats showing 4,448 Second Quarter foreclosures and 10,682 mortgage defaults in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties we got statistics for both at the regional ZIP Code level.

What you'll see here is that foreclosures and defaults are reaching into more affluent areas such as Roseville, Auburn and Granite Bay that were once immune to a problem largely confined to risky subprime lending. It's not that the numbers have skyrocketed - it's that they are up pretty significantly from the same time last year. The theory is that rising unemployment and loss of incomes is banging on the door of wealthier neighborhoods now.

On the contrary, some of the hardest-hit ZIP Codes since the market began imploding in early 2007 are showing signs of declining or leveling off of defaults and foreclosures.

There's lots to learn about your neighborhood in the MDA DataQuick stats that follow here.

Here are defaults and foreclosures by ZIP Code. It's an EXCEL chart. You can click between the tabs for defaults and foreclosures, which are called here trustees deeds.


July 27, 2009
The California business climate

It's been repeated so many times (in the Bee an elsewhere) that it's almost an article of faith: California's onerous business climate chases businesses out of the state.

But the Public Policy Institute of California has argued for the past few years that this is mostly a myth. The San Francisco think tank has studies arguing that California's share of the nation's jobs has held fairly stable (at around 11 percent) throughout the years.

A friend of mine in the biotech business says PPIC is overlooking a crucial point: that California's taxes and red tape consistently keep companies from expanding here. His is a tough argument to prove - how do you measure what you never had? - but an interesting thought.

Anyway, I'd like to call your attention to a new PPIC report that looks at California's socio-economic future. It's a bit of a whopper - 42 pages - so you'll be excused if you skim through it. But I have faith that Home Fronters will give it a look.

You can find the report at this link at PPIC's Web site. Happy reading.


July 24, 2009
Curtis Park warily eyes a massive new neighbor
Sunday update: Here is the full story that ran in today's Bee.

We have a big story Sunday on an historic Sacramento neighborhood - Curtis Park - caught in the crosshairs of a huge infill development that plans to add about 500 homes and 256,000 square feet of commercial space in a long abandoned Western Pacific railyard next door. (The railyard is the long high blank space just to the right of Sacramento City College).

View Larger Map

 Sacramento developer Paul Petrovich plans Curtis Park Village, a 72-acre makeover that's a junior version of what Georgia-based Thomas Enterprises is trying to do with a massive 240-acre Union Pacific railyards in downtown Sacramento. That huge railyard is the birthplace of the transcontinental railroad.

Few in Curtis Park want to see their neighboring railyard remain undeveloped. The question is how it's done. The Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association thinks the designs are too suburban in character and will bring too much traffic into the neighborhood. The developer calls it Curtis Park and Land Park built to modern standards. There's a ton of documentation about it all in the draft environmental impact report paving the way for approval hearings to begin in several weeks at Sacramento City Hall.

 It was a really interesting story to research and write, and it was also inspiring to read neighborhood resident Dan Murphy's "History of Sacramento's Curtis Park." It was a great account with lots of pictures about a neighborhood where development spanned a time of horse and buggy, trolley line and the automobile (1890-1930). The great residential character shows in this Home Front video:

July 24, 2009
Car sales still skidding

New car sales in California fell 42.9 percent in the second quarter compared to a year earlier.

But the California New Car Dealers Association, which compiled the data, said today that rate of decline seems to be easing. The association predicted a 20 percent dip in the second half of 2009, followed by gains in sales in 2010.

"I think we have hit bottom, but it could be a slow climb out," said the association's chairman, Gary Shipman, in a press release. Shipman is a Toyota, Subaru and Mazda dealer in Santa Cruz.

Vehicle sales have now fallen 43.3 percent for the first six months of the year.

July 24, 2009
They're still starting new houses........
Sacramento-area home builders took out 374 permits in June to start construction on another round of new houses, apartments and condos - 10.8 percent of the 3,446 residential permits issued statewide during the month. The numbers were well up from May, according to this newest report from the California Building Industry Association.

June highlights:
  • Builders in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties took out permits to start 298 new single-family detached homes and 72 attached multifamily homes or apartments.
  • That's up from 232 in May.
  • Yuba and Sutter County home builders took permits for four new single-family homes. That is down from 20 in May.
  • Overall permits so far this year in the six-county region: 1,650. That's about half the same time last year, when they took out 3,285 permits.
  • Statewide, 17,842 residential permits are also down about half so far this year from 2008. Bottom line, these low numbers- necessary to regain a balance between supply and demand -represent another year with the fewest permits since the state started keeping track in 1954.

     The news for Florida builders is far far worse, as this just-arrived report shows. It says the residential construction industry in the Sunshine State is at a "standstill."


July 23, 2009
CalPERS in big shopping center deal

CalPERS and a joint venture partner are spending more than $1 billion to buy a big collection of U.S. shopping centers.

The partnership, known as Global Retail Investors, is buying a majority stake in the portfolio from Australia's Macquarie CountryWide Trust. The deal values the shopping centers at a total of $1.73 billion. Four years ago, CalPERS and its partner, Maryland investment firm First Washington Realty Inc., sold essentially the same portfolio of centers to Macquarie for $2.7 billion.

The portfolio spans 17 states and Washington, D.C. It includes 16 shopping centers in California, including two in greater Sacramento: Stanford Ranch Village in Rocklin and Auburn Village in Auburn.

 CalPERS official Ted Eliopoulos called the investment an example "positive opportunities" that come "out of the distress in the marketplace."

July 22, 2009
More vacant warehouses, industrial buildings

Not a big shock here, but the vacancy rate in the Sacramento-area industrial real estate market keeps creeping up.

A report out today by Garrick Brown, research guy at Colliers International real estate, said the vacancy rate rose to 11.5 percent in the second quarter, up from 10.9 percent in the first quarter.

Not a huge leap, and not a huge percentage. But Brown warns that the rate will likely hit 13.5 percent or 14 percent next summer before things get better.

One other thing: Brown says the vacancy rate doesn't tell the whole story. There's also a "shadow vacancy" problem of tenants who are occupying space but not paying rent, he says.

July 22, 2009
City agrees to buy IOUs

The city of Sacramento is in the IOU business.

The Sacramento City Council voted Tuesday night to purchase up to $10 million worth of California registered warrants from city residents and businesses.

City officials called it a service to the citizenry - and a way to make a little extra cash. The notes will earn a 3.75 percent annualized interest rate, payable Oct. 2.

Mayor Kevin Johnson called the purchase program an "innovative, creative idea."

The program starts Thursday morning. IOU recipients have to present the notes at the city treasurer's office on the third floor of the old City Hall at 915 I St., along with a voided bank check, Social Security number and a photo ID. The "IOU window" will be open from 9 a.m. to noon.

The city will wire the money to recipients' bank accounts.

Unlike some private investors, who are offering 80 to 90 cents on the dollar, the city will pay full face value for the notes.

July 22, 2009
Mortgage Defaults fall slightly in second quarter

 MDA DataQuick just minutes ago posted its

news release on Q2 foreclosure activity in California and many area counties - showing a statewide decline in notices of default and a slight rise in foreclosures over the first quarter of 2009.

Regionally: 10,682 notices of default in the second quarter in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. That is down from 11,049 last quarter and up only slightly from 10,457 in the second quarter of 2008.

Foreclosures are up again, to 4,505 in the eight-county region. Last quarter: 3,881

July 21, 2009
House prices declining at a slower pace

The bad news for homeowners is that home prices in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties declined 16.9 percent from May 2008 to May 2009. The good news is that's a big improvement over April, when year-over-year declines were 19.5 percent.

The real news is things are getting worse a lot slower. And that's an improvement for all those homeowners checking Zillow every 15 minutes now for four years on their home values.

It seems that Sacramento, which fell hard and fast in 2008 is easing up. But the Inland Empire of Riverside and San Bernardino counties - which was slower to stumble into the tank - is really getting hit hard now - with prices down almost 30 percent in the past year alone.

That's from First American CoreLogic in this May report on home prices here and nationally.


  • National housing prices fell 9.2 percent from May 2008 to May 2009. That was the lowest year-over-year drop of 2009.
  • Top five states for May year-over-year price declines are the usual suspects. In order: Nevada (26.4 percent), Florida (25.5 percent), California (19.8 percent), Arizona (18.1 percent) and Illinois (16.9 percent).
  • Prices rose from May 2008 to May 2009 in Austin, Dallas and Houston.
July 21, 2009
CalPERS and CalSTRS: both down 20 percent-plus

CalPERS and CalSTRS reported their investment results for the just-ended fiscal year, and the numbers weren't pretty.

The California Public Employees' Retirement System said its portfolio shrank 23.4 percent, a loss of $56.2 billion.

The California State Teachers' Retirement System said its portfolio fell 25 percent, or $43.4 billion.

The results reinforce what's been known for some time: that the two big pension funds took a beating over the last 12 months.

"This result is not a surprise; it is about what we expected given the collapse of the markets across the globe," CalPERS Chief Investment Officer Joseph Dear said in a press release.

CalPERS has said it will demand a higher contribution from state and local governments to shore up its funding position. The higher contribution from the state will start next July and from local governments in 2011, although it isn't known yet how much the fund will demand.

CalSTRS can't demand higher contributions but has begun talking to legislators about that issue.

Employer contributions to CalPERS are based in part on a "funding ratio" that compares assets with pension obligations. The ratio for CalPERS was 92 percent a year ago and has surely fallen below the 80 percent threshold that's considered comfortable. The exact figure won't be known for some time, but CalPERS previously warned that its ratio could fall to 68 percent or so.

CalPERS' investment losses have been public knowledge for months; today's announcement merely marked the end of the fiscal year June 30.

CalPERS' stock portfolio fell 28.5 percent. Its real estate holdings fell 35.8 percent and its private equity holdings dropped 31.4 percent; the real estate and private equity values have been calculated only through March 31.

 CalSTRS said its real estate fell 43 percent, private equity 27 percent and global stocks 28 percent.

Both funds said they've tweaked their portfolio allocations in recent months. Both, for instance, have said they'll put less money into the stock market.


July 20, 2009
Lower rents for state landlords

The state's budget problems are trickling down to Sacramento's office market. The state said today it has renegotiated leases on 34 office sites around the state, generating $27 million in savings over the next few years.


Fifteen leases in the Sacramento area were renegotiated, saving a total of $7.3 million. Eric Lamoureux, a spokesman for the state Department of General Services, said the state believes it can renegotiate about 200 leases by the time it's through. The renegotiations are a result of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's executive order last month demanding a 15 percent decrease in spending on state contracts and purchases.

In Sacramento, the major savings will occur at two office buildings, at 1325 J St. and 915 L St.



July 20, 2009
Sacramento might pay cash for IOUs

Here's another possible place to cash those state IOUs: Sacramento City Hall. The City Council is expected to vote Tuesday evening on a proposal to pay 100 cents-on-the-dollar for IOUs held by city residents and businesses located in the city.

This isn't about altruism. City officials believe the IOUs are a terrific short-term investment. The notes will pay the annual equivalent of 3.75 percent interest when they're redeemed by the state Oct. 2.

In the financial markets, "I can't find anything out there that even approaches that," said John Colville, the city's senior investment officer.

The proposal calls for the city to purchase up to $10 million in IOUs using short-term investment cash.

The state has issued hundreds of millions of dollars in IOUs since July 2. It's not known when the the practice will stop, given that legislative leaders are close to making a budget deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 A fledgling secondary market for IOUs has popped up on the Internet and on Wall Street, with investors offering 80 to 95 cents on the dollar. The city will offer full face value, "not like a lot of these people on Craigslist," Colville said.  

July 17, 2009
A CalPERS setback

CalPERS' investment losses in the housing market have generated a lot of news in the past year. Now the big pension fund is having problems with commercial real estate. The San Jose Mercury News reports here about three big East Bay office towers along I-80 going into default, jeopardizing investments by CalPERS and others.

The paper estimates that CalPERS put $50 million into the building.

To be fair, CalPERS' partner in this venture, Hines, has done well by CalPERS in the 11 years they've invested together. CalPERS has earned a 16 percent rate of return investing in office projects with Hines, according to CalPERS records. That's as of last Dec. 31.

July 17, 2009
Problems with CIT? We'd like to hear from you

One of the nation's major business lenders, CIT Group Inc., was scrambling to line up financing this week after failing to persuade the federal government to step in to prevent the firm from filing for bankruptcy.

CIT is one of the nation's largest lenders to clothing retailers and manufacturing firms. Typically, CIT provides cash up front and in return takes possession of the borrower's receivables. If you are a customer of CIT, and are having problems because of CIT's cash crisis, we'd like to hear from you. Please contact reporter Dale Kasler at DKasler@Sacbee.com, or (916) 321-1066.

July 17, 2009
Sales dip below last year with fewer repos on market
 After 14 months of year-over-year sales gains in the Sacramento region, June's home sales fell below those of June 2008. Market watchers say the frenzy ignited last year by an abundance of bank repos in the market has waned some. But short sales are starting to pick up.

Here is today's story with the region's June statistics from MDA DataQuick.

Here is a more detailed sales and price chart by ZIP Code.
July 17, 2009
Citi: Another reprieve on IOUs

Citibank today gave the state another one-week breather on accepting its IOUs.

Citi is one of only two significant banks - the other is Bank of the West - still accepting the notes. The largest banks, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Chase, stopped taking the IOUs last Friday. That's forced some vendors and other IOU recipients to scramble for cash.

"With the state so close to reaching an agreement, we believe the right course of action is to stand by our customers by providing them with all the resources they need to run their households and their businesses," said Citi California President Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann in a press release. "We will continue to evaluate the budget situation and monitor our position daily as the negotiations progress."

Citi has about 6 percent of the state's banking market.


July 17, 2009
California unemployment: 11.6 percent

California unemployment clocked in at 11.6 percent in June, officials said today. Another 66,500 jobs disappeared during the month.

The statewide unemployment rate was actually unchanged from a month earlier. The rate for May was originally reported at 11.5 percent, but that was revised upward a tenth of a point. But the continued job loss showed the state remains firmly in the grip of a nasty recession.  In the past year, some 766,300 jobs have been lost.

Sacramento area unemployment jumped a half point to 11.6 percent. The four-county region lost 400 jobs, with significant losses recorded in the professional and business services sector. That covers everyone from architects to temp workers.

In the past year, the region has lost 46,100 jobs, or 5.1 percent of the total.

Californai's unemployment was the sixth highest in the nation. Michigan's was highest, at 15.2 percent.


July 15, 2009
June sales at three-year high in Los Angeles region
 Here's MDA DataQuick with the June numbers. First, Southern California, where the median price is up and sales are highest for  June since 2006

  •  Most sales in 30 months.
  • Sales of  $500,000 and up on the rise as price cutting takes hold in market.
  • Foreclosure sales still strong, representing 45.3 percent of sales in six-county region.
  • Median price: $265,000, a second month of rising as higher-end sales assume a slightly higher percentage of overall market.
  • Investors accounted for 18.6 percent of purchases.
July 15, 2009
Start trading those IOUs

    A New York investment firm said today it is officially opening trading in California IOUs today.

    SecondMarket Inc., which creates markets for hard-to-sell financial instruments, said it is opening an electronic market for California's registered warrants. The state has issued several hundred million so far, and plans to issue a total of $2.8 billion this month, as it struggles with a cash shortage.

    The firm says hedge funds and other investors have expressed interest in buying the interest-bearing IOUs. Trading is conducted at the firm's Web site, www.secondmarket.com. Trading is free for sellers, but buyers will pay the "standard transaction fee," the firm said.

     While it's not clear what price the notes will bear, a search on Craigslist shows that buyers are offering 80 to 95 cents on the dollar.

    Local governments and private vendors are the main recipients of the IOUs. Taxpayers expecting refunds from the state are also getting the notes.

    The secondary market took flight after most major banks stopped accepting the IOUs last Friday. The Securities and Exchange Commission has declared that the notes are investment securities and recommends that sellers use a registered broker-dealer.

July 15, 2009
A note of optimism

   Maybe it's easy for economist Sung Won Sohn to be optimistic about the recession coming to a close. Sohn, who's been tracking the California economy for years, has a second job, as vice chairman of the Forever 21 clothing chain, one of the few retail success stories out there.

    Dropping by the Bee this week, the Korean American economist noted that Forever 21 is dipping into the Asian market with a just-opened store in Japan. He said his job with Forever 21 "gives me a very good window into what's happening with the consumers."

    His view: While the economy is still in sad shape, a Depression has been averted and things should start improving sometime next year. Easy money policies by the Fed are helping. The financial markets have stabilized. The federal stimulus plan hasn't flooded the economy with cash yet, but it did create a psychological boost and will start to boost the economy significantly in 2010.

    Problems still abound, he said. Unemployment will keep rising well into next year. The credit markets are still somewhat frozen, though not as badly as they were. Commercial real estate is just starting to run into serious headwinds. The spring rally in the stock market probably created more optimism than was truly justified.

     "We're doing better but we're not out of the woods yet," he said.

      Right on cue, the stock market shot up sharply this morning, thanks in part to a solid earnings report and forecast from Intel Corp.

July 14, 2009
Unemployment to top 13% in Sacramento?

     Sacramento's unemploment rate will hit 13.5 percent by the middle of next year, according to a forecast released today by California State University, Sacramento.

     The latest installment of the Sacramento Business Review, a joint venture between the university and the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, says the region can expect to lose 20,000 jobs over the next year.

     A key reason is the state's budget crisis, which will likely mean substantial downsizing in state government. "It's a $26 billion shortfall and we know they are not fixing it using taxes this time," said Sanjay Varshney, dean of the university's College of Business Administration. "No matter how you slice it there's going to be a combination of layoffs and furloughs." The cutbacks in state payrolls will lead to job losses elsewhere in the public and private sectors, he said.

      He also said the area's real estate market "really hasn't found a bottom yet. The decline in property values really puts a damper on consumer confidence." In addition, he believes the federal stimulus bill hasn't generated much oomph yet.

      The forecast said statewide unemployment could hit 14 percent.

      Sacramento unemployment hit 11.1 percent in May; the state figure was 11.5 percent. Figures for June will be released this Friday.


July 14, 2009
Reminder: big foreclosure prevention event Thursday

One of the biggest foreclosure prevention events yet for struggling homeowners in the Sacramento region will be held Thursday in Sacramento.
The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency has scheduled a free six-hour event Thursday, July 16, where homeowners behind on payments or threatened with foreclosure can meet one-on-one with representatives of their mortgage lender.

The event runs from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Jose P. Rizal Community Center, 7320 Florin Mall Drive, Sacramento. (Note: address is 7320, not 7230 as mistakenly reported earlier in the paper).

The official flyer with all the details is here.

Lenders will meet with borrowers on a first-come first-served basis to try and start loan modifications or set up repayment plans for eligible customers.

This is very important: The event is only  for those who have primary loans with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, JPMorgan Chase, Washington Mutual, EMC, Wells Fargo, Wachovia, ASC, Bank of America, Countrywide, American Mortgage Servicing, Citi, IndyMac, PMI, National City, Aurora and GMAC.

No  child care will be offered. For more information  call 916-440-1399, extension 1226.

July 13, 2009
Quite possibly our last Gottschalks post

    The Valley's hometown department store chain is history.

     Liquidation sales begun months ago have concluded. The last four stores closed Sunday, two in Fresno and one each in Clovis and Visalia.

    Here's the story in our sister paper, the Fresno Bee.

July 13, 2009
More downsizing in the gambling industry

     We've reported in the past few months about job cuts at casinos in the Sacramento area and northern Nevada, from Thunder Valley to Red Hawk to the Horizon at Lake Tahoe.

     Here's further evidence of a slump-ridden industry: International Game Technology, a Reno company that makes slots and other gaming devices, laid off 161 workers last week. That includes 55 layoffs in Reno, as reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

    This follows 200 layoffs in January and another 500 last fall.

     The recession has taken a huge bite out of the casino business. Revenue at Nevada casinos fell 8 percent in May, for instance.

July 13, 2009
133 area homes fetch $11.5 million at auction


gavel_auction.gif Irvine-based real estate auction giant REDC said Monday that it sold 133 capital-area and Northern California homes for $11.5 million at its Saturday auction at the Sacramento Convention Center. That comes out to about $86,000 per house.

 Spokesman Rick Weinberg of the Real Estate Disposition Corp. said the lowest price was $30,000 received for a house in Stockton. It original housing boom high: $290,000.

The highest-priced house sold Saturday was a 3,418 square-foot giant in Santa Rosa for $714,286. It last sold for $1.1 million.

Weinberg pointed to a couple of Sacramento examples, too:

3324 Felham Way sold for $126,000, 72 percent off its housing boom high value of $450,000.
6408 Calvine Road sold for $73,500 - also 72 percent less than its original high.

REDC says it's auctioned 19,000 houses nationally so far this year - for $1.3 billion.

Here's the regional tally:
Irvine-based Real Estate Disposition Corp. has auctioned  2,045 Sacramento-area foreclosed homes for $272.9 million since mid-2007:

June 23: 107 homes, $26.5 million
Sep. 29: 144 homes, $22.4 million
Sep. 30: 134 homes, $18 million

Feb. 16: 174 homes, $28.7 million
Feb. 17: 125 homes, $23.6 million
April 19: 169 homes, $20.7 million
April 20: 147 homes, $21.6 million
July 12: 197 homes, $23.4 million
Sep. 20: 183 homes, $21.6 million
Dec. 6: 191 homes, $19.1 million

Feb. 14: 179 homes, $18.7 million
April 19: 162 homes, $17.1 million

July 11:  133 homes, $11.5 million 

Source: Real Estate Disposition Corp.

 Photo courtesy of cocktailnerd.com 

July 13, 2009
Government default? Here?

    The debate over California's IOUs and its budget crisis ultimately boils down to the state's creditworthiness: Will the state default on its obligations? It never has before, and state officials say it won't happen this time, despite a $26 billion deficit.

    But....some in the private market aren't so sure. CMA - a London firm that follows the market for credit-default swaps - puts California in some uncomfortable territory when it comes to probability of default. (Credit default swaps are a kind of insurance policy that banks, etc., can buy to protect themselves if a security goes splat).

    On its Web site, CMA ranks the top 10 government entities in the world according to their probability of default. California came in ninth, with a 26.75 percent probability. It was just ahead of Romania (24.53 percent) and just behind Lithuania (29.38).

    No. 1 on the list is Argentina, at 73.79 percent.

    To see the full list, click here and scroll down a bit  until you see the "Sovereign Risk Monitor." ,

July 10, 2009
Short sales on the rise in Sacramento
New June sales numbers just arrived from the Sacramento Association of Realtors, which is noting a fairly rapid rise in short sales across Sacramento County and the city of West Sacramento.

The SAR counted 1,744 closed escrows for the month - 16.6 percent of them short sales and 54 percent bank repos. The trend: repos keep declining as a percentage of sales and short sales - in which a lender accepts less than owed to avoid the higher costs of foreclosing - are rising.

A couple of highlights:
  •  Median prices stayed at $180,000, same as May.
  • Sales fell 7.4 percent below the same month last year.
  • 10,023 closed escrows the first half of the year, up 23 percent from same time last year.

Here is the

news release.

The summary statistics.

And the regional  ZIP Code Report.

Photo courtesy of njrealestatewire.com
July 10, 2009
California's homebuilders sell 3,019 houses, condos in May
 The California Building Industry Association just posted its May sales report.
 Sales were up from previous months as the traditional summer buying season began. But still, as usual, it was less than last year.

The report has this link to sales in individual metro areas.

 Builders in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento,Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties reported 346 sales in May - 11.4 percent of the state's total.

  Regionally, that was up from 290 sales in April - and down from 505 sales in May 2008.

July 9, 2009
Elk Grove cuts its home builder fees
The suburban city of Elk Grove cut its home building fees last night with a city council vote. The city says it's the first time fees have been cut in its nine-year history.

The cuts come after negotiations with the region's home building industry, which says fees raised to boom-time highs no longer reflect the reality of new land values.

The city of Woodland trimmed its fees earlier this year. Elk Grove is the second city to do so. Talks between builder representatives and development department officials continue in Sacramento County and the cities of Lincoln, Rancho Cordova and Folsom.






July 9, 2009
Parents pulling their kids out from "underwater"
I heard this from a real estate agent this week: More parents are bailing their kids out of soured real estate investments.

 I was told it's becoming more common for parents of young and deeply underwater homeowners to buy their children another house.
This gets the children into a house where their much-lower payments are aligned with today's much-lower values.

What happens to the first house? The children do the best they can to unload it in a short sale, causing less damage to their credit than just walking away.

One can presume the kids make payments to their parents - and that someday this will all be worked out with some kind of inter-family transfer.

Anyone else hearing about this?

July 9, 2009
New face of the mortgage crisis: prime fixed-rate mortgages
While researching the Sunday story that Dale Kasler and I are doing on the new face of the mortgage crisis - the rising unemployment and wage cuts now pushing more traditional borrowers into missed payments - I gathered these statistics. Here's a sneak preview:
 This is the percentage of traditionally safe prime-rate fixed-rate mortgages that are behind on payments in the U.S. and California. As you can see, it's quadrupled in two years in California. While 4 percent is not a disaster, the experts say it's really, really high compared to historical averages.
U.S.                              California
Q1  2.19%                     0.98%
Q2  2.25%                    1.07%
Q3  2.54%                     1.43%
Q4  2.56%                     1.73%

Q1  2.82%                     1.50%
Q2  3.07%                     1.92%
Q3  3.35%                      2.60%.
Q4  3.92%                      3.70%

Q1  4.68%                      3.94%

Source: Mortgage Bankers Association

 This is likely to worsen in a Sacramento region (Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties)  that has lost an astounding 45,000 jobs the past year and a California that has lost 739,000 the past year.

 Sacramento, too, is a company town heavily reliant on state government. You've seen the scene there. Three furlough days, the governor threatening another 5 percent wage cut and both sides at apparent impasse over how to wrestle that deficit. Given that many households here have two incomes tied to the state this is increasingly tough on the mortgage payment.

Meanwhile, here is another AP story saying that rising unemployment is starting to scare away would-be homebuyers.
July 7, 2009
A hot investment?

    There's a lesson in all this about American ingenuity. Or, if you prefer, the insatiable desire to make a buck.

    Either way, I'd like to call your attention to our story in today's paper about the emerging secondary market for California IOUs. It seems that there are investors will to pay cash for IOUs - at a discount, of course. The idea is that the investors can collect the full amount, plus interest, when the IOUs mature on or before Oct. 2.

      Meanwhile, a state Assembly committee today approved a bill that would let state contractors and suppliers use their IOUs to pay their state tax bills and fees.

      As one caller wryly told me this morning, this represents just about the only progress on the budget made by the Legislature lately. 

July 6, 2009
Free foreclosure prevention event in Sacramento
The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency has scheduled a free six-hour workshop Thursday, July 16, where homeowners behind on payments or threatened with foreclosure can meet one-on-one with mortgage lenders.

The event runs from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Jose P. Rizal Community Center, 7320 Florin Mall Drive, Sacramento.

Lenders will meet with borrowers on a first-come first-served basis to try and start loan modifications or set up repayment plans for eligible customers. The event is for those who have primary loans with Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, JPMorgan Chase, Washington Mutual, EMC, Wells Fargo, Wachovia, ASC, Bank of America, Countrywide, American Mortgage Servicing, Citi, IndyMac, PMI and National City.

No child care will be offered. For more information  call 916-440-1399, extension 1226.
July 6, 2009
More on pets left behind in foreclosures
I'm reprinting this blog posting sent in by a reader in Elk Grove related to last Friday's column about pets left behind in foreclosure. Sharon Covington wants her message to reach a larger audience so am passing it on:

"As you know, the economy is the worst it has been in years.  In the last few decades pet ownership has increased significantly since 1992, the last time we experienced this type of econimic crisis.  There are
74.8 million dogs and 88.3 million cats in the US.  Many people who have lost their homes have taken their animals to shelters, or the less responsible ones let them lose, locked them up in the backyard when they move away.  People are to blame, not the animals.

Shelters and rescued are completely full.  Some shelters (not in California) have euthanized the entire population of the shelter because they couldn't afford the food to feed the animals in their care.  Our own
governor is trying to reduce the amount of time an animal has in a shelter before it gets put down in a shelter due to over population.

What can you do - ADOPT NOW..... FOSTER NOW (temporary housing for a dog through shelters and rescues) and if you can't help by taking one in, maybe you can donate now. 

Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue

shows available animals at the Sacramento County Shelter and the Sacramento City Shelter


Placer SPCA

or Google your favorite breed...
(breed name) Northern California rescue

Please help today - they might not be alive tomorrow."

July 6, 2009
Layoffs, less income for small biz leading face of default wave
I recall it so clearly in late 2006: the experts said the foreclosure problem would not get catastrophic or even much worse if the economy held up. Then housing pulled down the economy. Now the economy is pulling down housing. The Mortgage Bankers Association says job losses are the new face of a still-rising wave of mortgage defaults. Job losses are also hurting revenue for small businesses - and putting more owners behind on mortgage payments.

It's a vicious circle and colleague Dale Kasler and I are working up a story on it. We have all the usual sources, the economists and market watchers. We would like to talk to some real people who have lost work or income - and how it's pushing them into default. Please call Jim Wasserman at 916-321-1102 or email us at jwasserman@sacbee.com or dkasler@sacbee.com.
 Thank you.
July 6, 2009
From subprime to loan modification for Orange Co. office space
In the early years of this decade subprime lending filled thousands of square feet of office space in Orange County. The county was the headquarters of subprime - and when it collapsed so did the office market.

Now that market is rebounding - thanks to loan modification firms.

 I caught this, reading on light rail into town this morning. The California Real Estate Journal reports "a spate of office leasing activity - or subleasing activity - by loan modification, credit counseling and debt consolidation firms."

 Commercial brokers say many of the firms are new, but run by former mortgage industry players.

Some in the nonprofit loan counseling sector expressed worries to the paper that the county may be filling up with people who victimized people once victimizing them a second time.

Said the paper: "In addition the companies often can use the same furnishing that were left by the traditional subprime lenders...Depending on how the industry grows, it could become a considerable piece of the market."
July 4, 2009
Home Sweet Home (with explosions in the street)

 We rode our bikes around the neighborhood tonight for our nation's birthday and saw lots of families and kids in lawn chairs on their driveways and celebrating in the streets just like this:

July 4, 2009
233 years after the Revolution.....
From our houses to yours: Happy Fourth

Photo from New Orleans: courtesy of: Farm4static.flickr.com

July 2, 2009
Beazer Homes makes a deal with feds after allegations of fraud
I heard about this on the radio this morning - Atlanta-based Beazer Homes agreeing to pay millions for alleged questionable mortgage practices during the boom - so am posting this New York Times account of the settlement with federal prosecutors. (Story includes the nine-page prosecutor filing).

I post this because Beazer has been such a huge player in the capital-area market during the 2000 to 2007 time period covering the allegations. (The allegations seem primarily related to its activities in North Carolina, however).

Sales statistics from consulting firm Hanley Wood Market Intelligence, show 1,100 sales in 2000 alone in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

The firm also led the builder pack in 2005 here with 1,026 sales. After that:
2006: 147 sales
2007: 354 sales
2008: 390 sales
2009 (through May) 100 sales
That's 2,017 Sacramento-area sales the past four years.
Big player. Big $50 million payout as a result of this settlement..


July 2, 2009
Getting out of Dodge

     We got a fair amount of response to our story in Thursday's Bee about how neighboring states are trying to pounce on California's budget problems.

      The most intriguing was probably this one: an email from an Irvine man named Joseph Vranich who says he created a consulting firm this week ... to help companies leave California.

      And who says California entrepreneurship is dead?

     Here's a link to Vranich's blog.

July 2, 2009
Not by a long shot

   The recession is, uh, still going strong. For all the talk about "green shoots" and "rays of hope," we've still yet to bottom out.

    Today's national unemployment report makes that very clear.

  The Labor Dept said unemployment rose a tenth of a point, to 9.5 percent, the highest in 26 years. Worse, the economy lost 467,000 jobs, a lot more than expected.

     Here's a story by the Associated Press  about the job losses and the impact it's having on the stock market.

July 2, 2009
Almost gone.......
 This is the last day the California Franchise Tax Board is accepting applications for the state's $10,000 tax credit for buyers of new unoccupied homes. They're pulling the plug on the fax machine at midnight. Efforts continue in Legislature to add more to original $100 million allocation for these credit.
  Early version of story is here.  And here is the Friday final.

Additional thoughts later Thursday:
 It turns out from further reporting that this story may not be so simple as the program just being cut off - or getting more money allocated for more credits.
Apparently, that is not flying well in the Legislature considering the state's worsening budget situation. So, there have been talks between the building industry, state lawmakers and the Franchise Tax Board regarding whether buyers might get a whole lot more mileage from the existing $100 million allocation:

The thinking is: not everyone will get a full $10,000 tax credit spread out over three years. The way peoples' finances are, and for other reasons, many might get much less depending on their state tax liability. That would enable the existing $100 million perhaps to go twice as far. 

Indeed, the Franchise Tax Board might be able to turn that fax machine on before long - and grandfather in everyone who closed escrow in the meantime. It will take new legislation to make that happen and the California Building Industry says there should be language in print next week to get it started. The vehicles will be SB49 and SBX3 38 (an extraordinary budget session bill that could accommodate the fast-moving dealmaking that often happens in budget negotiations and the need for a two-thirds majority).

This should make people who are just shy of closing escrow happier. I talked with one this morning in Southern California. She closes in two weeks and said getting a tax credit for buying an empty new house was one reason for going in that direction. She was resigned to the fact that she wouldn't get hers. But maybe she will, after all.

It is hard to predict anything for sure. This is all in a very murky fluid zone - high stakes politics in the hard-to-call-it Capitol realm. Anything might happen. We'll try hard to keep you up on it. Full story runs Friday. And I have posted that now above.

Long range, I am also looking to talk for a longer story with anyone who got the tax credit,has applied for it or is just about to close and will miss out - at least for now. 916-321-1102 is my direct number or or email: jwasserman@sacbee.com. Thanks in advance for considering.
July 1, 2009
Obama casts wider net for refi plan, but still awfully small for CA
The federal government announced earlier today that it will expand its Making Home Affordable refinance program to people who owe 25 percent more than their home is worth. The first version limited it to people who were only 5 percent underwater - which pretty much blew most of California off the eligibility list.

This should help. But it's still limited. Problem is much of California and Sacramento and the Central Valley in particular are 30%, 40%, even 50% under water. Whatever they do in Washington, it always seems to be too little too late for places where problems are worst.

July 1, 2009
Five Sac-area real estate agents make Top 100 list
Look who made good showings in a Top 100 list just compiled by The Wall Street Journal, Real Trends and lore Magazine.
Agents across the U.S. were ranked by numbers of sales transactions in 2008.
Altogether, 13 Californians made the list.

Here's who got listed from the region and their national rankings:

  • Tom Daves, Keller Williams Realty Roseville; 8th with 509 transactions.
  • Carlos Kozlowski, Coldwell Banker, Sacramento; 12th with 445 transactions.
  • John Brophy, Keller Williams Realty, Roseville; 15th with 397 transactions.
  • Glenn Adams, Coldwell Banker, Vacaville; 77th with 155 transactions.
  • Sean Work, Keller Williams Realty, Roseville, 95th with 139 transactions.

July 1, 2009
Will more state employee furloughs bring new defaults?
For quite awhile now market watchers have wondered how the state's financial problems might start becoming Sacramento-area neighborhood problems. Here's the newest news about a third furlough Friday to hit state employees. Given that this is a company town and that many families have two incomes tied to the state payroll, one wonders when this begins to push a few more people toward missed mortgage payments.

One commenter to the above story summarized it this way, perhaps too alarmingly, perhaps not:

"Look at it this way, those who had dual state incomes from the state and each making 50K a year just lost 13.2K or $1100 per month. Get ready for some serious foreclosures in the coming six to twelve months."
July 1, 2009
The complicated world of crude oil

   We tend to hate high oil (and gasoline) prices, and often that's justified. Big spikes in energy prices can hurt the economy. But often the role energy prices play in the economy can be a good deal more complicated.

    Oil prices are driven by supply and demand, and low oil prices are often a sign of weak demand. Weak demand usually signifies a weak economy. Like now. So, if you follow that logic, we should root for higher oil prices, right? We should be pleased that oil prices have been climbing lately, right?

    Well, not exactly. Like I said, it can get complicated. Analysts say prices are being nudged up by shrinking supplies - not rising demand. And that, of course, is worrisome.

     Here's an Associated Press story analyzing why crude is topping $70 a barrel today.    


July 1, 2009
Striking out

    Two of Home Front's favorite topics - economics and baseball - collided recently, and the results weren't pretty. Sony Pictures has just pulled the plug on a movie version of "Moneyball," the bestselling book about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane. Production was supposed to begin last week in LA, Oakland and Phoenix.

     In this account in the New York Times, the movie died in part because of economics. Home video revenue, a huge income source for Hollywood, is in serious decline.

     However, this story in the LA Times says much of the blame lies in the dreaded creative differences between Sony and the movie's director, Steven Soderburgh. Either way, it's too bad. I mean, when's the last time you saw a good movie starring the Oakland A's?

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