Home Front

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

About Jim Wasserman

Jim Wasserman moved to California from Ohio in 1979. He has been a reporter at The Fresno Bee and The Associated Press in Sacramento, specializing in California's growth. Wasserman moved to The Sacramento Bee in 2005 and began covering real estate in 2006.

September 10, 2010
That's a wrap...
This half of Home Front is walking into the sunset, taking a new writing job with California state government. One last Home Front column explains. A big thanks to readers who frequent our  real estate/economy niche here in the mass expanse of the World Wide Web.
September 7, 2010
Sacramento hotels: filling more rooms than last year
Sacramento hotels are filling more rooms in 2010 than last year, hospitality industry analysts PKF Consulting USA and Colliers International reported today.
That's the good news. 
Here's the glass-is-half-empty scenario: Room rates are down from 2009.
New convention bookings appear to be boosting the occupancy rates announced this morning by PKF Consulting and Colliers International.  (Capital-area details, page 5-7).
The San Francisco analyst reported that occupancy rates from January through July in the capital region are 3.5 percent higher than the same time in 2009. In July, occupancy soared 17 percent above July 2009.
That's testament to new weekend gatherings this year of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses at the Sacramento Convention Center. The group, meeting in Sacramento for eight weekends, has booked nearly 3,000 rooms at 13 hotels in the downtown area, hotel officials say.
PKF and Colliers said 66.7 percent of Sacramento-area hotel rooms were occupied in July. That's up from 57 percent in July 2009. 
Occupancy averaged 62.2 percent from January through July, compared to 60.1 percent the same time in 2009.
Room rates averaged $91.52 from January through July 2010. Last year at the same time they, averaged $97.72, said PKF and Colliers.
September 7, 2010
CalHFA introduces 30-year first-time buyer fixed loan at 4%

The California Housing Finance Agency announced this morning that it's making new, less expensive 30-year fixed-rate loans for-first time homebuyers who meet low- and moderate income guidelines.

Details are here in this news release. More details are in this Web page from CalHFA, including county-by-county income limits for the program.

CalHFA Executive Director Steven Spears says the option helps qualified first-time buyers get around the some of today's extremely tight rules set by conventional lenders.

 Spears said: "Housing finance agencies around the country have historically played an important role in each state's housing market. With the disruption in the credit markets over the last two years, we have been limited in our ability to help finance home purchases. This new program offers California families another way to purchase their first home with reliable, fixed rate financing."

Those interested can check with a CalHFA-approved lender or call CalHFA at 1-877-922-5432.







August 31, 2010
We're hearing about huge uncertainty at HomEq

WEDNESDAY A.M. UPDATE: Here is the story we wrestled together for this morning's print edition. Ocwen remained silent throughout and HomEq employees were told not to talk with the media. But it sounds as if the pink slips might begin this morning.

I got a call about an hour ago that subprime loan servicer HomEq is shutting down today or tomorrow? I don't have anything confirmed yet from its parent firm, Ocwen Loan Servicing. But an insider at HomEq said employees are in meetings today about the operation closing. And they have been ordered not to talk with the media or they will lose their severance pay.

This could mean several hundred layoffs eventually,if true, into a regional economy with 12.7 percent unemployment.

Here is Ocwen's second-quarter earnings report in which it says its purchase of HomEq in May is expected to close Sept. 1.  There are mentions in there of closing HomEq and spending $1.5 million to add new facilities. The firm notes on its web site that it outsources some of its loan modification work to Uruguay and India.

Near as we know HomeQ has about 1,000 employees in North Highlands and a couple hundred more in Raleigh, N.C.

It's still pretty fuzzy. If you can shed any light on this please call me at 916-321-1102 or email jwasserman@sacbee.com.


August 26, 2010
CoreLogic: 43.4% of Sacramento-area mortgages "underwater"

The numbers are different, but the story is the same. Too many Sacramento-area homeowners owe more than their houses are worth. Zillow said recently it's 38 percent of all mortgages.

But today, Santa Ana-based CoreLogic reported that 43.4 percent of mortgages in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties  are in a state of negative equity. Their owners owe more than the house is worth. CoreLogic says there are 214,468 homeowners in that predicament locally.

That's a huge number, but it's been coming down slightly.  CoreLogic's first quarter 2010 report said 44.8 percent of Sacramento-area mortgages were underwater.

There's no accounting I know of that explains how the two differ. Both used automated valuation systems to judge what houses are worth in the region against what's owed on them.

The best thing about Sacramento is it's not one of the cities in the Central Valley - or Las Vegas. Look at these numbers for other Highway 99 cities in the Central Valley Business Times.

August 24, 2010
Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right - here I am stuck in a short sale w/you

Sept. 7 UPDATE: Thanks to all who mailed and called regarding this request. Here is the story that ran Sunday, Sept. 5 in The Bee.
Your intrepid Home Front reporter is in early stages of doing the be-all end-all account of the short sale lifestyle that has rooted itself in the Sacramento region. It's an upside down world where little adds up, and where common sense and logic are sometimes in short supply. Yet it's a cornerstone of how houses are bought and sold these days.

I had an enlightening interview this morning with broker Bill Joyce in Roseville, who gives his would-be buyer clients "The Speech." Essentially, he warns them they are entering real estate's version of burning deserts and stormy seas, where they must, above all, endure the punishment and frustration.

I have talked with a couple who lost almost a year of house hunting after getting fixated on a short sale in Natomas that finally went into foreclosure.

I talked with a seller who tried for a year to short sale his house in Elk Grove - and was yanked from the very jaws of foreclosure this month by real estate agents who salvaged a short sale Hail Mary at the last second.

These stories are commonplace in this new market. I'd like to hear a few more - especially what you might have put up with on the journey to finding the good deal you live in now. Or if you are still on that journey I'd love to hear a dramatic tale or two to include in what's shaping up to be a slice of life in our times. Feel free to call 916-321-1102 or drop a line at jwasserman@sacbee.com.

August 24, 2010
Sacramento's Township 9 takes top state honors

Township 9, a 65-acre transit-oriented development along Richards Boulevard north of downtown Sacramento, won top honors from the California Housing and Community Development Department as a "Catalyst Project," the HCD announced today.

Township 9, a mixed-use development that will include up to 3,000 residential dwellings along with offices and stores and parks, won a Gold award alongside Emeryville Marketplace in Emeryville, Mission Bay in San Francisco, the Village at Market Creek in San Diego and Fullerton Transportation Center in Fullerton.

The project on the site of a former cannery which is being demolished, aims to put thousands of transit-dependent residents in mid-rise buildings in one of the most efficient uses of land in the capital region. Developers are Nehemiah Corp. of America, along with Sacramentans Steve Goodwin and Ron Mellon. A new light rail station is opening next year to serve the project.

HCD, which has approved $30 million in state housing bonds for the project, said  Township 9 and 12 other Catalyst Projects across the state provide "great examples of how to build sustainable economically vibrant communities."

The state will monitor them to test strategies for "broad implementation throughout California."


August 24, 2010
Sacramento builders scale back on single-family houses in July

Homebuilders in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties again applied the brakes in July on building new single-family houses, the California Building Industry Association reported this morning.

Builders in the four-county region applied for just 170 permits to start new single-family houses in July. That was down 43.9 percent from June's 303 construction starts - and 14 percent fewer than June 2009. The numbers speak to continued caution as federal and state first-time homebuyer tax credits have expired. 

Builders are also holding back in Yuba and Sutter counties, starting just three single-family houses in July. In June, they started work on 10.

 A year ago in July they started 13.

State tax credits up to $10,000 to buy new unoccupied homes in California, however, are still available, according to the California Franchise Tax Board. (Go deeper into the release for info on new-home credits). About $83 million of an available $100 million allocation provided for the credits remain.

Builders in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties are about even with last year for construction starts of single family houses and apartments and condos, says the CBIA analysis of numbers provided by the Construction Industry Research Board. Statewide, building permits are running 21 percent ahead of last year.

Here's how single-family starts have lined up so far in 2010:

 January - 225

 February - 117

March - 179

April - 188

May - 206

June - 303

July - 170  

 Source: Construction Industry Research Board

August 23, 2010
Sacramento: new home sales still trending lower than 2009

June's sales of 252 new homes managed to outperform May across the Sacramento region, but the longer-term trend is still negative. June continued a sustained pattern of year-over-year decline, the California Building Industry Association reported Monday.

The number of closed escrows was 16.6 percent lower than June 2009 in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties, said the CBIA.

The plunge was deeper in Yuba and Sutter counties. June's 11 sales were 69 percent below the same time last year.

Statewide, closings of 2,454 homes and condominiums fell 36 percent from a year earlier, according to data provided to CBIA by Hanley Wood Market Intelligence. Median sales prices of new California homes in June were up 3 percent from June 2009.

But prices remained about the same as last year in the four-county Sacramento region. They fell 10 percent in Yuba and Sutter counties.

August 23, 2010
Coldwell Banker names Kris Vogt Sacramento-area president

KRISVOGHTELKGROVE.JPGKris Vogt, managing broker of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage's Elk Grove operation, has been named president of the company's Sacramento-Tahoe regional office, Colwell Banker announced this morning.

He replaces fomer president and chief operating officer Bob Bronswick. Bronswick has run the operation for roughly the past five years.

Vogt will oversee operations of the region's largest brokerage with 14 offices and more than 700 sales associates, Coldwell Banker announced.

The company made the announcement in this news release.

August 19, 2010
Home sales nose dive in Sacramento, too

July sales numbers from MDA DataQuick show almost 1,000 fewer closed escrows in July in the Sacramento area than June. Here is a first look online.

Here is the full chart with July sales prices and sales numbers for Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

August 19, 2010
Bay Area sales fall in July; Interest Rates fall even lower

Couple of quick updates here.

1) MDA DataQuick of La Jolla just reported that San Francisco Bay Area Home Sales fell sharply in July, hitting a 15-year for the month. That's similar to the Los Angeles region. DataQuick will report Sacramento-area sales within the hour.

2) Mortgage interest rates hit a new low of 4.42 percent for a 30-year fixed loan, mortgage giant Freddie Mac reported this morning.

August 18, 2010
Sacramento-area home sales fall 29% in July from June

Sacramento-based TrendGraphix reported this afternoon that home sales fell sharply in July across the Sacramento region as the stimulus power of tax credits eased and more buyers took a wait-and-see approach.

In a news release accompanying the newest statistics, Lyon Real Estate Chief Executive Officer Mike Lyon said, "Buyers took a step back to take advantage of the larger inventory at lower prices."

Lyon said the area has seen a big increase in the number of homes put on the market - and that listing prices have declined.

He said he expects escrow closings to "rebound in the next 60 days."

August 17, 2010
Latinos take hardest blow in foreclosure crisis

Latino homeowners have absorbed the worst in California's foreclosure crisis, and account for 48 percent of homes repossessed from late 2006 through 2009, the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending reported today.

Its new study, Dreams Deferred, showed that Latino owners surrendered 301,086 homes to lenders - almost half the state's 625,356 foreclosures during the period.

About 11 percent of the state's foreclosures - 69,176 - occurred in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties.

Statewide, 41 percent of loans that resulted in foreclosure were made in 2006, said the report.

The CRL study said that Latino households, particularly in the hard-hit Central Valley, have suffered disproportionately. Latinos accounted for almost half the state's foreclosures, but are 21 percent of California homeowners and one-third of its adult population.

Half the state's foreclosures were tied to purchase loans and half to refinance loans, the study said.

Authors of the study said most of the repossessed homes were modest, averaging about 1,700 square feet.

The study says Latino and African-American households accounted for nearly six in every 10 homes repossessed in California. African-American households suffered 47,337 foreclosures, nearly 8 percent of the state's total.

Lenders repossessed 216,037 homes from non-Latino whites - 34.6 percent of foreclosures statewide. Asian Americans were 6.4 percent, with 39,718 foreclosures.


August 17, 2010
July home sales tumble in Southern California

In what appears to be a national phenomenon likely to include Sacramento, we're seeing that July homes sales fell hard in metropolitan Los Angeles - largely due to end of the federal tax credits. Researcher MDA DataQuick reported the monthly numbers this morning.

"Southland home sales saw their biggest year-over-year drop in more than two years last month as the market lost most of the boost from the federal home buyer tax credits. The median sale price dipped for the second month in a row, the result of a shaky economic recovery, continued uncertainty about jobs, and the expiring tax breaks."


August 16, 2010
Calif. homebuilding industry is a shadow of its former self

  California's once-vaunted homebuilding industry has lost 80 percent of the economic impact it had in 2005, says a new report from the California Homebuilding Foundation and Center for Strategic Economic Research. There are also 84 percent fewer employees working in residential construction than in 2005, the report said.

The new study said that new housing construction in California supported nearly 77,000 jobs and $13.8 billion in economic activity during 2009. That "represents just a fraction" of the 487,000 jobs and $67.7 billion in activity just a few years earlier in 2005, said the industry trade group, the California Building Industry Association.

The newest report adds statewide context to a Bee story early last month that noted that the Sacramento-area new-home market has come nearly to a standstill. Homebuilders have taken to say that their industry is enduring another Great Depression, far more severe than that stalking the rest of the economy.

August 16, 2010
What's REALLY going on with banks and the government?

"The problem faced by both lenders and the government is that they can neither afford to kick homeowners out, or bail them out."  - Sean O'Toole.

 As the housing market downturn and foreclosure mess runs on and on, it's almost impossible to fathom some of the behavior that keeps occuring. You know the story: The government proposes new programs and the banks and lenders turn in disappointing results. The people, especially the people struggling with loan troubles, are baffled why they aren't getting any help.

On the surface the response to this entire mess has been extremely difficult to read. But last week ForeclosureRadar's Sean O'Toole came as close to make sense of it all as anyone I've heard recently. Here's his commentary. It's an eye-opener, worth a read. ForeclosureRadar is based in Contra Costa County. It's an information service for people who buy houses on the courthouse steps.

August 16, 2010
Bhamani family's Heaven Investments draws fire from feds

Saturday's Bee contained this story about federal indictments involving an alleged $11.4 million real estate investment fraud scheme that involved eight people and scores of U.S. investors.

Most are members of the Bhamani family of Carmichael, owners of Heaven Investments.

There's more reading and details here in a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento and more still here in the federal indictments.

August 11, 2010
$476M more coming to Calif. to help unemployed homeowners
THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE: Here is the full story running in today's Bee.
 WEDNESDAY UPDATE: CalHFA just said at noon it will add the $476.2 million to its existing $64 million program to help the unemployed.That one pays nemployed homeowners up to $1,500 a month for six months to help make mortgage payments while they are job hunting. 

This could help thousands in a state with 12.3 percent unemployment in June.

Treasury Department announced this morning that it will allocate another $2 billion nationally to help unemployed borrowers stay in their homes - including $476.2 million to California. The money will be sent to the Sacramento-based California Housing Finance Agency, the state's affordable housing bank. 

 The new infusion brings the California total to nearly $1.2 billion. The money comes from TARP funds. 

August 9, 2010
Sacramento County DA's office expands Real Estate Fraud Unit

The Sacramento County District Attorney's office has expanded its real estate fraud unit to fight scammers who are preying on struggling area homeowners, District Attorney Jan Scully said Monday.

"Our goal is to prevent future victims by aggressively pursuing and prosecuting these crimes, as well as educating the community on how to protect themselves," Scully said in a statement.

The office's long-time real estate unit now has an extra lawyer and investigator to handle citizen complaints and prosecute offenders, said Marv Stern, assistant chief deputy district attorney.

Under the new system the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and Sacramento Police Department no longer have their own investigators for real estate fraud. (Other cities have their own systems).

"It's a one-stop shop now," said Marv Stern, assistant chief deputy district attorney. "We're hoping to make it more of a specialty and do a more efficient job."

The unit is funded by a $3 fee charged for recording many real estate documents with the county. The expansion also occurs amid a serious amount of real estate fraud and scamming in a region hard hit by the housing crash.

Stern steered callers with fraud complaints toward the unit's phone number: 916.874.9045.

"We are here to help before someone makes a mistake that could have huge ramifications," he said.

August 9, 2010
Zillow: Negative equity rate receeding across Sacramento

The Sacramento region's negative equity rate is still falling - down to 38.1 percent during the second quarter of 2010, Seattle-based online evaluation service Zillow.com reported this morning.

Negative equity describes people who owe more than their homes are worth. It's also referred to as "being underwater" or "upside down." The phenomenon, which has especially plagued people who bought or refinanced during the housing boom, prevents them from being able to refinance. They're also still stuck paying boom-era mortgages for houses that are worth much less. That makes it tempting for many to walk away.

The second quarter's 38.1 percent collective negative equity rate for El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties is down from 40 percent in the first quarter.

A year ago in the second quarter it was 45.2 percent.

Here is the release this morning showing figures for metros nationally.

Negative equity is falling for several reasons. One is that some people who had negative equity a year earlier lost their homes to foreclosure or sold them in short sales. That takes them off the list. But another reason, says Zillow, is that there have been fewer foreclosures. That means home values haven't been crashing as fast as they did before. In some cases they're rising. All of this combines to slowly reduce the rate of people in this unfortunate condition.

August 6, 2010
Lots of financial strain in Sacramento commercial real estate
What's the state of commercial real estate in Sacramento? Check out this report from brokers Marcus & Millichap. Lots of strain out there.
August 6, 2010
FTB shuts off fax for first-time buyer tax credits Aug 15

First-time California homebuyers seeking state tax credits up to $10,000 have until midnight Sunday, Aug. 15, to apply, the state Franchise Tax Board announced in a news release this afternoon.

The state tax agency set the deadline after receiving 31,460 faxed applications as of Wednesday, it said. Some of those are expected to be duplicates or invalid.

The FTB estimates it can award approximately 17,500 to 20,000 credit certificates for $100 million made available by legislation last spring. Stated the agency: "Once the funds are exhausted, any remaining applications will be denied."

The program, which began May 1 in California, provides state tax breaks up to $3,333 in each of the next three tax years. Most buyers owe less in state taxes than that, however, and won't qualify for the full amount, the FTB said.

Buyers must fax a special FTB application and copy of the final settlement statement within two weeks of the close of escrow.

August 6, 2010
FHA unveils new refi program for underwater borrowers

This just arrived from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a news release announcing a new plan to refinance underwater borrowers. The first-lien holder has to forgive some debt as part of the deal. But it may keep a few more people in their homes.

August 5, 2010
Four allegedly unlicensed contractors stung in Nevada County

A sting operation Wednesday by the Contractors State License Board netted four allegedly unlicensed contractors in Nevada County, the CSLB has announced.

The CSLB issued notices to four suspects to appear in court on charges of illegal advertising and contracting without a license.

State investigators pretended to be homeowners seeking bids for paving, landscaping and painting a home near Grass Valley. Everybody who bid more than $500 and was allegedly unlicensed was charged.

Details and names are in this news release.

August 5, 2010
Legalized pot cultivation may rock the world of landlords

FRIDAY UPDATE: Here is the full column running in today's Bee and Sacbee.com.

I stumbled this week onto a really interesting policy intersection, the corner of legalized pot cultivation and real estate. Landlords and property managers are waking up to the idea that people will want to grow and consume legal pot in their rental properties. That's if Proposition 19 passes this November.

Being ever intrigued by how real estate is intertwined with everything I talked with legal pot proponents and real estate industry groups about the big questions:

What's the game plan when a tenant sets aside 25 square feet in the back yard or inside the house and begins to grow his or her own marijuana for personal consumption?

Can the owner say no? Does the tenant have to ask?

Key backers of Prop. 19 say it's their understanding that tenants will have to ask. One said it's like a dog. Dogs are legal. But landlords don't have to allow them.

The apartment industry isn't so sure. This is big month for industry meetings about what legalized pot in California might mean.

Homeowner associations are a whole new question, as well. I talked yesterday with Karen Conlon, director of the California Association of Community Managers. That is a trade group for association property managers. She thought homeowner association boards would be well in their rights to tell residents: You cannot grow pot, even if it's legal, in this neighborhood.

That raised the question then: will a real estate agent be legally obligated then to disclose that a particular neighborhood does or doesn't allow pot cultivation?

Fascinating stuff. Read the full Home Front column in Friday's paper and on sacbee.com.

By no means is the rental industry totally united against Prop. 19's passage. I talked with one Sacramento property manager who said legalizing pot would make it easier for managers like him. He can't check everybody, he said, to see who is doing what.

"If they make it legal to grow, it becomes a non-issue," he said. Like brewing beer in the basement.

August 5, 2010
Banks pull a no-show for hearing into pullback on HELOC's

Democratic Assemblyman Ted Lieu of Torrance says banks stiffed him and two Assembly financial committees on a planned hearing into reducing and suspending home equity lines of credit across California.

Lieu, chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Consumer Financial Protection, said he's hearing from constituents who have had their lines of credit taken away as home values fall across the state. He said he wanted banks to explain themselves.

But none pledged to participate in the hearing, which was cancelled.

On another bank front, SB175, by Sens. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and Senate President Pro tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, didn't get out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee yesterday. It was placed on the so-called "suspense file." That's where some bills go to die. Leno's reps said the committee has another hearing next week.

The bill, greatly opposed by the financial and business sectors, puts more pressure on lenders to modify problem loans and deal more fairly with borrowers.

August 5, 2010
Clear Capital: Sac-area home prices up 8.4% from last year

Truckee-based real estate tracker Clear Capital reports that collective home prices in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties are up 8.4 percent from the same time last year.   

The data shown here is for May, June and July. 

Clear Capital statistics show that bank-owned properties accounted for 33.6 percent of sales during the quarter. That's down from 46.2 percent the same time last year.

Surprisingly, considering that Clear Capital ranked Sacramento among its lowest performing major markets, the region's year-over-year price increases beat the national average of 8.1 percent. Others in the lowest performing markets included all the usual suspects - Riverside-San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Fresno and San Diego.

Here is the complete national report.

August 3, 2010
Big bank "seconds" asking agents to do illegal side deals?

Home Front has heard real estate agents complaining that second-lien holders are asking homeowners or agents to cough up an extra few thousands bucks at the final hour and not tell the first-lien holder about it. If not, no deal.

This, of course, is illegal.

We are looking into a story on this phenomenon. We aim to get some sense of the frequency of it happening, and see what banks have to say about it. I have heard that sometimes the same bank is the first AND second. And that the second still wants a secret side deal that its own institution doesn't know about.

Short sales are becoming a significant sales sector in Sacramento. If this has happened to you - as a homeowner or real estate agent - we'd like to talk with you.

Or: 916-321-1102

August 3, 2010
"Know Your Options" Web site unveiled by Fannie Mae

If you're struggling with the mortgage and looking for a new source of information, check out this new Website from Fannie Mae.  Here's hoping it's helpful.

July 26, 2010
CA's June housing starts beat June 2009, but not in Sacramento

California home builders started 4,238 houses, apartments, condos and townhouses in June, beating the same time last year by 19 percent, the California Building Industry Association announced this morning. The number adds up to the most permits since Dec. 2008, the CBIA reported.

The same didn't hold true for Sacramento. Builders in the capital region - Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties - started 298 residential dwellings in June - 22 percent fewer than a year ago.

But both Sacramento and the state as a whole beat May numbers.

Driving the statewide surge were starts of multifamily units such as condos, apartments and townhouses. Permits for single-family homes were actually down 9 percent statewide from a year ago. Sacramento had no new starts of multifamily units in June. That's why it bucked the statewide trend and reported fewer overall starts than last year.

The June numbers provided a good look at the first half of 2010. Sacramento's 1,538 housing starts from January through June are 3.6 percent fewer than the same time in 2009. The 72 housing starts in Yuba and Sutter counties are down 1.4 percent from the same time last year.

Statewide, builders reported the opposite - a 17 percent increase in housing starts over the same time in 2009.

But bottom line, the industry is in a serious funk. All these numbers are the lowest in a couple of generations.

July 15, 2010
UOP Forecasting Center sees no "double-dip" in California

Stockton's University of the Pacific Business Forecasting Center says gradual improvement in private sector hiring ;will head off any double-dip recession in California. But recovery is weak and uneven across the state and "the forecast projects it will be a long five years before economic conditions return to normal."

The weakest 12-month outlook is for Sacramento. It cites lack of lawmaker urgency to resolve the state budget gap and huge uncertainty among state workers about the size of their coming paychecks. The Business Forecasting Center sees Sacramento-area unemployment staying above 12 percent through 2010, falling to 11 percent next year and finally to 9.8 percent in 2012.

July 15, 2010
Sacramento-area June home sales highest since Oct. '08

Sacramento-area homes sales climbed again in June to their highest levels in 20 months, property researcher MDA DataQuick reported this morning.

The researcher counted 3,922 closed escrows of existing and new homes in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. That is up from 3,716 in May, and higher than June 2009.

 But it failed to beat June 2008's count of 4,045 closed escrows.

Median prices also continued their slow ascent in the largest sector of the market, Sacramento County. The median sales price for new and existing homes combined in Sacramento County was $185,000 in June - 5.7 percent higher than June 2009. Judging by patterns of recent months that reflects fewer sales of bank repos and more sales of higher-priced homes.

Median is that point where half the homes cost more and half less.

Prices for new and existing homes combined beat the same time last year in Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and El Dorado counties.  They remained below last year's prices in Amador, Nevada, Placer and Yuba counties.

Here is a look at June prices and sales by ZIP Code.

And below is a first overall look at the region's monthly sales and price chart.


Sales Volume Median Sales Price
Resale detached Jun-09 May-10 Jun-10 Yr/yr % chng Jun-09 May-10 Jun-10 Yr/yr % chng
Amador 27 44 41 51.9% $195,000 $194,000 $185,500 -4.9%
El Dorado 197 229 235 19.3% $307,000 $289,000 $316,000 2.9%
Nevada 134 128 150 11.9% $332,500 $275,000 $287,500 -13.5%
Placer 454 478 546 20.3% $284,500 $273,500 $281,250 -1.1%
Sacramento 2,000 1,885 1,941 -3.0% $175,000 $181,000 $185,000 5.7%
Sutter 111 111 100 -9.9% $155,000 $171,000 $163,750 5.6%
Yolo 186 217 180 -3.2% $249,000 $269,000 $266,250 6.9%
Yuba 108 83 92 -14.8% $133,000 $159,000 $140,000 5.3%
  Sales Volume Median Sales Price
Resale condos Jun-09 May-10 Jun-10 Yr/yr % chng Jun-09 May-10 Jun-10 Yr/yr % chng
Amador 0 0 0 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
El Dorado 0 0 0 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Nevada 3 10 6 100.0% $160,000 $270,000 $275,000 71.9%
Placer 31 50 64 106.5% $190,000 $150,000 $137,500 -27.6%
Sacramento 147 136 191 29.9% $106,750 $106,750 $109,000 2.1%
Sutter 3 4 2 -33.3% $47,000 $34,500 $73,500 56.4%
Yolo 5 13 7 40.0% $156,000 $145,000 $157,000 0.6%
Yuba 0 0 0 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
  Sales Volume Median Sales Price
New homes Jun-09 May-10 Jun-10 Yr/yr % chng Jun-09 May-10 Jun-10 Yr/yr % chng
Amador 4 0 3 -25.0% $280,000 n/a $259,000 -7.5%
El Dorado 21 12 13 -38.1% $443,000 $408,750 $456,000 2.9%
Nevada 6 2 8 33.3% $317,000 $284,250 $540,000 70.3%
Placer 113 134 158 39.8% $289,500 $311,750 $288,000 -0.5%
Sacramento 137 140 146 6.6% $248,500 $265,000 $268,000 7.8%
Sutter 9 8 10 11.1% $231,250 $180,000 $172,000 -25.6%
Yolo 34 21 26 -23.5% $313,500 $309,500 $320,000 2.1%
Yuba 28 11 3 -89.3% $194,000 $242,250 $205,500 5.9%
  Sales Volume Median Sales Price
All homes Jun-09 May-10 Jun-10 Yr/yr % chng Jun-09 May-10 Jun-10 Yr/yr % chng
Amador 31 44 44 41.9% $210,000 $194,000 $188,100 -10.4%
El Dorado 218 241 248 13.8% $315,500 $290,000 $322,000 2.1%
Nevada 143 140 164 14.7% $329,250 $275,000 $288,000 -12.5%
Placer 598 662 768 28.4% $284,000 $275,000 $275,000 -3.2%
Sacramento 2,284 2,161 2,278 -0.3% $175,000 $182,000 $185,000 5.7%
Sutter 123 123 112 -8.9% $155,500 $169,000 $165,250 6.3%
Yolo 225 251 213 -5.3% $265,500 $268,000 $270,000 1.7%
Yuba 136 94 95 -30.1% $154,000 $163,100 $144,750 -6.0%
Note: Amador County resale detached stats include resale condos 
(the county does not break them out separately).




July 15, 2010
Bay Area: June home sales top May

June sales of existing and new homes rose slightly from May in the San Francisco Bay Area, researcher MDA DataQuick reported minutes ago.

The newest market snapshot showed that the region's median price of $410,000 is up 16.5 percent above the same month last year. DataQuick says the next few months will prove whether the housing market can continue rising with the expiration of federal $8,000 first-time buyer tax credits.

Other highlights:

- Jumbo loans above $417,000 accounted for 33 percent of sales.

- 11.9 percent of sales involved adjustable-rate mortgages.

- Buyers presumed to be investors bought 16 percent of the homes sold in June.

July 14, 2010
Sacramento County sales rise again, prices edge toward $200K

Home sales numbers and prices continue to edge upward in Sacramento County and the City of West Sacramento, the Sacramento Association of Realtors reports.

The SAR counted 1,777 closed escrows in June, up 3.3. percent from 1,720 in May. The Realtors' group counts only existing homes, not new home sales.

Median prices also edged closer to $200,000 - reaching $194,000 in June. That's where half sold for more and half for less. June prices are up 2.1 percent from May - and up 7.8 percent now from the same time in 2009. 

Distress sales continued to dominate, accounting for 62 percent of all homes sold. SAR said 35.6 percent were bank repos and 26.4 percent were short sales. That short sales percentage continues to rise as banks increasingly take that route over foreclosure.

A year ago in June short sales were just 16.6 percent of sales and repos were 54 percent.

Here's a look at June sales and prices by ZIP Code.


July 14, 2010
California roundup: June sales, HPI, foreclosure reports

Los Angeles-area home sales surged again in June, beating May levels. The numbers were highest since last July, researcher MDA DataQuick reports here this week.

That stands in contrast to a national trend in which home sales fell sharply after expiration of an $8,000 federal tax credit for first-time buyers.

- 33% of sales were bank repos.
- 6.6% involved adjustable-rate loans.
- 17.3% were financed with "jumbo" loans above $417,000.
- 19.7% of buyers were presumed to be investors.
- 23.5% of sales were all-cash.
-3.4% were flips - bought and sold again within the past six months.

On the California foreclosure front, ForeclosureRadar reports a mixed picture in June, while noting that notices of default are down by almost half from June 2009.

Finally, here is CoreLogic with home price index changes for May. It shows collective prices in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties just a bit higher than May 2009.

July 13, 2010
Activists: CalHFA principal writedown plan is bank "bailout"

calhfa1.jpgWEDNESDAY A.M. UPDATE: Here is the full version of this morning's story.

A $700 million plan to prevent 40,000 California foreclosures came under fire this morning by activists and struggling homeowners who called it another bailout for the nation's largest banks. 

Groups including the Service Employees International Union, One La-Industrial Areas Foundation and Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action staged a news conference and later made presentations to the California Housing Finance Agency.

They argue that CalHFA's plans to spend $420 million to partially pay off mortgages of struggling California homeowners unfairly subsidizes losses by large lenders and leaves the homeowner still owing too much to avoid foreclosure.

The full story runs in Wednesday's Bee. But CalHFA said it is sticking with its plans that begin Nov. 1 - at least until they know if they help people avoid foreclosure. 

More Home Front photos from the news conference below:

calhfa2.jpg calhfa3.jpg Here's a video clip of the opening remarks. It's a bit long at 2:46, but it gives you the full notion of changes they're seeking in CalHFA's plan, which starts Nov. 1.


July 12, 2010
Calling all homebuyers....and/or freaked out state workers

If you closed escrow on a new or existing home in June (in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo or Yuba counties), we'd love to chat with you by phone and quote you by name for a story running later this week.

Did you get either the state or federal tax credit?

A good deal on a foreclosure or short sale?

Finally, land your dream after months competing with investors?

Also seeking state employees who may have given up the housing hunting, or gone into stall pattern while minimum wage question plays out.


July 12, 2010
Wells Fargo: Housing double-dip not likely in California

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank just released its new California Economic Outlook, saying widespread fears of a derailed housing recovery aren't likely to materialize in California.

"While fears of a national housing market double dip are on the rise due to the sharp decline in home sales following the expiration of the homebuyer tax credit, we see less of a chance for a douple dip in California, at least one that takes out the cyclical lows put in place in late 2007."

Wells Fargo economists say the signs of healing in the California's housing market have solidified in the past six months. They also see a "fragile and highly uneven" recovery in jobs, a slow rise in personal incomes and "tentative signs of recovery."

The bad news hits home close to home, however: a state budget crisis that portends large "expenditure reductions" and "significant cash shortfall problems."

July 12, 2010
Foreclosure crisis bites harder on Latinos & African-Americans

Since 2007 began an estimated 2.5 million American housesholds have lost their homes to foreclosure - and African Americans and Latinos have fared the worst, according to a recent report by the Center for Responsible Lending.

 The report, Foreclosures by Race and Ethnicity: The Demographics of a Crisis, says 8 percent of Latinos and African-Americans lost their homes compared to 4.5 percent5 of whites. 







July 9, 2010
Sacramento new-home sales post lowest quarter yet

 Thumbnail image for 5R9NEWSALES.xlgraphic.prod_affiliate.4.gifSales of new homes across Sacramento followed a national pattern, toppling off in May and June after the deadline to get an $8,000 federal tax break. Builders and industry tracker The Gregory Group in Folsom acknoweledged it this week.

Just 485 sales in April, May and June, as published in this morning's Bee. Lowest quarter in possibly half a century.

Here is the full Q2 2010 chart from the Gregory Group, showing prices and sales in individual cities across the Sacramento region.


Here is a report from Wells Fargo saying these lousy sales numbers are necessary to rebalance the market.

July 7, 2010
Sacramento-area loan distress rates ease for 4th month

 The percentage of Sacramento-area mortgages in serious trouble or on the path to foreclosure declined for a fourth straight month in May, home loan industry tracker CoreLogic reported Wednesday morning.

Corelogic said 11.18 percent of the mortgages in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Placer counties in May were either 90 days or more behind on payments, somewhere in the foreclosure process or tied to a bank-owned home listed for sale.

That is down slightly from 11.27 percent in April, and easing back from a high of 11.58 percent in February, CoreLogic reported. In May 2009, the figure was 9.06 percent.

The decline is partly due to declining numbers of homes somewhere in the foreclosure process, the firm said.

 In May, 3.03 percent of area homes with mortgages were in that process.  That is a sixth straight month of decline there as lenders try other alternatives such as short sales and loan modifications. It may also partially represent banks' inability to process foreclosures given the large number of delinquencies.

But bottom line: the percentage of homes in the foreclosure process is down from the same time a year earlier.

The Sacramento area, however, is still running ahead of the California and U.S. average for its percentage of troubled mortgages, CoreLogic reported.

July 6, 2010
West Sac Workshop: Navigating the foreclosure process

Legal Services of Northern California announced today that it will sponsor a free foreclosure workshop Wed., July 21, at the Arthur F. Turner Community Library, 1212 Merkley Ave. in West Sacramento.

The workshop runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Attendees will get information about how to avoid foreclosure or navigate the process. Advance registration is required. Call 916-375-6465.

Alysa Meyer, managing attorney of the Yolo County office of Legal Services of Northern California, will conduct the workshop. More details are here.


July 2, 2010
West Sacramento opens its newest "affordable" housing

courtyard1.jpgThe moving vans are coming and going this week on W. Capitol Avenue as West Sacramento's newest affordable apartment project opens its doors to tenants. That's the 62-unit Parkside at Sycamore, a $20 million project opened by Roseville-based USA Properties Fund.

 USA's CEO Geoff Brown toured Home Front through the complex late Thursday, showing a variety of floor plans that rent in a range between $407 and $1,049. Complex managers said Thursday they are getting a lot of people from mobile home parks and other apartment complexes in West Sacramento.

It's easy for Home Front to see the attraction. Tenants here with working-class jobs get a nice new place with nice facilities, especially for the kids.

playground1.jpgWhenever I write about one of these affordable projects with income restrictions the phone rings off the hook for a week. People, especially, seniors, are looking for nice places they can afford. Many who can't afford better say they're stuck in run-down places where they're afraid of crime.

Now on W. Capitol, for same money (due to tax credit financing, redevelopment money and state housing bond money to get these built) lower-income working people can live better.

Here is USA's Geoff Brown with a quick comment about high demand from renters for these kind of projects: (Photos-Video/by Home Front)

June 30, 2010
Best books about the housing crash and financial meltdown

41vvmbigshortXp3IRL._SL500_AA266_PIkin2,BottomRight,-16,34_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpgI recently finished reading "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis, a really excellent book in which he debunks the notion that no one could have seen the coming financial crash. I've now rumbled through several interesting histories of the terror that gripped us all though much of 2008, especially the fateful month of September when it appeared all civilization was about to collapse. Believe you me, all these Sacramento mortgages that were easy to get and hard to pay off were all part of a huge money-making machine with no thoughts of consequences.  

Page 260 in Lewis' book contains one of the great paragraphs in the history of books (OK, maybe books about the financial industry):

He writes:
"The people in a position to resolve the financial crisis were, of course, the same people who had failed to foresee it: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, future Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack, Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit, and so on. A few Wall Street CEOs had been fired for their roles in the subprime mortgage catastrophe, but most remained in their jobs, and they, of all people, became important characters operating behind the closed doors, trying to figure out what to do next. With them were a handful of government officials - the same government officials who should have known a lot more about what Wall Street firms were doing, back when they were doing it. All shared a distinction: They had proven far less capable of grasping basic truths in the heart of the U.S. financial system than a one-eyed money manager with Asperger's syndrome."

51nVgreatesteverkFua0JL._SL160_AA160_.jpgRight now, I am trying to slog through "The Greatest Trade Ever," a tale about investor John Paulson who made a fortune shorting subprime mortgages. It seems for whatever reason to be slow going.

I recommend "A Colossal Failure of Common Sense" by Lawrence G. 51SIovcommonsenseP1D1L._SL160_AA160_.jpgMcDonald. It offers a great insider sense of the chaos building inside investment bank Lehman Brothers as it gorged on subprime mortgages. Great, too, is a sense of The Central Valley being an alarm bell for all that was about to go spectacularly wrong.

41CCtoobigl0Jf-T7L._SL160_AA160_.jpgCheck out "Too Big to Fail," by Andrew Ross Sorkin. It's largely a gripping chronicle of that horrifying weekend when the establishment let Lehman Brothers go into bankruptcy and Merill Lynch became part of Bank of America.

I also liked "Street Fighters, The Last 72 hours of Bear Stearns, " by 5streetfighers1jOl+Ew5ML._SL160_AA160_.jpgKate Kelly. It's a little drier, it seemed to me. Nontheless, it's all about madness gripping Wall Street in March 2008. I can still remember that Sunday night waiting for the Asian markets to open, and having a sense of what awesome trouble we were all in. And we were.  (Images courtesy of Amazon.com).

June 25, 2010
California's first-time homebuyer tax credits: going, going....

It's going fast. California's Franchise Tax Board reports that it's received nearly 18,000 applications requesting $91 million of an available $100 million set aside for first-time home buyer tax credits up to $10,000.

The FTB points out that the numbers so far are only estimates based on small samples. So it plans to take 28,000 applications before shutting off the fax machine. Also, many of those applications coming in are duplicates, and most people won't be able to claim the full $10,000.

But the numbers show again the popularity of a stimulus passed almost unanimously by state lawmakers in March. The bill, AB 183, was designed to soak up excess housing inventory and help revive the state's construction industry. Many have argued that it's a giveaway to people who would have bought anyway, and that there are more pressing needs in a state facing $20 billion in budget gaps. But consumers sure appear to like this.

FTB expects to have numbers next month on a similar $100 million allocation for tax credits to buyers of new, unoccupied houses.

June 24, 2010
May Single-family home starts rise 9.6% in Sacramento

Oddly, while the national news is about a terrible fall in single-family home starts from April to May, they rose almost 10 percent in the Sacramento region, according to the newest release from the California Building Industry Association.

Here is a PDF with numbers from all the state's metros, including Sacramento and Yuba City.

June 24, 2010
Sacramento woman headed to jail for credit card fraud

 The U.S. Attorney's Office just announced 2 1/2 years in jail for a woman who stole peoples' identities and took out credit cards in their names. There are 114 victims.

June 24, 2010
Sacramento credit union deposits signal a stronger consumer

The California Credit Union League published some interesting stats this afternoon showing a pretty sizable jump in deposits the first quarter of 2010. It's touting the deposits as signs that consumers may be about to unleash their spending.

"We're hoping these small and subtle buildings-up over the last few quarters will portend very good things in the coming quarters," said Daniel Penrod, the league's senior industry analyst. "That's in terms of comfort and people feeling confident enough in their employment situation that things won't get worse. They can use the savings in terms of bringing back retail and having an impact on the job numbers."

The CCUL reported $1.9 billion in new net credit union deposits statewide in Q1. Nearly a fourth of that - $501 million - flowed into Sacramento credit unions.

Banks, meanwhile, saw their deposits shrink by 0.35%

I asked Penrod if that might partially be about people checking out of big banks over TARP and the Wall Street meltdown. There's a movement for people to register their disapproval of "too big to fail" by moving their money out of the biggest banks.

He said, "It appears to point to individuals taking initiative with their finances. For a long time people got with one institution and and rode it for the rest of their lives. Now, with all the information available they are looking at finances and deciding what's best for them. We're seeing a shift to individuals taking control of their finances.

"Confidence and trust is huge," he said. "With the big bailouts, the isues with WAMU and IndyMac, the state was shaking. It remains a very tentative situation."

Finally, the CCUL noted that use of ARMS is up in Sacramento. Credit unions originated an extra $27.8 million worth of adjustable-rate loans in Q1 - and $31.8 more in fixed-rate loans than the previous quarter.

I am not sure this is something to rave about - another rise of ARMs.

But they're spinning it as a sign of confidence in homebuying.

June 24, 2010
Elk Grove: Places of the real estate meltdown

EMPTY1.jpg I visited my dentist this morning in Elk Grove for a routine checkup and found him almost surrounded in his strip center by empty stores. It was worse than six months ago, which was worse than six months before that.

 Gone now is Cartridge World, another little business that sold cookies and another little restaurant. I counted nine vacancies in Laguna Park Village.

Big 5 is still there, as is Kragen. Both are the main anchors. Newly arrived is a check-cashing business, which probably doesn't argue for upward mobility here.

One word: Ouch (And I don't mean from the dentist).




June 23, 2010
U.S.: more than 6,200 permanent loan mods in Sacramento

The newest U.S. Treasury Department reports for May show that lenders have done 6,227 permanent loan modifications with Sacramento-area borrowers under the Obama Administration's Making Home Affordable program.

A closer look at  the data shows 5,795 permanent modifications so far in Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties and 432 more in Yuba and Sutter counties.

Here is a look at all U.S. metro areas for permanent modifications and trial periods in motion.

June 23, 2010
CalHFA gets federal nod for $700 million plan to help borrowers

UPDATE: Here is the full June 24 Sacramento Bee story that explains the program:

 The California Housing Finance Agency has just announced U.S. Treasury Department approval for a $700 million plan to help more struggling California borrowers stay in their homes.

It applies to moderate-income borrowers and contains some money to write down loans to today's values. There is also money to help people who simply can't afford their homes move to new rentals.  It's part of a $2.1 billion federal initiative to help borrowers in states where home prices have fallen by 20 percent or more.

Approvals for the first $1.5 billion of that $2.1 billion were also announced this morning by the U.S. Treasury Department.  

UPDATE AT 10:15 AM: We just talked minutes ago with Evan Gerberding, marketing manager for what's being called the Keep Your Home Program. (Check the link for details about eligibility etc). The aim is to help approximately 40,000 borrowers over the next three years, starting with the hardest-hit counties.

The goal is to start Nov. 1, said Gerberding.

Here is the full 44-page California proposal approved by the U.S. Treasury Department.

It looks so far like they will provide  up to $1,500 a month for people in danger of defaulting on mortgages because of job losses. And they'll offer $50,000 to lenders to lower what's owed on the house - and aim to have lenders match that amount.

CalHFA is adding some staff to run this. We asked what percentage of the $700 million is going to staff. They promised to get us a number on that.

Overall, it sounds like a new cushion that could help thousands avoid foreclosure. On a cautionary note, earlier programs have been rolled out with fanfare and then proved a disappointment. But anyone who gets saved here from a foreclosure is one less.

Gerberding advised people who are struggling now NOT to wait until this begins. Keep trying to work with your lender through a HUD-approved counselor, she advised. More details on how to apply for this and what to do will become available as we get closer to Nov. 1, she said.

June 22, 2010
FBI issues its 2009 mortgage fraud report

 I have been carrying this 2009 FBI mortgage fraud report around in my briefcase for a few days without reading it yet. But people say California features prominently in it. Enjoy.

Incidentally, this FBI report covers the fiscal year begin Oct. 1, 2008 and Sept. 31, 2009. 

June 18, 2010
Attorney General issues alert about rising short sale scams

Attorney General Jerry Brown adds here to the warnings about short sale fraud as short sales become a growing part of the real estate market.

He warns against unlicensed firms offering services, illegal hidden surcharges, requests for advance fees, straw buyers and house flipping.

I was just talking yesterday to a buyers' real estate agent who said the seller's agent demanded some kind of surcharge at the last minute - an extra $3,000 that he was sure was illegal. But sellers paid to get the deal done without another hassle.

This short sale fraud has been a big top so I include a couple more links below to previous alerts. First, a replay of last week's Home Front article on the topic - with a lot of reader comments about their own experiences.

And second, a link to Department of Real Estate consumer alerts issued in April about short sales and forensic loan audits.

Be wary out there.

June 18, 2010
Sacramento's May home sales strongest for month in 4 years

Yesterday was a breaking news bombardment so today we bring a late run of the MDA DataQuick sales report from yesterday. First, today's news story showing that May's closed escrows topped 3,700 in the eight-county capital region. That was the best May since 2006, according to DataQuick.

And here is DataQuick's micro-look with May sales and price information by ZIP Code.

June 18, 2010
Where Sacramentans move - and who's moving here

A colleague just forwarded this stunning 2008 population migration map based on IRS data. Check it out for a great visual for every county in America. You'll never be the same after seeing this.

June 17, 2010
80 percent of Calif. first-time buyer tax credit is gone

This just in from the California Franchise Tax Board:  About 80 percent of the state's $100 million tax credit is already spoken for. Details are in the link.

June 16, 2010
Fed grand jury indicts 10 - five in Elk Grove - on mortgage fraud

THURSDAY UPDATE: Here is the full report from this morning's Bee.

News came this morning that a federal grand jury in Sacramento returned a 48-count indictment against 10 people for allegedly falsifying loan applications and getting kickbacks by borrowing more than the house was worth.

It all allegedly involves Liberty Land and Investment Co. and Liberty Mortgage in Elk Grove, and loans made from April 2006 through Feb. 2007 - the height of loose lending standards, especially by subprime lenders.

We reached Liberty owner Hoda Samuel by phone this afternoon. She said her attorney advised her not to comment.

"I cannot talk about it," she said. I know Iam not guilty. But I cannot talk about it."

She said the business is closed.

 An attorney for another indicted defendant who pled not guilty said the federal government needs to go after the bigger fish - lenders and large banking institutions. Full story in tomorrow's Bee and Sacbee.com.

Here are a couple of links, to the news release from the U.S. Attorney's office and the actual 28-page indictment that lays out the government's allegations.


June 15, 2010
TrendGraphix: Median sales prices up 3% in past year


 "The majority of all sales are occurring under the $300,000 threshold; however, due to significant price-reductions, we are starting to see an increase in sales in the $500,000+ upper-end market."

So says Mike Lyon, head of Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, in his May report from TrendGraphix.

Full May report is at this link

Number of homes for sale by county as May ended:

El Dorado 1,082

Placer 1,504

Sacramento 4,365

Yolo 473

Total 7,424

June 15, 2010
Southern California: median prices break $300,000 barrier

May sales prices topped $300,000 for the first time in 20 months across Southern California, researcher MDA DataQuick reported this morning.

Mainly, it's because higher-end sales are rising, and sales of really cheap bank repos are falling. The same thing apparently happened last month in the capital region, where median prices edged closer to the $200,000 barrier, according to the Sacramento Association of Realtors.

May prices in SAR's zone - Sacramento County and City of West Sacramento - were highest in 32 months. We expect DataQuick to weigh in with bigger regional numbers from Sacramento and the Bay Area later this week.

June 15, 2010
An improbable answer to delinquencies: doing nothing
This just arrived from Sean O'Toole, CEO of Foreclosure Radar in Contra Costa County:
"We saw drops in foreclosure activity across the board in May. Foreclosure filings, sales, cancellations and inventories all down. Given the percentage of delinquent home loans in CA (see the LPS Mortgage Monitor Report or the Mortgage Banker Association's National Delinquency Survey) this drop in activity makes no sense. I would love to say it was due to short sales or loan modifications, but I see little evidence from residential home sales, or HAMP reports to support that theory. The question we should all be asking is, if it is not by foreclosure, short sale or loan mod, then how do lenders plan to deal with delinquent loans? Increasingly seems that they, and the regulators that in the past have forced the liquidation of non-performing assets, are simply waiting and wishing for a return to peak prices reached during the bubble."
The full California report, including regional counties is at this link.
June 14, 2010
Valley watch: Another federal real estate fraud indictment

A federal grand jury has issued a 30-count real estate fraud indictment against a Modesto man. He's alleged to have made phony offers of construction loans for stressed-out landowners as the housing bust set in, the FBI announced today.

Tony Huy Havens, 36, is charged with wire fraud and criminal forfeiture related to alleged incidents in eight states. It's part of a new crackdown on mortgage and real estate fraud in the Central Valley.

June 11, 2010
Vallejo sisters face plead guilty to bank fraud in real estate deals

Vallejo sisters Ralondria Stafford, 36, and Necole Ward, 31, are scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Sacramento on Aug. 26 after pleading guilty to charges related to phony real estate deals in 2005 and 2006.

They ran RN Realty in Vallejo and use a straw buyer scheme that earned them some big money - and now, big trouble with the law.

Details are in this news release from the U.S. Attorney's office in Sacramento: VALLEJO SISTERS PLEAD GUILTY TO MORTGAGE FRAUD.


June 8, 2010
10 ways to help sell that house

Home & Garden TV just e-mailed its Top 10 Ways to Boost Curb Appeal and sell your house faster. Hint: fix the roof, get the oil off your driveway and light the place up.


June 8, 2010
Sacramento Co. median price highest since Sept. 2008

Median sales prices for existing homes in Sacramento County and the City of West Sacramento are headed back toward $200,000, having reached $190,000 in May, says the Sacramento Association of Realtors. That's highest since Sept. 2008.

SAR announced today that 1,720 homes changed hands in May, a 12 percent rise from April.

Perhaps more importantly, conventional sales - not repos or short sales - reached 41 percent of May sales. That's up almost 20 percent from this time last year, an indicator that higher-end homes are starting to move, and another small step back toward normal.

Short sales accounted for 23.7 percent of sales in May. Bank-owned repos were 35 percent of sales, according to SAR.

Here is a summary of May's numbers, followed by a closer look at the ZIP Code level.

If you're looking to compare May with other months check out SAR's statistics page.

June 8, 2010
Countrywide to pay $108 million for overcharging the desperate

During the worst of the market excesses that characterized Sacramento's housing boom, Countrywide Financial Corp. was the region's single largest lender. So it stands to reason that many residents of the capital region might get a piece of its new $108 million settlement with the federal government.

The Federal Trade Commission said the firm - now part of Bank of America - overcharged struggling borrowers with inflated fees and mishandled loans of borrowers in bankruptcy. It said the practice stems from before BofA bought Countrywide.

Reports said it will be months before those who were wronged receive notice of impending payments.

June 7, 2010
Roseville: still building houses (sort of) like the old days

whitehouse.jpgI drove to Roseville's WestPark and Fiddyment Farm communities this morning - to see if it is true that Roseville accounts for one in three sales of new houses in the six-county area.

I believe it now. I saw more houses going up in one place there than I've seen in three or four years. I saw sights that I haven't seen in a long time - a sign on a tree about window blinds, dirt on a driveway indicating the start of a back yard and scores of workers earning their living through residential construction.

A few weeks ago I added up numbers from a consultant, The Gregory Group, showing that West Roseville is home to 32.6 percent of houses sold the past year in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

We are starting a story to run soon about Roseville's continued growth as the new home market took harder hits in other parts of the region. Until then, here are few pictures from this morning's trip:

 Construction at Centex (I think).

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for workingit.jpg  A closeup at Vintage Square at WestPark. Nice colors 

Thumbnail image for aptsclose.jpg

Finally, open space. There's still a lot of it left out there:

emptyspace.jpg Photos/Home Front


June 3, 2010
12.2% of Sacramento-area mortgages are in distress

Housing industry tracker CoreLogic reported this morning that 12.2 percent of mortgages in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties in April were at least 90 days behind on payments, somewhere in the foreclosure pipeline or a bank-owned listing.

That's up from 11.8 percent in March - and well up from 8.45 percent in April 2009.

Sacramento-area mortgage distress is higher than California as whole, where 11.6 percent of mortgages are in a distressed condition. Nationally, 8.9 percent of mortgages are at least 90 days behind on payments or in the foreclosure pipeline, said CoreLogic.

Full details are at this link from CoreLogic.

June 2, 2010
Two more years of discount flood insurance in Natomas

U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, just announced a two-year extension of preferred rate flood insurance for 26,000 Natomas residents through 2011 and 2012.

Here is the news release from the congresswoman.

Basically, that means these residents can get flood insurance for about $300 a year instead of the usual cost of $1,200 or more. They need the flood insurance while the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency is beefing up area levees to provide 200-year flood protection in Natomas.

There was a lot of background paper flying on this issue. Rep. Matsui shared three letters related to the insurance issue.

Mail related to the most recent two-year extension is here.

The original letter from Matsui to Fema requesting a first extension is at this link while FEMA's original response is here.

May 29, 2010
An old Libbys warehouse gets a Sutter Pediatrics makeover


Home Front had a chance to visit 1625 Stockton Blvd. in Sacramento a few days ago, checking out Sutter Medical Foundation's new multimillion-dollar makeover of a 52-year-old former Libbys Cannery warehouse. Call it a very nice way to start a morning - touring a colorful art-splashed setting for children and their parents.

 The medical foundation calls the center Sutter Medical Plaza, It's a new pediatrics outpatient center that pulls together in one place the various offices and clinics where parents have previously had to take their children. Sutter opened the center in April, said Eric Rassmusen, director of growth and development for the foundation. The Sacramento development firm Separovich/Domich owns the building, which housed BloodSource before Sutter moved in.

sutterwoodbfly.jpgSutter took a lot of care to make it inviting to kids. Check out the warm colors, the wood, the art and butterflies and the light fixtures.

The outside of the building has tile murals in keeping with the Moorish theme the city is trying to encourage along neighboring Alhambra Boulevard.

Life, yes, is a long haul. Generations come and go and buildings get new lives and new acts. This is one old  Sacramento warehouse that's come a long way.

Pictures are worth a thousands words in this case. Here's a look at the hallway art just inside the entrance: Rasmussen said the mural is named "Window Into Nature," painted by Nikki Solone of Sacramento.














A look at the waiting areas as people make their way to where they're headed.

sutterwaiting.jpgAnd a colorful dragonfly down the hall.  sutterdragonfly.jpg(Photos/By Home Front) 






May 29, 2010
Market-rate apartment construction dead in Sacramento

  I picked up the phone a couple of days ago and asked Steve Nelson, partner with Hendricks & Partners, about whether anyone is building market-rate apartments in Sacramento. He's an apartment broker.

I called because affordable-apartment developer St. Anton Partners of Sacramento seems to be the only firm building any rentals in this region.

Nelson called back after deadline and left a voice mail about market-rate apartment construction Here's what he said:

"There is zero market activity going on today. Nothing. The only buildings being built are affordable housing deals, tax credit deals. The market doesn't support market-rate deals.

"The effective rents after concessions and so forth simply won't support new construction. You're upside down. The banks won't underwrite unless the developer puts 40 percent down or more. And historically, developers never put that much real cash into a deal.

"The banks are being very difficult. Sacramento is on the Fannie (Mae) and Freddie (Mac) watch list. It has been for the last year and a half because of our employment issues and budget issues with the state. Our economy is specious at best. Consequently, the banks are being very, very, very conservative in underwriting loans, period, for Sacramento."

Now you know. I might add that after my story appeared about 316 new low- and moderate-income apartments in North Highland, I got half a dozen calls from people wanting to know the phone numbers. There's an excess, yes, of higher-end apartments. But demand for less-expensive rent in this region seems to be insatiable.

May 28, 2010
Elk Grove: A new small sign of rebalancing the housing market
SUNDAY UPDATE: Here is the full story that ran in this morning's Sacramento Bee, plus a lot of spirited commentary from readers who wonder why we need more new houses in this economy and whether this really is a sign of things getting better.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for mad2.jpgEverywhere, we are looking for those small signs that say the housing market is slowly rebalancing. This Sunday we'll show you new evidence from Elk Grove's Madeira community, formerly called Laguna Ridge. There a handful of builders have bought hundreds of finished and repossessed lots for as low as $40,000 each. Above, crews in Elk Grove are building new homes for Newport Beach-based William Lyon Homes.

Same below: More William Lyon Homes under construction. It's been awhile since we've seen many of these scenes:


mad3.jpg    At the height of the boom those lots cost $200,000, meaning a builder could only build the most expensive humongous house possible.

Now with land prices low they can price lower - $290,000 to $320,000 in the case of The New Home Co. That's the spot where analysts say builders can compete with foreclosures.

So Sunday brings a new Road to Recovery story - about new faces in the building scene,new land prices and a new look at a 1,900-acre development nearly left for dead in the housing crash. 

Here's a roofer finishing up a New Home Co. model home to open in June:

mad1.jpg And below: a picture of human-friendly infrastructure already in place in Madeira:


mad5.jpg Home Front Photos


May 25, 2010
72-year-old Sacramento real estate investor pleads guilty

This just in from U.S. District Court and the U.S. Attorney's Office: A 72-year-old Sacramento real estate investor has pleaded guilty to underreporting his profits from a property sale and filing a false tax return.

Authorities said in a news release that Wallace Chin of Sacramento admitted he falsely underreported capital gains by $700,000 after selling property he owned through a partnership.

 Chin submitted false and forged documents "to substantiate the false information in his return" after an IRS audit, according to U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner.

Chin agreed to pay the IRS $104,977 as part of the  plea agreement.

Sentencing is scheduled Aug. 10 in U.S. District Court.

 As part of the agreement the government will recommend a sentence at the low end of federal guidelines for the offense.

May 20, 2010
Brown announces arrests in huge alleged loan mod scam

  Here's a story to make your hair stand up on end: Attorney General announces arrests in major alleged loan modification scam.

May 20, 2010
Sacramento: April home prices and sales numbers by ZIP
FRIDAY UPDATE: Here is today's story on the April numbers.

 MDA DataQuick released its April sales and price numbers by ZIP Code a few minutes ago.
Interesting angle we are exploring for tomorrow's edition: there are more sales in the higher end as sellers get the sense that this is as good as it's going to get for awhile. They're getting realistic, say real estate agents.
May 19, 2010
CoreLogic: Sacramento home prices to rise 1.93% in next year

Orange County-based CoreLogic says it expects home prices in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties (including distressed homes) to rise nearly 2 percent in the next year.

The national market tracker says this morning that prices declined 0.53 percent regionally between March 2009 and March 2010. That beat February's performance, but still lags behind slight price appreciation being seen nationally.

Full details regionally and nationally at this link.

May 19, 2010
Foreclosure situation in California is finally improving

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported this morning that the foreclosure crisis in California is beginning to ease. The MBA issued first-quarter numbers showing that delinquency rates fell slightly to 10.88 percent. The number of loans entering foreclosure also remained flat instead of rising. Finally, the percentage of loans somewhere in the foreclosure process also fell slightly.

MBA Chief Economist Jay Brinkmann said this morning, "The role of California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada is lessening. A year ago they had 45.3 percent of the problem loans. That's down to 37.9 percent. We are seeing improvements in California on a quarter to quarter and year over year basis."

Specific details and numbers are in this news release.

May 18, 2010
2009: Sacramento foreclosures touch nearly 20,000 renters

A new report says residential foreclosures touched the lives - and leases - of 19,791 Sacramento-area renters last year. They were among more than 200,000 renters statewide who had to move out after three months or at the end of their leases, according to a report by Tenants Together, a statewide renters' rights group.

The "2010 Report: California Renters in the Foreclosure Crisis," used data from Contra Costa County-based Foreclosure Radar to calculate an estimated 7,314 foreclosed rental properties last year in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties.

The report said between 32 percent and 39 percent of foreclosed properties in the eight counties were occupied by renters.

The tenants group cited at least one major gain for renters during 2009: a new federal law giving tenants without leases 90 days to leave. New owners must let tenants with leases stay until the lease expires.

Tenants Together said foreclosures increased by 70 percent from 2008 to 2009 at apartment buildings with five or more units.

May 18, 2010
Sacramento homebuilders still search for recovery signs

Sacramento-area homebuilders shouldn't expect a "quick turnaround anytime soon," says a new analysis of the region's housing market by Houston-based Metrostudy.

Metrostudy's Northern California division director Greg Gross says new-home closings will likely "remain flat or even fall slightly in the first half of 2010 as the weak economy continues." Builders are already dealing with sales numbers that rival lows seen in the 1960s and earlier.

Gross says they're still facing too many negative trends such as the region's abundance of distressed housing. It continues to lower prices even with a pickup in sales activity, he says.

The consulting firm says builders have responded with nearly 40 percent of home starts being priced below $300,000.

 "That means that builders are now lowering base prices to compete directly with foreclosures and 'short sales,' and using fewer incentives," he says. "One of the more difficult challenges builders are facing now is that appraisals are coming in lower than sales price."

The consulting firm also released a cheerier outlook for San Francisco Bay Area builders - saying they are poised for recovery.

May 18, 2010
"Baby steps on a long road to recovery"

MDA DataQuick reports that Southern California sales were down slightly in April while median sales prices rose to $285,000. That's up 15.4 percent from an April 2009 low.

The researcher speculates that fewer April sales might be due to first-time buyers holding back on closings until May to get a new $10,000 state tax credit.

    "The market's still taking baby steps on a long road to recovery, trying to find its footing. It's unclear which of today's sales characteristics are part of a new reality, and which are still temporary turbulence. The mortgage market, especially for larger home loans, is definitely dysfunctional. Obviously things would be different if the job picture were brighter," said John Walsh, MDA DataQuick president.



May 17, 2010
Permanent loan modifications rising slowly in Sacramento
Slightly more than 5,000 struggling borrowers in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento and Yolo counties have received permanent mortgage modifications, reports the newest look at April loan modification data from the U.S. Treasury Department.
Another 380 borrowers in Yuba and Sutter counties have gotten the permanent modifications.

The data suggest that ever more people are getting their loans permanently modified through interest rate cuts, longer payback periods and temporary suspension of payments. But the number of people in trial modification payments - the pipeline leading to permanent modifications - is apparently falling. Some fear this may mean fewer people will get help in the longer run.

Here is five months of data showing how permanent modifications are rising:
                         Sacramento MSA                  Yuba City MSA
Dec. 2009          1,156                                            90
Jan. 2010            2,078                                          159   
Feb.                   2,921                                           213
March                 3,882                                           296
April                    5,019                                          380

(Sacramento MSA: El Dorado, Placer, Yolo, Sacramento counties)
(Yuba City MSA: Yuba and Sutter counties)

Here now is the number of active trial modifications in place by month. As you can see these numbers are falling locally. Home Front hasn't been able to analyze this fully yet, but it would seem to suggest that fewer people are getting into the modification process period. That seems to follow some of the criticism implied in articles that the government loan's modification program is running out of steam.

 Is this how you're reading  it?

Here's the number of loans in trial modification programs in recent months (usually for three to six months, a test period for possible permanent modifications).
                                  Sacramento MSA                  Yuba City MSA
Dec. 2009                        11,848                                 908
Jan. 2010                         12,346                                 941
Feb.                                 12,450                                 956
March                               11,653                                 884
April                                   9,624                                  727

According to the report most of these permanent modifications are reducing monthly payments by an average of $500. They include lowered interest rates, longer periods to pay off the loan and temporary suspension of payments.

Source: Making Home Affordable Program
May 17, 2010
2,470 apply already for first-time homebuyer tax credits

They're going fast.

California's first-time homebuyers have applied for an estimated $13.3 million in state homebuyer tax credits in the first two weeks of the program, according to the state Franchise Tax Board.

At that pace $100 million in available credits are "expected to be used up very quickly," says an FTB announcement.

The agency has warned buyers that it may take them up to an hour to connect to the agency's fax machine during business hours "due to the high volume of faxes we are receiving."

An estimated 17,500 first-time buyers are expected to get an average tax break of about $5,700 over three years, according to the FTB.

A second allocation of $100 million in tax breaks for buyers of new, unoccupied homes is expected to last longer, said FTB spokeswoman Brenda Voet. An estimated 14,000 buyers are expected to claim an average of $7,000 in tax breaks over three years, according to FTB estimates.

State lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved the tax credits with March legislation designed to stimulate the state's economy.

May 14, 2010
Sacramento mortgage fraud indictments: Change your name, buy a house

This is a few days late, but the U.S. Dept. of Justice in Sacramento has announced mortgage fraud-related indictments against four Elk Grove men and another from Fair Oaks.

This is wild stuff. They've been charged with 11 counts of mail fraud for allegedly changing their names to Muslim names to buy houses that many then lost to foreclosure. Losses are estimated at $1 million.

May 13, 2010
Top 15 Sacramento-area home builders, Q1 2010

Hanley Wood Market Intelligence is out with its first quarter 2010 numbers for new home sales in the six-county Sacramento region (El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba). We're counting 732 sales altogether in the region. Here's who's in the Top 15:

1) Pulte (including Centex and Del Webb) 108
2) Lennar 67
3) JMC 45
4) Taylor Morrison 44
5) Pacific West 39
6) Woodside 33
7) Signature 32
8) Standard Pacific 32
9) S360 Development 27
10) K. Hovnanaian 25
11) Tim Lewis 23
12) Beazer 23
13) Elliott 22
14) Meritage 21
15) Shea 21

May 13, 2010
80% of first-time buyers can afford a house in Sacramento

The California Association of Realtors reports today that 80 percent of Sacramento County first-time buyers could afford a home during the first three months of 2010 - same percentage as last year. It is the flip side of the housing crisis: opportunity has opened for people priced out of the market before prices fell.

In Sacramento that assumes a 10 percent down payment and a $152,520 entry-level price. The average monthly payment is $860 including taxes and insurance. Minimum qualifying income: $25,720.

Statewide, the first-time buyer affordability figure is 66 percent - down from 69 percent the same time last year.

May 13, 2010
Sacramento: new home sales up from Feb. but slump continues

Sacramento-area home builders reported sales of 253 new homes and condos during March, continuing a long slow decline that began in 2005.

The March tally was down from 365 sales in March 2009, according to figures by consultant Hanley Wood Market Intelligence. Last year set a new low for sales in the region, possibly the worst in a half century, according to statistics.

Builders, who have seen a 90 percent reduction in their regional workforce during a devastating housing market slump, hope to beat last year with help of a state $10,000 tax break for buyers of new, unoccupied homes.

The numbers released today by the California Building Industry Association show 234 sales in Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties and 19 in Sutter and Yuba counties.

Statewide, homebuilders reported 2,189 sales of homes and condos in March, beating February's total of 1,938. But March sales were 31 percent below those of March 2009.

Photo: Sacramento Bee/Renee Byer

May 12, 2010
Online real estate searches shift toward rentals

Check this out: Experian Hitwise - which measures Web searches - says there's been a significant year-long drop in numbers of people searching online for homes for sale.

Correspondingly, more are searching online for rentals. Hitwise cites much of the negative media reports on housing. It reminds me of a theory I heard in 2007: you will truly know the market is at bottom when very idea of owning a home becomes - in pop culture - revolting.

May 12, 2010
America's top 100 homebuilders last year

Builder Magazine just announced its 2009 list of top American homebuilders.

Texas-based D.R. Horton, once one of the leading Sacramento-area builders, ranked first.

 Many other familiar names across the corporate homebuilding scene in Sacramento are high on Builder's list.

May 12, 2010
Sacramento County: Q1 home sales down 20% from year earlier

Time-consuming short sales and fewer listings combined to shrink the number of first-quarter home sales in Sacramento County from the same time last year. That's according to Prudential Realty, which released its first quarter sales statistics this afternoon.

Prudential counts 3,854 sales of single-family detached homes in the county in January, February and March - compared to 4,806 the same time in 2009.

Most of the homes for sale in Sacramento County and West Sacramento are short sales - where lenders accept less than owed to avoid the higher costs of foreclosing. Those sales can take months to be approved. And agents still say there are more buyers than listings at the lower affordable end of the market.

Inside the metro area, sales were up from last year in Antelope, Carmichael, Fair Oaks and Folsom.

They were down in Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, North Highlands, Orangevale, Rancho Cordova, Sacramento and West Sacramento.

In the larger region - Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties - first quarter sales totaled 8,323, according to MDA DataQuick. That's down from 9,034 in the first quarter of 2009.

May 10, 2010
Has your house trapped you in Sacramento's unemployment?

Richard Florida, who wrote a widely-quoted book about revitalizing cities by attracting "the creative class," has penned a new book about changes wrought by this financial crisis - especially in housing. It's titled "The Great Reset."

One of the really interesting points is how home ownership isn't necessarily good, especially for people who live in hard-hit economies and want to move to places with jobs. He says mobility is the key to the new economy. People trapped in houses, as many are here in Sacramento, are held back and so is the larger economy, he argues.

I am hoping to talk with Florida by phone about this phenomenon and write a Friday Home Front column on it. I'd love to get a couple of examples from people here, too. Are you seeing jobs in Texas or New York that you'd love to apply for? But can't because you're upside down? Trapped professionally and financially in Sacramento's unemployment by a routine home buying decision made in 2004? I have until about 10 a.m. Thursday for this if you'd like to get in touch. Thanks.


Or by phone direct, 916-321-1102.

May 10, 2010
California's homebuyer tax credit: what you need to know

California's Franchise Tax Board announced details Monday onthe specific ins and outs of getting new state homebuyer tax credits up to $10,000. The explicit guidance follows passage last month's legislation setting aside $200 million in buyer tax breaks on a first-come, first-served basis.

The FTB, which is California's version of the Internal Revenue Service, advises that  applications must be faxed only after the close of escrow. The close of escrow is the trigger date for being eligible for the tax credit.

More specifically, the tax agency notes that applications - and a copy of the escrow settlement statement - must be faxed within two weeks (14 calendar days) after the close of escrow.

The new program began May 1 and runs until the supply of credits is exhausted.The FTB estimates that up to 32,000 California buyers will be able to claim them. State lawmakers allocated $100 million for all buyers of new unoccupied homes and $100 million for first-time buyers of existing homes. Though controversial in a time of budget deficits, lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said it would create new residential construction jobs and trim the state's inventory of homes for sale.

More details from the FTB are at this link.

May 10, 2010
Report: 45 percent of Sacramento mortgages are underwater

The number of Sacramento-area homes that are underwater appears to have stabilized 20081128__20081130_k01_bz30underwaterp1.jpgat about 45 percent, according to a  new report this morning from CoreLogic(formerly known as First American CoreLogic).

The firm, which tracks 47 million U.S. properties, said 44.8 percent of homeowners with a mortgage in Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties owed more in the first quarter of 2010 than their homes are worth.

That's roughly the same as much of the third quarter, according to the firm. It's an indicator, according to another report today from online home value calculator Zillow.com, that home prices appear to be bottoming out in California.

CoreLogic said said 24 percent of all homes in the U.S. are underwater. In California, 34 percent are in that condition.

The worst market is Las Vegas, with 70 percent of mortgaged properties being underwater. The next three are all neighbors of ours - Stockton, where 65 percent are underwater, Modesto - 62 percent,  and Fairfield-Vallejo - 60 percent. Phoenix rounds out the top five with 58 percentof mortgaged homeowners being underwater.

Image courtesy of altergroup.com


May 6, 2010
Another fast and enviable V-Shape Asian recovery in Taiwan


taipei2.jpgTAIPEI, Taiwan

  Anyone of a certain age, becoming a consumer during the 1970s, will recall the phrase "Made In Taiwan" as the first wave of globalization. It was a joke in some ways, the euphemism in a time when U.S. manufacturing industries still ruled globally - for cheap.

But that was a long time ago in both countries, as our small group of American business reporters is discovering on this East-West Center tour nearing its end.

Today, the U.S. remains embroiled in a devastating financial meltdown, and Taiwan has quickly bounced back with an enviable V-shaped recovery. Unemployment on this island of 23 million people off the China coast is 5.6 percent. The economy is expected to grow by almost 5 percent this year.

Officials say they were scared half to death in late 2008 when the financial crisis began spreading from the U.S. Exports in this exporting nation plunged 40 percent. The first quarter of 2009, the economy contracted by 9 percent as the world stopped buying.

And then....China quickly sidestepped the global crisis. The rising middle class there began buying again and Taiwan rode the wave back to boom times. Gone now is the time when Taiwan existed largely on American consumption. Today, 40 percent of its exports go to China.


taipei1.jpgIt is striking how a small nation - smaller than California - is now filled with construction cranes. Everywhere, I see new residential high-rises, more office buildings. The most notable new piece of skyline is Taipei 101, once the world's tallest new skyscraper. While California argues about high-speed rail alignments and whether we'll ever have the money, Taiwan has a new system in place. It is also expanding its subway system at a time when Californians are witnessing the budgetary destruction of transit systems.

"The people of East Asia, the Oriental people, like to do things and compete," said  Cheryl Tseng, director of the nation's overall planning department, the Council for Economic Planning and Development.  She can reach the southern end of Taiwan in 90 minutes, have a meeting and be back in her office in the afternoon.

  It is easy on a tour like this of a booming Asia to internalize a notion of U.S. decline while we try to dig out of this financial morass. More than once our group of reporters has heard officials make reference to this perception among people.

Yet yesterday, during a sit-down with David Hong, president of the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research (a prominent national think tank) we were told that perhaps we worry TOO much.

"I don't worry as much as you do," said Hong. "It's still the best in the world (U.S. economy) and we have to appreciate that...The foundation is solid. It's solid. It's a market economy."

And so is China's, however. It was amusing just an hour or so later to hear the small country's vice-minister for foreign affairs, David Lin, describe China as "a Communist country without Communism.

"Mainland China," he said, "wants to be identified as a market economy. They all want to get rich. They all want to be successful."

It has, indeed, been a long road since "Made in Taiwan" was a joke and China was a revolutionary socialist mystery awaiting the state visit of Richard Nixon. A few days in Taiwan shows how much the world can change in one small lifetime.

To hear them talk in this part of the world, the biggest changes are yet to come.








May 2, 2010
Land-locked Singapore shows the way on smart growth


sentossamall.jpg  For several days now I have seen how the other half lives - in Singapore - and it's enviable, everything that SACOG has been talking about for years in Sacramento. Transit ridership is 62 percent of trips here and the goal is 70 percent. This little country has congestion pricing that makes cars entering downtown pay extra. It has incredible public transportation, including a subway that is being expanded. It is developing welcoming people places out of all its riverfront and flood control reservoir properties. It has incredibly beautiful landscaping (this is a tropical climate 85 mile north of the equator), a massive new skyline and construction like you wouldn't believe.

 I've been in lots of interesting conversations about how this city-state of 5 million people houses its people. It's nothing like we do it in the U.S. and California.

Singapore is a rich little country in Southeast Asia - with a 2.2 percent unemployment rate! It has one of the world's largest ports (it looks about 20 times bigger than the Port of Oakland) and is a major Asian financial center. It also does a ton of information technology work and high tech manufacturing. Needless to say, it's incredible to be somewhere that isn't gasping for economic breath and is ramping up again with job growth. They're all about booming here again.

I've had fun asking people tons of questions about their housing. People tell me 80 percent of the population lives in government-built homes. They call it "public housing," and immediately point that it has no negative connotations here whatsoever. The government subsidizes rent to about a third of incomes, though if you want more space it can cost up to 50 percent. Younger people live with their parents until they marry. If they buy a house then the government will give them up to about $11,000 off the purchase price by staying within a couple of miles of their parents.

Nearly all the housing is high-rise, about 20 stories. Almost no one lives in single-family detached homes. And since the population is a mix of Chinese, Indians, foreigners and native Malays the government has an ethnic integration policy for its housing. Every building has a population roughly similar to the ethnic mix nationally. The government is trying to create a society that gets along and doesn't split up into ethnic enclaves. If you want to rent you go along.

Singaporeans buy their houses with a 99-year expiration date. I don't understand this completely, but that's how it's done. One family can't keep passing the house onto relatives. A couple of reporters I talked with were surprised very much to hear that we don't have this in California. If you buy state-owned housing, you also have the ethnic integration policy. If you can afford the more expensive private sector housing you don't.

  singskyline.jpgThis probably sounds incredibly bureaucratic to American ears. But this is a one-party state that does its own thing. Tomorrow, we go to the country's Urban Redevelopment Agency for a presentation on how it's rebuilding Singapore. This is a small island where everything that gets built is part of tearing something else down or working with what's already there. From what I have seen of the lush landscaping, the nice buildings, the amazing shopping malls - this government, as the master developer, has good taste. 

One last nugget: two massive casinos have opened here in recent weeks. They're aimed at foreigners. Singaporeans have to pay $100 to get in - a discouraging barrier. Last night when we toured one of the big casinos the Singaporeans had their own giant room. The place was packed.



April 27, 2010
"Global" financial crisis is an Atlantic issue, Asians say


Asians swagger in these days when Americans still lean toward fear. They're like Dallas here with an even bigger D. At the International Media Conference in Hong Kong they move with a great sense of destiny - it is their turn now in the great game of economic growth.

Financial crisis? We've moved on, they say.

It is amusing, being a California who presumes we are the center of the universe, to hear an Indian economist and newspaper editor huff at the very idea of Americans always calling it a "global financial crisis." (which I do routinely in stories).

"I call it the Trans-Atlantic financial crisis," said Dr. Sanjaya Baru, editor of India's Business Standard. The message: our housing meltdown and broken economy is not a worldwide financial phenomenon. He talked about the continuing rise of Asia and "the relative decline of Europe and the U.S."

It appears we've become like Japan, another giant stumbling after the bursting of its real estate bubble. While we're running deficits in the U.S., the Chinese have $2.4 trillion in surplus reserves, including $500 billion in mortgage-backed securities issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That means the Chinese own the mortgages on a lot of homes in the Central Valley. Be nice.

April 27, 2010
China considers property taxes to stop a housing bubble


HongKong1.jpg Through a great turn of fortune I find myself this week in Southern China, looking at housing and growth in one of the world's great boomtowns. The ticket is an East-West Center Asia Pacific fellowship. It is my first time in Asia, attending the International Media Conference of 200 reporters in the U.S. and Pacific.

I spent some time as a panelist, assigned to explain the housing crisis that has wracked California and the U.S. Our terrible experience in Sacramento drew a lot of interest here - because the Japanese are still digging out from a real estate crash 20 years ago, and China is trying to contain a real estate bubble. I wished the Chinese in the room much luck, because "you don't want to live through what we've lived through."

China is Sacramento in 2003.

Property values rose 11 percent in the past year, said Jing Ulrich, a managing director of JPMorgan in Hong Kong. Ulrich, who helps steers global investments into China, said people are speculating. They're buying second and third houses or apartments, presumably to flip.

"There's a shift in government policy toward real estate, reining in supportive policy toward real estate and trying to contain an asset bubble," she said.

Ulrich said real estate remains the most important industry in China, the one that generates employment, makes money for local government and fulfills the aspirations of a new middle class.

But in the government there's growing criticism of speculators and developers. The government is dictating that investors need up to a 50 percent down payment to buy a second house. They're charged higher interest rates on the other half, too. Banks are instructed NOT to lend to some investors seeking third homes.

And most radical of all, the government is considering American-style property taxes. Just the idea has already cooled the frenzy. Real estate interests are predictably crying foul, according to the Wall Street Journal Asia edition. "Opponents fear new taxes would shatter confidence in the real estate market, leading to a bust that would damage the entire economy," it says.

"Property transactions collapsed in the past few days," said Ulrich.

It's amazing to hear about this from a Sacramento perspective. What if government here had stepped in early? Would it all have turned out differently?

This trip involves a few more days in Hong Kong, then short stays in Singapore and Taiwan. Check back for new posts on similar topics. Wish you were here.

April 22, 2010
Rents rising again at Sacramento-area apartment communities

Average asking rents at 76,000 apartments in Sacramento, Placer, Yolo and El Dorado counties rose to $924 in the first quarter of 2010 - the first hike after five straight quarters of declines, a new report says. The new figure is up from $915 in the fourth quarter of 2009. That was the lowest since late 2004.

But even with the hike rents at the region's largest apartment communities, rents remain at late 2005 levels now. Apartment brokers say the long period of declines have led to severe distress for owners who bought complexes at high housing boom prices. Some complexes are being unloaded to other investors through short-sales, in which banks accept less than their owed. Others have become bank-owned.

We'll be checking with brokers today to see what is driving the slight increase in asking rents. But the report notes that occupancy is up a little - to 92.6 percent across the region. It was 92.1 percent in Q4 2009. Higher occupancy rates give a little more bargaining power to landlords.

  Novato-based apartment industry tracker said it saw the same rise in rents across much of the United States. It attributed the improvements to modest gains in employment nationally.

It's hard to imagine that's the case regionally. Sacramento's unemployment picture remains grim, with 13.1 percent joblessness. Analysts say apartment communities are feeling pressure of people having an abundance of vacant homes to rent - and also doubling up or moving back with their parents in a rough economy.

Here's details straight from RealFacts:

First, a synopsis of the Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville MSA.

Second, a  news release with regional and national overview.


April 20, 2010
Sacramento region up to 56,000 foreclosures since this began

La Jolla researcher MDA DataQuick released its Q1 foreclosure statistics today, showing that the number of defaults has fallen for four straight quarters and - foreclosures are following.

That's both in the Sacramento region and statewide. A count for Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties showed 4,331 new foreclosures and 7,222 new mortgage defaults.

The new number raised the total foreclosure tally since the start of 2007 in this region to 56,319. Statewide, California has now had almost 700,000 foreclosures since this all started.

We have a detailed story tomorrow saying that it's odd to see foreclosures falling as delinquencies have risen for a year amid soaring unemployment and widespread state employee furloughs. Trouble now stalks a record one in eight area mortgages.

 But it suggests, the analysts tell us, that the banks are using different approaches now and that government barricades to foreclosures as steadily bringing them down. Finally, even DataQuick suggests that, at least in the short term, we may have seen the worst - and will likely avoid a feared tidal wave of new repos that will once again shred home values.

April 16, 2010
Sacramento's homebuilders still in a rut

Folsom's Gregory Group released its First Quarter 2010 report on new home sales and prices in the Sacramento region today - showing 616 sales in El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. That's the continuation of a long slowdown in construction as builders try to compete with discounted distressed sales.

 These kind of sales numbers are down 90 percent from the same time in 2004, when builders sold more than 5,000 houses. 

Check out all the numbers  at this link. (New home sales by city, prices by city)

Gregory Group President Greg Paquin said builders saw a nice bounce in March after a couple of really slow months in January and February.  He said the region's builders have opened 13 new projects in the quarter - first time in two years to see that kind of new activity.

Interesting to note that that one-third of new-home sales are in Roseville alone. 


April 15, 2010
March home sales climb dramatically in Sacramento region

March saw a spring burst in Sacramento-area home sales, as 3,431 new and existing houses closed escrow, researcher MDA DataQuick reported Thursday.

Here are the numbers in eight area counties.

 Sales climbed dramatically from February's 2,464 count, and outpaced the same time last year in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties. It was the region's first year-over-year sales gain in eight months.

Median sales prices also continued to steady for existing homes. Three area counties - Placer, Sacramento and Yolo - showed higher prices than March 2009.

Sacramento County's $175,000 median was 9.4 percent higher than the same time last year. Yolo County's $240,000 median was 9.1 percent higher than March 2009.

Placer County's $287,000 median price was up 1.4 percent from the same time last year. Median is that point where half of homes cost more and half cost less.

Analysts suggested the gains will continue into April. Michael Lyon, head of Sacramento-based Lyon Real Estate, credited a rush to claim a soon-expiring $8,000 federal tax credit, largely flat prices and still-low interest rates. Rates averaged 5.07 this week nationally before points for 30-year fixed mortgages, Freddie Mac reported Thursday. That was down from 5.21 percent last week.

DataQuick said Thursday that new homes represented 7.7 percent of March escrow closings across the region.


April 14, 2010
A banker's answer to life's big mortgage question

River City Bank President and CEO answers the big question: "Should I walk away from my mortgage?" 

April 13, 2010
Defaults down in California, but foreclosures are up

The newest report from ForeclosureRadar says banks are stepping up the number of foreclosures again, especially compared to the same time last year. That's even as the number of loan defaults are lower than a year ago. The info is for March.

Here is the report with details from all of California's counties.

Interesting note: the foreclosure process is getting ever longer. Over the past year the time from Notice of Default to Notice of Trustee Sale (Foreclosure) has risen from 142 days to 188 days. That's about six months now.

Says Foreclosure Radar CEO Sean O'Toole: "Despite efforts to promote foreclosure alternatives like loan modifications and short sales, the simple reality is that there isn't a program for everyone. Unraveling trillions in excess debt will take time, and foreclosure is part of the solution, not the problem."

April 13, 2010
March sales-price numbers start to roll in from California

Median sales prices of $285,000 are up 14 percent from a year ago in the six-county Los Angeles region, researcher MDA DataQuick reported this morning. It cites fewer foreclosure resales and rising activity in the higher end of the market.

The newest report is at this link.

The number of sales rose 33 percent from February, following the usual seasonal bounce.



April 12, 2010
Gov. Schwarzenegger signs mortgage debt relief bill

The governor has just signed a bill eliminating state taxes on forgiven mortgage debt from 2009 through the end of 2012. That means many won't have to pay those state tax bills they've been getting for $7,500 or more.

Details are here in the governor's news release.

Here is an  update from the Franchise Tax Board on what happened and what to do now.


April 8, 2010
Sacramento ranks third for distressed sale market share

The four-county Sacramento region ranks third nationally behind Riverside-San Bernardino and Las Vegas for the share of distress sales in its real estate market, data tracker First American CoreLogic reported Thursday.

The firm said 58 percent of January sales in Sacramento, Yolo, Placer and El Dorado counties were foreclosure properties or short sales, in which the bank takes less than owed. Distress sales were 62 percent of sales in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and 59 percent in Las Vegas.

Such sales represent a negative influence on home prices, First American said.

But the good news: distressed sales share fell more than 10 percent the past year, the firm reported.

The Sacramento region ranked second behind San Diego for short sales market share. They were 19 percent of San Diego sales in January and 18 percent in Sacramento.

April 8, 2010
There will be no state taxes on forgiven mortgage debt
 Finally, thousands of people across the Sacramento region and all of California can relax a little. They no longer face a double whammy of losing their homes - and then a big state tax bill on the forgiven debt.

 Not long ago state lawmakers passed legislation that will exempt borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure or short sales in 2009, or got certain types of loan modifications from state taxes that can run into thousands of dollars. And spokesman Mike Naple for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he will sign it.

Reaction came pretty fast on the Home Front.

Sacramentan Debbie Wong , who sold her Elk Grove condo last year in a short sale, said she got a recent state tax bill for $7,500.The forgiven debt on her sale gave her a state taxable income of $108,000 when her salary was $13,000, she said. She's relieved.

So is Sara Sara Palasch, who sold her Bakersfield house through a short sale last year and lives in Georgia now. Weeks ago, she got a state tax bill for $10,500.

The bill, SB401 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, passed 47-24 in the Assembly and 24-9 in the Senate.
 We are preparing a detailed primer on the bill and how it affects people for tomorrow's paper. In the meantime we asked the FTB what people should do now when filing their state taxes:
Here is the word from FTB directly:

  "Once the Governor signs this into law, California taxpayers will not have to do anything. If they qualify for federal relief on the mortgage debt forgiven, then they will also qualify for state income tax purposes. California Form 540 starts with federal adjusted gross income so there will be no adjustment necessary to properly reflect the state adjusted gross income amount for this issue."

April 7, 2010
Sacramento outpaces state and U.S. or late mortgage payments

 February ended with 12.3 percent of Sacramento-area mortgages more than 90 days delinquent, somewhere in the foreclosure process or tied to a bank-owned home for sale, industry tracker First American CoreLogic reported Wednesday in this news release.

That was a record high for the metro region of Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yuba counties. In February 2009, 8 percent of mortgages were in similar trouble, the real estate data giant reported.

Delinquency rates have risen steadily alongside the capital region's high unemployment rate, which stood at 12.8 percent in February.

Sacramento-area mortgages are performing slightly worse than California as a whole. Satewide, 11.7 percent of mortgages are seriously delinquent, in the foreclosure process and tied to bank-owned listings. Nationally, 8.7 percent of mortgages are in that condition, First American reported.


April 6, 2010
California Dept. of Real Estate warns of short sale fraud

As short sales become a bigger part of the landscape the potential grows for fraud and shenanigans. Here are a couple of recent alerts and updates from the California Department of Real Estate on the subject.

Here is the  Consumer Alert.

And here is a longer legal analysis of what people in real estate should be observing.


April 6, 2010
Short sales spread to a Sacramento apartment complex

 It's not news in the least that short sales are a routine now in Sacramento's distressed housing market. But we got a report this afternoon of possibly the first for an apartment complex.

 That is Bradford Pointe Apartments with 72 units near Sacramento's Arden Fair Mall. It  closed escrow at the end of March for $2.9 million. That was well below more than $4 million owed on the property, according to TRI Commercial executive John Gallagher.

Gallagher said the transaction is one of the first apartment short sales in the area, an assertion backed up by others in the business.
"The bank really did not want to foreclose on the asset, and saw this as a better means of disposing of its problem," said Gallagher, senior vice president of TRI's Apartment Advisory Team, along with apartment specialist Dean Bagneschi.

In short sales, banks take less than owed to avoid the higher costs of foreclosing and re-selling in a falling market.

Gallagher, as is typical in these deals, wouldn't name the buyer, seller and the bank that agreed to the short sale.

But we ran a public records search of the address and identified the lender as Puerto Rico-based Banco Popular. The seller was Bradford Pointe LLC, a Santa Cruz County partnership.

Gallagher said the bank declined another buyer's offer to assume the existing loan. He said, "The lender wanted to cash out of the transaction."

The lender's loss of more than $1 million in the deal represents a new phase in an increasingly weakened commercial real estate market. Across the region more than 100 apartment complexes are in financial distress, said Marc Ross, a senior Sacramento associate at commercial broker CB Richard Ellis.

April 5, 2010
Freedom from taxes on forgiven mortgage debt imminent

It is looking better for thousands of Sacramento homeowners hit with big state tax bills for mortgage debts forgiven in 2009. Representatives of state lawmakers said Monday they plan to cancel those state tax obligations with vote Thursday in the Assembly and Senate.

Legislation forgiving the taxes would go immediately to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has regularly said he supports the idea.

There is a lot of politics under the bridge with all this. Let's just say that Californians who got unexpected tax bills of $10,000 or more in recent weeks could soon be off the hook. Most are borrowers who received loan modifications last year or lost their houses to short sales. In all cases, lenders forgave some of the debts owed them, a process that opens them to taxes.

Home Front has taken numerous calls in recent days with people freaking out over $10,000 state tax bills as the April 15 tax deadline looms. We''ve been able to reassure them that they probably won't have to pay it. Many across the state are anxiously waiting for the state to resolve the issue - or have filed extensions while waiting.

Typically the state and federal governments view forgiven home loan debt as additional income and tax it accordingly.The bill being considered this week, SB401, would forgive state tax obligations for forgiven mortgage debt through the 2012 tax year. Same as the feds have already done.

SB401 is being amended today for a hearing Tuesday in the Assembly Revenue and Tax Committee and Wednesday in Assembly Appropriations. It is set for a full Assembly floor vote Thursday. The Senate plans a full floor vote, as well, if all stays on track. Then it would go to the governor. It's possible this will all be done by the end of the week, just days ahead of April 15.

April 2, 2010
Sacramento a Top 10 destination for U-Hauls in 2009

Do-it-yourself mover U-Haul reported Friday that Sacramento ranked eighth nationally last year on a Top 50 list of destinations for its moving trucks. The firm tracked 1 million moves using its rental trucks and put Sacramento high on the list of where people went in 2009.

Houston was first, followed by Las Vegas, Chicago, San Antonio, Orlando, Austin and Atlanta before Sacramento.

Here is the news release.

It hardly seems possible given rising unemployment all year that topped out at more than 12 percent. But maybe it's because Sacramento has gotten relatively inexpensive again as a place to live. Rentals are abundant and costs are falling. So it goes for buying houses, too. Repos accounted for more than half of sales all last year. And maybe the 20-somethings really are migrating back to their old rooms at home.

What do you think is behind it?

In 2008, the capital ranked 15th on the U-Haul list of "Top 50 U.S. Destination Cities."
During the housing boom glory days of 2004 through 2006, wildly popular Sacramento ranked fourth or fifth on the top 50 list. Whatever the reason, we're back.

April 2, 2010
Inquiry commission calls Greenspan before the cameras

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, challenged with getting to the roots of the housing crisis and global financial meltdown, gears up again Wed., April 7, with the first star witness being former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

This three-day session focuses on subprime lending, along with roles of secondary mortgage market buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Watch for it on C-Span

April 2, 2010
Is it OK for Sacramento-area real estate agents to double dip?

We are getting more reports from the bank repo front about real estate agents who are double dipping on sales commissions. The allegation is that they represent the bank and also represent buyers looking for those kind of houses - usually investors.

So.... maybe you put in an offer, even a really good offer. But the listing agent ignores it so she can sell it to her own buyer - and make two commissions.

Apparently this is causing houses to sell for less than they would otherwise, which drags down neighboring property values that much more. The bank gets less because it was never informed it could have gotten more. And a lot of first-time buyers are getting shut out of good deals.

I have calls in to see if this is illegal, or merely unethical. Reports on other blogs like Sacramento Landing indicate that it's widespread.

I am looking for a little help getting to the bottom of this. If you have insight please call me at 916-321-1102, or send an e-mail to jwasserman@sacbee.com. Thanks in advance.

March 29, 2010
10-hour foreclosure prevention session Fri. in Citrus Heights

If you're among the many struggling with a home mortgage you might want to check out a free 10-hour workshop for families and individuals this Friday, April 2, in Citrus Heights.

It's scheduled from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, April 2, at the Citrus Heights Community Center, 63,00 Fountain Square Dr. You can park free at Sam's Club.

The event flyer: nid_flyer.pdf

Borrowers will meet one-on-one with lenders and housing counselors from nonprofit NID Housing Counseling Agency. Invited lenders include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.
Attendees should bring two current pay stubs, two months of bank statements, a 2008 tax return including W-2 and a list of monthly expenses. Self-employed attendees should bring four months of recent bank statements, a 2008 or 2009 tax return and a year-to-date profit and loss statement.
Also required is a recent mortgage statement and related correspondence, a copy of a homeowners insurance policy and a hardship letter.

More information: (916) 487-1200.

March 25, 2010
State buyer tax credits approved, debt forgiveness stalls

 It's been a whirlwind day in the state Capitol, but it ends with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signing a bill to allocate $200 million for state home buyer tax credits. That's expected to affect 32,000 California home buyers in coming months - and comes just as a federal $8,000 tax credit is about to expire.

But mortgage debt forgiveness will have a wait a bit. It's almost assured that people won't have to pay state taxes on 2009 mortgage debt forgiven in foreclosures, loan modifications and short sales. But Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would make it happen - over an unrelated provision in the bill he didn't like.

The Legislature flirted this morning with passing another bill that would provide mortgage debt forgiveness but left town with the mission unaccomplished. Lawmakers will return April 5 and are likely to pass a bill then, just in time for the April 15 tax-filing  deadline.

 This has made a lot of people nervous who are getting their 1099 forms. But it's extremely likely they have little to worry about on this front.

March 23, 2010
Another round of state homebuyer tax credits virtually assured

Sacramento-area homebuyers are almost virtually assured of new $10,000 state tax credits starting May 1 under a bill headed to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and expected to be signed soon. State lawmakers moved fast Monday, with both the Assembly and Senate getting behind a new round of tax credits to stimulate the state's battered housing market.

The legislation allocates $200 million for tax credits - twice what the state offered last year to 10,659 buyers of new, unoccupied homes. The state's newest housing stimulus will grant $100 million in tax credits to first-time buyers of existing homes, and just like last year, $100 million to anyone who buys a new unoccupied home.

State tax authorities estimated Tuesday that nearly 32,000 homeowners might qualify under the bill. The last day a person can file paperwork to claim one is Dec. 31, 2010.

The governor's people said he will make it happen. He also signaled his intentions while signing two other bills Monday. In signing messages he commended the Legislature for approving tax credits and said it will "lower taxes on the sale of both new and existing homes, stimulating the housing industry and creating jobs for thousands of Californians."

Schwarzenegger proposed such a housing stimulus in his January State of the State Address. It would go into effect the day after a federal $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers is set to expire.

Buyers must be at least 18 years old, and be unrelated to the seller. Nor is it crystal clear at the moment how it will work: But those who qualify and close escrow after May 1 are all expected to be eligible.

March 19, 2010
Sacramento-area sales slow in February; picking up for spring

 Here's the story of February homes sales and prices in the Sacramento region that ran in this morning's Bee. Agents say February was slow with sales counts near two-year lows. But most said they're seeing a lot of buyers enter into sales contracts now as spring perks up and people try to get in for that $8,000 federal tax credit that expires April 30.
And here is a look at sales and prices in the neighborhoods - a close-up by ZIP Code.

March 18, 2010
Large Influx of New Rental Investors Concerns Local Governments and Industry Professionals   


March 27 event seeks to educate potential investors of their property management responsibilities          


(Sacramento)- The ongoing foreclosure crisis in the Sacramento market has generated interest in real estate investors, especially those interested in becoming rental owners for the first time. Unfortunately, many underestimate the time, money and commitment required to be successful in the property management business.


The large number of foreclosures and new rental investors has sparked the interest of local government officials as well as the Rental Housing Association (RHA) of Sacramento Valley, the trade association representing owners and managers of over 80,000 rental housing units in the Sacramento region.


To address these concerns, RHA will host Sacramento's largest real estate investors conference for new and potential rental housing investors of single family homes and duplexes. The event will be held from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Saturday, march 27 at the Hilton Hotel located at 2200 Harvard Street in Sacramento.


"Investing in rental property can be a wise move, especially now," said RHA Senior Deputy Director Cory Koehler. "However, owners who fail to dedicate enough time and money to manage their property in a legal and ethical manner can cause problems for our neighborhoods and the entire industry."


The education event will provide owners with information they need to help improve their property management skills or allow them to choose a professional property management company. The program includes 13 education seminars, including topics such as buying rental property in today's market, complying with fair housing laws, understanding rental property maintenance and using effective screening methods.


"We find that rental owners who fail to live up to their responsibilities and cause problems for our neighborhoods often are the reason local governments create new laws or regulations. Hopefully, this education program will reduce those problems."   


For more information about the Rental Owners Expo, visit the RHA website at www.rha.org or calling the RHA office at (916) 920-1120. 



March 18, 2010
Midtown Sacramento: There's no place like home

I came across this rich little scene during a Midtown lunch walk with a digital camera. A front porch, a flowerpot and a rocking chair. Who wouldn't want to come home to this in the evening? For all the noise and fear about housing right now sometime's its all as simple as being "home."

midtown porch.jpg  Home Front Photo/Jim Wasserman




March 18, 2010
Can't move from Sacramento for work; house "upside down"

I heard an interesting report yesterday on NPR about a dilemma that's greatly different from the norm in this recession. The host talked to a university professor who said thousands of people normally move in recessions to where the jobs are. But that isn't happening in this recession because people can't sell their houses. They're under water, owing more than the house is worth, and are simply "trapped" there.

That made me think: there must be thousands here in this empire of 13.1 percent unemployment, state furloughs and more pending ruinous budget cuts who would cut their ties in a heartbreak for somewhere that offered them more promise. They're trapped in a house here.

That seems like an interesting human story about the side effects of this nasty housing crisis in Sacramento. Maybe it's more than just not being able to find work elsewhere. People might want to move back home where their families live. I talked on the phone last week with a homeowner who needs to move back to India for awhile to take care of his aging parents who are having health problems. He's underwater and trying to figure out how to do this without having to just walk away from his house. In a regular market he would sell the house. In this market he is trapped.

How many of you are out there like this? If you'd like to talk about it for a feature real estate story in The Bee please get in touch. 916-321-1102. Or write me at jwasserman@sacbee.com

Thank you.

March 17, 2010
A new look at "strategic defaults" in California

I've written several times about the interesting morphing of the term "walking away" to "strategic default" as business-minded homeowners rethink their mortgages and leave their homes to banks. We believe there's plenty of that happening in Sacramento, and recently quoted a Lincoln-area real estate agent who said she's seeing lots of it in Catta Verdera and in Granite Bay.

The Los Angeles Times took an interesting new look at the phenomenon in today's edition.

March 15, 2010
Politics, politics over mortgage debt forgiveness in California

Sacramento-area residents can almost certainly count on eventually getting state tax relief for 2009 forgiven mortgage debt. But politics abound and the road will be twisting and maybe a few weeks long.
  First off,  Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signaled his intent earlier today to veto SBX8 32, a wide-ranging bill that, among other things, bans the state from taxing debt forgiven in short sales and loan modifications. The bill's author is Sen. Lois Wolk, a Davis Democrat.

 But the governor's spokesman also said Schwarzenegger is "absolutely, 100 percent" committed to ensuring that Californians who escaped one harrowing financial encounter with lenders don't have another with the state this year. A majority of lawmakers has repeatedly said the same. So that's the big news. It likely will get done.

"We're looking to get this done with another bill," said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear on Monday. McLear said the governor is looking at AB 1779 by Assemblyman Roger Niello, a Fair Oaks Republican, and SB X6 14 by Sen. Ronald, D-Montebello.

Both are backup plans that would prevent the state from considering forgiven mortgage debt as extra new income and taxing it.

March 15, 2010
A typical slow February for Sacramento home sales

The Sacramento Association of Realtors reports this morning that home sales continue in their sluggish winter pattern, with 1,156 homes closing escrow during February in Sacramento County and the City of West Sacramento.

February sales of existing homes were essentially flat from January, and down 26 percent from Feb. 2009, SAR reported.

 The median price of $179,900 was up from $170,000 in January and up 7.7 percent from Feb. 2009. 

Bank-owned repos accounted for 42.6 percent of sales, while short sales were 21.7 percent, said SAR. Conventional sales were 32.1 percent.

A news release with context behind the numbers is  here.

Summary statistics for February are at this link.

A sales and price report by ZIP Code  is here.

March 13, 2010
Inland Empire's housing meltdown drives 15% unemployment

It's difficult to imagine worse housing markets than Sacramento's, but the vast seas of new housing boom suburbia in Riverside and San Bernardino counties clearly win. We have 13.1 percent unemployment, they have 15 percent, according to this weekend account in The San Bernardino Sun.

I was especially struck by this opinion from one of Southern California's most prominent economists, John Husing, strongly criticizing the Obama Administration's lack of help for homeowners that's needed to get the region moving again.

  Husing, however, also described the region's unemployment rate as "dismal" and said the housing market needs government intervention on the scale that the federal government gave to Wall Street.

He said the so-called "cramdown" proposal, which would have allowed judges to reduce the amount underwater homeowners owe on their mortgages, would have benefitted the Inland Empire.

"They took really good care of Wall Street and they prevented a recession," Husing said, adding that the Obama Administration's advisors are drawn from Wall Street and "they haven't paid attention to homeowners."

March 12, 2010
170,207 permanent U.S. loan mods include 2,921 in Sac area

Nearly 3,000 homeowners in Sacramento, Placer, Yolo and El Dorado counties are among 170,207 nationally receiving permanent loan modifications from loan servicers, according to a new U.S. Treasury report on February loan modifications.

 The report says the four-county region hard hit by loan distress has received 2,921 permanent modifications that on average lower monthly payments by about $515. That is 8.3 percent of the 35,379 permanent modifications so far in California.

The Los Angeles region, including its hard-hit Inland Empire, has received 9,414 permanent modifications, the report says.

Altogether, 15,371 Sacramento-area homeowners are in trial modifications or permanent modifications as of March 1, the report says.

Here is the full February report. (check page 7 for your own lender's numbers).


Permanent modifications now stand at 170,207 nationally.

  • California has 35,379 of them and Florida 21,111.
  • Banks reported 52,905 permanent modifications in February. It's up slightly from 52,205 in January.
  • Nearly 1.1 million homeowners now have ongoing tempoary modifications, in hopes of getting permanent mods.
  • The government says the average permanent modification knocks about $500 off the borrower's monthly payment. Borrowers, it says, have collectively saved themselves about $2.7 billion from trial and permanent modifications now in place.
  • The government-industry alliance HOPE NOW issued a news release applauding the February results.


    March 12, 2010
    Washington D.C. makes way for short sales

    As Washington D.C. keeps realizing, nothing it does so far seems to really take the big bite out of the mortgage crisis. Negative equity, defaults and unemployment are still with us and worsening in many cases.
    So now the federal government is turning its hopes to short sales. Those are where the lender takes a sales price below what it's owed to avoid foreclosing. It gives the seller a more graceful exit than foreclosure and is proving a sort of back door way of writing down principal. They're already big in Sacramento: nearly one in four January sales were short sales, according to the Sacramento Association of Realtors.

    April 5 is the big rollout of the Obama Administration's Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives. There are incentives to lenders and borrowers to make more of these happen. Many questions can be answered in the Treasury Department fact sheet link just above.

    One of the big obstacles is the holders of second-lien loans. They're balking at having to absorb their loss  - and making it harder for the first-lien holder to do the short sale. House Financial Services Committee Chair Barney Frank recently sent a letter to big banks telling them to get out of the way and write off these "seconds"

    Looking for a good overview of the newest regulatory dance over short sales and second-lien loans? This Wall Street Journal piece explains it well.

    March 11, 2010
    Financial crisis commission looks at subprime securitization

    The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission looking into the roots of the financial crisis that began with the housing meltdown has scheduled its next hearing on April 7. It will look at subprime lending and securitization and als probe Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac's role.

    News release announcing the event is here.

    March 8, 2010
    Bill to ban state taxes on forgiven mortgage debt goes to Gov.

    A political showdown is on between the Legislature and governor regarding a bill to ban the state from taxing forgiven mortgage debt. Earlier this afternoon the bill cleared the state Assembly, offering potential tax relief to thousands of Californians who lost their homes in 2009.

    "The feds don't do it and we're not going to do it, either," Assemblyman Charles Calderon, D-Montebello, said before a 47-27 vote that sent the measure to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Just as it did Friday, Schwarzenegger's office signaled that he may veto the measure. The governor opposes an unrelated provision in the bill concerning tax refunds sought by corporations.

    "Our position hasn't changed," said Schwarzenegger spokesman Mike Naple.

    The Assembly vote ratified earlier state Senate approval of a measure that aligns many California tax codes with those of the federal government. One clause would eliminate state tax penalties for those who received loan modifications last year or did short sales.

    In loan modifications lenders sometimes forgive a few months of payments. In short sales, they agree to sales prices below what they're owed to avoid foreclosing. The differences in both are considered forgiven debt for the homeowner and typically taxed as extra income.

    It makes for a nasty surprise when you open the mail. Vacaville homeowner Mark Mosley said Monday he received a $21,000 tax bill last week for a $59,000 loan modification he received in 2009. He said his lender notified him he owes $13,000 to the federal government and $9,000 to the state.

    But Home Front seriously doubts that Mosley owes the  federal taxes. The federal government has banned the IRS from taxing forgiven mortgage debt through the end of 2012. The state government had similar bans in place for the 2007 and 2008 tax years. But it hasn't yet extended the ban to the 2009 tax year. Several real estate watchers say they believe banks and lenders are mailing their so-called "1099" forms to everyone involved regardless of whether they owe or not. It's up the homeowner to sort it out.

    While every homeowner's case can be different, typically those who live in the homes they own can avoid being taxed for forgiven debt. Lawmakers called it a fairness issue Monday, arguing that people having mortgage hardships shouldn't also get hit with a big state tax bill.

    "We should provide relief to those who are struggling and at risk of losing their homes," said Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis.

    Schwarzenegger opposes a clause that penalizes businesses for seeking some tax refunds. Businesses say it's often hard to calculate what they owe the state, and thus, overpay to avoid stiff penalties. But Democrats say some companies unfairly seek state tax refunds that they aren't owed.

    We'll keep you posted here on the outcome. If this bill gets vetoed there are others in the wings to offer protection to homeowners. It's a fairly good guess this will pass eventually.


    March 8, 2010
    Sneak preview of Obama's new rules for short sales

    The New York Times ran a great piece Sunday about financial incentives being unveiled April 5 to make short sales more popular. Those are sales in which the lender accepts a sales price below what it's owed to avoid the higher costs of foreclosing. The Sacramento Association of Realtors said 23 percent of January sales in Sacramento County and in West Sacramento were short sales.

    March 5, 2010
    Herbert Salguero's lonely struggle with Litton to save his home

    I met Herbert Salguero 14 months ago in his modest house in Rancho Cordova. It was a cold gray winter day, appropriate for a tale of difficulty with his subprime home loan. What made it special was his immigrant drive to somehow make it work. I remember especially how he was going to Grocery Outlet and buying a 25 lb. bag of rice for $10. He was determined to make that loan payment.

    Here's a column about him, one man in America who defines everything that went wrong when he bought and everything that's going wrong now as he tries to save his house.

    March 4, 2010
    12.3% of Sacramento-area mortgages in trouble - and rising

    Mortgage industry tracker First American CoreLogic reported this morning that 12.29 percent of mortgages in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties in January were more than 90 days late, somewhere in the foreclosure process or still tied to a bank-owned home.

     It's up from 11.99 percent in December - and represents a continuing rise in loan trouble regionally. In Jan. 2009, 7.64 percent of loans were in that troubled condition. The percentage rose all through 2009 and is starting to rise now in 2010, mainly as unemployment has risen from the 6 percent range to more than 12 percent across the past year.

    Unemployment is expected to get a lot worse still - reaching 13.5 percent this year, according to the Sacramento Business Review, a forecast produced by California State University, Sacramento, and the Sacramento chapter of the Chaptered Financial Analyst Institute.

    The full First American report is available here.

     Other highlights: Sacramento's 12.29 percent troubled-loan portfolio compares with 11.64 percent statewide and 8.66 percent nationally.

    It's still hard to tell what this terrible troubled loan percentage means exactly. MDA DataQuick staffers tell Home Front they still aren't seeing a major jump in Notices of Default that would indicate a new wave of foreclosures coming. It appears that people are being allowed to stay in their homes much much longer - even while in trouble - as banks try to sort out solutions.

    But clearly this is an issue that will be with us for some time to come.


    March 1, 2010
    Stories upon stories upon stories of worrisome choices

    The phone rings daily with people wondering what they should do about their houses in Sacramento. Here's one this afternoon from a retired real estate agent whom a member of the family has turned to for advice.

    A younger family member in her 30s bought a condo in Natomas "four or five years ago" for $250,000 and now it's worth $110,000, says the caller. The owner is still current on payments, but has lost some income - like so many now around this region - and wonders what to do. Stay, keep paying on a hugely upside down investment? Walk and take the hit to her credit? Try a short sale? Try to modify the loan?

    Do the lenders write down the loan amount, I was asked? Not too often, I had to say.

    All these buyers - who bought when everyone said "buy now, or you'll never get in" - are so completely lost now. It's one story after another, a run of stories that never ends. I wonder sometimes if they'll go on for years around here.

    The Sacramento region has several nonprofit loan counseling agencies that can steer struggling borrowers toward free help under the new Obama administration program.

    * The federal government advises those needing urgent help to call the Homeowner's HOPE Hotline at (888) 995-HOPE. The nonprofit venture offers free advice and counseling and can help negotiate with lenders.

    * NeighborWorks Homeownership Center, Sacramento Region: (916) 452-5356; nwsac.org

    * Home Loan Counseling Center of Sacramento: (916) 646-2005; hlcc.net

    * Sacramento Mutual Housing Association: (916) 453-8400, ext. 43. Staffers can accommodate those who speak Russian, Hmong, Vietnamese and Mien.

    * California Senior Legal Hotline: (916) 551-2140 or (800) 222-1753; seniorlegalhotline.org. Staffers specialize in free loan counseling for senior citizens.


    March 1, 2010
    Scam altert: agents report fake rental postings on Craigslist

    Nothing like a relaxing week off and coming back first thing to another real estate scam:

    Roseville-based Century 21 real estate agent Renee Baltazar said she's been slammed by phone calls and emails all weekend from people wanting to rent a bank-owned house that SHE HAS IN ESCROW AND IS ABOUT TO SELL.

    She showed me an ad that ran on Craigslist on Sunday, Feb. 28, advertising the place for $900 a month, and using the pictures she had in the listing advertisement. The ad told people to respond to her email address at renee_baltazar@yahoo.com

    "I've never had a Yahoo account," she said Monday.

    People were responding there and getting a message from a nice family saying they had all moved to London for five years and needed to find a renter. It has an application form and everything.

    "The public has to be aware of these scams with ," she said.

    Her guess is someone is trying to collect a first month and down payment - something like $1,500 or more - and leaving the would-be renter hosed.

    To me this sounds like a new variation on a scam I started hearing about two years ago when repos began becoming a factor: people would advertise the property, break in and show prospective renters around. They'd collect the first and last and deposit and run!

    These are desperate times. Baltazar advises people to be careful, especially with Craigslist.