Housing downturn is a jolt to upscale Temecula

Written by jordan on . Posted in Blog

From LA times, staff writer Scott Gold

For almost 20 years, they’ve been painting the town red in Temecula.

Atop onion fields and grazing pastures, they’ve built a parade of 4,000- and 5,000-square-foot houses — palaces, many of them, with turrets and faux backyard grottoes, with six-car garages and children’s playrooms larger than the average Manhattan apartment.

Today, they’re painting the dirt green.

“Here’s one now,” code enforcement officer Jean Voshall said as she pulled her hulking pickup up to the curb in a gated community called The Fairways.

At first glance, the house looked like so many others in Temecula: five bedrooms, mushroom-colored stucco walls, a seven iron away from a dapper golf course where two men prepared to tee off. A closer look at the lawn, however, revealed that it was dead and crunchy — and had been spray-painted green.

The paint came courtesy of neighbors, in the hope that it might be less evident to passersby that the house was empty — foreclosed and left to the elements, with no running water, no electricity and little chance of new occupants any time soon.

For more of the article, click here

Tips for Graffiti Prevention

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To step up graffiti prevention efforts, consider the following:

1. Keep up the neighborhood
Make every effort to keep the appearance of a neighborhood clean and neat. Remove litter and trash, fix broken fences, trim landscape, and ensure all lighting is working properly. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, “an exterior appearance that suggests apathy and neglect attracts vandals.”

2. Remove graffiti promptly
Rapid removal of graffiti is an effective prevention tool. Data shows that removal within 24 to 48 hours results in a nearly zero rate of recurrence. Most Keep America Beautiful affiliates credit the reduction in graffiti in their communities to rapid removal.

3. Encourage citizen reporting
Educate the public about the impact of graffiti vandalism and provide a way for them to report graffiti. In many cities, an 800 number, a dedicated telephone line, or a web site is established for this purpose. Respond promptly to reports of graffiti vandalism.

4. Enforce anti-graffiti laws
Ensure that any existing anti-graffiti laws are being enforced. Law enforcement dedicated to tracking and apprehending graffiti vandals is a strong deterrent. A survey of arrested taggers found fear of getting caught was the top response when asked what would get them to stop tagging.

For a guide to developing local anti-graffiti laws, visit the National Council to Prevent Delinquency web site.

5. Educate Youth
Use the Graffiti Hurts curriculum and video to incorporate graffiti education and prevention into classroom activities, after school programs, and youth group activities. Keep Waco Beautiful, for example, has a mentoring program where high school students teach 4th and 5th graders about graffiti.

6. Use an “adopt-a-spot” program
A handful of communities provide citizen volunteers with graffiti cleanup kits to keep an area they have adopted graffiti free. These programs improve awareness and engage citizens in graffiti prevention. Get the contents of a graffiti cleanup kit.

7. Create a paint-brush mural
Use a community mural to restore a wall chronically hit with graffiti. Graffiti vandals rarely tag a paint-brush mural, and they are a great way to get the community involved in graffiti prevention. Murals can involve local artists, youth and community volunteers, and the local paint store, which may be willing to donate paint and brushes. Download a step-by-step guide for creating a mural.

8. Control Access
Make changes to build-in graffiti prevention:
* Incorporate natural deterrents, such as landscaping. Shrubs, thorny plants and vines will effectively restrict vandal access.
* Plan or add lighting to promote natural surveillance.
* Use fences, controlled entrance and exits, rails, and other barriers that discourage through traffic.
* Limit access to roofs by moving dumpsters away from walls and covering drainpipes to prevent vandals from scaling them.
* Use graffiti hoods to buffer freeway signs.
* Incorporate metal baffles on sign poles, similar to squirrel baffles on bird feeders.

9. Employ graffiti resistant surfaces
To vandal proof targeted areas use:
* Graffiti resistant materials or coatings. The city of Tucson, AZ, for example, requires that walls of new buildings be constructed of or painted with graffiti resistant materials.
* Sacrificial coatings, which allow graffiti to be washed off. Sacrificial coatings must be re-applied after each graffiti clean-up.
* Textured surfaces, which are less attractive to graffiti vandals.
* Dark colored or colorful surfaces; neither of these provide a good canvas for a graffiti vandal.

10. Monitor graffiti-prone locations
Get the support of law enforcement to step up police monitoring of locations that are frequently hit by graffiti. A few communities are using some type of security camera in areas that are frequently graffitied. Also consider organizing a Neighborhood Watch to keep an eye on targeted sites.

11. Employ curfews
A national survey of police agencies found that the vast majority felt curfews were an effective tool to control vandalism, graffiti, nighttime burglary, and car theft. Most jurisdictions with curfews had them in effect for several years. A survey of 800 cities conducted by the National League of Cities found curfews effective for curbing gang violence as well.

12. Provide alternatives
The Institute for Law and Justice, Inc. manual on safe neighborhoods suggests diverting graffiti criminals to positive alternatives. The effectiveness of this approach is largely undocumented, but consider some of the following to encourage youth in more positive directions:

* Youth Centers – A 2002 Colorado study recommends establishing centers for youth to gain leadership skills and to express themselves in a variety of ways. The centers teach responsibility and provide a safe place to have fun.
* Arts Programs – A 1999 U.S. Conference of Mayors study found that youth participating in arts programs exhibit improvements in academic performance, conflict resolution, team building and decreased frequency of delinquent behavior. Get a YouthARTS Tool Kit, developed through Americans for the Arts, and create an arts program to address youth crime.
* Community Programs – Community programs encourage youth to take control of their lives, make good choices, and provide a substitute for vandalism. Seattle Public Utilities has developed two such programs, ArtWorks and Panels for Progress.
* Youth Involvement – Involve youth and schools in graffiti prevention efforts, such as cleanups or mural projects. Keep Houston Beautiful initiated a mural series where they paired groups of neighborhood youth with professional artists to design and paint a mural on a chronically tagged wall.

What About Legal Walls?

Legal walls are largely ineffective as a deterrent or graffiti prevention device. Communities that have tried legal walls, or areas that permit graffiti, find them ineffective. Over a dozen cities in California, Illinois, and other states have all found them to be a failure.

Legal walls send a mixed message – sponsoring graffiti in an effort to rid a community of graffiti. Community records indicate they may work at first, but after a period of time, the surrounding areas also become covered with graffiti. Data also shows no decrease in arrests for graffiti in cities where there are legal walls.

About Graffiti Hurts
Graffiti Hurts® – Care for Your Community is aimed at educating individuals about the consequences of graffiti in their communities. The fact is, graffiti is harmful to everyone — homeowners, businesses, schools, and you.

Graffiti clean up alone costs the U.S. over $8 billion annually. And, research shows that graffiti results in more graffiti, vandalism, and crime in suburban and urban communities.

Through the Graffiti Hurts® kit of resources, communities can get educated about graffiti and build local partnerships to prevent and remove it.

We hope you will help keep our communities clean and explore positive ways for artistic expression that support individual talent and instill community pride.

U.S. Mortgage Malaise Deepens

Written by jordan on . Posted in Blog

Taken from Forbes.com, written by Maurna Desmond

Lenders foreclosed on U.S. mortgages in the first quarter at a rate that hasn’t been seen for nearly three decades, with high-quality loans failing even faster than subprime. The data, released Thursday, was an ominous sign that a housing recovery probably is not in the wings.

The Mortgage Banker’s Association said foreclosures surged 70.7% in the quarter, with 0.99% of outstanding U.S. mortgages entering the process in the first three months of 2008 versus 0.58% during the same time last year. The latest number was the highest rate in 29 years.

For the whole article click here

Calif. home price down 24%, nation’s worst

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First American LoanPerformance says California is again the nation’s worst housing market with prices falling at a 24.37% annual rate as of late April. California has held this dubious distinction since May ‘07.

Following California in April price tumbles: Florida at -17.11%; Nevada at -16.61%; Arizona at -15.78%; and Ohio at -13.41%.

National best was Utah, up 4.13%, and Montana, +4.12%. Only 17 of the 50 states and District of Columbia showed price gains in the year, according to FALP’s math that tracks “paired sales” — gains or losses on individual homes.

To check out more, and to see what others have to say about it, check out Lasner’s blog on real estate.

Is It the End of 6% Real Estate Commissions?

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This week the Justice Department reached an antitrust settlement with the National Association of Realtors that is meant to spur competition and bring down the standard 6% commission that comes with each real estate transaction. Basically, the NAR is no longer able to withhold the information on multiple listing services from discount online brokers such as Redfin and ZipRealty. Will consumers like us see a huge deduction in real estate transaction prices soon?

For more visit Wisebread

Foreclosures and Sinking Prices…

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Foreclosures and sinking prices maybe what it takes to rebound the housing slump, but it will not be anytime soon that is for sure.

Robert Sheridan of RISMedia, states that “We’re in a mess of our own making and it’s time to own up to it. Prices need to fall, credit needs to flow (more responsibly this time) and everyone – from homeowners to industry professionals – needs to lower their short-term expectations. We won’t be hearing any good news until we come to grips with the bad. We’ll get through this, of course, and the cycle will start again. When it does, I hope hindsight makes us much, much wiser.”

The truth is that many are not wanting to see prices fall for another two years, but it may take that long for a turnaround, and I think that this crunch will make us “much, much wiser,” and something good will come out of this mess. People who I talk to, who are not actively involved in the real estate industry, claim that it will bounce back fast, and we have already seen the worst; yet they miss the signs, decreasing home prices each month, and increasing activity of foreclosures.

Yet decreasing home prices, and increasing foreclosures, might be what jet starts the home market once more, argues a news article from Bloomberg. “In some regions, such as San Francisco, sinking prices may already may be helping the housing market recover.” Banks do not want to hold on to the properties, so they put it on the market very quickly, and with that comes low prices that will help the market adjust.

Apartment Management Discovers a "Must Have" Tool for Property Management

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XAP Realty, a Los Angeles based real estate marketing company has created a lead capture solution to utilize the fact that cell phones are now carried by all prospective buyers and renters. The concept is extremely simple, www.xaprealty.com provides real estate agents, individual sellers, and property management companies with interactive signs. The signs allow prospects to request the listing information of a particular property by sending a text message. the prospect is instantaneously sent the listing details including: address, price, beds, baths, acreage, amenities, contact information, and more. Simultaneously, the agent or property manager is sent an email that includes the prospects phone number and the listing that he/she is interested in viewing. The service acts like an on-site assistant, reporting full property details and taking down new lead information 24 hours a day 7 days per week. Paul Warkenting of KAMAP Property Management says, “The service increased our monthly number of leads, and brought us more business because it shows our commitment to customer service.”

If this new, intriguing service could benefit you, then go over to their website right now and check it out.

Apartment smoking bans. Good idea?

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Recently we had an article about smoking in apartments, and now I found a survey on Lansner on Real Estate from the OCRegister that shows what the actually tenants think about putting a ban on smoking in an apartment complex. Write in to us and tell us what you think.

Apartments.com’s latest tenant survey says renters — even those who don’t smoke — aren’t that crazy about smoking bans.

Of those surveyed, 44.7% opposed the idea of making smoking in apartments illegal while 39.1% supported a ban. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed — 61.9% — were non-smokers.

About a third of the respondents — 31.8% — said a property management company shouldn’t decide that you can’t smoke in the privacy of your own apartment. Another 22.2% didn’t mind people smoking in their own place as long as it didn’t affect them.

Deadbeat Homeowners Hit The Road

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New article from Forbes.com

There was a time in America when losing your home to the mortgage lender was about the worst financial calamity that could befall a person. Not only were you homeless, your dignity was trampled by the repossession of your property.

That was Norman Rockwell. This is now.

To the distress of many banks and investors, American borrowers are increasingly viewing voluntary foreclosure as a practical financial decision, stripped of its taboo. Perhaps a bigger problem is that banks don’t want to talk about the problem and they don’t appear to know what to do about it. As long as it persists, there will be downward pressure on home prices, especially in overbuilt markets where the supply of housing already outstrips demand.

For the homeowners, the problem is a combination of falling real estate prices and the end of low-cost teaser periods on their mortgages. Those who bought at the crest of the market are finding their mortgages worth more than their homes. Faced with payments they can’t afford and houses they have no stake in, these people are just hitting the road. Though difficult to statistically isolate, there is evidence pointing to the trend.

In March, according to foreclosure database RealtyTrac, foreclosures rose 54.0% year-over-year, but bank repossessions surged at double that rate, 129.0%. What accounts for the difference? Rick Sharga, vice president of marketing at RealtyTrac, said most March repossessions likely involved walkaways: homeowners who simply mailed their keys to the bank and moved. There was no need for the banks to foreclose.

In mid-April, Chief Risk Officer Don Truslow of Wachovia acknowledged the troubling trend during a conference call: “I don’t know where the tipping point is, but somewhere when a borrower crosses the 100.0% loan-to-value, somewhere north of that . . . their propensity to just default and stop paying their mortgage rises dramatically and really accelerates up.”

Even more disconcerting, Truslow added that the trend was “almost regardless” of borrowers’ creditworthiness. Lender’s are beginning to report that loan-to-value ratios are better indicators of the likelihood of default than borrowers’ FICO scores, a widely used metric of creditworthiness developed by Fair, Isaac. (See “Subprime In Sheep’s Clothing”)

But Wachovia doesn’t have a plan to deal with the phenomenon.

“We are concerned about the issue, we just don’t have a strategy yet,” said Don Vecchiarello, a spokesperson for Wachovia (nyse: WB – news – people ). “We are monitoring the walkaway phenomenon and if the issue persists we will develop a strategy around it.”

Banks won’t come out and say how many walkaways they are seeing month after month, but most will offer anecdotal evidence of the trend. The unusual element of walkaways in this cycle that banks will acknowledge is that borrowers with relatively good credit files are opting to exit their mortgage agreements.

Washington Mutual (nyse: WM – news – people ) isn’t in much better shape. “In short, we don’t break out walkaways or provide any metrics on them,” said Derek Aney, a company spokesperson. Aney added that the bank “acknowledges the phenomenon and manages it as part of its overall loss-mitigation activities.”

If it’s in a lender’s best interest to simply claim the property and cancel the mortgage debt, it will accept the deed in lieu of foreclosure and write down the difference between the current value of the home and the remaining mortgage. RealtyTrac’s Sharga said that deeds in lieu are actually better for both the lender and the borrower.

For borrowers, the process is slightly less severe than a foreclosure on their credit records. Also, the bank essentially agrees not to pursue any further payments. For the lender, there are savings in not going through the auction process. This is expecially true if the home has lost value, as is often the case in today’s market. There’s also the relative ease of process relative to the time and expense of a lengthy foreclosure proceeding or the potential of the owner suddenly abandoning the home.

Thomas Kerrigan, a real estate lawyer in New York, said that if a borrower has other assets besides the home, than there is a much greater likelihood that the lender will pursue the deficiency between the total mortgage and the depreciated home price. However, if the lender believes there are no other assets, it will likely make a business decision that it isn’t worth trying to recoup the loss. “You can’t,” Kerrigan noted, “get blood out of a stone.”

Kerrigan also said that that foreclosure law varies from state to state and that banks will have to develop their walkaway strategies accordingly. States with judicial foreclosures, which emphasize homeowner rights, have the most cumbersome procedures. Lenders luck out in non-judicial states like California where foreclosure is a relatively speedy process. Walkaways would probably prefer judicial states because they can camp out in their homes while the banks spend up to a year trying to foreclose.

“It really is a moral dilemma, because it’s wrong, but the repercussions are credit-based,” said Nancy Flint-Budde, a certified financial planner in Salem, New York. “Destroyed credit is a still huge deterrent, but if someone is willing to throw their credit score away for seven years then walking away is an option.” Negative credit items are typically deleted from consumers’ reports after seven years.

Because many people “went in as investors,” rather than homeowners, “they went in with a different mindset and might be willing to just walkway.” Flint-Budde added, “This is why traditionally people had to put more money down when they borrowed money for a second home or investment property.”

Glen Costello, a structured finance officer at Fitch, said that walkaways are nothing new, but this cycle’s factors are. “One could understand that if someone had lost their job and all their savings, they were being forced to give up their home,” said Costello. Now, however, homeowners aren’t as much vulnerable to foreclosure as amenable. They just don’t want to pay high monthly costs for properties in which they do not have stakes.

$100 prize

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Just reminding everyone of the promotion Apartment Management is offering. Write an article, less than 1,500 words, about your experience in the apartment industry. It can be about anything, it is totally up to you. All it has to be is interesting, and if yours is picked, then you will get a $100 American Express gift card.

Just make sure you send your submissions to editor@aptmags.com by the end of June.