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New mortgage program aims to help more homeowners

To reduce their monthly payments, borrowers will get a new interest rate thats equal to or below their current rates, based on the average of 30-year fixed mortgages, and the term will be extended to 40 years. Also, borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth will pay no interest on up to 30 percent of their unpaid balance. Borrowers, on average, are expected to reduce their monthly payments by 30 percent.

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NCBA Hosting Mortgage Foreclosure Legal Consultation Clinic

Mortgage foreclosure continues to affect a large number of homeowners on Long Island, and the recent damage caused by Superstorm Sandy has just added to the need for legal assistance.

Nassau County Bar Association (NCBA) volunteer attorneys will help Nassau County homeowners who are concerned about foreclosure matters or are already in the foreclosure process involving property in Nassau County, with free legal guidance, loan modification assistance and bankruptcy information – all in one room.

The free NCBA Mortgage Foreclosure Legal Consultation Clinic will be held April 1 from 3-6 p.m. at the NCBA headquarters, 15th and West Streets, in Mineola.  

NCBA volunteer attorneys will provide one-on-one guidance, advice and direction to residents. If needed, homeowners may meet with HUD-certified housing counselors from the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre and LaFuerza Unieda.

NCBA volunteer bankruptcy attorneys will also be available for one-on-one consultations and residents under certain income guidelines may also meet with Nassau/Suffolk Law Services, which provides reduced fee legal services.

  • Reservations are required by calling the Bar Association at 516-747-4070. Attendees are asked to bring their mortgage documents to the clinic.
  • Bi-lingual attorneys fluent in Spanish will be on site. Attorneys bi-lingual in Russian, Haitian Creole, Korean, Chinese, Hindi, American Sign Language and many other languages will be made available upon request when homeowners call to make reservations.

Tucson’s historic Manning House gets foreclosure reprieve

At 106 years old, downtown’s Manning House remains as showy, stately and historic as ever.

But will it survive?

The 37,000-square-foot, palm-tree-shaded, multi-winged house and its 5.2 acres were on the edge of foreclosure last month, but may have escaped that fate for now.

In its first 28 years, the Manning House was home to a pioneering Tucson mayor and entrepreneur. Six owners and multiple additions and renovations later, it ended a 17-year run as a meeting and events center nine months ago and was listed for sale at $2.48 million.

No prospective buyers have publicly surfaced. But owner Colleen Concannon said she’s optimistic a buyer can be found who will preserve the historic character of the house, at 450 W. Paseo Redondo.

A Scottsdale attorney acting as a trustee for the City National Bank of Los Angeles, which holds the loan on the property, gave notice last month that the house and its acreage would be sold at public auction on May 29 at the Superior Court building downtown.

But Concannon said she persuaded the mortgage holder to call off the foreclosure sale while she negotiates a restructuring of the bank loan. An effort to sell the house to the Rio Nuevo District, the body overseeing downtown revitalization, fell flat last summer, just as previous efforts to sell it to the city of Tucson, Pima County and Tucson Electric Power failed.

She said she believes a sale will occur in the next year.

“We definitely have some interest right now,” said Concannon, whose family has owned the house since 1997. “I can’t say more. I’m under a confidentiality agreement.”

The Los Angeles bank can’t comment on matters involving its clients, said Debora Vrana, the bank’s media relations manager. Trustee Joy Sullivan didn’t return phone calls or an email from the Star seeking comment.

differing views

Rio Nuevo District Board Chairman Fletcher McCusker said he is pessimistic about the house’s future – and that’s even though he thinks the building should be saved and even though it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and would need two layers of government approval to be significantly altered or demolished.

“I think that most people who look at the property think the land is worth more than the building,” said McCusker

He said he thinks local government should play a role in saving the house as has happened in other cities.

Last summer, when the Rio Nuevo District tried to find a private partner to develop the property with a historic hotel, one potential buyer seemed interested in saving it but a second one didn’t, McCusker said. The deal ultimately fell apart.

“It’s so big, it’s hard to find an economic use for it. It’s on a weird place on the lot,” McCusker said last week. “The people I think are interested in it are interested in the land. I think that is why she hasn’t been able to find a buyer.”

Concannon, however, said she “absolutely” believes she can find a buyer who will put together an economically feasible use for the building. She envisions some sort of “end user” facility, such as condos owned by their residents or an office building run by its new owners.

“It’s five acres in Tucson. It’s got to be worth something. It’s been a social events center, an office building and a home. I simply decided I was not going to do business there anymore. I think the business definitely declined over the years, but there’s lots of different uses for it.”

wouldn’t be demolished

The house is part of the El Presidio National Register Historic District and the Rio Nuevo-Downtown Overlay Zone. Because of that, an owner wishing to substantially alter or demolish it would need approval from the Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission and the City Council, said Jonathan Mabry, the city’s historic preservation officer.

While the historic preservation-minded council is unlikely to approve demolition, a number of additions to the building’s rear aren’t considered historic and could be removed or replaced, Mabry said.

“The building doesn’t have to be frozen,” he said. “It could be modified in ways sensitive to its historic character and to give it a new use.”

The building is in good condition, and Concannon has done a lot to modernize it and bring it up to city codes, Rio Nuevo’s McCusker added. Because of that, it has more “utility” than many other old buildings, but that’s also why it’s so expensive – “above what the market is willing to pay,” he said.

Options abound

Ken Scoville, a historic preservation activist and retired schoolteacher, takes visitors past the Manning House when he gives historic walking tours of downtown three to four times a month. He has little doubt the Manning House could find new life.

He cited the recent conversion of the downtown Reilly’s Funeral Home into a pizza restaurant, and of the Monterey Court Motel and Ghost Ranch Lodge on North Miracle Mile into artisan’s shops, a restaurant and housing for low-income senior citizens.

The Manning was used for office space in the 1980s and 1990s, he said, and he sees no reason that couldn’t be done again. It’s not on a major downtown street, but it’s a nice location and a beautiful building that Concannon has done a fine job of preserving, Scoville said.

“She’s given her life to that building, and exhausted herself doing the restoration and putting in the time and money to make it work,” he said. “Maybe she overrestored it. But even if they tore down the meeting rooms, it is one of the more classic buildings we have left, and it could be an anchor for any development we could have there. People are scouring for historic buildings downtown today.”

On StarNet: See more photos of the Manning House at azstar and go to multimedia for a poll and more information.

Did you know?

The Manning House was named for Levi Manning, Tucson’s 17th mayor. The house, at 450 W. Paseo Redondo, is in the heart of the historic El Presidio neighborhood. It is known for its arched entryways, undulating cornices, turreted cylinders and rotunda.

Contact reporter Tony Davis at or 806-7746.

Article source:

Foreclosed ‘Zombie’ Homes Exceed 300000 Properties: Study

By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla., March 28 (Reuters) – A national survey found 301,874 “zombie” properties dotting the U.S. landscape in which homeowners in foreclosure have moved out, leaving vacant property susceptible to vandalism and degradation.
Florida tops the list of zombie properties with 90,556 vacant homes in foreclosure, according to a foreclosure inventory released on Thursday by RealtyTrac, a real estate information company in Irvine, California.
Illinois and California ranked a distant second and third with 31,668 and 28,821 zombie properties respectively on the list.
The number of homes overall in foreclosure or bank-owned rose by 9 percent to 1.5 million properties nationally in the first quarter of 2013 compared to a year ago, according to RealtyTrac.
Another 10.9 million homeowners nationwide remain at risk because they owe more than their property is worth, according to company vice president Daren Blomquist.
RealtyTrac for the first time analyzed data on zombie properties after a Reuters’ special report in January examined the special problem of zombie titles, Blomquist said.
Reuters revealed the plight of people who walked away from their homes not realizing that their names remained on the deed and that they were financially liable for taxes and other bills related to the abandoned property.
In some cases, homeowners vacated after receiving a notice from the bank of a planned foreclosure sale, only to find out later the bank never followed through.
Zombie properties can be easy to spot as they deteriorate into neighborhood eyesores and havens for criminal activity.
While Florida leads in volume of zombie properties, Kentucky, with less than 1,000 zombie properties, leads in percentage, with zombies representing 54 percent of its total foreclosure inventory, Blomquist said.
Zombies in Washington, Indiana, Nevada and Oregon also constitute 50 percent or more of the properties in foreclosure, according to the report.
Blomquist said the number of zombie properties could be higher than represented in the RealtyTrac report, which used a conservative methodology.
In Florida, for example, the company does not count any property that has been in foreclosure longer than the state average of 853 days and for which there has been no significant recent activity. The report also does not take into account cases in which a bank chose not to follow through on a foreclosure judgment, leaving the property in limbo.
Blomquist said the long average time to complete a foreclosure case in Florida likely contributes to the high number of zombie properties, as people give up hope over time and walk away.
Blomquist said the findings overall show a housing recovery is under way but not yet deeply rooted.
“I think the empty foreclosures is less of a long-term threat but it certainly is affecting individual communities and neighborhoods,” Blomquist said.
According to the Reuters special report, municipalities are left to deal with the mess when people move out after receiving a notice of a planned foreclosure sale that the bank then cancels.
Some spend public funds on securing, cleaning and stabilizing houses that generate no tax revenue. Others let the houses rot.
Unsuspecting homeowners have had their wages garnished, their credit destroyed and their tax refunds seized. They’ve opened their mail to find bills for back taxes, graffiti-scrubbing services, demolition crews, trash removal, gutter repair, exterior cleaning and lawn clipping.
In some cities, people with zombie titles can be sentenced to probation, with the threat of jail if they don’t bring their houses into compliance.

Loading Slideshow

  • Columbine Shooting Survivor Fighting Foreclosure With Occupy LA’s Help

    Richard Castaldo survived the shooting at Columbine High School 13 years ago and now he is fighting to a href=”” target=”_hplink”rescue his home from foreclosure/a. The people of Occupy Los Angeles are helping Castaldo and others like him to save their homes.

  • USDA Forecloses On 78-Year-Old Cancer Patient

    The USDA foreclosed on 78-year-old Texas resident Alicia Ramirez, reportedly a href=”” target=”_hplink”after she was diagnosed with cancer./a While the USDA has thus far allowed Ramirez to remain in her home, a court order evicting the senior citizen could be issued at any time.

  • Foreclosure Victims Lose Belongings After Free Yard Sale Goes Wrong

    The Vercher family of Woodstock, Georgia, offered to give away a a href=”″ target=”_hplink”number of household items in a Craigslist ad/a after their house was foreclosed on. Instead, they ended up losing nearly all of their belongings when people began taking items from inside the house.

  • Wells Fargo Offers Cancer Patient ‘Assistance’ Then Forecloses

    Terminal breast cancer patient Cindi Davis could no longer keep up with her mortgage payments due to the cost of her medical bills. Faced with media scrutiny, her lender a href=”″ target=”_hplink”Wells Fargo told a local radio station it was seeking “assistance”/a for Davis just weeks before setting the date to auction her home for December 19th, 2012.

  • Coca-Cola Heirs Lose $37.5 Million To Foreclosure

    Descendants of Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler have been hit hard by the housing bust with their a href=”″ target=”_hplink”real estate development company losing $37.5 million to foreclosure since the Great Recession began/a.

    (Pictured: the former mansion of Coca-Cola heir Asa Griggs “Buddy” Candler, Jr.)

  • Mom Evicted On Mother’s Day

    After she and her husband were allegedly duped into a bad loan, California mom Sheri Prizant faced the possibility of being evicted from her home on Mother’s Day, a href=”″ target=”_hplink”MSNBC/a reports.

  • CT Family Never Missed A Payment

    Shock Baitch and his wife Lisa of Connecticut a href=”” target=”_hplink”were threatened with foreclosure by Bank of America/a after never missing a payment. BofA mistakenly told credit agencies they were seeking a loan modification. “Now I am literally and financially paying for it,” Baitch told a href=”” target=”_hplink”

  • Man Gets Free Home After Lender Shutdown

    Facing foreclosure, Perry Laspina of Jacksonville, Florida ended up with a home practically for free after his mortgage lender was shut down by parent company Wells Fargo, a href=”” target=”_hplink”AOL Real Estate reports/a. Laspina got the home “because of the significant decreased value of the property,” a bank spokesman said.

  • BofA Forecloses On Building With Own Branch Office

    In Boynton Beach, Florida, Bank of America filed a foreclosure lawsuit against the owner of a building that houses one of its own branches, a href=”” target=”_hplink”South Florida Business Journal reports/a.

  • Threatened Over $0.00 Unpaid Mortgage Payment

    A Massachusetts man was told he’d a href=”” target=”_hplink”face foreclosure unless he paid an outstanding mortgage payment worth $0.00/a. “I’m going to write a check to them for zero dollars and have it clear? I couldn’t help but laugh,” he joked with local a href=”$0-foreclosure-notice” target=”_hplink”News 22 WWLP/a.

  • Home Allegedly Ransacked By Mortgage Company

    Chris Boudreau of Brooksville, Florida a href=”” target=”_hplink”told local news that his house was ransacked by his mortgage company/a, 21st Mortgage Corporation, who he says even shredded his wife’s wedding dress. “When she saw what happened…she was crying her eyes out,” a href=”” target=”_hplink”he told WTSP 10 News/a.

  • Mortgage Payment Made Too Early

    A senior couple in Pasco County, Florida faced foreclosure not for missing payments, a href=”” target=”_hplink”but for making one too early/a. According to a Bank of America representative, they made themselves ineligible for a mortgage modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program when they did not make their payment in the “month in which it [was] due.”

  • Foreclosure In ‘World’s Richest Apartment Building’

    Property developer Kent Swig and his soon-to-be ex-wife Elizabeth faced foreclosure from their apartment at 740 Park Avenue, a href=”” target=”_hplink”a New York City address often cited as “the world’s richest apartment building.”/a

  • Untransferred Title Leads To Unfair Foreclosure

    Brian and Khanklink Pyron of Houston, Texas were a href=”” target=”_hplink”threatened with foreclosure despite keeping current on their payments due to an untransferred title/a. “We did everything we were supposed to do,” Brian Pyron told a href=”” target=”_hplink”MyFoxHouston/a.

  • Foreclosure On Hurricane-Destroyed Home

    Brad Gana, of Seabrook, Texas was threatened with foreclosure by Bank of America even though his a href=”” target=”_hplink”house had been completely destroyed years earlier in Hurricane Ike/a. “Bank of America is ruthless in their incompetency,” a href=”” target=”_hplink”he told Houston 2 News/a.

  • $1 Coding Error Leads To Foreclosure

    Utah’s Shantell Curtis and her family were threatened with a href=”” target=”_hplink”foreclosure by Bank of America on a home they had already sold years prior/a. On top of that, the whole episode concerned the matter of just a $1 coding error.

  • Investigative Journalist Becomes Foreclosure Victim

    George Knapp, chief investigative reporter for Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS, found he was a a href=”” target=”_hplink”victim of the very brand of foreclosure fraud he was investigating/a for a news report. Him being the reporter, the episode put him in a “very weird spot,” a href=”” target=”_hplink”he told the Poynter Insitute/a.

  • BofA Falsely Threatens Paralyzed Man With Foreclosure

    Robert Galanida, a 41-year-old man paralyzed from the shoulders down, a href=”” target=”_hplink”battled Bank of America for nearly a decade/a because it repeatedly sent him false statements threatening foreclosure.

  • Tracy Morgan Refuses Mother Foreclosure Help

    In January 2012, actor Tracy Morgan reportedly refused to give his mother a href=”” target=”_hplink”$25,000 she needed to avoid foreclosure/a, instead offering only $2,000.

  • Bank Of America Plaza Foreclosure

    The Bank of America Plaza in Atlanta was sold at a foreclosure auction in February after its landlord, BentleyForbes, could no longer afford mortgage payments, a href=”” target=”_hplink”BusinessWeek reports/a. BofA a href=”” target=”_hplink”was a tenant in the building at the time/a but had no other connection besides sharing the tower’s ironic name.

  • JPMorgan Tries To Foreclose On Civil Rights Activist

    Even while it promoted a February 2012 campaign to “fulfill” the “vision” of Martin Luther King Jr., a href=”” target=”_hplink”JPMorgan Chase threatened 78-year-old civil rights activist Helen Bailey with foreclosure/a. The bank ultimately allowed Bailey to stay in her home indefinitely after Occupy Nashville helped bring national attention to the issue, a href=”” target=”_hplink”Think Progress/a reports.

  • Foreclosure At Luxury Retirement Home

    Despite being billed as “cosmopolitan living for ages 60+,” the luxury a href=”” target=”_hplink”Fox Hill Senior Condominiums was threatened with foreclosure/a in March after its lenders said they were backing out.

  • Man Fined For Not Mowing His Old Lawn

    David Englett was charged with fines by the city of Arlington, Texas for not mowing the lawn of a href=”” target=”_hplink”a house he had already lost to foreclosure years earlier/a.

  • 101-Year-Old Woman Evicted From Home

    Texana Hollis was evicted from her home due to foreclosure in September 2011, then a href=”” target=”_hplink”denied a subsequent promise that she could move back in/a by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It wasn’t until April 2012 that a href=”” target=”_hplink”she was finally granted permission to return to the home/a she’s lived in for 60 years.

  • BofA Forecloses On Woman After Telling Her To Miss Payments

    According to Pamela Flores, an Atlanta homeowner, a href=”” target=”_hplink”Bank of America advised her to stop making payments/a on her loan in order to negotiate a modification. After doing so, the bank foreclosed on her anyway, claiming she’d missed a trial payment

  • Mother, Disabled Daughter Forced Out Of Home Even After BofA Modification

    Dirma Rodriguez and her disabled daughtera href=”″ target=”_hplink” were forced to flee their home in minutes/a after Bank of America sold it to a flipper at a foreclosure auction, even though the bank had already modified her loan. But not all hope is lost; Rodriguez may get her home back after the Occupy Fights Foreclosure movement intervened.

Article source:

Hot Boca real estate market turns up heat on history – Sun

The boarded-up windows and spray-painted numerals would hardly seem a draw for anything more than a curious glance, much less a reason to pull off the road.

But in the case of the Boca Raton Army Air Field Headquarters, one person’s eyesore is another’s history. What owner Armen Batmasian is planning to have torn down, the Boca Raton Historic Preservation Board has been trying to get listed on the city’s Register of Historic Places.

It’s a debate that is likely to put the wrecking ball on a collision course with history more often as interest in city real estate picks up.

Batmasian said he’ll put a plaque in front of the planned development at 101 Pine Circle to commemorate the top-secret radar training during World War II. But beyond that, he said he doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. He just wants to build a new daycare center, something he believes the community needs.

“This happens to be an eyesore and a hazard in the neighborhood,” Batmasian said. “There are bums and homeless people staying there. It’s old and it’s falling apart.”

Batmasian said he’s met with officials of the Boca Raton Historical Society Museum about the property he bought at a foreclosure auction six months ago. Officials there declined to comment on the situation, but its website calls the site “one of the most historically significant structures in all of Boca Raton.”

It is “a major contributor to the unique WWII legacy of Boca Raton,” the website says.

For Arlene Owens, a member of the city’s Historic Preservation Board, the possible destruction of the building is one of the hazards of a real estate market that is heating up.

Another home with historical significance recently has gone up for sale, she said. The van Dresser house at 745 W. Palmetto Park Road, built in 1939, was the first Catholic rectory in the city and the former home of William van Dresser, a portrait artist who also illustrated the cover of a Jack London novel.

Although the house is not designated as historic now, Owens is concerned about the current climate.

“Historic preservation was having a moment of pause,” Owens said of the recession-induced halt in development. “Nothing was moving and you didn’t have to worry about someone buying and bulldozing.”

Right now, Old Floresta and Pearl City are the only sections of the city that the Historic Preservation Board has designated historic districts. It doesn’t stop property owners from making changes, but it does require an appearance in front of the Historic Preservation Board, so there’s another layer of review before history disappears.

It wasn’t really the history but the cypress beams and wall paneling that Barbara Wasserman said she loves about the van Dresser house. She’s selling for a number of reasons — and is hoping she can find a buyer who appreciates its décor and its significance.

She bought it for $725,000 in 2005, according to the Palm Beach County Appraiser’s website; it’s now listed at $678,000.

“Although I adore this house and would like to see it stay here forever, it’s really up to whoever buys it,” she said.

For some, too much of the city’s history exists only in faded memories. A WWII-era subdivision called “40 Houses” on Dixie Highway, for example, has just one house left standing.

And while New Englanders might laugh at the idea of something younger than 100 as “historic,” a community’s history represents some aspect of its development no matter what its chronological age, the historic preservation board’s Owens said.

The criteria for getting on Boca’s historic register could involve archaeology, the fame of a former occupant, architectural details that embody a particular time, or, as in the case of the radar training headquarters, something associated with events that made a contribution to the broad sweep of history.

“Because of that place, we were able to see things above the clouds,” Owens said of the training site. “We should respect, enhance history, whatever it gets used for.

“Going forward, we should take a look at what’s left of our past and use it to enhance our community,”

But Paul Mummaw, an architect who’s designed a daycare center planned at the site of the headquarters, doesn’t see it that way. He expects to have the site’s development plan in front of the Planning and Zoning Board in May or June. Demolition will soon follow.

Not much historic is left, he said.

“The building is completely different from when it was originally built,” he said. “It’s been remodeled over the years. These little apartments were created.”

But Jay Mueller, who was once the building’s property manager, believes it should be a historic site.

“You need to picture these boys,” he said. “Most of them are not even 18 years old. These were kids, learning to fight for the United States. It’s incredible to know that it happened here.” or 561-243-6624

Article source:,0,7049226.story

Low-cost loft home conversions make old houses marketable, avoiding demolition

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Buying a house for $500 would be an indisputable bargain in most places, but not necessarily in Cleveland.

So when the owner of the vacant house in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood made the offer to developer and landlord Charles Scaravelli, he paused.

A traditional rehab would cost at least $30,000, more than he could recoup by renting or selling the house.

That didn’t stop him. “Wow, it’s got a slate roof,” Scaravelli said. “I’ll buy it.”

Scaravelli’s decision, not knowing whether it would be an albatross or an opportunity, is turning out to be more than a risk that paid off for him. It also could affect the vast inventory of vacant and abandoned housing in the city and increasingly the suburbs.

Scaravelli converted the dwelling into a loft house, a rehab that cost only $10,000. He has had no problem renting the home on Schaefer Avenue for $500 a month and another on East 47th Street that he bought from the St. Clair Superior Development Corp. and converted.

Now the Cuyahoga land bank and the St. Clair Superior nonprofit are engaged in a pilot project to see whether the loft home conversions can be a way of bringing vacant houses, often the wreckage of the foreclosure crisis, back online. Demolition is the typical solution, but if an affordable model can be found to create a viable market for these houses, bulldozing doesn’t have to be their only fate.

Demolishing a house costs between $7,500 and $10,000, depending on the structure. The land bank is making a two-year, low-interest loan to Scaravelli, based on what it would have cost to demolish four houses he is scheduled to convert to loft homes. The development corporation is overseeing the project, in which the houses will be turned over to Scaravelli once completed.

“This will allow development to occur and also give us time to evaluate and debug the system,” said Gus Frangos, president and general counsel of the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., the land bank’s official name.

He said the developer is receiving a loan, not a grant, because part of the appeal of the model is that it can be done with little or no public subsidy. Though the land bank will receive about $24 million for demolition from national foreclosure settlement funds and government matches, much demolition money comes from the public coffers.

There are about 26,000 vacant residential structures in Cuyahoga County, according to the land bank. Roughly 625 are in the land bank’s current monthly inventory; some of those will be demolished and others rehabbed. Frangos said the land bank has programs to sell off the inventory, often with incentives, to responsible homeowners and rehabbers.

“Part of the challenge is that, yes, we find rehabbers, we find homeowners; but there are not enough homeowners and rehabbers to match with every home that is distressed in the city of Cleveland,” he said.

The 1889 Victorian on East 47th Street sat empty for a few years before the owner gave it to the St. Clair Superior nonprofit, which sold it to Scaravelli for $1. The owner of the property, which had been in one family for decades, feared that if it had continued to sit, the structure would have deteriorated to a point of ending up in housing court.

Less than a decade earlier, in the midst of a hot housing market, the home probably would have sold easily. The St. Clair Superior group probably would have considered it an ideal candidate for rehab, putting $30,000 to $50,000 into the property, because it could sell for up to twice that much.

“Right now in the neighborhood, you couldn’t make that argument,” said Michael Fleming, the nonprofit’s executive director. “If you put in $50,000, it would still be worth $40,000.”

Fleming was speaking of a traditional rehab, in which most of the walls and floors of a house would remain intact and the structure would receive a new heating system, kitchen, bathrooms and more. Scaravelli based his alternative on knowing that many houses built in the late 1880s and early 1900s used balloon framing. That means that the studs in the load-bearing walls run uninterrupted from the foundation to the eave line. These two-story-high posts made of old-growth forest wood made it easy to tear out floors and walls, without causing structural damage, to dramatically alter the nearly 125-year-old house for an updated look.

Instead of a collection of mostly small rooms, often not much bigger than walk-in closets, the house now sports an open floor plan. Gone are the low ceilings. Most of the second floor has been removed. That story has been reworked into two semi-open spaces, facing each other, suitable for a bedroom, office or artist’s studio.

Much of the wood torn out of the house has been refashioned into such rustic elements as part of a kitchen island and stairs leading to one of the loft spaces. Old beams frame the loft spaces.

Scaravelli describes the many walls and doors originally in the 1,400-square-foot house as obsolete and confining.

He describes the new open space this way: “This is sophisticated and poetic real estate developed as a platform for living based on freedom.”

A transformation all done for $9,700.

The model is so promising because it is so cost-efficient, said Terry Schwarz, director of Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative.

Loft homes “offer a very low-cost, high-impact design-on-a-dime strategy.”

“I’m wondering what other kinds of tricks you could pull off with $10,000,” Schwarz said.

She said a group of “creative young students” will look for options other than loft homes at the same price point.

The “design on a dime” strategy offers a new twist in the city’s battle to stem population loss. Most of these efforts have focused primarily on higher-end products often aimed at luring suburbanites. This includes downtown apartments and custom homes, like those in Hough or Mill Creek, a subdivision that bills itself as offering “urban living with suburban flair.”

“It is not pristine,” Schwarz said of the loft home. “It is not a perfect housing unit, but it is just cool enough that I think it is really a promising idea.”

Housing Court Judge Raymond Pianka agrees, especially when you consider the probable alternative — vacant lots, which he says can have “a blighting influence” on a neighborhood.

“I like the concept, but I think it needs work,” he said, adding that the homes would be more appealing with higher-end finishes, which he says could be done and still keep the project affordable.

Fleming agrees. He said the existing loft homes are particularly appealing to younger people, a demographic the city has had success in attracting. Many are being priced out of places like downtown and Ohio City and can be drawn to St. Clair-Superior’s more affordable housing. Such housing, because it offers live-work space, also offers an opportunity to expand the artist community already in the area, he said.

Andrea Bruno, the nonprofit’s housing coordinator, said the loft homes are an example of “rust belt chic” because they appeal to artists and others of the “creative class.” The term loosely focuses on how an old, industrial city like Cleveland can embrace its past as a springboard for growth. When she placed an item about the loft homes in a community newspaper, she got more than a dozen inquiries. Many came from younger people drawn to both the historic and forward-looking nature of a uniquely Cleveland product.

Arleen Crider, 27, makes no qualms about it. A nurse with an interest in interior design, she likes living in trendy neighborhoods, places like Tremont and Ohio City.

“I am the girl who loves a fab apartment,” she said.

So when Scaravelli suggested a property outside of those neighborhoods, she really wasn’t interested, even at rent that was half the price. Then she remembers opening the door to the house on Schaefer.

“It totally blew me away,” she said. “There was so much character there.”

Crider ended up taking the house on East 47th Street, where she got to add some of her interior design skills, since the rehab was under way.

The East 47th Street home is in Councilman Jeffrey Johnson’s ward, as is another project in Glenville, also in his ward. For him, loft homes are proof that pursuing a “Shrinking Cities” philosophy isn’t Cleveland’s only option. That philosophy asserts that it is improbable that cities like Cleveland — which has less than half the population it had more than a half-century ago — will grow. The strategy focuses on massive demolition and redirecting residents to certain neighborhoods as a way to make delivery of city services more efficient.

Johnson said the loft home approach probably works best in St. Clair-Superior, where more working-class housing was built. In the historic districts in his ward — including those in Glenville and University Circle, where housing for the affluent was built decades ago — restoration is a better option, he said.

If there is no money for restoration, he advocates money for mothballing these projects, which helps save structures from deterioration, instead of tearing them down.

Such complications are common for redevelopment in the city. That is why the relatively simple solution the loft homes present has garnered such excitement. Schwarz jokes that after touring a loft home in December, she may have received a sign about the model’s future.

“I went to East 55th Street and there was this insane rainbow,” she said.

But in Cleveland fashion, it wasn’t that simple.

“It happened on one of those weird days where it was sunny and snowing at the same time,” she said.

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Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac Introduce Plan To Help Homeowners Avoid …

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two large government-sponsored housing companies, rolled out a plan today that would ease requirements for homeowners seeking to modify their mortgage payments, allowing many to remain in their homes and avoid foreclosure.

The program would allow homeowners who are behind on their mortgages by at least 90 days to seek a modification without having to document financial hardship, as they have in the past. That requirement often made it harder for homeowners to get a loan modification that would help them get current on their loans, but the new rules would make it easier to lower their monthly payments, the Los Angeles Times reports:

The streamlined modification program, to be put into effect in July, would reduce monthly payments by about 30% on average, officials said in announcing the program Wednesday.

Eligible borrowers would receive letters explaining the modification offer and specifying the reduced payment. If they made three monthly payments during a trial modification period, the new loan terms would become permanent — without them having to document their financial situations.

The two entities and their regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, have faced criticism for not doing more to help homeowners, especially amid the shortcomings of the Obama administration’s signature housing efforts, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). Modification efforts were hurt by banks that often didn’t process those documents as quickly as they processed foreclosures. That has led to wrongful foreclosures and claims of fraud and false documentation, both of which were major elements of the mortgage settlement the federal government reached with large banks last year.

The housing market has improved in recent months, helping the overall economic recovery. Millions of Americans are still underwater on their mortgages or facing the threat of foreclosure. Because Fannie and Freddie collectively back roughly half of American mortgages, this change will help address that problem.

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Dues liability ends with foreclosure sale

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Williams & Connolly Sues Bank Regulator Over Foreclosure Review Information

But the process seemed mainly to benefit the consultants, who raked in nearly $2 billion through November 2012 without a single borrower receiving compensation. As OCC head Thomas Curry put it in a February speech, the independent foreclosure review “proved to be much more complicated than anyone anticipated.”

In January, banking regulators pulled the plug on the program, striking deals with 13 servicers to pay more than $9.3 billion in cash payments and other assistance to help borrowers.

In its FOIA suit, filed on March 27, Williams Connolly wants to know exactly what guidance OCC provided to mortgage services for hiring the independent consultants. The suit seeks “All documents and/or records relating to the OCC’s definition of independence,” including “Any documents and/or records relating to determining whether any particular independent consultant…was or was not independent.”

Companies including Promontory Financial Group, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst Young and Deloitte Touche were hired by mortgage servicers to conduct the reviews.

The OCC initially refused Williams Connolly’s request in full, citing FOIA subsection (b)(8), which exempts information “contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by… an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.”

Williams Connolly appealed the request to the OCC in September, and “specifically noted that the OCC could not withhold the documents under the stated exemption,” according to the complaint.

The OCC in December released five pages of partially redacted documents related to its definition of independence and provided documents that were publically available on its website. Also, the agency offered new grounds for withholding information, citing subsection (b)(5) which exempts “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.”

Aufhauser argued in the complaint that Williams Connolly has a “right of access to the documents requested, and Defendant has no legal basis for its actions in withholding the right of access to such documents.” The suit also seeks attorneys’ fees.

Aufhauser, who did not respond to a request for comment, previously served as general counsel of the Treasury Department.

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Report: Foreclosures surge in past year

The state had 9,144 homes somewhere in the foreclosure process as of the first quarter, a 69 percent increase from 5,411 as of the first quarter of 2012, according to RealtyTrac data. For comparison, the inventory of foreclosure homes nationwide rose by 9 percent over the same period.

The vast majority of those New Mexico homes – 7,084 – were tied up in state district courts, where foreclosure actions are handled through civil lawsuits filed by the lender against the homeowner. Of the remainder, 1,764 were repossessed or held by a bank while 296 were scheduled for a foreclosure sale.

New Mexico was one of 26 states posting an increase in foreclosure inventory from the first quarter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2013, RealtyTrac noted. Of those 26 states, 19 use a judicial foreclosure process like New Mexico. Foreclosures tend to linger in court, driving up the inventory of foreclosure homes in those states.

In New Mexico, two out of every five homeowners in default on their mortgages either clear out of the house in anticipation of a foreclosure or are investors who live elsewhere.

Of the homes in the foreclosure process during the first quarter, 41 percent were unoccupied in New Mexico, compared to a national average of 35 percent. Half of the 107 homes in Valencia County going through foreclosure were unoccupied, the highest percentage among counties in the metro.

In states like Indiana, Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, 50 percent or more of foreclosure homes are unoccupied.

Some costs can follow homeowners in default who move out before the foreclosure is completed and the house is under new ownership, RealtyTrac says in its inventory update.

“The homeowner is still responsible for maintenance and property taxes,” it says.

RealtyTrac’s inventory update includes characteristics of homes going through foreclosure based on national data. For example, 71 percent of foreclosure homes are between 1,000 and 2,000 square feet in size. Most of the remainder, 21 percent, were between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet.

In a breakdown of foreclosure homes by the decade they were built, not surprisingly the decade of the 2000s – the decade of the housing bubble – provides the largest share of homes in the foreclosure process at 21 percent.

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