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Gated communities try new strategy to eliminate $1 lots

At least two gated golf communities are attempting a work-around to their $1-lot problem, purchasing homes within their gates and building spec homes on them.

Belfair and Berkeley Hall, two Bluffton communities, are using the new strategy in hopes of ending the cycle of lots being sold for $1. If the lot does not sell, and the owner doesn’t pay taxes on it, the property is auctioned off at Beaufort County’s delinquent tax sale for the minimum tax amount.

That property is then up for sale to buyers who are often unaware of the exclusive neighborhoods’ fees and dues. Annual dues are typically between $14,000 and $20,000, depending on the neighborhood. And one-time initiation fees push the price tag up as much as $19,500.

The new owners sometimes default on payments, sending the property back to the tax sale the following year.

Beaufort County treasurer Maria Walls witnessed many uninformed investors make impulse buys on the lots — located in some of Beaufort County’s premiere neighborhoods — at past tax sales.

Last year, she and some of the gated communities’ leaders led a “buyer-beware” campaign to educate potential buyers of the fees. Belfair and Berkeley Hall ran three-quarter page advertisements in four issues of The Island Packet leading up to the October tax sale.

Adrian Morris, general manager of Berkeley Hall, said the campaign was effective in reducing the number of people bidding on the lots.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean there are fewer $1 lots on the market.

$1 Lots For Sale

7 Belfair

13 Berkeley Hall

1 Callawassie Island

10 Colleton River Plantation

1 Haig Point

According to a local real estate database, 32 such lots are on the market in five gated communities: Belfair, Berkeley Hall, Callawassie Island, Colleton River Plantation and Haig Point. Another 31 lots in the neighborhoods are for sale for less than $10,000.

That’s about the same as one year ago when there were at least 26 $1 lots in golf developments and another 43 listed for less than $10,000.

The unabated trend continues to be “a big bruise on the local market,” said John Robinson, a Dunes Real Estate real estate agent and former board president of the Hilton Head Area Association of Realtors. But this new approach could turn things around.

“Having reputable builders build spec homes is the best idea out there,” he said.

The spec home strategy

Belfair will own approximately 40 lots by the beginning of 2017, according to a notice sent to Belfair property owners in April.

Construction on two of the lots will begin by the end of this year as a pilot project. If successful, the notice identified 24 “excellent” lots that could be developed later.

“The ability to generate a dues-paying member on a property owned by the (Property Owner’s Association) is greatly enhanced when a home is constructed on that property,” the notice read.

The POA board also recommended merging six lots with neighboring lots owned by the POA to make resulting plots of land more attractive and transforming “unbuildable” lots into open green space for communal use.

Berkeley Hall is pursuing a similar strategy, purchasing six lots in last year’s tax sale with plans to start building three or four spec homes by the end of the year. Construction hasn’t started, but Berkeley Hall’s general manager Adrian Morris said the community is close to finalizing the deals with several builders.

Morris added that plans for spec homes began in early 2015 with the hope to sell each for $750,000 to $800,000.

Increase asking price

Another gated community is using a different strategy, encouraging real estate agents and their clients not to list lots for $1.

Charl Cilliers, a representative for the Haig Point community on Daufuskie Island, said he phones agents and homeowners when they post $1-lot listings and asks them to bump up the asking price. They usually comply, which may explain why the gated community has just one $1 lot within its gates currently.

It helps that Haig Point offers two types of memberships, one for golfers and one for non-golfers, Cilliers said, increasing the number of interested buyers.

Hiring professional photographers to take photos of the property, conducting a comparative market analysis and tweaking marketing materials to make it search engine friendly are time-consuming tactics, but effective in the end, said Cilliers, who employs the strategies.

“Instead of plopping it on the market for a dollar and relying on greed for it to sell, coming up with a smart marketing strategy is much more effective,” he said.

Pricing the lot where it should be — and maybe sweetening the deal by paying the first year of dues or covering the initiation fee — is far more likely to appeal to consumers, he said.

Forced delinquency?

Michael Sechrist thought he was making a good deal when he bought a lot in Belfair in 2004.

Sechrist intended the lot to be his retirement home, but if plans changed, he thought he could easily turn a profit with the exodus of Baby Boomers from the Midwest to the South. He saw similarly sized Belfair lots selling for $140,000.

“Seemed like you couldn’t go wrong,” he said.

Then, the Great Recession hit and he put off his retirement plans. Sechrist’s lot sunk in value. Meanwhile, he continued to fork over thousands of dollars in dues.

In January 2015, he put the lot up for sale for $1, but no buyer bit. He’s also offered to give the lot to the neighborhood in an effort to get out of paying the dues.

What they do is they force you to become delinquent.

Michael Sechrist, Belfair lot owner

But Belfair only buys lots at the tax sale or in active foreclosure, so buying before “is just not in our strategy,” said Belfair general manager David Dew.

Sechrist sees it differently.

“What they do is they force you to become delinquent,” he said.

After more than a decade of paying dues, as well as the cost of listing his property for a year, he took it off the market at the beginning of 2016.

The investment advisor hasn’t paid his 2015 taxes and the property will be included in this October’s tax sale.

“I’ve never not paid taxes before,” he said. “But it’s the only exit strategy I see.”

Required membership lawsuit

Some members of Callawassie Island saw another strategy for getting out from under fees — legal action.

About 45 Callawassie Island members filed a federal lawsuit in 2014, suing the island’s private golf club for requiring them to become fee-paying members and then refusing to let them resign their membership.

The plaintiffs had grounds for the lawsuit because — unlike the county’s other gated communities — the Callawassie club is separate from the homeowner’s association. And because the club is a nonprofit organization, state law allows members to leave at any time and forgo their dues, the plaintiffs argued.

But the club disagreed, arguing that state laws states that even when members resign from a nonprofit, it does not relieve the members from their obligations, according to the filings.

Ian Ford, a Charleston attorney whose firm represents clients in matters related to golf-course memberships, argued to the court of appeals in April.

“My clients would love to be expelled from this club,” Ford said. “How can you not resign from a social club?”

The court’s decision will come in the next few months, he said.

Until then, members continue to sell property at deeply discounted prices. Eight lots are available for less than $10,000.

Callawassie Island has no overarching approach in eliminating its $1 lots and looks at each property individually, said club manager Jeff Spencer.

The only other neighborhood with $1 lots for sale, Colleton River Plantation, did not respond to six phone calls made over the past week.

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Residential Foreclosures: Legislative Changes to Settlement Conference Law

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Foreclosure rate falls in Sarasota-Manatee area – Sarasota Herald

Foreclosure rates in Southwest Florida continue to fall, pulling farther away from their recession-era peaks.

The rate of foreclosures among outstanding mortgages in the Sarasota-Manatee area stood at 1.42 percent in May, data provider CoreLogic reported Thursday.

That is down from a high of 12.23 percent in June 2011, and lower than the 2.25 percent recorded one year earlier.

The foreclosure rate in Charlotte County was 1.26 percent, well off its 11.93 percent peak in February 2010 and down by half from 2.61 percent last year.

Sarasota-Manatee ranked 69th among the 400 U.S. metro areas analyzed by CoreLogic, while Charlotte was 92nd.

That’s an improvement from last year, when Charlotte ranked 33rd and Sarasota-Manatee 48th nationwide.

The Florida foreclosure rate was 1.88 percent in May, down from 2.95 percent over the year.

The U.S. rate was 1 percent, compared with 1.32 percent in 2015.

Foreclosure rates have eased throughout the region as the real estate market has recovered and home values have rebounded, helping more homeowners hold on to their properties.

Sales of distressed properties also are down. Foreclosure and short sales accounted for 6.3 percent of all closed sales in Sarasota-Manatee in June, less than half the 13.4 percent the year before, according to the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee.

The region’s mortgage-delinquency rate, which measures mortgage loans that are 90 days or more past due and could be headed to foreclosure, has also steadily declined.

In Sarasota-Manatee, 2.96 percent of mortgage loans were at least 90 days late in May, down from 4.81 percent from the same period in 2015.

In Charlotte, the delinquency rate fell to 3.21 percent, from 5.67 percent.

Statewide, 4.43 percent of mortgages were at least 90 days delinquent, off from 6.62 percent at the same time last year.

The U.S. rate was 2.87 percent, a decline from 3.64 percent.

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ABQ foreclosure rate continues to drop


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Upper Macungie warehouse owner settles $56 million foreclosure suit

The Montgomery County real estate investment firm that defaulted on a $56 million mortgage for the former DHL distribution center in Upper Macungie Township has agreed to allow lender U.S. Bank to foreclose.

In a court filing this week, U.S. Bank and Bryn Mawr-based HSP Lehigh Valley Warehouse said the commercial real estate firm had agreed to cooperate in the foreclosure sale of the half-million-square-foot warehouse at 910 Nestle Way as part of a settlement.

HSP also agreed to a $54.9 million judgment in foreclosure in favor of the bank, but did not admit any of the allegations in U.S. Bank’s foreclosure complaint.

In a separate filing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Stengel ordered the appointment of Onyx Equities as a receiver to manage and market the property on behalf of U.S. Bank.

Parkland Library making second pitch to voters

Caption Parkland Library making second pitch to voters

Parkland Library Board President Karl Siebert explains the new approach they’re using to seek voter approval to build a new library in South Whitehall.

Parkland Library Board President Karl Siebert explains the new approach they’re using to seek voter approval to build a new library in South Whitehall.

WATCH: Univest Bank and Trust Co. holds groundbreaking in Lower Macungie

Caption WATCH: Univest Bank and Trust Co. holds groundbreaking in Lower Macungie

Univest Bank and Trust Co. holds a groundbreaking of their new financial center in the Hamilton Crossing Shopping Center in Lower Macungie Township.

Univest Bank and Trust Co. holds a groundbreaking of their new financial center in the Hamilton Crossing Shopping Center in Lower Macungie Township.

Commissioner denies Wehr Dam conspiracies

Caption Commissioner denies Wehr Dam conspiracies

Commissioner David Bond reacted strongly to such accusations and insinuations of conspiracies regarding the referendum allowing voters to decide the fate of the Wehr’s Dam.

Commissioner David Bond reacted strongly to such accusations and insinuations of conspiracies regarding the referendum allowing voters to decide the fate of the Wehr’s Dam.

WATCH: Zion's Liberty Bell UCC Church lets freedom ring

Caption WATCH: Zion’s “Liberty Bell” UCC Church lets freedom ring

Zion’s Liberty Bell United Church of Christ rings the Allentown Liberty Bell during Independence Day service on Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Zion’s Liberty Bell United Church of Christ rings the Allentown Liberty Bell during Independence Day service on Sunday, July 3, 2016.

Alliance HSP bought the warehouse at 910 Nestle Way in 2010 after its original occupant, German express delivery service DHL, ceased operations. Although DHL parent company Deutsche Post continued paying rent for the facility, it has an opportunity to end its lease in 2020.

Trucking company National Freight Industries now leases about half the space.

The foreclosure suit followed HSP’s report that it was unable to refinance the loan, which was originally issued by UBS Real Estate Investments as part of a security offered by the bank. That came after a sharp reduction in the warehouse’s appraised value from $67 million to $43 million, according to Trepp LLC, which tracks mortgage backed securities.

DHL moved into the 490,000-square-foot distribution center in 2007, bringing about 400 jobs to the area, but closed the facility when it suspended operations across North America two years later.

Bryn Mawr’s Alliance HSP purchased the warehouse as part of a portfolio that includes 7.9 million square feet of office, flex, warehouse and medical office space.

Twitter @phall215


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Muskegon Heights woman says abandoned home is eyesore, drives down property values

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — A homeowner in Muskegon Heights reached out to the FOX 17 Problem Solvers about a neighborhood eyesore.

Jean Lambouths says a nearby abandoned home near her residence on Leahy Street is decaying and falling apart, and the grass hasn’t been cut in years.   She’s lived in her home for 28 years and has watched homes in the area deteriorate.

“It makes my property value go down,” Lambouths said.  ”I had a realtor out here and he said this house in particular made our house go down thousands of dollars because it’s being unkept.”

Muskegon Heights Fire Chief Christopher Dean says the city has taken huge steps in tackling blight and demolishing homes.

He says another problem is predatory buyers from out of state who buy homes on the cheap at the county auction, hoping to sell them for a quick profit.   He says when they don’t sell, the owner doesn’t maintain the property or pay property taxes and lets it revert back to the county through foreclosure.

In the meantime, the city has to go through a drawn-out process to get legal access to mow the lawn.   Dean says that a couple of years ago, the city and the county came up with a plan to stop predatory buyers from purchasing homes at future auctions, preventing situations like this.


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Legal Line: What happens if you fall behind on your mortgage payments?

Legal Line: What happens if you fall behind on your mortgage payments?

Legal Line: What happens if you fall behind on your mortgage payments?


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The information in the column is provided for informational purposes only and is not, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.

Posted: Friday, July 29, 2016 3:35 pm

Legal Line: What happens if you fall behind on your mortgage payments?

By Melissa Lanier

Houston Community Newspapers

Perhaps you have lost your job or encountered some other financial hardship that has caused you to fall behind on your mortgage payments. You are unable to catch up the past due payments, and the mortgage lender sets your house for foreclosure. Does it automatically mean you will lose your home?

The answer to this question may depend on how quickly you take action to stop the foreclosure. Foreclosure notices should be taken very seriously. Once you receive a notice regarding foreclosure, time is of the essence.

So what can you do to stop a foreclosure?

One of your options may be to file for bankruptcy. A chapter 13 bankruptcy may allow you an opportunity to restructure your debt and save your home. Your home is a secured debt and must be paid in order for you to keep it. However, the bankruptcy may be able to provide a more manageable payment plan. For example, let’s say your mortgage payment is $1,000 per month and you fall six months behind. The mortgage company is now demanding $6,000 be paid in one lump sum or they will foreclose on your home. A bankruptcy restructuring may allow you to pay the $6,000 over several years allowing you to remain in the home.

Similarly, the same issue can arise if you fall behind on your car payment or any other secured debt. Remember, secured debts must be paid if you want to keep the property.

Many people believe that bankruptcy is about not paying their debts, but that is simply not the case. In 2015, personal bankruptcy filings in Texas show there were approximately 30 percent more chapter 13 cases filed than any other chapter of personal bankruptcy — an indication that more filers are attempting to repay their debts.

If you find yourself in a position where you have fallen behind on property that you would like to keep, be proactive and get legal advice as quickly as possible.

  • Discuss


Friday, July 29, 2016 3:35 pm.

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South Florida homebuyers frustrated by shortage of listings

A scarcity of homes for sale is rattling buyers, emboldening sellers and pushing prices higher in South Florida.

Analysts say a market balanced equally between buyers and sellers has a six-month supply of properties, meaning that’s how long it would take to sell all of the homes if no more were listed.

At the end of June, Broward’s single-family supply stood at a paltry 3.8 months, down from 4.9 months in June 2014, according to data from the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors.

Palm Beach County is slightly better off but still short on for-sale signs. The county had a 4.8-month supply at the end of June, compared with 5.8 months two years ago, the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches said.

Ringleader Of Oregon Occupation Now Trying To Wriggle Out Of Criminal Charges With Crackpot Theories


Jul 29, 2016 10:59 am

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Ryan Bundy, one of the sons of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge during the January occupation.

One of the ringleaders of the militia takeover of an Oregon nature preserve last winter is now hoping to avoid prison by convincing the courts that the United States is actually being run by a shadow government that enslaves children at birth.

Ryan Bundy faces multiple felony charges for his role in the week-long armed occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January, which armed anti-government radicals occupied for nearly six weeks. Bundy’s followers were out-of-towners drawn to the area by protests against the imprisonment of two Oregon ranchers. One occupier named Lavoy Finicum was killed by police after attempting to run a roadblock nearby, and the remaining occupiers surrendered to authorities a few days later.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy are each charged with conspiring to lead the occupation, and with a string of other crimes in connection to the bizarre saga. But none of those charges can touch him, Ryan says, because he’s a sovereign citizen not subject to U.S. law.

i; ryan c, man, am an idiot of the ‘Legal Society’; and; am an idiot (layman, outsider) of the ‘Bar Association’; and; i am incompetent; and; am not required by any law to be competent; and;,” Bundy wrote in one legal filing submitted Thursday.

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“i; ryan c, man, accept no offer of representation, as no man is qualified to represent i; and; i; ryan c, man, will hold any man liable, in his/her private capacity, for any burden, placed upon i, man, by any man, by way of representation of i; and;,” he wrote in another.

Bundy’s use of semicolons and insistence on referring to himself in lower-case letters are hallmarks of a crackpot legal theory favored by so-called “sovereign citizens.” These Americans believe that a nefarious cabal of secret authorities long ago usurped the true and legal government of the nation. The supposed infiltrators convert every American born into collateral for borrowing money from abroad, the theory goes.

Until a person goes through a process called “redemption” to abandon the all-caps version of their name printed on formal government documents, sovereigns believe, they remain a debt-slave to this shadow state. Once “redeemed,” sovereigns go to work defying the courts with documents like the ones Bundy has been submitting in recent months.

The anti-government radicals who promote this stuff say they are rooting their arguments in “common law,” and that U.S. courts operate on “admiralty law” that can’t be applied to people like Bundy. It’s a dangerous way to think, as reason magazine’s Jesse Walker told ThinkProgress in January, because it leads gullible people to put themselves in serious jeopardy.

“People are throwing their lives away thinking they can be protected by these magic arguments, and then ending up in jail,” Walker said. “To me it’s the equivalent of somebody giving shitty alternative health advice. This is alternative legal advice.”

Naturally, there are people out there trying to make money off of all this. Sovereign Filing Solutions will sell you a three-volume “Redemption Manual” for $330 plus shipping, fight to get you out of a child support agreement for $1,000, or take on your foreclosure case for $3,500.

The idea that there’s a special, secret legal code that can erase all your problems is especially enticing inside prisons, where “common law” kookery has spread especially fast. But the ideas are most often used to try to avoid paying taxes — most famously by the actor Wesley Snipes, who was eventually sentenced to three years in prison for not paying taxes because he believed he wasn’t subject to federal tax law.

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How The Bundy Standoff Could Screw Over Ranchers

But while most sovereign citizens’ “weapon of choice is paper,” as movement expert J.J. MacNab wrote in 2010, this corner of the American tapestry sees more than its share of bloodshed. The most high-profile followers of Bundy’s ideology have tended to be violent armed men.

Sovereign ideologues triggered two dozen separate incidents of violence around the country from 2010 to 2014, a sporadic rate of extremist violence that the Department of Homeland Security expects to continue. When sovereigns do become violent, they usually target law enforcement. Most recently, the man who killed three police in Baton Rouge this month shared Bundy’s beliefs.

Sovereign thinking undergirds the entire Bundy family’s string of showdowns with land management authorities around the west in recent years. The alternative legal theories of the movement were on particular display in Oregon, where Bundy’s occupiers wanted to arrest a local sheriff and try him for treason on the Malheur grounds.

Bundy’s gambit is unlikely to work any better in court than it did on the bird sanctuary. He is a leading suspect in a high-profile set of crimes that were documented online as they happened — leaving little room for dispute. Prosecutors and judges aren’t liable to let Bundy’s series of felony charges slide just because he throws piles of semicolons at them.

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Barnett National Bank Building to be sold at auction after foreclosure – Florida Times

Following a judge’s order to pay one of Jaguar owner Shad Khan’s companies $4.6 million or face foreclosure, the owner of the Barnett National Bank Building downtown has consented to foreclosure.

The building will be sold at auction on Sept. 14.

Khan’s Stache Investment Corp. filed a foreclosure suit last year against Barnett Tower LLC, the corporation set up to own the building. Stache had loaned SouthEast Development Group $3 million to buy the Barnett building and the Laura Street Trio in 2013.

The Florida Life, Bisbee and Marble Bank buildings which make up the Trio are not part of the foreclosure.

SouthEast Development admitted it had not paid back the loan from Stache, but claimed it was not supposed to.

On Thursday, Circuit Judge James Daniel disagreed, handing down a ruling that Barnett Tower LLC owed Stache $4.6 million for the original loan, interest, attorneys’ fees, taxes, etc. If it were not paid, he wrote, the building would go up for sale on Sept. 14.

Friday morning, SouthEast Development issued a statement consenting to the foreclosure to avoid further litigation.

“We will continue our focus on the Laura Street Trio as the catalyst for the revitalization of Jacksonville’s central business district,” Principal and Managing Director Steve Atkins said in the statement. “While the opportunities within our downtown have never been greater, so are the challenges to achieving success. Jacksonville must continue to support new development in downtown if it is to compete with national peers that have and continue to invest in dynamic city-centers.”

Atkins would not discuss it further.

SouthEast’s defense in the foreclosure suit was that Stache’s loan was supposed to be paid back first by a charter school that Stache arranged to purchase the building. That didn’t happen and the plan then, SouthEast alleged, was to lease much of the building to One Spark, KYN and CoWork Jax, all groups that Khan had an interest in.

The foreclosure sale is just the latest setback for the 18-story Barnett building, which opened in 1926.

In 2003, a developer announced plans to convert it into it into apartments, a hotel, bank branch and restaurant. But that fell through and Orlando developer Cameron Kuhn bought it for $$4.95 million in 2005. Two years later, he bought the Laura Street Trio for $6 million.

But he lost those properties to foreclosure in 2009.

Atkins’ group bought the four buildings in 2013 and the next year announced plans for One Spark, CoWork Jax and KYN to take the first four floors with offices, apartments and college classrooms above that.

Elton Rivas, co-founder of the three groups called it “The epicenter of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The ground floor was open to visitors at One Spark that year. But those groups didn’t move in as KYN closed down and One Spark has since been reconfigured and reduced.

In November, Atkins said that Chase Bank was taking over the first two floors, but the bank has not confirmed that.

Roger Bull: (904) 359-4296

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