Movin’ on up with TJ’s and Whole Foods?

ChadPerez49

TheStreet.com quoted me in Houses Near Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods Reap Better Property Value Returns. It opens,

The internal debate for people who are shopping for a home is never an easy one, as the location and potential for the property value to rise might outrank the appearance of the brick and mortar edifice. But new research from Zillow has reiterated beliefs that resale value should remain the higher priority.

Even first-time home buyers are aware of the importance and value of determining the resale value of a condo or house.

After examining 17 years of housing data from 1997 to 2014, Zillow, the Seattle-based real estate website, determined that homeowners realized greater gains when they were in close proximity to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, the national grocery store chains. The analysis included examining the values of condos, co-ops and houses within a mile of 451 Trader Joe and 375 Whole Foods locations, totaling nearly 3 million homes. The median value of these homes was compared to the median values of all homes during the same time period.

“These grocery stores are doing a great job of identifying places ready for quick home value appreciation,” said Svenja Gudell, chief economist of Zillow. “A Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s opening is a signal for home shoppers or homeowners that this is likely to be an up-and-coming location.”

One emerging trend is the desire of homebuyers to live in neighborhoods where walking to local stores and restaurants remain a feasible option.

“As more people are priced out of city centers and head to the suburbs, homebuyers still want amenity-rich neighborhoods and a more urban feel,” she said. “These stores are definitely among those amenities that are attractive to buyers.”

Other Amenities Sought

These two grocery stores resonate highly with consumers, and their preference has increased to the point where they have asked specifically if either one is within walking distance at showings of homes, said Samantha DeBianchi, CEO of DeBianchi Real Estate, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla. real estate firm.

“The old adage ‘location, location, location’ is really true,” she said.

The research conducted by Zillow revealed that through 2014, the homes located a mile of either Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s were valued at more than twice as much as the median home throughout the U.S.

Since these two grocery stores are always constructed in neighborhoods where the gross income is higher than the average salary, whether this phenomenon is simply a self-fulling prophecy is anybody’s guess.

Zillow contends that the stores provide the inertia to push up home prices, even in neighborhoods where the prices were falling behind those in the city itself. They also examined the effect of the construction of the stores on the property value three years before and after the opening of 40 Trader Joe’s locations and 40 Whole Foods stores. After a store opens, the prices of homes start to exceed those in the city overall.

“I am still skeptical of the claim when it comes to those two stores, but I would say that when you buy near a major amenity when it is under construction, you often see a bump when it is complete,” said David Reiss, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School.

Tale of Two Airbnbs

photo by Chordboard

CBRE has issued a report, The Sharing Economy Checks In: An Analysis of Airbnb in the United States. It opens,

The sharing economy has become a prominent though not well understood economic phenomenon over the past several years. Airbnb is the market leader as it relates to the temporary accommodations industry. CBRE Hotels’ Americas Research compiled select information from STR, Inc. and Airdna, a company that provides data on Airbnb, for hundreds of U.S. markets to assess the relevancy of this sharing platform to the traditional hotel industry.

Airbnb’s presence in key markets throughout the U.S. is growing at a rapid pace, with users spending $2.4 billion on lodging in the U.S. over the past year, according to analysis from CBRE Hotels. Over the study period of October 2014 – September 2015, more than 55 percent of the $2.4 billion generated was captured in only five U.S. cities (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Boston), represents a significant portion of the lodging revenues in these markets.

CBRE Hotels compiled select information for hundreds of U.S. markets to assess the relevancy of this sharing platform to the traditional hotel industry. From this data, the firm has developed an Airbnb Competition Index. This measure incorporates a comparison of Airbnb’s Average Daily Room rates (ADR) to traditional hotel ADR’s; the scale of the active Airbnb inventory in a market to the supply of traditional hotels, and the overall growth of active Airbnb supply in that market, into a measure of potential risk. New York was identified as the number one domestic market at risk from the growth of Airbnb, with an Airbnb Risk Index of 81.4, followed by San Francisco, Miami, Oakland and Oahu. (1)

What I find interesting about this is that Airbnb’s footprint is so hyperlocal. On a national level, just a handful of markets account for a majority of its revenues. But then, if you look at one of those individual markets, New York, just a handful of neighborhoods account for a majority of the revenue coming from that market. I cannot yet imagine what the hospitality sector will look like once the sharing economy fully saturates it, but it will surely be different that what it is today.

 

Dirt Law Jobs Up

photo by Mmw3v

The National Jurist quoted me in Hot Practice Areas For J.D.s. It opens,

Real Estate is hot again

Real estate is one of the most fickle industries around — hot when the economy is growing and cold when it is not. The good news is that real estate is growing again and that means more jobs for entry-level attorneys.

Robert Half Legal, a legal staffing agency, reports that real estate lawyer is the third most in-demand legal position in the South Atlantic region. Real estate is the second-fastest-growing legal industry in the South Atlantic region and the fourth fastest in the Mountain and Pacific regions.

At Brooklyn Law School, real estate law has become the most popular specialization. Graduates are finding more jobs in the specialization’s niche areas such as cooperative and condominium representation, said professor David Reiss.

“This is, in part because of our externship program that provides students with experience in the applicable government agencies and law firms, but also because of our Real Estate Certificate program, our wide array of real estate courses and the availability of courses at nearby urban planning schools,” Reiss said. “We also offer a Real Estate Law Certificate, and we find that most or all those receiving certificates are employed pretty quickly in any given year.”

Richard Hermann, a professor of Concord Law School who has written extensively about legal careers, recommends earning certificates in niche areas of the law, as they are inexpensive ways to increase your qualifications.

“Many such programs are available, and quite a few are online and inexpensive,” he said.

While real estate can be up and down, Reiss said real estate law could be a good field even during slower economic times.

“No matter what the economy as a whole is doing, clients are still buying and selling properties, financing and refinancing them, entering into property leases”, he said.

To prepare for careers in real estate law, Brooklyn Law School encourages its students to have very focused resumes, which increases their marketability. “We find that students with focused with focused resumes, can make a compelling case to a range of real estate employers, even if their overall GPA is not high,” Reiss said.

Luxury Real Estate and Transparency

photo by tpsdave

Law360 quoted me in Atty-Client Privilege At Stake In Real Estate Bill (behind a paywall). It opens,

The push to reveal the individuals involved in anonymous real estate deals has moved from title insurers to attorneys and real estate agents, but lawyers say requiring them to reveal the names of clients they help set up limited liability companies and other vehicles could weaken attorney-client privilege.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Peter King, R-N.Y., plan to reintroduce legislation this week that would require states to collect the beneficial ownership information for limited liability companies and other vehicles used in real estate transactions, or to have the U.S. Department of the Treasury step in if states are unable to meet the requirement, in order to prevent criminals, corrupt government officials and terrorists from using real estate purchases to launder funds.

Doing so would close a loophole that allows attorneys to advise clients without meeting the same reporting requirements as banks and would help prevent potentially illicit funds from making their way into real estate markets, Maloney said. But it also has the potential for putting attorneys in the uncomfortable position of reporting clients to the government in cases where there may not be a criminal violation, said Marc Landis, the managing partner of Phillips Nizer LLP.

“This will certainly be an area where client confidentiality and attorney-client privilege will be weakened in ways that they have not been previously,” he said.

Lawyers in real estate transactions came under renewed attention after the transparency advocacy group Global Witness and the CBS News program “60 Minutes” released a blockbuster report Sunday night that showed several New York law firms providing information to an individual posing as an adviser to a minister from an African government who was looking to buy a Gulfstream jet, a yacht and a New York brownstone without the money being detected.

According to the report, which used hidden cameras, 12 of 13 lawyers provided assistance when asked how to set up shell companies and other vehicles to avoid attaching a name to the purchases. One of those 12 later said he wouldn’t participate in the transactions.

The Global Witness report found that the attorneys — none of whom signed the group’s investigator as a client — broke no laws in providing the advice they did. And that’s a problem that Maloney wants to address.

“This is unacceptable, criminal, scandalous, and it has to stop,” she said on a conference call with reporters.

The New York Democrat’s solution to the problem is to require states to force attorneys, real estate agents and other advisers on a transaction to include the name of the beneficial owner of an LLC or trust on forms submitted to the state. If the state will not or cannot implement such a system, the Treasury Department, through the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, would require that disclosure.

In a similar move, FinCEN last month announced that title insurers would temporarily be required to provide the names of beneficial owners of LLCs that high-net-worth individuals use to purchase luxury real estate in Miami and Manhattan without mortgages.

Maloney’s bill, which she is introducing for a third time, will expand such reporting and make it permanent.

“We’re going after the loophole. We’re going after the real estate transactions. We’re going after the realtors and some lawyers that are setting these things up,” she said.

According to Brooklyn Law School professor David Reiss, Maloney’s bill, the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act, has struck a good balance between giving law enforcement the power to root out illicit funds in high-end real estate and not infringing too much on attorney-client privilege.

“The attorney-client privilege is one of the oldest of the privileges recognized by courts, and in the aggregate it provides great benefits to society because it promotes open communications between clients and their lawyers. The privilege is not a shield for illegal behavior, though,” he said.

Rigged Justice

photo by Toby Hudson

The Office of Senator Elizabeth Warren has released Rigged Justice: 2016 How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy. The Executive Summary states,

When government regulators and prosecutors fail to pursue big corporations or their executives who violate the law, or when the government lets them off with a slap on the wrist, corporate criminals have free rein to operate outside the law. They can game the system, cheat families, rip off taxpayers, and even take actions that result in the death of innocent victims—all with no serious consequences.

The failure to punish big corporations or their executives when they break the law undermines the foundations of this great country: If justice means a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, but it means nothing more than a sideways glance at a CEO who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars, then the promise of equal justice under the law has turned into a lie. The failure to prosecute big, visible crimes has a corrosive effect on the fabric of democracy and our shared belief that we are all equal in the eyes of the law.

Under the current approach to enforcement, corporate criminals routinely escape meaningful prosecution for their misconduct. This is so despite the fact that the law is unambiguous: if a corporation has violated the law, individuals within the corporation must also have violated the law. If the corporation is subject to charges of wrongdoing, so are those in the corporation who planned, authorized or took the actions. But even in cases of flagrant corporate law breaking, federal law enforcement agencies – and particularly the Department of Justice (DOJ) – rarely seek prosecution of individuals. In fact, federal agencies rarely pursue convictions of either large corporations or their executives in a court of law. Instead, they agree to criminal and civil settlements with corporations that rarely require any admission of wrongdoing and they let the executives go free without any individual accountability. (1)

I think the report’s central point is that the “contrast between the treatment of highly paid executives and everyone else couldn’t be sharper.” (1)

The report does not address some of the key issues that stand in the way of achieving substantive justice for financial wrongdoing. First, many of those accused of wrongdoing were well-represented by counsel who ensured that they did not violate any criminal laws, even if they engaged in rampant bad behavior. Second, contemporary jurisprudence of corporate criminal liability presents serious roadblocks to prosecutors who seek to pursue such wrongdoing. Third, many of these cases are incredibly resource heavy, even for federal prosecutors. This can incentivize them to go after other types of financial wrongdoing instead, such as insider trading.

It seems like it is too late to address much of the wrongdoing that arose from our most recent financial crisis. But if this report achieves one thing, I would hope that it gets Congress to focus on how corporations and their high-level executives could be held criminally accountable the next time around.

Outrage

photo by Dmitry Kalinin

A federal judge has held that a mortgage servicer committed “the tort of outrage when it charged attorney’s fees and costs to plaintiff’s mortgage account and refused to explain the charges upon request.” (1) Lucero v. Cenlar FSB, No. C13-0602RSL (W.D. Wash. Jan. 28, 2016) (Lasnik, J.) The case has an all-too-typical story of servicer misbehavior — the repeated phone calls that went nowhere, the absence of any servicer representative with actual knowledge of why the servicer was acting the way that it was, the unjustified fees that just kept compounding into five-figure nightmares.

The Court found that under Washington law,

The elements of the tort of outrage are “(1) extreme and outrageous conduct, (2) intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, and (3) severe emotional distress on the part of plaintiff.” Rice v. Janovich, 109 Wn.2d 48, 61 (1987). Based on the evidence submitted at trial, plaintiff has raised a reasonable inference and the Court finds that Cenlar, annoyed that plaintiff had sued it after obtaining a loan modification and looking for leverage to force her to abandon this litigation, adopted a strained and unprincipled analysis of the to justify the imposition of unpredictable and enormous charges directly onto plaintiff’s mortgage statements as “Amounts Due.” Cenlar, having reviewed plaintiff’s financial situation less than a year before and being fully aware that plaintiff was paying late charges every month, had no reason to believe that she could cope with these charges. Cenlar reasonably should have known (and was likely counting on the fact) that these charges would cause immense emotional distress, which they did. Cenlar compounded the distress by denying plaintiff information about these charges or the justification therefore. The first notice of the charges stated that they were charged “in keeping with Washington law.” This assertion is wholly unsupported: Cenlar’s witness acknowledges that the letter was a form into which the reference to “Washington law” was inserted simply because the loan originated in Washington. No Washington case law, statute, or regulation has been identified that authorize the charges levied against plaintiff’s mortgage account. When plaintiff requested information regarding the charges, she was ignored for months. Eventually various contract provisions were identified, and Cenlar asserted that it was simply keeping track of charges it might eventually seek to recover from plaintiff. Regardless of whether Cenlar was demanding immediate payment or was simply threatening to collect them in the future, the message was clear: continue this litigation and we will take your home. Such conduct is beyond the bounds of decency and is utterly intolerable. (14-15, footnotes omitted)

Decisions like this tend to give us a warm feeling in our stomach — justice has been done! But the truth is that for every case like this, there are thousands of homeowners who were severely mistreated and had to just take it on the chin. Federal regulation of the housing finance system should get to the point where these situations are the rare, rare exception. We have a long way to go.

 

HT Steve Morberg

Race, Poverty and Housing Policy

Signing of the Housing and Urban Development Act

Signing of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965

Ingrid Gould Ellen and Jessica Yager of NYU’s Furman Center contributed a chapter on Race, Poverty, and Federal Rental Housing Policy to the HUD at 50 volume I have been blogging about. It opens,

For the last 50 years, HUD has been tasked with the complex, at times contradictory, goals of creating and preserving high-quality affordable rental housing, spurring community development, facilitating access to opportunity, combating racial discrimination, and furthering integration through federal housing and urban development policy. This chapter shows that, over HUD’s first 5 decades, statutes and rules related to rental housing (for example, rules governing which tenants get priority to live in assisted housing and where assisted housing should be developed) have vacillated, reflecting shifting views about the relative benefits of these sometimes-competing objectives and the best approach to addressing racial and economic disparities. Also, HUD’s mixed success in fair housing enforcement—another core part of its mission—likely reflects a range of challenges including the limits of the legal tools available to the agency, resource limitations, and the difficulty of balancing the agency’s multiple roles in the housing market. This exploration of HUD’s history in these areas uncovers five key tensions that run through HUD’s work.

The first tension emerges from the fact that housing markets are local in nature. HUD has to balance this variation, and the need for local jurisdictions to tailor programs and policies to address their particular market conditions, with the need to establish and enforce consistent rules with respect to fair housing and the use of federal subsidy dollars.

The second tension is between serving the neediest households and achieving economic integration. In the case of place-based housing, if local housing authorities choose to serve the very poorest households in their developments, then those developments risk becoming islands of concentrated poverty. Further, by serving only the poorest households, HUD likely narrows political support for its programs.

The third tension is between serving as many households as possible and supporting housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods. Unfortunately, in many metropolitan areas, land—and consequently housing construction—is significantly more expensive in the higher-income neighborhoods that typically offer safer streets, more extensive job networks and opportunities, and higher-performing schools. As a result, a given level of resources can typically house fewer families in higher-income areas than in lower-income ones.

The fourth tension is between revitalizing communities and facilitating access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. Research shows that, in some circumstances, investments in subsidized housing can help revitalize distressed communities and attract private investment. Yet, in other circumstances, such investments do not trigger broader revitalization and instead may simply constrain families and children in subsidized housing to live in areas that offer limited opportunities.

The final apparent tension is between facilitating integration and combating racial discrimination. Despite the Fair Housing Act’s (FHA’s) integration goal, legal decisions, which are discussed further in this chapter, have determined that the act’s prohibition on discrimination limits the use of some race-conscious approaches to maintaining integrated neighborhoods.

To be sure, these tensions are not always insurmountable. But addressing all of them at once requires a careful balancing act. The bulk of this chapter reviews how HUD programs and policies have struck this balance in the area of rental housing during the agency’s first 50 years. The chapter ends with a look to the challenges HUD is likely to face in its next 50 years. (103-104, citation omitted)

The chapter does a great job of outlining the tensions inherent in HUD’s broad mandate. It made me wonder, though, whether HUD would benefit from narrowing its mission for the next 50 years. If it focused on assisting more low-income households with their housing expenses (for example, by dramatically expanding the Section 8 housing voucher program and scaling back other programs), it might do that one thing well rather than doing many things less well.