Obamas Buy Their Rental

2011 portrait by Pete Souza of the Obama family

Realtor.com quoted me in Former President Obama Finally Buys the DC Home He’s Renting: 6 Smart Reasons Why. It reads, in part,

Former President Barack Obama has decided that buying beats renting. The former first family have surprised many by purchasing the Washington, DC, house they’ve been leasing and living in since January, coughing up $8.1 million to call the place their own.

After vacating the White House, the Obamas had moved into the 6,441-square-foot, nine-bedroom, 8.5-bath mansion, located at 2446 Belmont Road NW in the tony neighborhood of Kalorama. The neighborhood has since become the place for the new political elite, with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump moving into a luxe rental a couple of blocks away, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson snapping up a $5.6 million Colonial Revival down the street.

The reason the Obamas decided to stick around DC in the first place was so their younger daughter, Sasha, then a freshman at posh Sidwell Friends, could finish up high school there. With only three years to go, renting seemed to make sense so that the Obamas could easily pick up and move once she’s done.

But apparently, there’s been a big change of heart. Why?

On its surface, their decision seems a bit puzzling, given Sasha now has only twoand-a-half years to go. In real estate, the general rule is that it makes sense to buy a home only if you plan to stay put for five years, because this allows time for your house to appreciate, which helps you recoup hefty closing costs.

“People who sell after a year or two of ownership will often find that they have lost money on their purchase,” explains David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.

Nonetheless, real estate agents and other experts we spoke to say there could be plenty of reasons it’s smarter for the Obamas to buy rather than rent, even for this short span of time. Here are a few possibilities to ponder.

Reason No. 1: They’re making a commitment to DC

As presidential spokesman Kevin Lewis explained in a statement, “Given that President and Mrs. Obama will be in Washington for at least another two and a half years, it made sense for them to buy a home rather than continuing to rent property.”

Granted, you can read a whole lot into that “at least” if you want. After all, as Atlanta Realtor® Bruce Ailion explains, “Many buyers think they will only be in a property for two to three years and end up living there three to seven years. That is common.”

And it might be an indicator that our former commander in chief isn’t ready to shed the political life quite yet.

“Perhaps they want to keep a foothold in Washington, DC, for other reasons with regard to political advocacy and involvement,” says Florida Realtor Cara Ameer.

Reason No. 2: In certain markets, 2.5 years is long enough to make a profit

While 2.5 years might not be long enough to profit on a home in general, that rule varies widely by neighborhood, based on rent levels, home prices—and how quickly both are going up. And this is one hot neighborhood.

It isn’t known exactly what the Obamas were paying in monthly rent, but estimates hover at around $22,000. It’s entirely possible that the former first couple did the math and determined that buying made far more financial sense, and that mortgage payments would be less of a monthly nut. (To find out what’s best for you, you can crunch the numbers in an online rent vs. buy calculator.)

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Reason No. 5: This home will sell for a premium—he’s a former president, after all!

“It was always a little perplexing why the Obamas would ever rent if they planned to stay for anything longer than a year,” contends Washington, DC, real estate agent Rachel Valentino.

Her reason: “While they’re buying at market value, they can eventually financially benefit on the back end, where a buyer will pay significantly more for the celebrity factor. We aren’t Southern California, where every house has that star appeal. So, I can only imagine what a buyer will eventually pay to own a piece of history.”

Reason No. 6: Profits aren’t everything

“One lesson we can draw from this story is that buying a home should not always be seen as a financial transaction,” says Reiss. “Sometimes we buy a home because it’s best for our family at a particular time. Sometimes we buy a home because we fall in love with it. And sometimes those are the best reasons of all to buy a home, profits be damned.”

Hefner’s Life “Estate”

Plan of Playboy Mansion Pool and Grotto 2 by Ron Dirsmith

Fox News quoted me in Playboy Mansion for Sale — With One Tenant for Life. It reads, in part,

We called it: In October, we revealed that the Playboy mansion — home to Hugh Hefner and the site of epic parties back in the day — is in need of major renovations. Now, if a new report from TMZ is to be believed, it looks like Hef is finally ready to throw in the towel: Within a month, the crumbling 6-acre estate will be up for sale.

In spite of the 29-room (six-bedroom) Beverly Hills mansion’s decrepit condition, its owner, Playboy Enterprises, hopes to sell it for north of $200 million. Plus, the buyer will have to grapple with another huge catch: According to TMZ, the buyer will have to grant 89-year-old Hef a “life estate,” which means he can continue living there until death parts him from his beloved bachelor pad.

Ummm … who the heck wants to buy a home with someone living in it? Strange as it may seem, “life estate” arrangements are as old as the hills.

“Life estates go way back to the earliest roots of the common law, and they are great for providing for someone to live in his or her own home until death,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “Effectively, a life estate grants the [original owner] many of the indicia [characteristics] of full ownership for the rest of his life. Upon death, complete ownership of the property can pass to another. A common example would be where a husband bequeaths a life estate in the home to his wife, with the remainder to his children upon her death.”

But Hefner’s deal differs in one key way: He’s not bequeathing his home to family members or even a deserving Playboy bunny, but to an as-yet unknown third party who’ll be forking over millions to move in once Hef passes on.

 “This seems like a version of a reverse mortgage, because it frees up equity in the home during the owner’s lifetime without interfering too much with his use and enjoyment of the property,” Reiss continues.

But this privilege will likely drag down the asking price, a lot. While the listing price may be $200 million, most experts say that $80 million to $90 million is more realistic.

“The life estate would likely significantly reduce the fair market of the property, because the purchaser must defer taking possession as well as other aspects of ownership — renovating it, for example — until the death of the life tenant,” Reiss says. “Moreover, the purchaser must deal with the uncertainty of the life estate: Will it end in a year or in 10 years?”

And aside from these uncertainties, there’s the question of liability. Without adequate legal protection, the owner could be responsible for any damage to the property or its inhabitants. Granted, Hef is 89 and probably passes his days playing chess, but if Playboy bunnies continue to hop in and out, anything could happen.

“What if there’s a fire and the place burns down? What if Hefner falls down and breaks his hip?” asks Wendy Flynn, a Realtor in College Station, TX. “After all, it is known as a party house.”

All in all, if you’re salivating for a piece of Playboy history, make sure to man up your legal team to protect you from all that could go wrong before you’re able to take possession. And even though the mansion is a decent candidate for a tear-down, “don’t start spending money on plans for the property,” Reiss adds.

Even though Hef is already past the average U.S. male’s life expectancy of 84.3, “a lot can happen before possession of the property is actually conveyed.”

Wednesday’s Academic Roundup

Severe Crowding in NYC

"NLN Scott Stringer" by Thomas Good

NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has issued a report, Hidden Households, that shows that more than one in twelve NYC homes are crowded. The report opens,

New York City is in the midst of a protracted housing emergency. The City’s net estimated rental vacancy rate is the official statistic used to gauge a housing emergency, but there are other important variables that shed light on the state of our housing environment. Chief among these is crowding. Crowding is an established predictor of homelessness and a critical indicator of negative health, safety and economic household risk factors. The City’s “hidden households”, which contain nearly 1.5 million New Yorkers, are the topic of this report.

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Among the most notable crowding trends detailed in the report, we find that New York City’s overall crowding rate, which includes rental and ownership housing units, rose to 8.8 percent in 2013, compared to 7.6 percent in 2005 – a proportional increase of 15.8 percent. The City’s crowding rate is more than two and a half times the national crowding rate of 3.3 percent. The proportion of crowded dwelling units increased in all of the City’s boroughs except Staten Island during this time period with increases of 28.1 percent in Brooklyn, 12.5 percent in Queens and 12.3 percent in the Bronx.

Severe crowding, defined as housing units with more than 1.5 persons per room, also increased substantially, surging by 44.8 percent from 2005 to 2013, with increases seen in every borough. Most notably, the proportion of studio apartments with three or more occupants rose by over 365 percent from 2005 to 2013. All told, 3.33 percent of all dwelling units in NYC were classified as severely crowded in 2013, compared to a national severe crowding rate of 0.99 percent. (2)

The report only focuses on the problem of crowding, but it would be helpful to mention one of the main solutions to crowding — building more housing. To the extent that the NYC Comptroller can push down construction costs in NYC and support increased density in appropriate neighborhoods, he would help reduce crowding in the long run.  Lots of people want to be in NYC. We need lots of apartments to house them.

Since Bank was the Note-Holder it was a Person Entitled to Enforce the Note Pursuant to R.C. 1303.31(A)(1)

The court in deciding Bank of Am., N.A. v. Pasqualone, 2013-Ohio-5795 (Ohio Ct. App., Franklin County, 2013) affirmed the decision of the lower court.

The court found that the promissory note was a negotiable instrument subject to relevant provisions of R.C. Chapter 1303 because it contained a promise to pay the lender the amount of $100,000, plus interest, and did not require any other undertakings that would render the note nonnegotiable.

Further, the court found that since the bank was the holder of the note it was a person entitled to enforce the note pursuant to R.C. 1303.31(A)(1). Based on the authorization, the note became payable to the bank as an identified person and, because the bank was the identified person in possession of the note, it was the holder of the note.

Lastly, as the property owner’s defenses to the mortgage foreclosure did not fit the criteria of a denial, defense, or claim in recoupment under R.C. 1303.36 or R.C. 1303.35, the bank’s right to payment and to enforce the obligation was not subject to the owner’s alleged meritorious defenses.

Open Season on Homeowners

A case coming out of California, Peng v. Chase Home Finance LLC et al., California Courts of Appeal Second App. Dist., Div. 8, April 8th, 2014, has attracted a lot of attention in the blogosphere. This is particularly notable because this case is not to be published in the official reports and thus has no precedential value. Judge Rubin’s dissent has attracted much of the attention. It opens,

The promissory note signed by appellants Jeffry and Grace Peng obligated them to repay their home loan. In August 2007, Freddie Mac acquired the promissory note from Chase. Based on Freddie Mac owning the note, appellants seek to amend their complaint to allege Chase did not have authority to enforce the promissory note or to foreclose on their home, but the majority rejects appellants’ proposed amendment. Relying on case law rebuffing a homeowner’s challenge to a creditor-beneficiary’s authority to foreclose, the majority notes that courts have traditionally reasoned that the homeowner’s challenge is futile because, even if successful, the homeowner “merely substitute[s] one creditor for another, without changing [the homeowner’s] obligations under the note.” (Fontenot v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (2011) 198 Cal.App.4th 256, 271.) The only party prejudiced by an illegitimate creditor-beneficiary’s enforcement of the homeowner’s debt, courts have reasoned, is the bona fide creditor-beneficiary, not the homeowner.

Such reasoning troubles me. I wonder whether the law would apply the same reasoning if we were dealing with debtors other than homeowners. I wonder how most of us would react if, for example, a third-party purporting to act for one’s credit card company knocked on one’s door, demanding we pay our credit card’s monthly statement to the third party. Could we insist that the third party prove it owned our credit card debt? By the reasoning of Fontenot and similar cases, we could not because, after all, we owe the debt to someone, and the only truly aggrieved party if we paid the wrong party would, according to those cases, be our credit card company. I doubt anyone would stand for such a thing. (Dissent, 1)

The dissent’s concern is justified. As Professor Whitman has recently noted on the Dirt Listserv and elsewhere, it is a “bizarre notion that anyone can foreclose a mortgage without showing that they have the right to enforce the note.” He also notes that the majority (and even the dissent) in Peng confuse ownership of the note with the right to enforce it. Until courts fully understand how the UCC governs the enforcement of notes, one should worry that some state court judges might declare an open season on homeowners as the majority does here in Peng.

(Non-)Enforcement of Securitized Mortgage Loans

Professors Neil Cohen and Dale Whitman, two important scholars who know their way around the UCC and mortgage law, will take on a highly contested topic in an upcoming ABA Professors’ Corner webinar: “Ownership, Transfer, and Enforcement of Securitized Mortgage Loans.” I blogged a bit about this topic a couple of days ago, in relation to Adam Levitin’s new article. There is a lot of misinformation floating around the blogosphere relating to this topic, so I encourage readers to register.

The full information on this program is as follows:

Professors’ Corner is a FREE monthly webinar, sponsored by the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section’s Legal Education and Uniform Law Group.  On the second Wednesday of each month, a panel of law professors discusses recent cases or issues of interest to real estate practitioners and scholars.

December 2013 Professors’ Corner
“Ownership, Transfer, and Enforcement of Securitized Mortgage Loans”
Profs. Neil Cohen and Dale Whitman
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
12:30pm Eastern/11:30am Cental/9:30am Pacific
Register for this FREE program at http://ambar.org/ProfessorsCorner

Our nation’s courts have been swamped with litigation involving the foreclosure of securitized mortgage loans.  Much of this litigation involves the appropriate interaction of the Uniform Commercial Code and state foreclosure law. Because few foreclosure lawyers and judges are UCC experts, the outcomes of the reported cases have reflected a significant degree of uncertainty or confusion.

In addition, much litigation has been triggered by poor practices in the securitization of mortgage loans, such as robo-signing and the failure to transfer loans into a securitized trust within the time period required by the IRS REMIC rules.  This litigation has likewise produced conflicting case outcomes.  In particular, recent decisions have reflected some disagreement regarding whether a mortgagor — who is not a party to the Pooling and Servicing Agreement that governs the securitized trust that holds the mortgage — can successfully defend a foreclosure by challenging the validity of the assignment of the mortgage to a securitized trust.

Our speakers for the December program will bring some much-needed clarity to these issues.  Our speakers are Prof. Neil B. Cohen, the Jeffrey D. Forchelli Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, and Prof. Dale A. Whitman, the James E Campbell Missouri Endowed Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Missouri School of Law.  Prof. Cohen is the Research Director of the Permanent Editorial Board for the Uniform Commercial Code, and a principal contributor to the November 2011 PEB Report, “Application of the Uniform Commercial Code to Selected Issues Relating to Mortgage Notes.” Prof. Whitman is the co-Reporter for the Restatement (Third) of Property — Mortgages, and the co-author of the pre-eminent treatise on Real Estate Finance Law.

Please join us for this program.  You may register at http://ambar.org/ProfessorsCorner.