October 20, 2012

Economists say it costs too much for Bay Area to have an economy

More complaints that living where it’s Special isn’t all rainbows and unicorns:

Bay Area’s business climate is less friendly to startups than other parts of California, says study

By George Avalos, Contra Costa Times
Posted:   10/18/2012 10:43:17 AM PDT, Updated:   10/19/2012 08:10:22 AM PDT

121019-jobstudy-downgraphRelatively expensive housing, coupled with the high cost of living and doing business in the Bay Area, has made the nine-county region less hospitable to new companies than other big urban centers in California, according to a study released Thursday that urges improvements in what it describes as this area’s burdensome regulatory climate.

“You have to ease the regulations that people face when they want to launch a new venture,” said Jon Haveman, chief economist with the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute, which produced the report. “If somebody is trying to start a small business and spend a small fortune on a new home, they will probably start that business elsewhere.”

The Bay Area lags major rivals such as Los Angeles and San Diego in jobs created by startup companies, the study determined.

The strengths of the region are reflected in household income and other factors, the report stated. The region has increasingly specialized in high-value industries such as professional, scientific and technical services, along with information services and products.

121019-jobstudy-boromirSo what the Institute is complaining about is it’s difficult to start cheap-ass startups where it’s expensive?  That isn’t a bug, that’s a feature.  If it’s expensive to live here, it should be expensive to work here. Besides, if you need money for a lower-capital startup, you should sell one of your vacation homes, or write put options for what’s under all the couch cushions at your furniture factory.

The article waits until graf 7 to admit there’s no problem with the Bay Area job market after all. Actual quote from report: “The Bay Area economy is one of the most productive and prosperous in the country.”  Sounds awful. Then again, engineers are being bought and sold like excess office furniture by a Bain Capital-funded startup, which decided staying in business was too much trouble.  The buyer?  Apple.

We swear we are not making any of this up.  Let us know of your ease or difficulty in starting a business in the Real Bay Area (summary: 90% say it’s Special here even though it’s expensive. So?)  Or read the full 68 page report yourself, and comment on it before falling asleep.  Or discuss anything you wish in this Weekend Open Thread.


Comments (2) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:09 am

August 12, 2012

Send not to know for whom the house Tolls… it took thy deposit

120808-producersRemember the basic premise of The Producers?  If you oversell interest in a Broadway show, and then deliberately produce the worst musical you can, none of your investors will complain when they lose all their money… and you keep their 40,000% ownership.  So our intrepid producer duo went off in search of the worst script they could find, and… hilarity ensues.

So why hasn’t anyone tried this idea with real estate as well?  Maybe it’s because not enough in the industry figured out the same trick: in a market downturn you can make more money not selling houses than you can selling them.  Read on to know it Tolls for thee.

How did Toll Brothers survive the housing slump? By keeping buyers’ deposits

By Matthias Gafni, Contra Costa Times
Posted:   07/27/2012 09:12:51 AM PDT, Updated: 07/27/2012 05:00:58 PM PDT

120808-tollbros-lotAs newly minted empty-nesters, Daven Sharma and his wife, Anu, spent 2010 searching for a spot for their dream house with views of San Francisco Bay. They found it in the Hayward hills, within a Toll Brothers development.

Shortly after plunking down about $100,000 in deposits, the couple’s dream fizzled. The Sharmas lost not only the house, but their deposit, attorney and arbitration fees — and a sense of justice.

Critics say and records show that Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers — the nation’s largest luxury homebuilder, with developments in Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties — has made it a regular practice to collect forfeited deposits from prospective homebuyers. In fact, it was the builder’s No. 1 source of profit during the down years of the housing market, according to a Maryland class action lawsuit.

From fiscal years 2006 to 2011, according to its own SEC reports, the publicly traded company retained $123 million in forfeited deposits from 3,300 prospective homebuyers.

120808-tollbros-sharmaRead that again: during the housing slump, the number one source of profit was forfeited deposits.  At least that’s what one lawsuit says.

There are 155,000 results for the search Toll Brothers LawsuitThis website has quite a story to tell.  While it’s about severe construction problems, the other part of the story is the lengths their attorneys would go to to avoid fixing the house.  Ellen Nevens has been fighting Toll Brothers for twelve years.  That’s a lot of time and effort to build a house badly and then not fix it.  It would be much easier to not build it in the first place. 

And that’s what happened to Daven and Anu Sharma when they put a $98K deposit on a Hayward hills homesite in a Toll Brothers community.  The Sharmas found out what many others have previously experienced: the sales contract has little flexibility on loan funding.  And if, or maybe we should say when, the loan isn’t funded, the contract says no loan means Toll keeps the deposit.  The Sharmas indeed lost in arbitration, plus they had to pay another $5600 in fees.

120808-producers-posterJim Daman had to sue to get some of his $104K deposit back on a home in Danville.  When Toll Brothers didn’t build his house within the promised six months, he watched its market value sink.  He eventually settled for $70K.   Compared to the Sharmas, he did well.  Someone the corporation won the arbitration, claiming that customization had been done and they had outlays.  Yet the photo of the dirt lot above is all that was in place when the Sharmas cancelled their contract because their current house didn’t sell.

Here’s the contract language that one attorney called confusing, Daman called “99.9 percent in their favor” and another tried diagramming on a whiteboard to understand it:

Buyer’s failure to fulfill any of such conditions or the termination or expiration of the mortgage commitment after it is received, for any reason, shall not release Buyer from its obligations under the Agreement.

120808-tollbros-arundelA latter attorney notes that Toll offered some of his Pennsylvania clients loan commitments with conditions that made no financial sense, such as amounts far larger than the agreed sales price.  When buyers balked, then Toll would keep the deposit, claiming they were in breach.

“They can make more money by not building the house,” he said.

While the Sharma’s Arundel Drive homesite is not listed, this nearby home on Stonebrae Road is.  It looks quite lovely when photographed with a sunset, and it’s “within the gates of TPC Stonebrae Country Club.”  According to the virtual tour, the builder is not Toll Brothers, but a firm called True Life Communities who seem to be avoiding any hint of describing themselves with specifics.

But given the story of the Sharmas and their Arundel Drive site being so nearby, we assumed it was the same community.  (In fact there are several different builders.)  And if you buy this house you’ll have quite the run of neighbors to entertain!


Comments (4) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:19 am

September 17, 2011

Cash Licks Loans in Low-End Bay Area Housing Market

Looking for a house because you figure the market’s finally hit bottom?  Hope you have suitcases full of cash, because if you don’t, there are other people hefting full TravelPros!  And we aren’t talking about foreigners, either.

Home buyers find themselves aced out by investors

By Eve Mitchell, Contra Costa Times
Posted: 09/10/2011 03:00:00 PM PDT, Updated: 09/11/2011 04:33:48 AM PDT


As husband Mark looks on, Kathryn Bressem gives son Lyndon, 5, a push on the swing in the backyard of their home in Hercules, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. Competing with all-cash investment buyers, the Bressems had been frustrated in their home-buying efforts before purchasing this house. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff)

After getting the good news on a Friday night that their offer topped all the others on a foreclosure in Vacaville they wanted as their retirement home, Jack and Donna Pfister spent the weekend packing.

But the following Tuesday they were told the bank had decided to go with an all-cash buyer, whose offer was $25,000 less than the $475,000 offer from the Pfisters.

“My husband was heartbroken,” said Donna Pfister, of Rodeo. “I was heartbroken because he was heartbroken. … Right now, we both feel kind of let down.”

The Pfisters are far from alone. In the Bay Area, about one-fifth of all homes sold in July were purchased by absentee buyers, mostly investors looking for rentals or properties to fix up and then sell, according to DataQuick, a real-estate reporting service. About six out of 10 absentee buyer transactions (which can also involve second-home purchase) were all-cash purchases. In July 2010, absentee buyers accounted for 17.4 percent of home sales, and the average for all months since 2000 is 13.8 percent.

Supposedly these people living in East Contra Costa County are losing out on houses to… investors from Silicon Valley!  They’re also snapping out homes in East San Jose.  Some investors are buying the homes as rentals, and others fix the properties up and flip them.  It’s also difficult to get a loan on a property needing extensive repairs, which is why so many flippers are bottom-feeding now.

So, would-be Silicon Valley investors: why go all the way to Brentwood, Antioch, or even Hercules to look for homes?  There are plenty of crapboxes in Redwood City and San Jose to choose from.  Plus that’s one less thwarted family complaining in what’s left of the newspaper that they didn’t get their dream home.  As in they must be dreaming if they think buying now is a good idea.

This is an Open Thread.

Comments (12) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:12 am

August 13, 2011

More Deep-Sea Diving Opportunities!

If you enjoy underwater adventure, here’s plenty of good news!

Report finds increase in negative equity in Bay Area

By Eve Mitchell, Contra Costa Times
Posted: 08/09/2011 12:00:00 AM PDT, Updated: 08/09/2011 10:10:44 AM PDT

The percentage of Bay Area homeowners who are underwater — which means their mortgage is higher than the home’s value — edged up from a year ago, as the housing market continues to struggle to get out of its long slump.

Some 22.8 percent of single-family houses with mortgages were in negative-equity territory during the second quarter, up from 21.1 percent a year ago, according to a report released Tuesday by Zillow, a real estate information website.

"Negative equity is growing because you still have foreclosures happening so the housing values are still declining," said Svenja Gudell, senior economist for Zillow. "As home values decline, negative equity will increase."

imageThanks for setting us straight, Svenja!  I thought as home values decline, more and more people would just walk away and take their game pieces off the board.  Forums like this one make participants feel it’s just fine to strategically default.

Anyone have any theories why some Bay Area counties are up and some are down?  Why, for example, is Santa Clara County down but San Mateo County up in submarine living?

Wow, more than 1 out of every 5 homes in the Bay Area that have a mortgage owe more than the house is worth.  Looks like Solano County, home of Vallejo and its bankruptcy woes, got hit a bit harder than the average.

This is an open thread.

Comments (15) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:15 am

March 20, 2011

2010 Census Data Displays Diverse Diversity Diversions

Thanks to Burbed reader Real Estater for nominating this article by posting it in the comments on Friday.


Image from USA Today

East Bay tops among California’s most diverse places

By Eric Kurhi and Matt O’Brien, Contra Costa Times
Posted: 03/18/2011 03:20:18 PM PDT

HAYWARD — Close to the geographic center of a city known as the “Heart of the Bay,” Luciano Ruiz peered out the pickup window of a burger joint in what is, by one measure, the most racially diverse neighborhood in California.

“There’s been a mix of people here ever since I grew up,” said Ruiz, 18. “It’s always been mainly Latino down here in South Hayward, but now you see more African-Americans, a lot more Asians. I’ve seen a little increase in Middle Eastern people.”

The 2010 census shows a collection of census tracts in the Hayward flatlands as the most diverse in California and a microcosm of the state’s likely future. Latinos are the largest group, but share the space with many other people. Multicultural churches, mosques and businesses are in walking distance.

Thirty-five miles away, in the Walnut Creek retirement community of Rossmoor, a cluster of census tracts reflect an older, less integrated California. About 90 percent of residents are white and less than 1 percent are African-American in the Bay Area’s least-diverse neighborhood.

“It’s probably accurate,” said Rossmoor resident David Smith of the newly released statistics. “Our population is overwhelmingly white.”

imageSince this is from the Contra Costa Times, there’s little about neighborhoods in Santa Clara or San Mateo County, and which would be the most or least diverse. East Palo Alto was specifically called out as one of the 10 most diverse communities in California. The diversity index is the probability that two randomly picked people from the area would be of different race or ethnicity. Maybe you might have an idea which neighborhoods you’d nominate?

imageAnyway, I looked up the data, and East Palo Alto has a DI of 83.4 (the highest was 86.4 and Hayward was 85.1).  Oakland was 81.1. Not mentioned in the article are Sacramento, 79.6, South San Francisco, 79.0, San Jose, 77.1, San Bruno, 76.3, Santa Clara, Cholula Half Gallon - Click Image to Close71.8, and Sunnyvale, 70.7.  On the other end of the scale we find Belvedere, 16.4, Portola Valley, 22.3, Woodside, 25.2, and Boulder Creek at 26.  Don’t assume that a low DI means white-bread; the Central Valley’s Mendota is 96.6% Hispanic and has a DI of 26.0.

In case you’re wondering how some areas end up with lots of diversity, here’s the secret, according to the above article:

It didn’t happen overnight,” Bogue said. “Just like anywhere, somebody puts a house up for sale, somebody looks at it and somebody buys it.”

Yeah, that couldn’t happen in Atherton, where houses are bequeathed.  But while houses are occasionally listed for sale in homogenous census tracts, the diverse ones, such as Richmond, San Pablo, Pittsburg, Hayward, Vallejo, Oakland and San Leandro have another interesting thing in common.

imageLocal historian Frank Goulart said affordability has also long attracted a broad spectrum of people to parts of Hayward.

“If you want an honest answer, it’s the cheap housing,” Goulart said.

He said many of the homes in the city’s most diverse tracts “were built like shacks.”

There you go.  Diversity is code for crapboxes (like this one above, in Hayward, the City of Diversity).  But don’t worry about it.  The majority of California public school students are now Hispanic, so the Diversity Index must be heading down (see Mendota, above).  That means housing quality will go up, so the Real Bay Area will get bigger!

imageThere’s no danger of that in Silicon Valley, though.  Santa Clara County’s index is a kumbayah 74, almost as multicultural as Alameda County’s state-topping 78.  The least diverse Bay Area County?  Marin, at 45. The overall state index is 72.9, second only to Hawaii’s 81.1.

But what’s more important is housing!  And the county with the highest percentage of vacant housing units goes to Alpine, with a whopping 71% of its housing sitting empty.  For the Bay Area, the winner is Sonoma, with 9.2%, imagebut Santa Cruz’s 9.7% would have beaten it had any of the county physically come into contact with the Bay.  Meanwhile San Mateo and Santa Clara county are both in the 4’s, while San Francisco managed double: 8.3% of the housing units sitting empty.

There’s stats, stats, stats to play with, so have fun courtesy of USA Today.  Data is available by city as well, so go wild and wonder why the city (town?) of Almanor has 100% of their 75 housing units empty.

Photo above: foreclosed home in Hayward, showcasing diversity.

Comments (8) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:04 am

February 28, 2010

Bay Area homeowners renting out rooms – small business ideas

Homeowners rent out rooms to stave off foreclosure


Reeling from the recession’s one-two-three-punch of job woes, climbing mortgage payments, and evaporating equity, desperate Silicon Valley homeowners are dipping into a nearby income stream to avoid foreclosure:

That bedroom just down the hall.

While renting out a room has been around for years, especially in the South Bay’s Latino neighborhoods, sharing a home in order to save it has become an increasingly popular way to hang on to the front-door keys to the American dream.

“I’m up against a wall and I had no other place to turn for income,” said Rafael Porras, a 50-year-old waiter who began renting out a room in his downtown San Jose condo this month after he was squeezed by pay cuts at work and a mortgage payment about to rise. “But I had to do it because I don’t want to walk away from this place. My credit’s excellent, and without good credit, you’re nobody.”

Whether they’ve rented out rooms in the past to make ends meet, or a job loss has prompted them to tap into their inner landlord for the first time, many people say their rental income is the only thing keeping them from losing their homes. And for many homeowners — even those whose property is worth less than their loan amount — losing their home is not an acceptable option.

“I can’t imagine life anywhere else,” said 71-year-old Margaret Licon, who bought her San Jose house 40 years ago and raised six kids in it before losing her husband 25 years ago.

“Renting out bedrooms is a growing trend,” says Sunnyvale housing counselor Maritza Wong, who works for the nonprofit Project Sentinel. “And it’s not just lower-income people doing it, but even people who were making good money before losing their jobs.’

At Project Sentinel, where staffers report as many as 20 percent of their clients becoming landlords under their own roof, counselors are recommending the practice as a way for homeowners to tweak their debt-to-income ratio in order to qualify for a modification. But a word of caution: becoming a landlord, especially for someone with little or no experience, can bring headaches, from tenants who fail to pay rent to those who are just a pain in the neck to live with.

Did you see that? “I can’t imagine life anywhere else”. That’s just how amazing Silicon Valley is – people would rather rent out their homes than leave!

Really, this is a reflection of two aspects of Silicon Valley’s nature:

1: Generosity. Just like how companies love to share stock options (equity) instead of paying something dinky like cash (like they do on Wall St), homeowners love to share their houses so they can offer others the opportunity to move to Silicon Valley!

2: Entrepreneurship. Silicon Valley folks are incredibly resourceful in finding new ways to raise revenue. Besides, how much of a 1100 sqft house do you really need?

Congrats Bay Area! Congrats! The rest of this nation could really learn from us!

Comments (31) -- Posted by: burbed @ 5:06 am

April 30, 2006

The new American Dream: Eternal Debt

My mortgage broker friend swears to me that this is normal – that not ever paying off a mortgage is the new hotness and that it is what everyone else is doing. I guess keeping up with the Joneses means eternal servitude to Wells Fargo.

ContraCostaTimes.com | 04/30/2006 | Homeownership a struggle for many
Homeownership’s advantages, such as tax credits and rising home values, mean people can increase their loan value and have extra cash on hand for other expenses.

“In some way, you say that’s someone owns a home they can’t really afford, but it’s an investment, it’s making money for them,” Lawson said. “It’s a big asset, it’s a big chunk of money that keeps going up every year.”

For some consumers, homeownership is as likely an option as winning the lottery.

“In California, the starter home market has really disappeared,” said Tamara Draut, author of “Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead.”

Younger adults are struggling to make ends meet, Draut said, because many have student loans and start with low wages, which make it hard for them to save and build wealth.

“Definitely, this generation has resigned itself to live in debt to live in a middle-class lifestyle,” she said. Many consumers are comfortable with debt, but too much debt leaves people vulnerable, living paycheck to paycheck.

Some homeowners take advantage of rising property values to take on more debt and use the influx of cash to pay other debts, such as credit cards.

“The market keeps bailing people out of trouble,” Lawson said. “Because people don’t really get in too bad of position, they never really learn the lesson, and a year later they turn around and get themselves in the exact same spot.”


Deborah Bennett considers herself lucky — she bought her home in Pleasanton years ago, and her career as a computer scientist has provided steady, well-paid work.

The 59-year-old said she goes on the vacations she wants and buys what she wants.

“I feel sorry for the people who (are) just coming in,” Bennett said. “I have lived here since ’68.”

This isn’t surprising though – the California real estate is designed to as a massive transfer of wealth (meaning: future earnings) to the previous generation. Case in point? Prop 13.

(Thanks to Marin Real Estate Bubble for this find.)

Comments (3) -- Posted by: burbed @ 2:42 pm