July 22, 2013

Neighbors from Hell: Burlingame Edition (Could be considered threatening to some)

We all know that good fences make good neighbors. You know what makes great neighbors? Pulling a Larry Page and buying up every property anywhere near yours.  And if you don’t do this, you end up with a situation like this:

Noise in the hills: Burlingame neighbors in bitter dispute over home construction

130721-construction-gfyJuly 10, 2013, 05:00 AM
By Bill Silverfarb, San Mateo Daily Journal

John Lucero Michael Gaul has posted this sign (photo, right) for his neighbor to see. It includes the term ‘GFY’ which could be considered threatening to some.

A simmering brouhaha in the Burlingame hills started with a beehive near a pool and a first complaint between neighbors, escalated when tortoises started burrowing across property lines, came to a fever pitch when band saws roared at 6 a.m. and will come to a head when the two parties finally sit down for mediation, which has been delayed three times already now.

The dispute pits San Bruno school teacher John Lucero against his neighbor Burlingame Planning Commissioner Michael Gaul and the sizable home Gaul is building above Mercy High School on Adeline Drive.

Gaul pulled permits for the property back in 2005 and has been working on the home ever since. It is near completion but Gaul will first have to address a code enforcement violation that Lucero pointed out to Burlingame officials.

130721-construction-neighborsOh, this should be fun, the teacher is telling on the planning commissioner for code violations, namely that Gaul was running a general contracting business out of his house while calling it “construction.”  And since the permit was “finaled” seven (!) years ago, it looks like the city isn’t in much of a hurry to enforce code against its own planning commissioner.

The aerial photo at left shows Gaul’s house on the left and Lucero’s on the right.  According to Zillow, Gaul’s house is 6600 square feet, over twice as large as Lucero’s 70s-era 3000 square foot shack.  Both homes are on lots of over 20,000 square feet.

Bunus: Cross-jurisdictional finger-pointing as every other house near Gaul is in unincorporated San Mateo County. Hilarity ensues!

Dubble Bunus: “Aberrational sexual gawking behavior.” 

Trippple Bunus: Illegal B&B. Plus annoying film crew.

Comments (9) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 7:02 am






July 21, 2013

Ever get that sinking feeling you don’t live in the RBA?

Life in the Real Bay Area is Special.  Life outside is… less so. Here’s a story showing what happens when you buy elsewhere.  Thanks very much to Burbed reader nomadic for passing this along.

Residents of sinking Calif. subdivision file claim

130721-lake-spiveyBy TRACIE CONE, Associated Press
Updated 12:33 pm, Wednesday, July 17, 2013

LAKEPORT, Calif. (AP) — For months homeowners agonized as houses in their subdivision sank one-by-one into a California hilltop. It got so dangerous that the U.S. Postal Service refused to deliver mail.

Now, they say they know the reason eight homes were destroyed and 10 others are in danger, and they’ve taken the first step toward recouping damages by filing a claim against Lake County.

A leaking county water system that went undetected for months saturated the hillside and caused the ground to give way, said Michael Green, an attorney for the 41 homeowners in the subdivision with sweeping views of Clear Lake in Northern California.

Green is seeking $5 million for each homeowner in the claim filed last month against the county.

130721-lake-singhOh, this is going to be good. The homeowners are blaming the county over the leaking water system, and the county is blaming the homeowners association, saying their irrigation system contributed to the unusual behavior of the houses. Yeah, we know whenever a sprinkler system busts a leak, our Silicon Valley homes completely fall apart too.

Oh wait, that’s not because of the sprinklers, that’s the TCE plume.

For extra lawsuit lusciousness, the county supervisors asked for a disaster declaration from the governor. That was refused.

Next time, only buy in the RBA, where these sort of things never, ever, ever, ever, ever happen.

Comments (6) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 7:05 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!

120808-stonebrae-satellite

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

August 5, 2012

Huge Charter School Controversy in the RBA (tl;dr warning)

120804-bullis-cartoonWe haven’t been shy about sharing our educational “reform” position with you: we distrust the charter school movement.  We believe they are a means for private corporations to strip school boards of their resources and teachers of their benefits by providing cut-rate education under the false flag of “school choice.”  After all, corporations exist to make a profit.  Would you really want your child’s education outsourced to the lowest bidder?  Of course not!  That’s why you’ll pay anything to live in the Real Bay Area!

Charter Schools’ Negative Impact on the Educational System

120804-bullis-protestCharter schools are being implemented all across the country, whether parents want them or not.  This is happening because some very wealthy people, not one of them with any education background, see this as a way to profit at the expense school boards and teachers unions.  Much of the current “school reform” movement has been taken over by tons of money from foundations from the Walton (Walmart), Gates (Microsoft) and Broad (construction and insurance) families and, of course, the Koch brothers.  These groups have completely derailed real school reform in favor of their plan to corporatize our educational system.

All that money crowds out real reform in favor of forcing charter schools, despite their lackluster performance despite their ability to cherry-pick students.  There are stories everywhere of neighborhood schools forced to close, fire all the teachers and administrators, and then reopen as charters, despite complete opposition from the affected teachers, parents and children.  Needless to say, this is most likely to happen where parents are not well-represented in the political system.  That is, this process is most likely to happen in poorer neighborhoods rather than wealthy suburbs.  Remember Waiting for Superman (which is, of course, pure propaganda)?  The Bay Area school in the film was in Redwood City.  And look at all the corporate charter schools that have popped up in Oakland and San Jose.

Click on through to find out what happens next.

(more…)

Comments (20) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:06 am

April 23, 2012

Trespassing Squatters Occupying Short Sale Property File TRO Against the Selling Agent. Yes You Read That Correctly.

Happy Monday!  We’ve got another exciting story for you, about some riveting residents who really respect realtards.  Read on!

Squatters issue restraining order against real estate agent

120421-antioch-squattersKTVU Channel 2,
Posted: 9:49 p.m. Friday, April 20, 2012

ANTIOCH, Calif. —  A Bay Area real estate agent said she’s being taken to court by squatters in Antioch who have taken over a house she’s trying to sell.

As many as three people have been living in the Concord home since December. Even though the owner never gave them permission to move in, they’re apparently not moving out without a fight.

Real estate agent Melissa Case said she can’t get too close to the four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home she’s listed for sale in Antioch because the unauthorized residents took her to court.

“I have a temporary restraining order against me right now,” Case said. “I cannot come within 50 yards of the home, which was filed by the squatters.”

Case is definitely a Real Estate Professional.  You can tell from the way she talks, because it reads just like listing copy we see every day here.  The home was filed by the squatters,  Got it.  So you’re going to love this next quote from Ms. Case:

“Actually the police came out and verified that their… rental agreement? [air quotes]… was false and full of misspellings.”

Because nothing says Real Estate Professional like an example of their work product written up full of misspellings.

Here’s the house, and it was not easy to find.  Case described it as a “four bedroom two and a half bath” but Redfin listed it as a 4/3.  Also just to really mess with our minds, the article also said it was in Concord (see the second paragraph above).  Do you have any idea how many freaking short sales there are in Antioch? Or Concord?  Let’s just say I have a feeling we’re not in Los Altos anymore.

5116 THISTLEWOOD Ct
Antioch, CA 94531
$149,000

120421-thistlewood-redfin

BEDS: 4
BATHS: 3
SQ. FT.: 1,873
$/SQ. FT.: $80
LOT SIZE: 5,900 Sq. Ft.
TYPE: Detached
STYLE: Traditional
STORIES: 2
YEAR BUILT: 1991
COMMUNITY: Antioch
COUNTY: Contra Costa
MLS#: 40568008
SOURCE: EBRD
STATUS: Pending
ON REDFIN: 23 days

End of Court Location and Across the street from the neighborhood park!! This home needs TLC.

End of Court!  Get it?  Get it?  Because the agent got taken to court!  Ahahahahahaha!

And speaking of short sales, the “homeowner in Berkeley” picked up this winner of a house for $460,000.  In 2004.  The current asking price is 23% less than what the house sold for, new, in 1992.  Perhaps “needs TLC” means “Teardown, Level and Condemn.”

Comments (18) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:08 am

February 26, 2012

Fine for appropriating a non-RBA house: $1,895

Restitution ordered for man convicted of stealing house

120224-tate-courtBy JESSICA M. PASKO – Santa Cruz Sentinel, Posted:   02/03/2012 02:06:34 PM PST

Photo at right: Raymond Tate (on right), convicted house thief, appearing in court with attorney Steve LeBerge, in 2009.  (Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ – A Santa Cruz man convicted in 2010 of stealing a Ben Lomond home will have to pay $1,895 in restitution to the rightful owners, a judge ruled Friday.

Raymond Tate sentenced in May 2010 to five months in County Jail and three years’ probation for felony charges of filing false property records and conspiracy. According to court records, Tate was able to use a typographical error on the deed for a Hubbard Gulch Road to pose as the owner of the house and file false documents with the county recorder to support his case.

While the rightful owners were on vacation in 2009, Tate sold the home to someone else. When the owners returned, they found their belongings moved to the garage, the locks changed and a stranger living in their house. The occupant, Daniel Judd, said he bought the house from Tate and later admitted he was part of the plot to take the home. Judd is currently on probation in Santa Clara County.

Burbed will take a hard-hitting stand in opposition to house theft, whether or not in the Real Bay Area.  However, we are obligated to point out the advantages of owning an RBA house, should you be so unfortunate as to find it stolen.  There is absolutely no way that someone guilty of grand theft housing (as opposed to this petty larceny) would be given such a slap on the wrist.  Read further into this story, and you will discover that the legal owners of the house claimed $5,700 in actual damages.  The reduced amount awarded no doubt reflects the non-RBA discount applied to all homes that are not Special enough.

120224-hubbard-gulchThis is the house in question, in case you have any concerns about its worthiness.  It’s a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath red-tag special, for which the proper owners paid $50,000 for in 2007.  It was also sliding down a hill.  Perhaps it was not sliding when the previous owners paid $130,000 for it just two years earlier.

The disputed house on Hubbard Gulch Road (Shmuel Thaler/Sentinel)

You won’t learn this in the article above, which is woefully deficient in what is otherwise a fascinating story.  But The Sentinel does list several of its previous articles covering all the house wrangling.  Click on through for a twisty little maze of real estate fraud.

(more…)

Comments (6) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:08 am

July 11, 2011

Cupertino Villas: Still not in Cupertino, now with Instant Equity!

imageCupertino Villas was first featured in Burbed all the way back in 2006!  One thing hasn’t changed: it still isn’t in Cupertino.  The Cupertino Villas condos are located at Wolfe Road and Fremont Avenue in Sunnyvale.

Before it was converted to condos, this was an apartment complex called Avalon, and before that it was known as Promenade. Let’s just say the residents weren’t very fond of the management, as shown in this discussion thread. Here is a particularly passionate entry:

Here Si The List Of Bad Things, Small And Big.

From: -Anonymous-
Date posted: 6/1/2003
Years at this apartment: 2002 – 2003

1. no privacy. kitchen windows and living room windows are open right next to your neighbors. architect must be an idiot.
1. no sunlights. cold in most of the season and hot in summer. so many times, you think it’s very cold today, but outside, it is very sunny and warm.
1. berrys drop on your car in the parking lot.
1. parking lots have very narrow grids. i hate whoever drew these lines. idiot! make just one less spot and other 8-10 cars will be happy.
1. mail box area located in a stupid spot. stop, get out of your car, cross the road and pick up mails while your car clogs the road.
1. mail box full of advertisement papers. these are not mails! mail man works for whom’ us or them’ there must be bribing.
1. the main entrance has a deep groove. you always scratch the bottom head of your car. who the hell built this complex”
1. noise and thin walls are rather a general problems in all other apt complexes, i guess. so i wouldn’t complain.
1. so many people move in and out, which suggests there are problems here.
some good things.
1. maintenance is not bad. quick.
1. apt clean and well maintained

Many of these problems (no privacy, no sun, thin walls) weren’t going to be fixed by turning this place condo, short of tearing everything down.  And yes, every item is numbered “1.” even though I would assume the author meant this to be either sequentially numbered or a bulleted list.

Let’s see how successful Cupertino Villas is in its new Ownership Society incarnation!

880 E FREMONT Ave #208, Sunnyvale, CA 94087
$190,000

image

BEDS: 1
BATHS: 1
SQ. FT.: 733
$/SQ. FT.: $259
LOT SIZE: 1,306 Sq. Ft.
PROPERTY TYPE: Condominium
STYLE: Traditional
STORIES: 1-3 (Low Rise)
VIEW: Neighborhood
YEAR BUILT: 1987
COMMUNITY: Sunnyvale
COUNTY: Santa Clara
MLS#: 81126565
SOURCE: MLSListings
STATUS: Active
ON REDFIN: 13 days

Granite kitchen counters, maple cabinets and stainless Steel appliances. Located on the 2nd floor with a balcony. Minutes to APPLE. 2 parking spaces. Complex is in litigation. Agent and seller has no information on litigation. Short Sale/needs approval. Cash offers preferred.

This is a marvelous opportunity to pay cash money to rescue a homedebtor from this underwater nightmare. It comes complete with matching lawsuit!  But you get Cupertino schools, and it’s minutes to Apple! Okay, 8 minutes with no traffic,15 minutes in traffic, and that’s 2.8 miles driving without even getting on a freeway. (It’s even fewer minutes to the new spaceship site.)

image

2006 was a great year to be selling condos, but a terrible one to have bought one.  This isn’t the only unit available with huge chunks of instant equity compared to the original selling price.  For example, today’s listing sold for, oops, $335K at the end of 2005.

Comments (28) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:05 am

March 13, 2011

Mysterious Secretive Consortium Really Pissed off that They Can’t Buy State Landmark Buildings in Sweetheart Deal that would Cost California Billions in Needless Rent, Sez They’ll Sue

Remember this story?  A bunch of well-connected cronies wanted to buy all those state buildings and rent them back, with the deal rushed through the waning days of the Governator’s final term? It’s Ba-a-a-a-a-a-ack!

Miffed Investors Sue State over Building Sale

The mysterious consortium goes to court after Gov. Brown nixes deal to sell 11 buildings

By ELIZABETH LESLY STEVENS, Bay Citizen on March 11, 2011 – 4:34 p.m. PST

Photo, right: Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen

The California Public Utilities Commission Building is included in a controversial plan for the state of California to sell 11 office complexes to a group of private investors, then lease the space for 20 years

The controversial deal to sell state office buildings is headed to court.

Late Thursday, attorneys for the would-be buyers, California First, filed suit in a state court in Los Angeles, trying to get the court to force the state to go ahead with the deal. “A deal is a deal,” California First says in the suit. No further information about the identity of the California First partners appears in the legal filing, and the group’s attorney did not immediately return a call requesting comment. The group also appears to be paving the way to sue the state for damages if the sale does not go through.

That’s the American way, all right.  If you don’t get your insanely profitable deal done via friends in high places because a bunch of crybabies point out your doing so is probably illegal, sue their pants off!  Also, sue their pants off while refusing to identify exactly who you are, maybe by hiding your faces with those pants you collected.  Yes, we still don’t know exactly who wants to buy these buildings, but they’re mighty unhappy the sale was blocked and they’re going to court to make it happen.

Just remember what we learned last time we covered this topic: it’s probably a bunch of foreigners with cash not only on the sidelines but in both end zones and all the luxury boxes.  According to the Matt Taibbi article we linked to, there’s a good chance it’s oil money.  The last thing they need is for anyone to find out who they are.

Can we declare a moratorium on selling infrastructure to foreign investors? There must be a few Google gazillionaires who want their very own bridge or judicial building.  Maybe Jerry Brown would be okay selling to in-state private investors instead.  Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t bought himself a house yet, think he’d like to own something with a big state seal on it?  And Larry Ellison, he’d buy it just so Jim Clark couldn’t buy it first.  Problem solved!

Comments (12) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:03 am

February 12, 2011

The Right to Keep Your ZIP Code to Yourself

The California Supreme Court says you can.

Stores Can’t Ask For Customer ZIP Codes: CA Supreme Court

By Scott Weber, NBCBayArea.com
updated 2/10/2011 6:45:30 PM ET

Customers who use their credit cards at stores can no longer be asked for their ZIP code, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

In a unanimous decision, the state’s high court concluded that person’s personal information includes his or her ZIP code and that California’s Credit Card Act prohibits a merchant from asking for it.

The class-action case was brought by Jessica Pineda against Williams-Sonoma.

Wait, who shops at Williams-Sonoma who doesn’t want to brag about their ZIP code?  Well, maybe the people who had to trade down to less exclusive environs better suited to Crate and Barrel, or Target.  Maybe they can’t afford 94024 anymore, but they can still buy a $40 bottle of olive oil.

imageMy god, the woman who sued Williams-Sonoma was incensed that they were using her ZIP Code “for marketing purposes.”  Oh noes!  Next thing you know, they will want her name so they can send her an unsolicited catalog.

Well, now you can buy that olive oil without having to admit you live in 95008 (Campbell), or fearing you’ll be put on the Pottery Barn mailing list instead of Frette, due to your ZIP code. You have the right to not disclose it, so either wear it proudly or keep it to yourself.

Of course if you keep it to yourself, others will assume you live in 95002.

Comments (17) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:16 am

January 8, 2011

Massachusetts to Banks: Foreclose This!

After reading about the truly depressing tale of the Foreclosure Express Courtroom (the Rocket Docket) in Florida, here’s some good news provided you aren’t a bank or a bank shareholder.  Thanks to Burbed guest editor DreamT for passing this news item along.

Two Banks Lose in Foreclosure Cases

By ROBBIE WHELAN, ALAN ZIBEL and VICTORIA MCGRANE, The Wall Street Journal

housingThe highest court in Massachusetts ruled against Wells Fargo & Co. and U.S. Bancorp in two foreclosure cases that cast doubt over whether some home loans were properly handled when packaged into securitizations.

Justices in the state’s Supreme Judicial Court upheld a lower court’s decision to void foreclosure sales of two homes in Springfield, because owners of the loans couldn’t prove that the mortgages had been assigned to them. Both loans were assembled into mortgage-backed securities sold to investors.

Photo, above right: A Wells Fargo branch in San Francisco. Shares of the bank fell 2% on the ruling, and other banks saw share-price losses as well.  — Getty Images

Bank stocks fell on worries that Friday’s ruling could make it harder for financial firms to foreclose on mortgages that wound up in securities. The defeat also might provide ammunition to mortgage-bond investors who have accused and even sued servicers for what the investors claim is systematically shoddy loan documentation.

….

The Massachusetts case is a closely watched example of what some mortgage experts describe as “show-me-the-paper” cases over widely used procedures for transferring loans after they are made. Individual loans often are sold to an investor, with the new owner’s name left blank in loan documents to minimize paperwork hassles as the loan subsequently changes hands before being combined with other loans into mortgage-backed securities.

These cases only apply to Massachusetts, though.  Banks in California and nonrelevant parts of the country can continue to foreclose on homeowners without proving they actually own the mortgages in question.

Comments (17) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:12 am