B of A Demolishes homes

Unbelievable. They foreclose on all these houses, then can’t sell them creating a glut on the market and ruining neighborhoods. Then they donate them and raze them – bulldoze them to the ground.

I hope to God these “donations” are not a tax write off.  This has got to end.  How much are they paying the politicians to just shut up and go along with them?

OK, reality check (pun?) is something really wrong with this or am I missing something?

Could it be no one will buy them because the banks have ruined the neighborhoods? Hmm, foreclosure, vacant houses, vagrants, vandalism, weeds, rats, graffiti, what’s not to like?  Wouldn’t society as a whole be better off if the banks worked with the homeowners to modify the loan to restore it to a performing asset on their books and saving neighborhoods and taxpayer dollars as well?  Or is the government paying too much (of our – taxpayer dollars) thus making foreclosure and collecting insurance and loan guarantees more lucrative than mods?

Here’s the disturbing story via Bloomberg:

BofA Donates Then Demolishes Houses to Cut Glut

Bank of America Corp. (BAC), faced with a glut of foreclosed and abandoned houses it can’t sell, has a new tool to get rid of the most decrepit ones: a bulldozer.

The biggest U.S. mortgage servicer will donate 100 foreclosed houses in the Cleveland area and in some cases contribute to their demolition in partnership with a local agency that manages blighted property. The bank has similar plans in Detroit and Chicago, with more cities to come, and Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), Citigroup Inc. (C), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Fannie Mae are either conducting or considering their own programs.

Disposing of repossessed homes is one of the biggest headaches for lenders in the U.S., where 1,679,125 houses, or one in every 77, were in some stage of foreclosure as of June, according to research firm RealtyTrac Inc. of Irvine, California. The prospect of those properties flooding the market has depressed prices and driven off buyers concerned that housing values will keep dropping.

“There is way too much supply,” said Gus Frangos, president of the Cleveland-based Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., which works with lenders, government officials and homeowners to salvage vacant homes. “The best thing we can do to stabilize the market is to get the garbage off.”
BofA’s 40,000

Bank of America had 40,000 foreclosures in the first quarter, saddling the Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender with taxes and maintenance costs. The bank announced the Cleveland program last month, has committed as many as 100 properties in Detroit and 150 in Chicago, and may add 10 cities by the end of the year, said Rick Simon, a company spokesman.

The lender will pay as much as $7,500 for demolition or $3,500 in areas eligible to receive funds through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Uses for the land include development, open space and urban farming, according to the statement. Simon declined to say how many foreclosed properties Bank of America holds.

Ohio ranked among the top 10 states with the most foreclosure filings in June, according to RealtyTrac. The state has 71,617 foreclosed homes, Cuyahoga County 9,797 and Cleveland 6,778, RealtyTrac said.

The tear-downs are in varying states of disrepair, from uninhabitable to badly damaged. Simon said some are worth less than $10,000, and it would cost too much to make them livable.
Unwanted Homes

“No one needs these homes, no one is going to buy them,” said Christopher Thornberg, founding partner at the Los Angeles office of Beacon Economics LLC, a forecasting firm. “Bank of America is not going to be able to cover its losses, so it might as well give them away and get a little write-off and some nice public relations.”

Donating a house may create an income-tax deduction, said Robert Willens, an independent accounting analyst based in New York. A bank might deduct as much as the fair market value if a home wasn’t acquired with the explicit intent of knocking it down, he said.

Wells Fargo and Fannie Mae already started donating houses and demolition funds in Ohio. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo, the biggest U.S. home lender, gave 26 properties and $127,000 to the Cuyahoga land bank, said Russ Cross, Midwest regional servicing director for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Since 2009, Wells Fargo made more than 800 donations nationwide, the bank said.
Fannie Mae

Fannie Mae, the mortgage-finance company operating under U.S. conservatorship, made its first deal with the Cuyahoga land bank in 2009, and sells houses to the organization at a “very nominal value,” or about $1 and an additional $200 in closing costs, said P.J. McCarthy, who heads alternative disposition programs.

Fannie Mae sold 200 foreclosures to the Cuyahoga organization in 2010 and has similar programs in Detroit and Chicago. Cleveland is the only city where Washington-based Fannie Mae contributes $3,500 toward demolition, McCarthy said.

“It’s an economically justifiable transaction,” McCarthy said. “Holding on to a property that might sell for $1,000 or $2,000 or $5,000 for several hundred days is not in anybody’s best interest.”

JPMorgan, the second-biggest U.S. bank, has donated or sold at a discount almost 1,900 properties valued at more than $100 million in more than 37 states since late 2008, including 22 in Cleveland, said Jim O’Donnell, manager of community revitalization. The majority aren’t demolished, he said.
Nonprofit Role

Citigroup has been donating foreclosures since 2008 through the National Community Stabilization Trust, according to an e-mailed statement from Natalie Abatemarco, managing director for the bank’s office of homeownership preservation. The New York-based company, ranked third among U.S. lenders, is part of the Washington-based nonprofit trust’s pilot program that starts in late August to provide funds for purchases in distressed neighborhoods, and the money can be used toward demolition, Abatemarco said.

Demolishing all of Cleveland’s foreclosed and abandoned properties might cost $250 million, Frangos said. There are as many as 13,000, according to estimates compiled by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Neighborhood Progress Inc., a nonprofit organization working to counter the effects of foreclosures in six Cleveland areas, according to its website. The Cuyahoga County land bank owns about 899 properties and will demolish about 700 in the next six to seven months, Frangos said.

The oversupply of homes once prompted Warren Buffett, chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., to quip in February 2010 that the solutions was to “blow up a lot of houses — a tactic similar to the destruction of autos that occurred with the ‘cash-for-clunkers’ program.’”

Still, the knockdowns aren’t likely to outpace foreclosures, said Rick Sharga, RealtyTrac’s senior vice president. Foreclosures may accelerate as banks clear a backlog caused by soft real estate markets and legal disputes over tactics used to seize homes.

“These sorts of programs will basically only be nibbling on the edges,” Sharga said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lindsey Rupp in New York at Lrupp1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Scheer at dscheer@bloomberg.net; Rick Green in New York at rgreen18@bloomberg.net.

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CA Real Estate Investors Agree to Plead Guilty to Bid Rigging at Public Foreclosure Auctions

I’m not sure this is such a revelation that there is collusion taking place at public foreclosure auctions. It’s been long rumored to be the good ole boy’s club:
A who you know and who knows you predetermined the likelihood of your success or at least profitability. I think the bigger surprise here is now the government in actually looking at the game and trying to assure it’s played on an even playing field. Read and heed.

Investigation Yields Eight Plea Agreements
WASHINGTON – Eight California real estate investors have agreed to plead guilty for their roles in two separate conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

Charges were filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in Oakland, Calif., against Thomas Franciose of San Francisco; William Freeborn of Alamo, Calif.; Robert Kramer of Oakland, Calif.; Thomas Legault of Clayton, Calif.; David Margen of Berkeley, Calif.; Brian McKinzie of Hayward, Calif.; Jaime Wong of Dublin, Calif.; and Jorge Wong of San Leandro, Calif.

According to the felony charges, the real estate investors participated in a conspiracy to rig bids by agreeing to refrain from bidding against one another at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Contra Costa County and Alameda County, Calif. While some of the conspirators participated in the conspiracies in both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, the collusive activity occurred independently in each county, and some individuals only participated in the conspiracy in one county.

“While the country faces unprecedented home foreclosure rates, the collusion taking place at these auctions is artificially driving down foreclosed home prices and is lining the pockets of the colluding real estate investors,” said Christine Varney, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “The Antitrust Division will vigorously pursue these kinds of collusive schemes that eliminate competition from the marketplace.”

The department said that the primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and restrain competition to obtain selected real estate offered at Alameda and Contra Costa County public foreclosure auctions at noncompetitive prices. When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner.

“Through the hard work and partnership between the FBI and the Antitrust Division, we have been able to secure a victory in our fight against bid-rigging and anticompetitive practices in foreclosure auctions,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephanie Douglas of the San Francisco Field Office. “We continue to ask for the public’s assistance in identifying and reporting those engaged in this type of activity.”

According to the court documents, the real estate investors conspired with others not to bid against one another at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, participating in a conspiracy in various lengths of time between May 2008 and January 2011. After the conspirators’ designated bidder bought a property, the conspirators would hold a secret, private auction at which each participant would bid the amount above the public auction price he was willing to pay. The department said that the secret, private auctions took place at or near the courthouse steps where the public auctions were held. The highest bidder at the private auction won the property. According to the court documents, the difference between the public auction price and that at the second auction was the group’s illicit profit, and it was divided among the conspirators, often in cash.

In addition, the eight conspirators were charged with using the U.S. mail in carrying out their conspiracy to defraud financial institutions by paying potential competitors not to bid competitively in the public auctions for foreclosed properties, according to court filings.

Franciose, Jaime Wong and Jorge Wong were charged with one count each of bid rigging to obtain selected real estate at foreclosure auctions in Alameda County and one count each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Freeborn and Legault were charged with one count each of bid rigging to obtain selected real estate at foreclosure auctions in Contra Costa County and one count each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Kramer, Margen and McKinzie were each charged with two counts of bid rigging to obtain selected real estate at foreclosure auctions in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties and two counts each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Each violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals. Each count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The maximum fine for the Sherman Act charges may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victim if either amount is greater than the $1 million statutory maximum.

The Antitrust Division and the FBI have identified a pattern of collusive schemes among real estate investors aimed at eliminating competition at real estate foreclosure auctions, and today’s charges are part of the department’s ongoing effort to combat this conduct and restore competition to public auctions. The investigation into fraud and bid rigging at certain real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco office. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at 415-436-6660, visit http://www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.htm or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

Here is the DOJ Press Release.

 

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