Real Estate News Around the Garden State

Conseco King's Sprawling Indiana Mansion Up for Auction

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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A 55,000-square-foot mansion set for auction next month would easily fetch the $9.9 million previous asking price if it were in Carmel, Calif., instead of Carmel, Ind.

But there it sits in Indiana, a 36-room home called Le Chateau Renaissance, built by Conseco insurance company founder Stephen Hilbert and his wife, Tomisue Hilbert, for $35 million. It took five years to build and was completed in 1994, but the couple lost ownership when Stephen Hilbert didn't repay money he borrowed from his company, which has since been renamed CNO Financial Group.

Hilbert told his hometown newspaper that he may bid on the home, which has a mural on the entryway's domed ceiling that includes his likeness as a Greek god.

"Until they paint it over, I'll have the pleasure of looking down and watching what they do with the place," Hilbert told the paper. #mini_module_blank { width: 269px; height:206px; border: none; float:left; margin:10px; font-size:12px;} #mini_module_blank img {border:none; width: 265px; height:131px; border: none; margin:0px; } #mini_module_blank .mini_main { margin: 0px; padding:0px; width:269px; height:206px; background: transparent url(} #mini_module_blank .mini_item_header {padding:12px 0px; margin: 0px 20px; font-size:16px;} #mini_module_blank .mini_item {padding:8px 0px; margin: 0px 20px; border-bottom:1px dotted #CCCCCC;} #mini_module_blank a { color: #49A3CA; text-decoration:none; } #mini_module_blank a:hover { color: #F98419; text-decoration:underline;}
The mansion is not as big as the main house at Hearst Castle in California, but is "ridiculous in size" and stands out in Indiana, says listing broker Greg Cooper, who is co-agent with Dick Richwine of Prudential Indiana Realty Group. The entire property at 1143 W. 116th St. is 33.6 acres. The main house is more than 25,000 square feet, with a 15,000-square-foot "sports palace" (a massive gym with basketball and racquetball courts) and a catering house and guest house.

It's an amazing place," Cooper told HousingWatch in a telephone interview. "It's just that it's a fish out of water."

There really aren't any similar houses in the neighborhood, let alone the state, and homes in the area have an average sold price of $630,000. The largest house that was sold recently was a 15,145-square-foot home for $500,000. Cooper says the median price of a home in Carmel is $230,000, and $140,000 in the rest of Indiana.

In California, New York, Connecticut or Aspen, Colo., the Hilbert mansion would sell for $9 million or more, he says, and six potential buyers have tried and failed to buy it. They include a business owner, athlete and pro wrestler, and the either had buyer's remorse and pulled out of the deal before closing, or didn't have the money they said they had, Cooper says.

Since the home was forfeited in a legal dispute in February 2005, offers have continued to come in and be accepted -- $20 million, $16 million, $14 million, $12 million and $9 million -- but none of them closed, Cooper says. The home was appraised at $25 million in 2000, he said.

More Real Estate Stories The Most Affordable Cities to buy a House on America's Best Cities for Young Professionals on America's Cleanest Cities on A cash purchase is now required, or at least enough liquid assets to afford it. Previously listed at $9.9 million, there is no minimum bid required before the Aug. 27 seal bid submission deadline, but low bids can be rejected. A $100,000 deposit is required to bid. The last day to view the property is Aug. 20, although bidders must show proof of income for a viewing. The successful bidder, if one is chosen, must put down at least 25 percent in cash.

"They have to have an overwhelming capacity to buy the home," Cooper says.

It's a home to get lost in. It has an outdoor infinity pool with double waterfall, indoor lap pool, pool house, six-car garage, media room, atrium, his and her master closets, library, billiards room, spa, sunroom and enough recessed wood on the walls and ceilings of many rooms to make you think you're at Hearst Castle.

While a pro athlete is likely to be able to afford the mansion, Cooper said he thinks someone from Carmel (Indiana, not California) will buy it.

"There's more money here than you'd think," he says. "It's just quiet money."

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

More on AOL Real Estate:
Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
Find homes for sale in Carmel, IN.
Find foreclosures in Carmel, IN.
Get property tax help from our experts.


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Adam Carolla Selling His 'Overbuilt' L.A. Hills Home for $1.3M

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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Comedian and podcast king Adam Carolla is selling his first home -- a French Normandy-style home above Hollywood that he says was structurally "a dump" when he bought it. But Carolla says that the improvements he's made make it worth the $1.3 million asking price for a bachelor; a young, gay or straight couple; or basically anyone without kids.

"You could throw a party in the basement and make as much noise as you wanted and the neighbors would never care," Carolla told HousingWatch in a telephone interview.

The home was dilapidated when he bought it, and as a lifelong contractor, he put sweat equity and at least $350,000 in improvements into the house, he says. He made the home earthquake proof, replaced the electrical and plumbing, and put on a $75,000 slate roof.

"I overbuilt it, really, and just overdid it," Carolla says of the work he did on the house.

So is the bachelor pad worth what he's asking? #mini_module_blank { width: 269px; height:206px; border: none; float:left; margin:10px; font-size:12px;} #mini_module_blank img {border:none; width: 265px; height:131px; border: none; margin:0px; } #mini_module_blank .mini_main { margin: 0px; padding:0px; width:269px; height:206px; background: transparent url(} #mini_module_blank .mini_item_header {padding:12px 0px; margin: 0px 20px; font-size:16px;} #mini_module_blank .mini_item {padding:8px 0px; margin: 0px 20px; border-bottom:1px dotted #CCCCCC;} #mini_module_blank a { color: #49A3CA; text-decoration:none; } #mini_module_blank a:hover { color: #F98419; text-decoration:underline;}
The home was built in 1924 and has had three owners. It was the third house built in the "Hollywoodland" area, back when the iconic sign had the word "land" attached to the end of it. The 2,281-square-foot house looks like a castle and has a lot of character to it, which Carolla added to with the pitched roof and vaulted ceiling.

The home, listed by agent Karen Misraje of Teles Properties, Inc., has an office, a grand step-down into the living room with views of the canyon and city lights, a fireplace and bar, and a designer kitchen with top-of-the-line appliances such as Viking range and Subzero refrigerator. The den or family room has a wet bar, fireplace and entertainment center, which includes a TV and electronic equipment. The master suite has a master bath, fireplace and walk-in closet. It also has central heating and air conditioning that Carolla had installed. Outside there's a patio, lawn, fountain and hot tub with views of the city and Hollywood sign.

It all sounds like a great bachelor home, which it was when Carolla was working as co-host of the "The Man Show" in the mid-1990s.

Carolla says the architecture, view and quality of the work make it worth the asking price of $1,395,000, adding that there are plenty of homes in the area built much later but not in nearly as good as shape. Comparable homes in the neighborhood have an average sold price of $1,236,000. All of the work put into Carolla's house make it much better than the surrounding homes, he says.

"That area is dotted with tons of '60s, '70s and '80s piles of s---," he says of homes built decades after his home.There are also plenty of stairs -- from the street up to the house and more from the fenced yard to the front door -- that won't make it a must-buy for an elderly couple, but allow a view of the Hollywood sign in the nearby Hollywood Hills. Carolla said he hasn't counted the stairs, but calls them a blessing and a curse.

"The stairs are a pain in the ass, but I like it because when I get to the top I was sitting in my perch, in the catbird seat," he said of the Beachwood Canyon home in Los Angeles.

More Real Estate Stories The Most Affordable Cities to Buy a House on America's Best Cities for Young Professionals on America's Cleanest Cities on Carolla bought the three-bedroom, 2.75-bath house in 1996 for $350,000 after he started working on the show "Loveline" with Dr. Drew Pinsky. Carolla, who had lived in various apartments before then with roommates, climbed the stairs many times, carrying Viking appliances and other materials as he rebuilt his first home.

He didn't start living there until 1997, after working on it for a year, and moved out in 2004. He and his family live in the Hollywood Hills and also own a beach house in Malibu. He rented out the Beachwood Canyon home, at 2846 Westshire Drive, after moving out, but decided to sell after getting tired of the headaches of renting it.

"I love the house but realized that I'm not going to move my family back into it," he says.

As his first house, Carolla said he has a lot of fond memories there, but he isn't sentimental about having his handiwork sold to someone else. He's more a fan of the home's architecture than of his work on the house.

Buying a home rebuilt by a Hollywood celebrity is a great conversation starter. A full view of the Hollywood sign doesn't hurt, either. Though owning the most expensive home in the neighborhood isn't always a good bet. Also, the multiple staircases and pricey slate roof may or may not attract offers at the premium Carolla is asking. Stay tuned to see who gets the last laugh.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

More on AOL Real Estate:
Find out how to calculate mortgage payments.
Find homes for sale in your area.
Find foreclosures in your area.
Get tax advice from our experts.


Want to learn more about home buying and home finance? If so, you won't want to miss
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How to Shop for Your First Home

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51
#fivemin-widget-blogsmith-0 {width:600px;height:400px;background:black url( no-repeat center center;float:left;display:block;} The need for more space was what got Kim and Jason Fitzsimmons thinking about buying their first home. They'd been married for a year and realized that a small apartment, even with two bedrooms, wasn't big enough for all they'd accumulated.

But it wasn't until they had their income taxes done that they learned from a tax preparer about the deductions they could get from owning a home. The Fitzsimmonses then got serious about buying their first home, and about doing it before the end of the year. Deducting the mortgage interest from their income taxes would make buying a home less expensive than renting. While that isn't true for everyone (check with your tax preparer first on home deductions), the couple started doing their homework and soon were out looking for their first home.#mini_module { width: 265px; height:220px; border: none; float:left; margin:10px; font-size:12px;} #mini_module img {border:none; width: 265px; height:131px; border: none; margin:0px; } #mini_module .mini_title { margin: 0px; padding:0px; width:265px; height:131px;} #mini_module .mini_main { margin: 0px; padding:0px; width:265px; height:85px; background: transparent url(} #mini_module .mini_item {padding:12px 0px; margin: 0px 20px; border-bottom:1px dotted #CCCCCC;} #mini_module a { color: #49A3CA; text-decoration:none; } #mini_module a:hover { color: #F98419; text-decoration:underline;}

It's tempting to just go out and start shopping for your first home. After all, that's the ultimate goal and the most fun part. But doing your homework first will pay off in less stress and more savings. If you're a first-time home buyer, whether for tax reasons, the desire for more space or just for the chance to have your own washer and dryer, here are tips to get you started.

1. Know how much you can afford

This should be the first step in buying your first home so you don't waste your time, or a real estate agent's, by looking at houses that you can't afford a mortgage on. The Fitzsimmonses visited a real estate broker who helped them determine how much of a loan they would qualify for, based on their income and credit. They also factored in property taxes, maintenance, utilities, insurance and possible homeowner-association dues. They totaled those expected costs and set up an experiment: After paying the rent on their apartment, they set aside money equaling the difference between their rent and the projected cost of homeownership. They did this for a few months so they could get used to making the payments. A loan calculator will help figure out how much a home loan will be.

Essential How-To-Guides on AOL Real Estate: Home Buying, Selling, Renting, Moving and Home Improvement
2. How long will you stay in your first home?

The longer you live in your first home, the better the savings because you're spreading out the upfront costs of buying a house. Those costs include a real estate agent's fee, closing costs, inspection fees and loan fees -- which can add up to 10 percent of the sale price, or approximately 18 months of rent.

3. Get a loan

Getting preapproved for a home loan helps make buying a first home faster and easier, especially if there are multiple offers on the home. Your mortgage lender or broker should be able to give you an estimate, down to the penny, of how much money you'll need in closing costs. Then you'll know how much of your savings to set aside for a down payment, which will help determine how much your loan -- and the monthly mortgage -- will be. Putting down 20 percent will eliminate the need for mortgage insurance, although your lender or broker might be able to find loans at good rates that don't require 20 percent down. This is where it really pays to shop around for the best loan rate and terms.

4. Know the market

After determining where your finances stand, the fun part begins in finding out what you can afford and where you want to buy your first home. Research neighborhoods that interest you and find out the median price of homes there. You can research homes on websites such as AOL Real Estate, Zillow,, or others you trust. Finding homes similar to the kind you want, and in the same neighborhood, will give you an idea of how fair the price is when you are ready to buy.

5. Shop around

Every house buy requires sacrifices, and you won't get everything you want. There are many factors to consider, such as how much room you need. Does your first home have to be a single-family home or will a condo work? Is it near transportation, good schools, parks, shopping and your other essentials? Does the home have the amenities you want, such as a fireplace, dining room, backyard, pool or deck?

Find a real estate agent to represent you, or if you're brave and want to do it on your own, go out and shop on your own. Either way, stick to these five steps and you should be fine.

Buying a house, whether your first home or several down the line, is one of the most stressful and expensive transactions you'll ever undertake. But if you do your homework and prepare for it with the above steps -- figuring out how much you can afford, how long you'll stay, getting a loan, studying the local market, and shopping for a house -- it should be a lot easier.

Still trying to decide which is right for you? Here are some AOL Real Estate guides for first-time homebuyers:


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Tips for Finding a Rental Apartment

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51
After moving into his rental apartment in San Francisco, Joshua Nicholas found out the hard way that checking out his apartment manager was just as important as checking out the neighbors.

Nicholas expected thin walls and ceilings, but soon after moving into his ground-floor rental apartment, he found that the woman living above him cranked her stereo at the oddest hours. After weeks of politely asking her to turn it down, or off, he gave up and asked the manager for help. The manager didn't help, and the noise continued, forcing Nicholas to move out a few months later.

While Nicholas didn't do his homework on researching his landlord, or upstairs neighbor, due diligence is important when apartment rental hunting. After all, finding an apartment to rent is easy, there are plenty of rental apartments to choose from. But don't let the the ease of finding a vacant apartment to rent fool you -- it could be the apartment from hell full of problems that you won't find without doing some homework first. #mini_module { width: 265px; height:220px; border: none; float:left; margin:10px; font-size:12px;} #mini_module img {border:none; width: 265px; height:131px; border: none; margin:0px; } #mini_module .mini_title { margin: 0px; padding:0px; width:265px; height:131px;} #mini_module .mini_main { margin: 0px; padding:0px; width:265px; height:85px; background: transparent url(} #mini_module .mini_item {padding:12px 0px; margin: 0px 20px; border-bottom:1px dotted #CCCCCC;} #mini_module a { color: #49A3CA; text-decoration:none; } #mini_module a:hover { color: #F98419; text-decoration:underline;}

Find a good apartment manager, and you've likely found a good rental apartment. From making repairs to keeping the noise down, an attentive apartment manager is worth his or her weight in gold, or at least a lunch out. To find such a manager, interview them as they would interview you as a potential tenant, asking how they deal with problems in the complex and how fast they'll respond to your queries. Then ask a few residents in the complex, either by catching them in the parking lot, hallway or by the pool (but don't knock on doors) to find out how well the manager does the job. It could save you the expense of having to move before your lease is up, not to mention the headache.

To help ensure that you've found the best apartment in town, here are some other things to consider before signing a lease:

Essential How-To-Guides on AOL Real Estate: Home Buying, Selling, Renting, Moving and Home Improvement The Terms

Is the apartment rental lease month-to-month or annual renewal? Whatever the term, per month, every six months or whatever, get it in writing and know that you could have difficulty getting out of it early. Is the apartment rent-controlled? Will you have to pay a broker's fee (common in cities such as New York and Boston)? How much is the security deposit? Are there move-in fees or any others, such as utilities? Also check on move-in requirements: Some apartments limit the days and hours that a new resident can move in so that other residents aren't disturbed.


What amenities are offered with the apartment rental? One of the most important is parking. Is there a fee to park? If it's on-street parking and not a designated parking space at the apartment complex, check for time limits and if parking meters are used. Make sure your car registration is up to date, and buy a resident parking sticker if needed.

Check your cell phone's reception, both inside and outside the apartment you're looking at, to ensure that it's clear in every location you'll want to call from. The construction of some older buildings can interfere with cell phone reception.

If you need extra storage, check with the manager to see if the apartment rental complex offers it for an additional fee. If not, see how close the nearest storage facility is.

Check if a laundry facility is on site, in the apartment rental unit, or if you'll have to trek to a laundromat. If the machines look old, ask around to see how often they break down and how quickly they're fixed. Some use a card system to pay for loads, which might be easier than collecting quarters.

If you have a pet, or even if you don't and are wary of hearing a barking dog at 3 a.m., ask if the complex has a policy on pets. Is an extra deposit required to have a pet in your apartment?

Other amenities to check for include air conditioning, an on-site gym, outdoor deck, garbage disposal, dishwasher, and new refrigerator and stove. And remember to bring a tape measure so you can measure doorways and rooms to see if your big bed and dresser can fit in the bedroom.


You want local amenities as well in your neighborhood, hopefully within walking distance. Check how close the local grocery store, restaurants, gyms, drugstores, nightlife, place of worship, library, park and public transportation is to the apartment rental on a site like And take a walk around the neighborhood to see how close things are, especially to a bus line or whatever public transportation line you'll use.


Along with interviewing the landlord and other tenants about the apartment rental manager's responsiveness, ask how work requests are submitted to the manager. Do you make a call or leave a note? Is there a form to fill out? Visit the complex at night and different hours of the day to see how noisy your neighbors are, and if they're cooking fish all day. If the building is full of college students, and not retirees, then expect more noise.

Check out the condition of the entire apartment rental complex. Take a walk around to see what state of disrepair it's in. Are the problems you find going to be fixed? When? Is everything safe? If you see a stairway that looks unsafe to walk on, don't use it. Does the elevator work? Do things look like they haven't been updated since the Kennedy administration? If so, it may be wise to look elsewhere. Are walkways and the parking lot well lit at night? Do you feel safe walking in the neighborhood, or from your car, at night?

Finding an apartment is a fun and exciting step in life. Be sure to check out every aspect about your new apartment rental before moving in, and it shouldn't end up being a horror story to scare your friends with.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Want more apartment rental tips? AOL Real Estate has some other guides that might help:

Want to learn more about home buying and home finance? If so, you won't want to miss
our online discussion with industry experts,
What Works Now: Smart Moves When Buying a Home,"
created by AOL Real Estate in participation with Bank of America Home Loans.
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Tampa Bay Rays Baseball: Live Near Tropicana Field for $1.1M

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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The Tampa Bay Rays have been having a tough time the last two weeks, having won only 3 of their last 10 games. But many consider the team currently in third-place to have its best roster since it clinched the AL East title in 2008. All the more reason to live near the action.

It's not a quick walk -- probably an hour -- but this luxury home for sale on the waterfront in St. Petersburg, Fla., is less than a 10-minute drive from Tropicana Field, home of the Rays and a summer full of exciting baseball.

But you might want to move soon. The Rays' owner announced June 21 that he wants to move the team after the team's contract runs out in 2027. That gives you 17 years -- or possibly fewer, if a new home is found sooner -- to enjoy a new home near downtown St. Petersburg before the Rays move.

But there may be some good news soon, too.
The owner wants all parts of the Tampa Bay area to be explored for the team's new home, so buying a place in St. Petersburg could still put you within a drive of ballgames.

The single-family home for sale at 380 26th Ave. in St. Petersburg is a 45-minute to hourlong walk, but only a 10-minute drive or less to Tropicana Field and downtown St. Petersburg. The $1,150,000 home has four bedrooms and four bathrooms in 4,261 square feet.

Here's what you'll find in this waterfront home with views of Tampa Bay: The kitchen has a gourmet island with upgraded appliances. The formal living room has a fireplace and separate formal dining room. The four bedrooms have views of the water. There's an office/study downstairs, and a library and wet bar upstairs, along with a huge game and media room.

The home also has a three-level elevator, a winding staircase and three-car garage. The outdoor spaces include a spacious lanai, a huge deepwater dock which will accommodate four sailboats, and an irrigation system using reclaimed water.

The same home sold for $1.2 million in March 2009, so the price drop this year could make it enticing. Similar homes in the neighborhood have an average for-sale price of $706,000, although they don't have the waterfront views that this one has.

Hopefully the team's solid play in the American League East division will continue and keep them near the top of the standings.

Find more great homes in St. Petersburg at AOL Real Estate.


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Chicago Cubs Baseball: Live Near Wrigley Field for $2.4M

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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For $2.4 million, you could live within five blocks of Wrigley Field and be near one of the greatest baseball parks in the country. You might not have any money left over for Chicago Cubs tickets, which are the most expensive in Major League Baseball. But if you do get tickets, at least you'll be saving money by being able to walk to the stadium and not having to pay for gas, parking or public transportation.

Here are two homes for sale at $2.4 million each to put you within walking distance of Cubs games. If the price is too steep, then at least go visit Wrigley Field and enjoy the ivy-covered outfield walls. You might want to grow some ivy outside on the walls of these homes, too:
The home at 3741 Lakewood Ave. for $2,499,000 is about a five-block walk to Wrigley Field. The home was built this year and has five bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms. This greystone has beautiful wide-plank hardwood flooring throughout and applied moldings with oversize crowns, giving it a modern, elegant look.

It has a chef's kitchen with walnut cabinets, European-style appliances, handmade backsplash tile over the stove, and Miele built-in coffee system. The master suite has custom mosaic tiling in the bathroom. The third floor has a guest suite, library and deck. The lower level is expansive with a great media room. It also has a three-car garage.

Comparable homes in the neighborhood have an average list price of $2,407,841.

The other home is directly west of Wrigley Field, only a four-block walk. While both homes are stunning, this home at 3616 N. Wayne Ave. looks more elegant, and is a slightly better deal at $2,495,900. The home has five bedrooms and 6.1 bathrooms.

It has a gourmet kitchen, two dishwashers, four en suite bedrooms on the second floor, wood-paneled room, wine cellar, wet bar with dishwasher, central vacuum unit, two laundry rooms, media room with dropdown 9-foot screen, and mudroom with built-ins. There's also an en suite that can be used as a guest area. The radiant heated garage will hold three cars. There's also a penthouse with a roof deck and bonus room.

Find more great homes in Chicago at AOL Real Estate.


Want to learn more about home buying and home finance? If so, you won't want to miss
our online discussion with industry experts,
What Works Now: Smart Moves When Buying a Home,"
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Real Estate Fraud: Why Is It Becoming More Common?

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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Fraud, or at least charges of fraud, just keep on coming in the mortgage and real estate world, leaving homebuyers wondering where the oversight is. The criminal courts are getting busier, hearing cases against the employees and executives of the same companies that are supposed to be helping homebuyers.

Why is there now so much corruption in the mortgage industry? It's an issue that Congress is looking into. The federal government currently is expanding its oversight of the banking system and financial markets, the entities that helped cause the recession.

Here are three of the more prominent recent examples:
1. Mortgage fraud alleged
Last week a federal grand jury indicted the head of what was once among the largest privately held mortgage lending companies for allegedly scheming to steal over half a billion dollars from the government's Troubled Assets Relief Program.
The indictment alleges that Lee Bentley Farkas and his co-conspirators carried out the scheme at their company. The attempt to get TARP funds was just one part of a scheme that was "truly stunning in its scale and complexity" and that resulted in losses of more than $1.9 billion, Lanny Breuer, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for the criminal division, told a news conference.

2. Real estate fraud

A real estate broker from Chico, Calif., lost her license and was sentenced to 30 days in jail for illegally diverting home construction funds after helping an unlicensed building contractor get $625,000 in construction loans. The felony charge against Linda Elaine Myers was reduced to a misdemeanor after she repaid $5,285 to the main victim, according to a story in the Chico Enterprise Record.

3. More mortgage fraud
Ten people were indicted last week by a federal grand jury in California and charged with conspiracy to commit mortgage fraud, mail fraud and providing false statements in mortgage applications to federally backed banks. They were involved in companies in which mortgage lenders were given inaccurate information about the income of homebuyers or the value of homes, resulting in more than $5.5 million in losses to lenders and the foreclosure of at least 28 properties. In New Jersey, a woman is accused of running a $45 million Ponzi scheme, allegedl raising millions of dollars for real estate investments which she then gambled away.

Why are these cases cropping up now?

The collapse of the housing bubble, which led to the recession, can partly be blamed on the mortgage industry getting too greedy. Crooks, just like businesspeople, go where the money is, and with millions of dollars going into and out of homes, the chance was there for fraud to develop.

Much of the federal crackdown on mortgage fraud comes from the U.S. Department of Justice, which recently announced it arrested 500 people for mortgage fraud.

Some of the cases across the country affect individual homeowners. The newspaper account of the Chico case reports that Damon Fadale, an unlicensed building contractor who retained Myers to oversee home construction loans, previously was sentenced to 180 days in jail in the same case. Fadale allegedly obtained construction loans for $300,000 and $325,000 from two individuals to build separate homes for them. Both of the transactions were brokered through Myers, who received fees totaling about $13,000 to administer the loans.

After the two lots were purchased, Myers wrote additional checks to Fadale to obtain building and septic permits, and to cover foundation work and other facets of the ridge developments, But, according to the prosecutor, she didn't verify that building permits had been issued or that the work actually was actually being done.

The real estate broker admitted paying a relative, who owed her back rent, about $3,500 to perform some work on one of the lots, receiving more than $2,900 from him to cover the rental debt.

Myers' attorney, Philip Heithecker, told the paper that she previously had never administered a construction loan and was "clearly over her head."

Heithecker added a court motion to reduce the charge against Myers, explaining: "Fadale ripped everyone off; my client was scrambling to protect the properties and wind things up."

Want to learn more about home buying and home finance? If so, you won't want to miss
our online discussion with industry experts,
What Works Now: Smart Moves When Buying a Home,"
created by AOL Real Estate in participation with Bank of America Home Loans.
Watch it now on AOL Real Estate


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D.C. Nationals Baseball: Live Near Stadium and See Strasburg Pitch, $649K

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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There are fewer than a dozen homes for sale within walking distance of Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., but if you want to buy a home with the quickest walk to the baseball stadium, you're going to have to come up with $649,000 or more for a condo in the Capitol Quarter.

Public transportation to the ballpark is popular, so if you find another home to buy nearby, getting to the stadium shouldn't be difficult. But for my money, I'll take the two bedroom, two-and-a-half bath condo at 1020 4th St., SE, with 1,535 square feet -- more than many single-family homes -- that's selling for $651,500, and enjoy the approximately six-block walk to hopefully see rookie phenom Stephen Strasburg pitch.

The only difficulty, however, is that the condo isn't built yet. Interested buyers should contact the builder, who has priced the condos from $649,000 to $829,000. You might not get in to see Strasburg this year, but hopefully by opening day next year, you'll be in and can see the stadium lights at night.
The new neighborhood, being built by the developer EYA, is in its second phase of construction. It has 208 townhomes along seven city blocks. The builder's website says that the "mixed-income community will include market rate homes, workforce homes and affordable rental homes."

The floor plans show that the two-story townhouse that I have my eye on has covered parking and a large garage, a big master suite with walk-in closets and private bath, and another bedroom at the other end with its own bathroom.

The second floor has an optional deck off the living room, which has an optional gas fireplace and optional built-ins, adding up to a lot of options for buyers of this yet-to-be-built home. The dining room is in the center of the second floor, next to the stairway, with the kitchen and breakfast area following. Beyond that is a third bedroom, although it's unclear if the room is part of the unit for sale at the lower price, and a loft beside more stairs, and a roof terrace at the end of the unit.

Features include the town homes being built to standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council for being more environmentally friendly and energy efficient than typical new homes.

Along with being close to the baseball stadium, Capitol Quarter is a short walk to the Navy Yard and Capitol South Metro stations, 8th Street shopping, Barrack's Row, Eastern Market, and Capitol Hill.

Similar homes in the neighborhood have an average for-sale price of $829,219.

Find more great homes in Washington, D.C. at AOL Real Estate.


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Author James Patterson Sells Palm Beach Home, $10M

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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It's no mystery why suspense author James Patterson is moving to another oceanfront mansion in Palm Beach, Fla. He recently sold his previous Palm Beach house for $10.3 million -- perhaps another sign that the real estate market is moving again as another celebrity sells his home.

Patterson, whose latest novel is "Swimsuit" and who also wrote "Along Came a Spider" along with 18 other consecutive No.1 New York Times bestsellers, bought the Everglades Island home at 686 Island Drive for $5.2 million in 1999. That makes its selling price almost double what he paid.

Was it worth all that scratch?
The 11,000-square-foot home has five bedrooms; seven-and-a-half bathrooms; a terrace surrounding a heated pool and spa and a built-in barbecue. The property also has 136 feet of frontage on the Intracoastal Waterway, which includes a dock with a boat lift.

Patterson isn't getting as much for property as he had hoped, however. It was listed for $14.95 million, and has a market value of $11.83 million. With closing costs, the total on the sale was $11 million. Still, not a bad take in the troubled Florida market.

His new home, according to the Palm Beach Post, is a 21,000-square-foot estate at 710 Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach. He bought the oceanfront mansion on two acres last year for $17.4 million, a better deal than the old one per square foot. It is next to an estate once owned by John Lennon. Patterson's new neighbors include Ivana Trump, who owns a home two lots north.

Homes for sale are rare along the stretch of Ocean Boulevard where Patterson's new home is located. But only three homes back from the ocean, on Via Del Lago, one is selling for $12.7 million. It has seven bedrooms, eight full baths and two half ones in 9,271 square feet, making it slightly smaller than the famed author's house and without a direct ocean view. But the Mediterranean-style home with guest house is still beautiful.

When it comes to real estate, clearly Patterson has a clue: You don't need to be real estate sleuth to figure out that the Via Del Lago home is not as good a deal as Patterson's pad.

Find other great homes for sale in Palm Beach, Florida, at AOL Real Estate.


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Rapper Chamillionaire Loses Houston Home to Foreclosure

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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At least rapper Chamillionaire isn't changing his name to Cha-"thousand"-aire. The Houston native is getting out of a mortgage for a $2 million home there by not making payments on the mansion and letting it go into foreclosure. The trend of walking away from a mortgage in the down market is hitting even millionaire musicians.

His song "Houston Got a Problem" takes on new meaning.

His decision to go into foreclosure on the 7,583-square-foot mansion that he bought in 2006 was a business decision and not because of "financial negligence or anything like that," he told TMZ, despite carrying multiple mortgages for himself and others.
"This house was my most expensive mortgage," he told TMZ. But "when the market went down ... the house ended up being worth nothing ... I decided to just let it go and give it back to the bank. It wasn't a situation where they came and took it from me. I just didn't feel like it was a good business investment to keep paying that much mortgage for a house that I'm never at."

Foreclosed homes are a common sight across America, and some foreclosed homeowners live in their homes for free for a year before being evicted.

Chamillionaire, whose real name is Hakeem Seriki, said he's in good financial shape and still has his cars. However, the website Sickhop reports that the rapper owes the IRS $184,000 in 2007 taxes.

Seriki seems to have some business sense, at least in his ability to make money. He co-owns Houston-based auto dealer Fly Rydes, a tour bus company and his record label, Chamillitary Entertainment. In 2009, he and Quincy Jones III launched the Global Innovation Tournament at Stanford University's Memorial Auditorium, as part of the school's "Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders" seminar series.

Investing in a $2 million mansion might have looked like a wise investment four years ago, and Seriki can always find plenty of similar homes in Houston if he's looking for another one.

For example, the lakefront home at 2310 Bayou Mist Court, with 8,134 square feet, five bedrooms and five and a half bathrooms. It's selling for $1,985,000 and has a formal living room with fireplace; a formal dining room; a library; a large, open kitchen/breakfast/family room (with another fireplace); a bonus room (or theater room) downstairs; a large game room and computer alcove upstairs; and a covered pavilion (also with a fireplace).

See more homes in Houston, Texas, and elsewhere at AOL Real Estate.


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Silicon Valley Market Heats Up: House-Hunting Tips for Everywhere

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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The housing market in California's Silicon Valley is beginning to rebound. And while it certainly isn't as hot and heavy as it was in the dot-com boom with multiple offers as high as the sky, local real estate agents say competition is starting again among homebuyers, especially on the lower end of the market.

HousingWatch has a hunch that house-hunting tips that apply to California's Silicon Valley, one of the most rollicking, high-stakes housing markets in the country, should work in other, slowly awakening real estate markets. With that in mind, we spoke with a few Silicon Valley real estate professionals to get some ideas of what is important to keep in mind when getting ready to buy your next home: #plain_module { width: 590px; height:222px; border: none; float:left; margin:0px; font-size:12px;} #plain_module img {border:none; width: 13px; height:14; border: 0px; margin:0px; } #plain_module .mini_main { margin: 0px; padding:0px; width:585px; height:220px; repeat scroll 0 0} #plain_module .mini_item_header {padding:10px 0px; margin: 0px 0px; font-size:16px; color: #555555; border-bottom:1px dotted #CCCCCC;} #plain_module .mini_item {padding:5px 0px; margin: 0px 0px;} #plain_module a { color: #49A3CA; text-decoration:none; } #plain_module a:hover { color: #F98419; text-decoration:underline;} span.gray {color:#949494;} .mini_main li{list-style-type: none;background-image: url(;background-repeat: no-repeat;background-position: 0 1px;padding-left: 10px;}
Do Your Homework

Nearly half of the homes sold in Santa Clara County, Calif., in May sold for more than their asking prices, according to a San Jose Mercury News story. Homes priced the lowest and in the best condition in a neighborhood are most likely to get multiple bids, according to Realtors. Bank-owned foreclosed homes are also getting many bids.

Scott Bruno, a Silicon Valley Realtor since 2005, told HousingWatch that he's seeing more competition in the lower end of the housing market, under $500,000. "The competition is fierce," said Bruno, adding there are almost 20 to 50 offers on bank-owned homes because they're priced so far below market value and comparable homes.

"You need to do your homework. You need to know the real value of it," he says of foreclosures.

In Campbell, Calif., where property values are driven by quality of schools, Realtor Dianne Chandler of Alain Pinel Realtors in Los Gatos says that she recently had 10 offers in two days for a home she listed for $425,000. The 1,400-square-foot home with three bedrooms and two bathrooms sold for $460,000. Chandler also said that she had six offers in two days for a Cupertino condo listed for $450,000 and sold it for $460,000. However, homes listed for $2 million and more aren't getting many multiple bids, she says.

Get Your Credit in Order

Much more documentation is required by lenders to get a loan now than three years ago. Tax records are verified with the IRS, and other checks are made, such as on employment and credit.

"The days of the stated income and all that have pretty much gone away, for good reason," Bruno says. Instead of taking 30 days to close a loan, 45 days is now common, he says.

Bruno said he warns his buyers not to use their credit cards in the 45 days or so before closing, because mortgage lenders can do last-minute credit checks and pull the loan on the day before closing. He said he's seen people buy a washer and dryer set ahead of moving in, only to have it kill their credit score and mess up their debt ratio and cause the home loan to fall through.

Pursue Short Sales With Caution

Buying a home from a seller who owes more to the bank than the home is worth takes more time, from six weeks to six months, because different banks have different policies on what they will accept, says Dale Warfel, a San Jose real estate agent who specializes in short sales.

Half of the market in Silicon Valley is short sales, whereas two years ago it was very rare to have one, adds Scott Bruno

Delays can come because sellers have a second mortgage and need a second approval, there are liens against the property for unpaid property taxes, and slow responses from banks.

Beware Low Appraisals

New rules on how housing appraisals are done have made it more difficult to get high ones, Bruno says. Instead of buyers' agents contacting the appraisers, lenders are in charge and the appraisals can come in lower than the buyer's offer. That can make it difficult to get the loan, and can require extra cash to make the deal, or re-negotiating with the seller.

High-Tech House-Hunting Tools Help

While it isn't unique to Silicon Valley, high-tech methods for finding a home are expected in the nation's Internet mecca. Chandler says her office provides virtual tours of every home it sells, and has its agents on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week via e-mail and cellphone for client access.
"We are more high-tech here because we have to be," she says. "Because that's our clientele -- high-tech clients."

On AOL Real Estate: How Much Can You Buy for Your Money


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San Francisco Home Prices Rebound; What $685K Can Buy You

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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The housing market is bouncing back in San Francisco, where sales of houses and condominiums jumped 50 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier. Improving technology stocks and a limited housing supply are credited with the increase.

And not just more homes were sold, but at higher prices, with the median price rising 5.4 percent to $685,000. The city and the metro area have ranked first or second among the most expensive U.S. housing markets for 19 of the past 20 years, as homebuyers flock there for its weather and high quality of life.

But how much home can the median price of $685,000 buy in San Francisco? For about $680,000 there are plenty of foreclosures to choose from, many near the border of Daly City. Most are near the edges of the city, but a few are near its center. Here are three San Francisco homes for sale in different parts of the city that are worth taking a look at, and are all in good neighborhoods:
Home #1

At 60 Rausch St. you get two bedrooms and two bathrooms in a 1365-square-foot condo for the exact median price in San Francisco: $685,000. Of the homes available at this price or lower, this looks to be in the best neighborhood. It's south of Market Street and you can walk to AT&T Park: It's about a 20-minute stroll to the stadium where baseball's Giants play.

Rausch Street is wide and tree-lined, with ample parking and easy access to all freeway entrances, public transit and vibrant nightlife. It's just blocks from renowned restaurants including Rocco's Cafe, Triptych and my favorite, LuLu. Shops such as Harvest Urban Market, Whole Foods and Costco are also nearby. The condo is within walking distance (although some of it is uphill) to many San Francisco attractions.

The two-story condo has an open first-floor kitchen and living room, and a stairway leading up to a room and a walkway that overlooks the first floor. It has radiant heating.

Comparable homes have sold for $704,000, making the price of this condo a bit of a deal.

Home #2

For $679,000, this condo at 1013 Cabrillo St. is a deal when compared to other homes in the area. It's in a great location -- across from Golden Gate Park, a green swath that stretches in a long rectangle from Ocean Beach.

The newly-converted condo is a classic 1915 Edwardian flat in a two-unit building. It has one bedroom and one bathroom. According to the real estate agent from Coldwell Banker, the flat has been restored with an eye toward maintaining abundant period details, including decorative fireplaces, built-in cabinets, glass-paned pocket doors, bay windows with seats, box-beam and coved ceilings, hardwood floors and wainscoting. Included are laundry facilities, a sunny garden, deeded storage and upgraded electrical and lighting.

The average sold price for a similar home in the neighborhood is $843,000.

Home #3

This four-bedroom, two-bath home of 1,800 square feet is at 861 University St., and at $679,500 is one of the biggest homes available near the median price. That's probably because it's so far outside of the center of the city. But it's still in a great neighborhood, across from John McLaren Park, and has views of the bay.

It has a living room, one full bathroom, family room with deck, and a kitchen on its main level. Its two side-by-side garages have storage, and there's a large garden with a pond. Comparable homes have sold for an average of $522,000.

See more great San Francisco homes for sale at AOL Real Estate.


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Dallas Home for Sale: University Park Colonial for Just Under $1M

Your Housing Watch - Mon, 07/08/2013 - 11:51

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With the average home in the desirable Dallas, Texas, suburb of University Park selling for more than $1 million, finding a deal can be difficult.

This house at 4508 Stanhope St. in University Park is only $1 under $1 million -- listed at $999,999 -- but it's still a worthy home to buy with plenty of room in a great neighborhood.

I've written before about University Park, a city with 23,324 residents that has a small-town feel while being close to Dallas and its big-city attractions. The area is also home to Southern Methodist University.
The Stanhope Street home is about three blocks south of Germany Park, a popular Dallas landmark with a running track and tennis courts. The two-story, four-bedroom, four-bath home has 3,150 square feet and was built in 1945.

It has a remodeled kitchen that opens to a family room overlooking a large backyard. The kitchen has white cabinets with Viking, Sub Zero and Bosch appliances. A dining island sits in the center, with a bigger dining area at one end.

The baths are done in restorative finish. All of the bedrooms are upstairs and the master suite has a sitting area with a large bath and walk-in closets.

Comparable homes in the neighborhood have an average asking price of $933,799, meaning there are homes of similar size listed for less money, so if you're interested in this one be sure to offer less than the asking price. But for my money, this home on Stanhope Street is worthy of an offer. From the immaculate rooms to the beautiful kitchen, I can see why it's only $1 under $1 million.

See more great homes in the University Park area of Dallas, Texas, at AOL Real Estate.


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