Residential Development Showing North Hyde Park’s Good Side

Mayor Bob Buckhorn sees the birth of “a livable, walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood” in North Hyde Park.

By Jerome R. Stockfisch | Tribune Staff Jerome R. Stockfisch on Google+
Published: July 12, 2015   |   Updated: July 12, 2015 at 09:43 AM

The legend of Kennedy Boulevard being the great dividing line between Cool Tampa and the rest of the city may be fading.

The latest evidence? A residential boom appears imminent in North Hyde Park, a neighborhood of former warehouses and light industry just north of Kennedy that has been targeted for several new apartment, town home and mixed-use projects.

“There’s just a buzz of activity in the North Hyde Park area that we hope is continuing,” said Stefan McSweeney, a director with St. Petersburg-based Cardinal Point Management, which is proposing a mixed-use project at 301 N. Rome Ave. “For us, it’s a mix of the demographic of people that want to be in an infill location. It’s close to the highway (Interstate 275), close to downtown, close to South Tampa. We see that as good long-term potential for our project and a lot of other ones in the immediate area.”

The Cardinal Point project would have 23 town homes along North B and Fig streets and light retail facing Rome between those two streets. It joins a series of proposed and recently completed projects in the same strip.

Southport Financial Services has filed paperwork for a 90-unit apartment complex at 707 N. Rome Ave.

Construction continues on Lennar at West End Townhomes, with 39 units ultimately for sale along Oregon Avenue and Lemon Street.

Phase II of the recently completed NoHo Flats apartment complex between Gray and Fig streets will get underway this summer, with the 274-unit Havana Square apartments rising across Rome Avenue from NoHo Flats.

Those complexes join Vintage Lofts at West End, a seven-story complex with 528 units at Rome and Cypress Street that was built before the recession.

Though downtown Tampa, with the University of South Florida medical school relocation and developer Jeff Vinik’s megapresence, has received the lion’s share of attention in redevelopment circles, the city has been looking west.

It has established a West Tampa Community Redevelopment Area that includes North Hyde Park, a designation that earmarks future tax revenue from increased property values to improvements within the area. It has a West River Redevelopment Plan intended to diversify and economically integrate that area, and the city has allocated $8 million with an expected total pledge of $30 million for a dramatic revision of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.

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The city’s InVision plan, a 20-year blueprint for making downtown Tampa and its surrounding neighborhoods a community of livable places, describes the North Hyde Park area as “emerging as a new opportunity for significant transformation.”

“I think the real estate community was paying attention,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “I think they realized that this was an opportunity to create a livable, walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood with retail and residential. It’s an established neighborhood, it’s within walking distance of downtown, and it’s got great view corridors. I think the market was following the city in this case and realizing this was a neighborhood that offered a lot of potential.”

Anthony Everett, director for central Florida for Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, said Kennedy Boulevard no longer is the symbolic barrier it once was. The original Hyde Park and south-of-Howard Avenue, or “SoHo,” neighborhoods remain among the city’s elite addresses, but skyrocketing home and land costs are pushing development north, he said.

“I think that line has now moved to (Interstate) 275,” said Everett, whose Atlanta-based company breaks ground this summer on the Havana Square project. “I think that barrier has now been broken, and I think the natural path of development and just the need for housing broke that.”

Another key development driver in the North Hyde Park area is Tampa General Hospital, which is in the final planning stages for a satellite facility on the site of the former Ferman auto dealership in the 1300 block of Kennedy. That four-story facility, including an urgent care center, clinical diagnostics lab with full imaging services, ambulatory surgery capability, a pharmacy, procedure rooms and two floors of physician offices, is expected to be home to several hundred medical personnel, said Michael Gorsage, TGH’s senior vice president for strategic services and business development.

Meanwhile, the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center is emerging from the old Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory on the neighborhood’s western border. It will include a preschool, recreational amenities, health and wellness services and art space.

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The city may have acknowledged the potential of North Hyde Park, but neighborhood groups say the area needs more than just words in a master plan.

Ben Buckley, head of the North Hyde Park Civic Association, said city codes adopted in automobile-centric post-World War II Tampa are an impediment to creating a live-work-play environment.

He and Rob Dubsky, past president of the New Hyde Park Alliance business group, point out the lack of sidewalks and streetlights and severe flooding issues along Cass Street, which has been identified as a key segment of the city’s “Green Spine” car-bike-pedestrian route from the Glazer Family JCC to Cuscaden Park.

Buckley and Dubsky are pushing for a city planner to assume a role similar to that of Jeff Speck, a renowned urban planner hired by Vinik to marshal the Tampa Bay Lightning owner’s plan to develop the downtown core.

“We need an orchestra leader, if you will. We need somebody to work with all the different departments in the city, all the neighborhood associations, the city council, all the codes. Everything has to be re-thought, and there needs to be one person that understands this new concept.”

Dubsky said he was thwarted from opening a North Hyde Park retail shop because of antiquated parking requirements. His target customer base would have been pedestrians in the bustling Rome Avenue residential stretch.

He remains sold on the area and holds three properties within North Hyde Park.

“I knew that the area would change. Well, lo and behold, it has,” Dubsky said. “You’ve got millions being pumped into that Julian B. Lane park, you’ve got Tampa General Hospital coming around this summer on the old Ferman lot, the University of Tampa on the southeast side just blowing up, and on the west side, the Jewish Community Center coming.

“It’s surrounded by ‘happening,’ ” he said. “It’s a no-brainer.”

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com
(813) 259-7834

Jeff Vinik hires urban planners to start designing $1 billion downtown Tampa project

downtown rendering

TAMPA — In December, Jeff Vinik unveiled his $1 billion vision to transform 40 acres of downtown property into a vibrant waterfront district. He asked the public to help shape it.

Now it’s time to ask the experts.

Vinik has hired two men considered among the best in the business: “new urbanists” Jeff Speck and David Dixon are city planners at the forefront of the movement to build walkable urban spaces for people to live and work in.

Speck’s hiring leaked out last week and Dixon’s was announced on Tuesday, when the mission for both also was made public. They will create the guidelines that builders will use to fulfill Vinik’s “vision plan” of creating a vibrant and pedestrian-friendly space to unite the district and connect it to the water.

In short, they will design the ground floor of Vinik’s urban redevelopment project.

“When a developer is trying to build a vision plan, you’re still left with a lot of questions,” Speck said. “A vision plan embodies peoples’ hopes and aspirations for the project but doesn’t give you the specificity you need in terms of:

“How many lanes on every street? How wide are the lanes? Where does the parking go? How tall are the buildings? Where exactly will people sit?”

Dixon and Speck will lead a team of architectural designers, residential and retail planners, and transportation and traffic engineers who will answer those questions.

“We need to give the architects that will be (designing) the individual buildings in the project a firm understanding of what their urban obligations are,” Speck said.

But there’s more to it than that. Most urban construction takes place in designated sites. Architects don’t have to worry about also designing the surrounding areas.

What Vinik wants the two urban planners to do is something entirely different: create a new neighborhood and business district from scratch.

“When you’re building an urban district, every building has to help each other create that public realm,” Dixon said. “Public realms are not one size fits all. We’re a very diverse society. This is a district that belongs to everybody.”

Dixon, 67, will lead the master plan team. He’s also the senior principal and urban design group leader for the urban design arm of Stantec, an international engineering firm. Dixon was named to Residential Architect magazine’s hall of fame in 2012.

Speck, 51, will serve as consulting design leader. He has his own Washington D.C. firm, Speck & Associates LLC. He’s also a vocal proponent of new urbanism — creating neighborhoods that are hospitable to pedestrians and offer a variety of employment and living options — as well as a vociferous critic of suburban sprawl and auto-dependency.

Vinik brought Speck on board after reading his book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. Vinik liked the book so much he bought copies for his entire staff.

Vinik called Speck over the winter holidays and asked him to come see his project. Speck was vacationing with his parents in Sarasota’s Siesta Key and tried to beg off. But he’d already heard of Vinik’s project, and couldn’t say no to the former hedge fund star.

“I said — with a gulp, because it was Jeff Vinik — I’m sorry I don’t have an opening in my calendar for a couple of months,” Speck said. “But I happen to be in Tampa Bay. I guess I can stop by.”

Speck signed up, and so did Dixon. The two know each other through their work as proponents of new urbanism. But this is their first project together.

They have four months to come up with a plan.

Vinik owns the leases to the Amalie Arena and Channelside Bay Plaza and he owns the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina outright. But he also owns about 25 acres of barren, blighted lots connecting those properties.

All of his holdings are within walking distance of the Tampa Convention Center, the Florida Aquarium, the Tampa Bay History Center, the Channel District neighborhood and a public waterfront park, Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park.

Speck said that, taken together, the established properties and the empty lots are ripe with possibility:

“To find 40 acres of principally surface parking this close to downtown that already has anchors in place in the form of an arena, a museum, a convention center, an aquarium, a marketplace, and you still have all this empty space and the waterfront. What could have greater potential?”

Dixon said Vinik’s project has the most promise of any current urban redevelopment effort he’s seen.

“Nobody has 40 acres,” he said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Jamal Thalji at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

Original Tampa Bay Times Article Here

Florida Executive Realty Divots for the Deaf

Divots_For_The_Deaf

Please join us for the Florida Executive Realty Divots for the Deaf 2015 Charity Golf Tournament to benefit Hillsborough and Pinellas Countys’ Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community!

When: May 18, 2015 Lunch & fun starts at 11:30am, tee off is at 1:00pm. 

Where: Westchase Golf Course

CLICK HERE TO JOIN THE FUN, SIGN UP, AND HELP THOSE WITH HEARING LOSS!

CLICK HERE to download a PDF that delineates the sponsorship costs and benefits and more information about the day’s events.

100% of the proceeds will be donated to three Deaf non-profit 501c3 agencies:
Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf (Children)
Communication Access (Closed caption and American Sign Language)
• Association for Late Deafened Adults
• National Association of the Deaf 

Did you know? The Tampa Bay area is the third largest in the USA with over 400,000 Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals? One of our agent’s wife, Cindy, had profound hearing loss in her 30′s and became totally deaf. She decided to have Cochlear Implant surgery and it has helped her hear again. The struggle to be in a hearing world is challenging. We take many things for granted when it comes to hearing, but the reality is that movie theaters, museums, amusement parks, grocery stores, public agencies, and other businesses rarely have accommodations such as closed captioning for those with hearing loss. As our population grows older and suffers from hearing loss (like Cindy and those that have been living with this disability for their entire life or recently) we need to make changes.

Help us support these wonderful organizations. I encourage you to go to each of their websites to see what wonderful things they are doing.

Upscale SkyHouse Tower on the Rise in Downtown Tampa

Construction project manager Carl Giovenco carefully walks atop a freshly laid concrete pad that forms the top, 23rd floor of the SkyHouse tower as welders and steelworkers form a frenzy of buzzing and pounding all around — seemingly immune to the knee-wobbling heights.

Looking into what will be an immense swimming pool on this rooftop deck, Giovenco muses aloud, “This actually will end up being the highest swimming pool in all of Tampa Bay. Not a bad view when you’re swimming.” Below — well below — are The Florida Aquarium, Amalie Arena and much of downtown Tampa, and off in the distance are sights such as Raymond James Stadium, Davis Islands and Tampa Bay.

“SkyHouse” is not just a brand name. Rather than rent the top floors to just one resident, the whole SkyHouse tower is named for an immense penthouse apartment at the top that any of the tower’s residents may use, essentially as an extension of their living rooms and as a sky-high version of the courtyard clubhouses in mere four- or five-story apartment complexes.

Soon, residents of this Channel District tower at 112 N. 12th St. will be able to splash in the pool while sipping a cocktail, lounge about watching gigantic flat-screen TVs or cool off in a living room with pool table, arcade and gigantic TV. There’s even an artificial turf “lawn” where residents can lounge on Adirondack chairs with a beverage.

Today, top executives of the development team will hold a “topping out” ceremony, a traditional milestone in a tower’s construction when workers reach the highest point of a planned structure. As is traditional in the construction community, they will attach a pine tree atop for good luck, and probably a giant American flag and flag of Batson-Cook, the construction company in charge, and one for Novare Group, the overall developer behind similar SkyHouse towers across the country.

SkyHouse will have plenty of competition in Tampa because of a series of towers sprouting up downtown, putting each tower in a head-to-head competition for high-earning millennial renters who have come to expect over-the-top luxuries: posh yoga studios, cocktail lounges, wine lockers and blistering-fast Internet speeds.

Many apartment towers are in the planning phase, and developers are sifting out which will have the most posh perks:

The Residences at the Riverwalk may boast the highest height, at 36-stories, with 380 units planned adjacent to the Straz Center along the Hillsborough River. After dismissal of lawsuits seeking to block the project, the tower is well into the planning phase, and Tampa expects to begin rerouting some streets to straighten out the now-twisted routes around the Straz and make way for a promenade of shops and restaurants.

That tower is backed by Greg Minder of Intown Group and Phillip Smith of Framework Group, who also are planning for a new tower on Harbour Island called — for now — the Harbour Island Apartments. That 21-story tower at the northeast corner of Knights Run Avenue and Harbour Post Drive could see completion in 2016. It will have 235 units, including several two-story units near the base. Compared with other residential towers in the area that focus on studio and one-bedroom apartments, this site is characterized by developers as more of a luxury living complex with hotel-like services.

Nearby, South Florida-based Related Group plans to build a 21-story, 340-unit tower at 402 Knights Run Ave. with a parking garage across the street.

The Martin at Meridian in the Channel District will be a 24-story tower with 316 units. That project has been proposed in several forms during the peaks and valleys of the housing market and is a frequent target of speculation for a downtown grocery store.

Atlanta-based Carter & Associates plans a yet-unnamed tower that will take up an entire block in the core of downtown, bordered by Florida Avenue, Cass Street, Franklin Street and Tyler Street. That project could include 375 units in an L-shaped 23-story tower. If all goes according to plan, that tower could break ground in the beginning of 2015.

Sugar producer Florida Crystals Corp. this summer bought a Channel District property for $3.8 million and plans to build 270 luxury apartments on the former Amazon Hose & Rubber Co. site at 222 N. 12th St.

Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik plans to put a hotel-resident combination tower at Florida Avenue and Old Water Street. Though largely a hotel, that property may include 50 luxury residences. If built like other hotel-apartment projects nationwide by Ritz-Carlton and Hyatt, the property would offer residents the concierge and gourmet room service of a five-star hotel.

Though not technically a tower, the new Crescent Bayshore apartment complex at Bayshore Boulevard and Beach Place significantly ramped up the luxury level of apartments near downtown when it formally opened this year with a two-story fitness center, a yoga studio overlooking the bay, a business lounge and a Resident Club Room with wine bottle lockers.

Tampa towers have competition from new condos and apartments across the bay as well.

The 18-story Bliss condo project, planned to overlook Beach Drive from Fourth Avenue in St. Petersburg, will feature floor-to-ceiling windows in all bedrooms to take in views of Tampa Bay, with private elevator foyers and car lifts to whisk residents to their parking spaces on the first few floors.

The Salvador, a 13-story tower at Second Street South and Dalí Boulevard in St. Petersburg, will offer a concierge staff five days a week, a third-floor deck with a spa and heated saltwater pool, and gas cooktops in all 74 condo homes.

Just outside downtown St. Petersburg, the Water Club at Snell Isle gives residents direct access to the water, with boat slips and plenty of space to entertain guests at a waterside cabana, resort swimming pool and whirlpool spa.

Many of the rental apartment complexes going up in the city also offer amenities like the 3,000-square-foot fitness center at Beacon 430, at 430 3rd Ave. S., that will be open 24 hours a day with in-house exercise classes.

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As for who will live in all these new towers, developers of each project are targeting a similar set of demographics: millennials primarily, but also suburbanites who are moving downtown for entertainment options and empty-nesters who no longer wish to keep up with the maintenance of a full-size house and yard.

“Tampa is the main business center along the west coast of Florida and continues to draw young, educated professionals,” said Jim Borders, president and chief executive of Novare Group, which is building SkyHouse. Borders points to statistics that show that since 2008, the number of people between the ages of 18 and 34 has steadily increased across the country, and “a majority of this generation wants to live in a walkable urban setting close to public transportation.”

He picked the Channel District, he said, because it will “capture a large portion of the growth that is expected in Tampa.”

Studio apartments at SkyHouse will start around $1,200 a month, with one-bedrooom units at $1,300, two bedrooms for $1,900 and three bedrooms for $2,400. As for what will draw all those millenials to pay those prices at SkyHouse versus other towers, Borders pointed to the top floor and its communal wraparound penthouse that “allows all residents to have access to the best views in the city.”

The tower boom isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon, said Sean Williams, a commercial real estate broker with CBRE who specializes in apartment properties. To compete, their amenities likely will grow more posh. He’s seeing towers go up with full-time concierge services, multiple lounges and cafes, business conference rooms for work-at-home entrepreneurs, virtual golf simulators and even small bowling alleys.

The particularly high level of rents the Crescent project drew only helped give investors more confidence in financing new towers.

Meanwhile, homeownership rates continue to fall as more people choose to rent. “You have the young professionals moving downtown and the empty-nesters who don’t want to take care of the house anymore,” Williams said. “You’re even seeing some parents and children competing for the same rental space.”

 For pictures and original story, click here

By Richard Mullins | Tribune Staff
Published: October 30, 2014   |   Updated: October 30, 2014 at 07:07 AM

rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

 

Staff writer Joshua Boatwright contributed to this report.

New Outlet Mall in Wesley Chapel!

Retail behemoth Simon Property Group has confirmed that construction on Tampa Premium Outlets is under way and said that the property is slated to open in October 2015.
Indianapolis-based Simon said in its third-quarter earnings report Wednesday that construction began on the 441,000-square-foot project in the third quarter. Simon paid $14.6 million for the site in early October, according to Pasco County property records. Pasco planning officials approved Simon’s construction plans shortly before the sale closed.
The mall will be located at the intersection of Interstate 75 and State Road 56 in Wesley Chapel. Click here to see Simon’s leasing flyer.
A Simon spokesman declined comment on the outlet mall beyond the information in the release. It’s not clear if the previously announced anchor, Saks Off Fifth, is still committed to the deal, though it’s unlikely Simon would close on the land without a deal with an anchor tenant in place.
The Tampa Premium Outlets are part of $2.2 billion pipeline of Simon developments, the company said, a number of which are outlet malls, located throughout the country. More retailers are embracing their outlet concepts, putting outlet stores closer to their mainline locations.

 

Ashley Gurbal Kritzer is a reporter for the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

NAR to Congress: Extend Short Sale Forgiveness

WASHINGTON – Aug. 22, 2014 – The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) issued a statement backing earlier comments by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Holder first announced a $7 billion settlement with Bank of America, but he followed up the announcement with a call for Congress to “do the right thing for financially distressed American families who lost homes to foreclosure or short sales this year.”

“Realtors agree,” said NAR President Steve Brown in a statement following Holder’s announcement.

On Dec. 31, 2014, tax forgiveness for short sales and foreclosures ended. Under tax relief, a bank forgives part of a debt – usually the difference between the home’s selling price and the amount remaining on the mortgage – and the forgiven money isn’t considered income for tax purposes.

Effective Jan. 1, however, that money is no longer shielded from taxation. Without Congress authorizing an extension and making it retroactive to Jan. 1, distressed sellers who had part of their mortgage debt forgiven must consider the forgiven amount as income – but income they never received. As a result, the IRS would expect them to pay taxes on that amount in 2015 when they fill out this year’s taxes.

Holder tied the issue to the just-announced settlement with Bank of America, lamenting that Congressional inaction to extend the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act means that the people helped by the settlement funds will instead be penalized on their income taxes.

“The tax relief expired on December 31 last year and unless Congress acts to extend it, every person who has already sold or plans to sell a home in a short sale in 2014, will pay taxes on nonexistent mortgage debt, which is money many don’t have,” said Brown.

“Realtors are strong supporters of the bipartisan Mortgage Forgiveness Tax Relief Act … to prevent underwater borrowers from paying taxes on any mortgage debt forgiven or cancelled by a lender after their home is sold for less money than is owed,” said Brown. “Taxing forgiven mortgage debt as income is an unfair practice that also incentivizes defaults and foreclosures, which could torpedo the housing recovery. Congress should take immediate action to pass this legislation.”

© 2014 Florida Realtors®

Florida to get $1B from Bank of America settlement

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Aug. 22, 2014 – Nearly 17,000 Floridians will receive more than $1 billion in relief as part of a record-setting national settlement with Bank of America, the Florida Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday.

Bank of America Corp. agreed to pay $16.65 billion to end federal, Florida and other state investigations into the sale of toxic mortgage securities during the subprime housing boom. The settlement includes $9.65 billion in fines and $7 billion in aid to communities and homeowners hit hard by the housing market crash that triggered the Great Recession.

“This historic resolution – the largest such settlement on record – goes far beyond ‘the cost of doing business,'” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in describing what he called “pervasive schemes to defraud financial institutions and other investors.”

Details are still being worked out on who in Florida will receive the aid and how much, said Attorney General spokesman Whitney Ray. “Programs are being set up to inform eligible borrowers,” he said.

The consumer relief will include principal reduction and forgiveness, loan modifications and new loans to credit-worthy borrowers struggling to get a loan, Ray said. There also will be financing for affordable rental housing and donations given to help communities still recovering from the financial crisis, he added.

Overall, Florida will receive about a seventh of the settlement’s $7 billion in aid to communities and homeowners hit hard by the housing market crash, estimated Jana J. Litsey, Bank of America deputy general counsel, in a letter to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Most of the toxic loans that backed the securities came from firms BofA acquired in 2008, including Countrywide Financial Corp. of Calabasas and Wall Street investment bank Merrill Lynch & Co.

BofA already had incurred about $60 billion in losses and legal settlements from the purchase of Countrywide, which was one of the nation’s biggest subprime mortgage lenders during the housing boom of the mid 2000s.

AP Logo  Copyright © 2014 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), Donna Gehrke-White. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Watch Out for Foreclosure Scams!

WASHINGTON – July 24, 2014 – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and 15 states, including Florida, announced a sweep against foreclosure relief scammers that used deceptive marketing tactics to rip off distressed owners.

CFPB says it’s filing three lawsuits against companies and individuals that collected more than $25 million in illegal advance fees for services that falsely promised to prevent foreclosures or renegotiate troubled mortgages. The CFPB is seeking compensation for victims, civil fines and injunctions against the scammers.

Separately, the FTC is filing 6 lawsuits, and the states are taking 32 actions.

In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi and CFPB obtained an emergency temporary restraining order and appointment of a receiver in a joint lawsuit filed against Florida-based Hoffman Law Group (HLG) and related entities. The order prohibits HLG defendants from doing business with consumers and freezes HLG’s bank accounts.

Based in North Palm Beach, HLG and its affiliates allegedly received millions of dollars from distressed homeowners across the country, typically charging $6,000 per homeowner to sign up along with additional monthly payments of $500. HLG promised homeowners financial relief in the form of mortgage debt forgiveness, loan modifications and other foreclosure-related relief, and cash payments through participation in mass-joinder lawsuits that HLG was filing against numerous mortgage lenders across the country.

The lawsuit against HLG claims it violated the federal Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule (MARS) and state laws by collecting upfront fees before obtaining a loan modification, misrepresenting to consumers the services and relief they would receive, failing to make disclosures required by law, and other violations.

“Florida’s distressed homeowners should not have to worry about being swindled by scammers who hide behind law firms to try to avoid the MARS Rule,” says Bondi.

“We are taking on schemes that prey on consumers who are struggling to pay their mortgages or facing foreclosure,” adds CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “These companies pocketed illegal fees – taking millions of hard-earned dollars from distressed consumers, and then left those consumers worse off than they began. These practices are not only illegal, they are reprehensible.”

Mass joinder scams

Mass joinder scams, such as the one alleged in this lawsuit, are essentially foreclosure rescue scams, Bondi’s office says in a release. Telemarketers tell homeowners that if they join in a lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs, lenders will be induced to pay large cash payments and provide extensive mortgage relief to each homeowner to settle the case.

Mass joinder scams often claim to have an attorney on staff to represent each homeowner; but, in truth, that attorney is likely not reviewing the facts of each homeowner’s claim, is not directly handling the litigation that may be filed, and often is not even licensed to practice in the homeowner’s state.

HLG and its entities are also facing charges of unfair and deceptive trade practices and civil theft. Bondi and CFPB obtained an emergency court order on July 16 appointing a receiver to control HLG and related entities.

To access the receiver’s website, visit Bernet-Receiver.com.

Other lawsuits filed by CFPB include:

• Clausen & Cobb Management Company and owners Alfred Clausen and Joshua Cobb, as well as Stephen Siringoringo and his Siringoringo Law Firm. The Bureau filed its complaint against three individuals for allegedly charging homeowners illegal advance fees for mortgage loan modifications. Their operation charged initial fees ranging from $1,995 to $3,500, in addition to monthly fees of $495, to thousands of California homeowners in distress.

• The Mortgage Law Group, LLP, the Consumer First Legal Group, LLC, and attorneys Thomas Macey, Jeffrey Aleman, Jason Searns, and Harold Stafford. The CFPB alleges that the firm took in over $19.2 million in fees from over 10,000 distressed homeowners nationwide, with most, if not all, of that money coming from illegal advance fees for so-called loan modification services. Both TMLG and CFLG have ceased operations, but the CFPB is seeking redress for consumers harmed by their practices and permanent injunctive relief against the principals

© 2014 Florida Realtors®

5 Mistakes First-Time Homebuyers Make

NEW YORK – July 22, 2014 – Real estate experts say they see first-time buyers committing the same mistakes, time and time again. Here are some of the most common ones, as identified by experts in a recent CNBC article:

1. They’re unprepared to compete against all-cash offers. Buyers need to be ready to make a quick decision if their housing market is heating up.

Buying a home is “really like finding a job – it’s going to take a lot of time to prepare,” says Cara Pierce, a certified housing counselor with ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions. “That way, when the deal comes along, you’re ready to pounce on it.”

Housing experts say buyers should have already saved as much as possible for a downpayment, repaired any credit report blemishes, and get preapproved for a loan as they start their house hunt to put them in a better position to compete.

2. They place a car ahead of the home. Lenders are going to scrutinize applicants’ debt-to-income ratio when assessing how well they can afford a mortgage payment. Consumers’ debt has gone, on average, from $40,000 in 2010 to $51,000 today, according to David Norris, president and COO of loanDepot, a non-bank mortgage lender.

“It would be much easier to own a home if you can show a history of saving and not have gotten yourself into too much debt,” Norris told CNBC.

3. They place too much emphasis on online loan information. Online sites can be good for finding out general information about loan products and estimated costs, but experts recommend visiting mortgage lenders face-to-face to help demystify the process and get advice about the buyer’s specific situation.

“Go to different places and talk to loan officers to get a feel for what the differences are between similar types of loans,” says Pierce. “Sometimes a company won’t charge an origination fee, but then the interest rate is higher … and in some cases you can put many of the upfront costs – closing costs, title insurance – into the loan, which makes your balance larger.”

4. They rely too much on online home values. Some real estate websites are giving buyers a false sense of home values.

“If a buyer believes that the actual value of the property is $1.1 million [as estimated on an online website that advertises home listings] when it’s really $1.3 million, it’s a real disservice to the client,” says John Barrentine, co-founder and CEO of RED Real Estate Group. “You really should [spend time] with someone who understands the market, someone who’s there day in and day out.”

Homebuyers can get the best feel of the market by working with a real estate agent and driving around neighborhoods, so they can get a sense about homes that may be less valuable or even more valuable than suggested online.

5. They forgo the home inspection. About 10 percent of homes recently purchased weren’t inspected by a home inspector, according to Bill Loden, president of the American Society of Home Inspectors. Some buyers were trying to cut down on the costs of hiring an inspector to investigate a home – which usually averages about $450 – but defects uncovered later could potentially result in the loss of thousands of dollars.

“It takes a trained eye to be able to see the problems that can exist in a home,” Loden says. “The inspection can also give the first-time buyer a bit of a schooling on the house and how to maintain it.”

Buyers should also be prepared to ask questions about conditions that are common to specific areas, such as radon in Midwest; sewers in California; and active clay soils in Dallas that can lead to foundation issues. The home may require additional inspection from a specialist to rule out potential problems.

Source: “8 Biggest Mistakes First-Time Homebuyers Make,” CNBC (July 17, 2014)