Saturday, September 29, 2012

Last days of the Borgata

The Borgata of Scottsdale, an upscale shopping landmark on the border of Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, has been sold to a local homebuilder with plans to redevelop the site into a luxury condominium community.  Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/business/articles/2012/09/28/20120928last-days-borgata.html

Last days of the Borgata

The Borgata of Scottsdale, an upscale shopping landmark on the border of Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, has been sold to a local homebuilder with plans to redevelop the site into a luxury condominium community.  Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/business/articles/2012/09/28/20120928last-days-borgata.html

LifeLock reveals finances pre-IPO

LifeLock Inc., a Tempe firm that helps consumers combat identity theft, has aired some of its own financial laundry in anticipation of a planned stock sale.  Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/2012/09/28/20120928lifelock-reveals-finances-pre-ipo.html

LifeLock reveals finances pre-IPO

LifeLock Inc., a Tempe firm that helps consumers combat identity theft, has aired some of its own financial laundry in anticipation of a planned stock sale.  Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/articles/2012/09/28/20120928lifelock-reveals-finances-pre-ipo.html

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Home prices rose in July in 20 major US cities

WASHINGTON - -- Home prices kept rising in July across the United States, buoyed by greater sales and fewer foreclosures.

The Standard & Poor's/Case Shiller index reports that national home prices increased 1.2 percent in July compared with the same month last year. That's the second straight year-over-year gain after two years without one.

Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/realestate/articles/2012/09/25/20120925home-prices-rose-july-major-us-cities.html

Home prices rose in July in 20 major US cities

WASHINGTON - -- Home prices kept rising in July across the United States, buoyed by greater sales and fewer foreclosures.

The Standard & Poor's/Case Shiller index reports that national home prices increased 1.2 percent in July compared with the same month last year. That's the second straight year-over-year gain after two years without one.

Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/realestate/articles/2012/09/25/20120925home-prices-rose-july-major-us-cities.html

Radar Logic: Home Prices Hit Peak in July, Distressed Sales Plunge

Home prices have hit their peak for the year, and the price increases seen earlier this year are slowing down, according to the latest data from Radar Logic.
http://www.dsnews.com/articles/radar-logic-home-prices-peaked-in-july-distressed-sales-make-steep-drop-2012-09-26

Radar Logic: Home Prices Hit Peak in July, Distressed Sales Plunge

Home prices have hit their peak for the year, and the price increases seen earlier this year are slowing down, according to the latest data from Radar Logic.
http://www.dsnews.com/articles/radar-logic-home-prices-peaked-in-july-distressed-sales-make-steep-drop-2012-09-26

34,000 in Ariz. get mortgage aid

The latest data on the federal housing aid program known as Making Home Affordable shows nearly 34,000 Arizona borrowers have received permanent loan modifications to help them avoid foreclosure through the Home Affordable Modification Program.
Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/realestate/articles/2012/09/19/20120919-ariz-get-mortgage-aid.html

34,000 in Ariz. get mortgage aid

The latest data on the federal housing aid program known as Making Home Affordable shows nearly 34,000 Arizona borrowers have received permanent loan modifications to help them avoid foreclosure through the Home Affordable Modification Program.
Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/realestate/articles/2012/09/19/20120919-ariz-get-mortgage-aid.html

Phoenix-based Vestar buys Calif. retail center for $84.8M

Phoenix-based retail property developer and management firm Vestar has acquired a nearly half-million-square-foot retail center in Riverside, Calif., for $84.8 million, the company said Wednesday.

The acquisition of Riverside Plaza, a 475,211-square-foot retail center on 35 acres, was a joint venture with a fund advised by Swiss mutual-fund manager UBS Global Asset Management, the company said.

Read more: Phoenix-based Vestar buys Calif. retail center for $84.8M

Phoenix-based Vestar buys Calif. retail center for $84.8M

Phoenix-based retail property developer and management firm Vestar has acquired a nearly half-million-square-foot retail center in Riverside, Calif., for $84.8 million, the company said Wednesday.

The acquisition of Riverside Plaza, a 475,211-square-foot retail center on 35 acres, was a joint venture with a fund advised by Swiss mutual-fund manager UBS Global Asset Management, the company said.

Read more: Phoenix-based Vestar buys Calif. retail center for $84.8M

Phoenix-area rental homes a red-hot commodity

Crowds of people swarming open houses. Multiple bids on properties from desperate home seekers. Palpable fear over losing the "right" place to a ravenous market.
Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/realestate/articles/2012/09/04/20120904phoenix-area-rental-homes-red-hot-commodity.html

Phoenix-area rental homes a red-hot commodity

Crowds of people swarming open houses. Multiple bids on properties from desperate home seekers. Palpable fear over losing the "right" place to a ravenous market.
Read more:  http://www.azcentral.com/business/realestate/articles/2012/09/04/20120904phoenix-area-rental-homes-red-hot-commodity.html

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Home-related sales through the roof

As the housing market climbs out of the cellar, home improvement sales are through the roof.

Online purchases of home-related goods took priority over back-to-school-spending for families this summer, according to a study released Tuesday from IBM Smarter Commerce.

It's a trend that's also driving sales in brick-and-mortar home improvement stores from mom-and-pop hardware shops to Home Depot, which hammered out its highest quarterly earnings report last month in five years at $1.5 billion. The home improvement market was big enough in Uniontown, Ohio, for Wayne and Howard Miller to open what they call the largest independently owned hardware store, Hartville Hardware, in July, with a seven-acre retail space.

Read more: http://azc.cc/6nRfxc

Home-related sales through the roof

As the housing market climbs out of the cellar, home improvement sales are through the roof.

Online purchases of home-related goods took priority over back-to-school-spending for families this summer, according to a study released Tuesday from IBM Smarter Commerce.

It's a trend that's also driving sales in brick-and-mortar home improvement stores from mom-and-pop hardware shops to Home Depot, which hammered out its highest quarterly earnings report last month in five years at $1.5 billion. The home improvement market was big enough in Uniontown, Ohio, for Wayne and Howard Miller to open what they call the largest independently owned hardware store, Hartville Hardware, in July, with a seven-acre retail space.

Read more: http://azc.cc/6nRfxc

New US home sales edged down 0.3% in August

WASHINGTON - -- Sales of new homes in the United States dipped slightly in August from July but the median price of homes sold during the month rose by a record amount.

New-home sales edged down to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 373,000 in August, a dip of 0.3 percent from July's revised rate of 374,000, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That had been the fastest pace since April 2010 when government tax credits were boosting sales.

Read more: http://azc.cc/5qXqrt

New US home sales edged down 0.3% in August

WASHINGTON - -- Sales of new homes in the United States dipped slightly in August from July but the median price of homes sold during the month rose by a record amount.

New-home sales edged down to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 373,000 in August, a dip of 0.3 percent from July's revised rate of 374,000, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That had been the fastest pace since April 2010 when government tax credits were boosting sales.

Read more: http://azc.cc/5qXqrt

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Attorney General sets 3-year foreclosure plan for lender-case funds

The Arizona Attorney General's Office will spend most of the state's undesignated funds from the national $25 billion lender settlement on efforts to prevent foreclosures. However, it could be months before any money will be available to distressed homeowners.

On Monday, Attorney General Tom Horne released details of a three-year program to spend $57 million. Of that amount, $47 million comes from the $98 million Bank of America, Citibank, Chase, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial agreed to pay Arizona when the settlement was finalized in February.

About $10 million of the total comes from a separate settlement of an Arizona lawsuit with BofA over allegations of mortgage fraud.

Read more: Attorney General sets 3-year foreclosure plan for lender-case funds

Attorney General sets 3-year foreclosure plan for lender-case funds

The Arizona Attorney General's Office will spend most of the state's undesignated funds from the national $25 billion lender settlement on efforts to prevent foreclosures. However, it could be months before any money will be available to distressed homeowners.

On Monday, Attorney General Tom Horne released details of a three-year program to spend $57 million. Of that amount, $47 million comes from the $98 million Bank of America, Citibank, Chase, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial agreed to pay Arizona when the settlement was finalized in February.

About $10 million of the total comes from a separate settlement of an Arizona lawsuit with BofA over allegations of mortgage fraud.

Read more: Attorney General sets 3-year foreclosure plan for lender-case funds

Top 10 things to know about Social Security

Thinkstock
Do you know your Social Security benefits basics?
Read more: Top 10 things to know about Social Security

Top 10 things to know about Social Security

Thinkstock
Do you know your Social Security benefits basics?
Read more: Top 10 things to know about Social Security

Understanding Social Security benefits

There's no way to avoid the tough questions when you start figuring out just when to begin withdrawing Social Security benefits.

Perhaps the hardest of all: having to guess how long you might live.

The age at which you start collecting affects how much that monthly check will be. It comes down to figuring out how much you want to gamble on what can happen to your health and your lifestyle.

Read more: Understanding Social Security benefits

Understanding Social Security benefits

There's no way to avoid the tough questions when you start figuring out just when to begin withdrawing Social Security benefits.

Perhaps the hardest of all: having to guess how long you might live.

The age at which you start collecting affects how much that monthly check will be. It comes down to figuring out how much you want to gamble on what can happen to your health and your lifestyle.

Read more: Understanding Social Security benefits

Maricopa County homeowners likely to see property-tax bill lowered

Property-tax bills are in the mail, and most Maricopa County homeowners should owe less than last year.

The typical metro Phoenix homeowner can expect his or her bill to drop by $18, the Maricopa County Treasurer's Office says. Last year, when home values were even lower, the average homeowner saw a bigger decrease, about $60.

This year's tax bills are based on 2010 valuations, when Valley home prices dropped a median of 11 percent. But the drop in a house's value does not translate to the same drop in a homeowner's taxes.

Read more: Maricopa County homeowners likely to see property-tax bill lowered

Maricopa County homeowners likely to see property-tax bill lowered

Property-tax bills are in the mail, and most Maricopa County homeowners should owe less than last year.

The typical metro Phoenix homeowner can expect his or her bill to drop by $18, the Maricopa County Treasurer's Office says. Last year, when home values were even lower, the average homeowner saw a bigger decrease, about $60.

This year's tax bills are based on 2010 valuations, when Valley home prices dropped a median of 11 percent. But the drop in a house's value does not translate to the same drop in a homeowner's taxes.

Read more: Maricopa County homeowners likely to see property-tax bill lowered

Reagor: Building of homes slows a bit

Homebuilding across metro Phoenix is slowing slightly but still is up more than 50 percent from last year's sluggish pace. But some market-watchers are concerned the nascent rebound in new home construction is due solely to a decline in affordable and desirable existing homes for sale instead of an economic recovery.

In July, there were 1,062 homebuilding permits issued across the region, compared with 692 a year ago, reports the Phoenix Housing Market Letter. New-home sales climbed to 979 from 632 during July 2011.

The report's publishers, RL Brown and Greg Burger, say skeptics may not see the increase in homebuilding as a sign of the economy improving but as simply as a redistribution of the same level of homebuyer demand metro Phoenix has been experiencing during the past two years. But they disagree and believe new home sales and resales will continue to climb slowly as more regular homeowners see they can sell for a profit.

Resales in metro Phoenix this year peaked in March and have basically been slowing since then. The number of new houses built has topped 1,000 each month since March.

The housing analysts say real-estate agents are also helping the new home market.

"Today both builders and Realtors find themselves re-attracted to each other. The case for mutual benefit is easy to make with Realtors short of resale-home inventory, and builders desperate to attract buyers away from the resale projects," according to the latest Housing Market Letter.

Vacant homes

New census data show almost 18 percent of all the houses in the city of Phoenix were empty in 2011. But 13.2 percent of those are rental homes, and the rest are homes that are likely for sale.

The information comes from the federal government's one-year estimate after the 2010 American Community Survey. The report tracked a total of 601,370 housing units in Phoenix.

by Catherine Reagor - Sept. 21, 2012 The Arizona Republic | azcentral.com

Reagor: Building of homes slows a bit

Reagor: Building of homes slows a bit

Homebuilding across metro Phoenix is slowing slightly but still is up more than 50 percent from last year's sluggish pace. But some market-watchers are concerned the nascent rebound in new home construction is due solely to a decline in affordable and desirable existing homes for sale instead of an economic recovery.

In July, there were 1,062 homebuilding permits issued across the region, compared with 692 a year ago, reports the Phoenix Housing Market Letter. New-home sales climbed to 979 from 632 during July 2011.

The report's publishers, RL Brown and Greg Burger, say skeptics may not see the increase in homebuilding as a sign of the economy improving but as simply as a redistribution of the same level of homebuyer demand metro Phoenix has been experiencing during the past two years. But they disagree and believe new home sales and resales will continue to climb slowly as more regular homeowners see they can sell for a profit.

Resales in metro Phoenix this year peaked in March and have basically been slowing since then. The number of new houses built has topped 1,000 each month since March.

The housing analysts say real-estate agents are also helping the new home market.

"Today both builders and Realtors find themselves re-attracted to each other. The case for mutual benefit is easy to make with Realtors short of resale-home inventory, and builders desperate to attract buyers away from the resale projects," according to the latest Housing Market Letter.

Vacant homes

New census data show almost 18 percent of all the houses in the city of Phoenix were empty in 2011. But 13.2 percent of those are rental homes, and the rest are homes that are likely for sale.

The information comes from the federal government's one-year estimate after the 2010 American Community Survey. The report tracked a total of 601,370 housing units in Phoenix.

by Catherine Reagor - Sept. 21, 2012 The Arizona Republic | azcentral.com

Reagor: Building of homes slows a bit

At 40, McCormick Ranch still desirable place to live

The ranch that set the tone for decades of Scottsdale's suburban development has reached the big 4-0.

McCormick Ranch, a working cattle and horse ranch from 1944 to 1970, was developed as Scottsdale's first master-planned community from 1972 through the 1990s.

It has grown into a mature community of more than 3,100 acres with 8,900 homes, condominiums and apartments, and close to 27,000 residents.

They are surrounded by 10 lakes, parks, 25 miles of bike paths, eight shopping centers, seven churches, two hotels, a golf course, hospital, library and a school.

"I think it's still a great place to live," said Garth Saager, former executive director of the McCormick Ranch Property Owners' Association who retired in November after 30 years on the job.

Today, McCormick Ranch stands out for its tidy and lushly landscaped neighborhoods and parkways, lakefront properties and a convenient location just a few miles north of downtown.

But 40 years ago, the Ranch was a real ranch and homebuilders were reluctant to develop the property. It was considered too far north and there wasn't any money to be made from the area's one-house-per-acre zoning.

Read more: At 40, McCormick Ranch still desirable place to live

At 40, McCormick Ranch still desirable place to live

The ranch that set the tone for decades of Scottsdale's suburban development has reached the big 4-0.

McCormick Ranch, a working cattle and horse ranch from 1944 to 1970, was developed as Scottsdale's first master-planned community from 1972 through the 1990s.

It has grown into a mature community of more than 3,100 acres with 8,900 homes, condominiums and apartments, and close to 27,000 residents.

They are surrounded by 10 lakes, parks, 25 miles of bike paths, eight shopping centers, seven churches, two hotels, a golf course, hospital, library and a school.

"I think it's still a great place to live," said Garth Saager, former executive director of the McCormick Ranch Property Owners' Association who retired in November after 30 years on the job.

Today, McCormick Ranch stands out for its tidy and lushly landscaped neighborhoods and parkways, lakefront properties and a convenient location just a few miles north of downtown.

But 40 years ago, the Ranch was a real ranch and homebuilders were reluctant to develop the property. It was considered too far north and there wasn't any money to be made from the area's one-house-per-acre zoning.

Read more: At 40, McCormick Ranch still desirable place to live

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fountain Hills mulls giving new life to avenue

The Avenue of the Fountains, a prominent destination for events and businesses in downtown Fountain Hills, could be undergoing a major face-lift if the Town Council decides the time is right.

The avenue and medians, west of Saguaro Boulevard and the town's namesake fountain, now includes leaky fountains, dying trees, limited pedestrian accessibility and an outdated electrical system and inefficient irrigation system. It was built in the mid-1970s.

"We ran some numbers on the fountains, and we're estimating that the existing fountains are losing about 250,000 gallons of water a year combined," said Paul Mood, the town's development-services director.

Read more: Fountain Hills mulls giving new life to avenue

Fountain Hills mulls giving new life to avenue

The Avenue of the Fountains, a prominent destination for events and businesses in downtown Fountain Hills, could be undergoing a major face-lift if the Town Council decides the time is right.

The avenue and medians, west of Saguaro Boulevard and the town's namesake fountain, now includes leaky fountains, dying trees, limited pedestrian accessibility and an outdated electrical system and inefficient irrigation system. It was built in the mid-1970s.

"We ran some numbers on the fountains, and we're estimating that the existing fountains are losing about 250,000 gallons of water a year combined," said Paul Mood, the town's development-services director.

Read more: Fountain Hills mulls giving new life to avenue

Peoria entertainment/hotel plan closer to reality

If Peoria city officials have anything to say about it, Glendale won't be the only West Valley city with a thriving entertainment district.
In fact, Peoria aims to create a vibrant entertainment district and boutique hotel unlike any in the West Valley by the time Super Bowl XLIX hits Glendale in three years.

The city has been working with developers for more than a year to expand 83rd Avenue's restaurant row, which includes the city's spring-training ballpark and a dinner theater. The city recently informally christened the area P83 and seeks to build buzz.

Peoria developer Mike Oliver envisions an eight-story hotel with a rooftop lounge, boutique shops, trendy restaurants and upscale apartments on what now is ballpark parking lots.

Oliver's plan to start construction last summer vaporized after losing an investment partner. Now, he has teamed with Scottsdale-based Chandler Hotel Group. They formed Peoria Sports Park LLC and hope to break ground by April.

Before that, developers and Peoria officials must hammer out a deal for the project on 17 acres of city-owned land.

To jump-start the $130 million project, the city would lease land to the developers and pay for a roughly $30 million parking garage to make up for the lost stadium parking. Details must be worked out as part of the talks.

Read more: Peoria entertainment/hotel plan closer to reality





Peoria entertainment/hotel plan closer to reality

If Peoria city officials have anything to say about it, Glendale won't be the only West Valley city with a thriving entertainment district.
In fact, Peoria aims to create a vibrant entertainment district and boutique hotel unlike any in the West Valley by the time Super Bowl XLIX hits Glendale in three years.

The city has been working with developers for more than a year to expand 83rd Avenue's restaurant row, which includes the city's spring-training ballpark and a dinner theater. The city recently informally christened the area P83 and seeks to build buzz.

Peoria developer Mike Oliver envisions an eight-story hotel with a rooftop lounge, boutique shops, trendy restaurants and upscale apartments on what now is ballpark parking lots.

Oliver's plan to start construction last summer vaporized after losing an investment partner. Now, he has teamed with Scottsdale-based Chandler Hotel Group. They formed Peoria Sports Park LLC and hope to break ground by April.

Before that, developers and Peoria officials must hammer out a deal for the project on 17 acres of city-owned land.

To jump-start the $130 million project, the city would lease land to the developers and pay for a roughly $30 million parking garage to make up for the lost stadium parking. Details must be worked out as part of the talks.

Read more: Peoria entertainment/hotel plan closer to reality





Residential lot coverage debated in Arcadia

Phoenix's Arcadia community south of Camelback Mountain is known for its ranch-style homes and large front yards, set back from the streets.

But some residents in the area fear a trend of building bigger homes on existing lots could detract from the neighborhood's charm.

Each year since 2010, Phoenix has approved a handful of requests for variances to allow increased lot coverage in Arcadia.

In 2010, five such requests were approved in the area. In 2011, that increased to seven. So far this year, seven have been approved, according to city records.

But, some residents worry that even a handful of annual home-expansion requests will start to change the character of Arcadia.

Builders and developers say most people probably don't notice the increase in lot coverage.

Read more: Residential lot coverage debated in Arcadia

Residential lot coverage debated in Arcadia

Phoenix's Arcadia community south of Camelback Mountain is known for its ranch-style homes and large front yards, set back from the streets.

But some residents in the area fear a trend of building bigger homes on existing lots could detract from the neighborhood's charm.

Each year since 2010, Phoenix has approved a handful of requests for variances to allow increased lot coverage in Arcadia.

In 2010, five such requests were approved in the area. In 2011, that increased to seven. So far this year, seven have been approved, according to city records.

But, some residents worry that even a handful of annual home-expansion requests will start to change the character of Arcadia.

Builders and developers say most people probably don't notice the increase in lot coverage.

Read more: Residential lot coverage debated in Arcadia

Arizonans may not feel closure of local banks

Arizona's banking industry, like that of the nation overall, is gradually recovering from the housing collapse, subprime crisis and recession that began roughly five years ago.

But while locally run institutions suffered significantly, banking customers overall might not be much worse off after the experience.

The ordeal that began in the fall of 2007 cut the number of locally based institutions, their employee count and their loans outstanding by more than 40 percent. Fifteen banks headquartered here failed, with most eventually taken over by bigger, stronger rivals based elsewhere.

Arizona's home-grown industry is much smaller and less influential than it was, with consumers and businesses more under the sway of big institutions based in New York, San Francisco and Charlotte, N.C. -- the hometowns of the three largest banks operating here, which hold nearly 70 percent of statewide deposits.

But does it really matter that fewer banks call Arizona home?

Interest rates charged here on mortgages and other loans are comparable to those in other states, and deposit yields just as skimpy. Online bill-paying, mobile-banking and other cutting-edge services are available throughout Arizona, just as they are elsewhere around the nation.

"Does it matter that Wells Fargo is headquartered in San Francisco?" asked Anand Bhattacharya, a professor of finance practice at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. "The average person needs a mortgage, credit card and checking account. The national banks, regardless of whether they are headquartered in Arizona or not, are fully capable of handling that."

Still, shrinkage of the local industry would seem to have some impact in reducing competition and service. It can be handy to have personal contacts at a bank with authority to say yes or no, especially if you're trying to get a loan or handle other sensitive business. Anyone who has applied for a loan lately recognizes that the process has become more onerous. Business owners, in particular, seem to value the personal touch.

"There's no question about it -- there is value to having local decision makers," said Ed Zito, president of Phoenix-based Alliance Bank of Arizona. "We offer speed and access to senior executive management at any moment."

Elden "E.G." Barmore, a retired Arizona banking executive with about four decades of experience, thinks banking has become less responsive to customers, with fewer local decision makers and less flexibility.

"Basically, the staffs (at larger banks) are doing their jobs, hoping to get good reviews and pay increases," he said. "But they have limited authority and don't have a vested interest in the bank or its future."

Barmore also thinks the industry has grown riskier, with derivatives use by banks outpacing the ability of regulators to monitor them. Meanwhile, the government is sending mixed messages to banks, he says -- prodding them to boost lending but warning them not to make any bad loans.

Speaking of loans, smaller banks typically recycle all their deposits within the state where they operate -- a claim large institutions can't all make. Small and midsize banks account for 20 percent of assets but hold 60 percent of small-business loans, reports the Independent Community Bankers of America.

There's plenty of lingering animosity directed at the nation's biggest banks, as the Occupy movement exposed. The anger has been focused much less at small banks and credit unions.

Woody Thomas, an appraiser who lives in Litchfield Park and is critical of the "large industrial banks," said he switched to a credit union for basic banking services and a mortgage.

"The reason I left the banks is that I don't believe they're being honest with people or are trustworthy," he said.

Carol Palmer, a former bank employee who lives in Mesa, believes banking services and products have been in a "steady decline" for more than five years.

"In my opinion, three things are seriously lacking in today's banking world -- service, respect (toward customers) and regulation," she said.

When she worked as a teller decades ago, Palmer said, the president of her bank "stressed that customers could receive the same products at any other bank in town, but what set our bank apart from the others was the service they received."

She also questions the multimillion-dollar compensation packages paid to top banking executives at the big institutions.

"I personally don't think any one person is worth being paid some of the millions they get in bonuses and packages," Palmer said.

Dick Jensen, a business consultant and manager in Scottsdale, is critical of the many fees charged by banks and sees the institutions as difficult to work with.

"If you own a small business, just try to get a working capital loan," he said. "I have a number of clients who have never missed a payment but have had their credit line revoked because they simply were not big enough or created enough yield for the bank." Without lines of credits, he added, small companies often must downsize or struggle to survive.

Limited impact

Most Arizonans weren't directly affected by failures over the past five years. The largest collapse, First National Bank of Arizona, counted just 2 percent of statewide deposits when it went under in 2008, with Mutual of Omaha Bank taking over. Most of the banks that went under during the past five years were small firms serving a small-business clientele through a branch or two.

"They were doing higher-risk real-estate lending, for the most part," said Scott Schaefer, president of Meridian Bank in Phoenix "I think things are just as competitive, if not more so, despite several banks leaving the market."

The biggest banks insist they're ready to lend money and, with greater financial wherewithal than their smaller rivals, are in a better position to do so. Industry profits have come roaring back over the past few years. Led by the giants, the nation's banks earned a combined $120 billion in 2011 and are on pace to top that this year.

"At Chase, we have built our market share in Arizona because of the commitment to being there in the good times and the bad," said Joseph Stewart, Chase's manager of middle-market banking in Phoenix. "Throughout the economic cycle, we have continued to lend."

From 2009 to 2011, Chase's loan growth in Arizona roughly doubled, with further increases this year.

Wells Fargo, Arizona's leader in deposits, also claims leadership in small-business loans, home-equity lending and mortgages. Pamela Conboy, an executive vice president who serves as lead regional president for Arizona, said the company views itself as a community bank and shows that through grass-roots volunteerism, grants to local non-profits and leadership on local boards.

"You may see us as a large bank, but we see ourselves as very locally managed," she said.

Wells Fargo's Arizona employment base of 14,000 has risen by about 500 positions over the past five years, helping it to absorb some of the job losses suffered by small banks. Like Stewart at Chase, Conboy emphasizes that her bank has been on the scene through good times and bad. "We've been there for our customers," she said.

Even some community-bank advocates agree that competition is stiff in Arizona.

"It definitely decreased in 2008, 2009 and part of 2010 because everyone was internally focused," said Zito at Alliance Bank, part of Western Alliance Bancorporation. "But the 800-pound gorillas have awakened and have stepped up their competitiveness dramatically."

Schaefer at Meridian asserts most banks want to make loans because they can earn higher returns on those transactions than by parking the money in short-term government notes.

"When people say banks aren't lending or don't want to lend, I completely disagree," he said.

More shrinkage coming

The pressures that began building around mid-2007 hastened what some see as a long-term consolidation trend that could shut thousands of additional banks.

"There has been consolidation in the banking industry, but we're still overbanked," said Bhattacharya at ASU. "We have way too many banks here compared to other countries."

The national count has dipped from more than 8,500 banks in 2007 to roughly 7,200 today. Zito thinks it could decline to less than 5,000 within a decade.

The costs to establish a new bank are higher and the cycle longer than before, said Schaefer. Regulations are getting tougher, and so are the technology requirements to stay competitive. Bhattacharya cites ongoing and pending new Dodd-Frank federal regulations and a new round of international requirements known as the Basel III standards that will force banks to maintain higher capital levels.

"Smaller banks got a pass on Basel II but won't get it on Basel III," he said. "The regulatory requirement for banks will become more stringent."

Plus, it's just not as profitable to run a small bank, at least currently.

"There is owner fatigue out there and recognition of limited growth potential," said Zito.

Despite more than 440 bank failures and mergers nationally since 2007, there hasn't been a single truly new bank founded -- anywhere in the country -- over the past six quarters, reports the FDIC.

So as banking becomes more commoditized, the question is whether most customers will notice or even care, especially as they conduct more transactions impersonally through the Internet and smart phones, rarely visiting a branch.

"With the local banks, one of the big marketing points is more personal service and an ability to recognize (customers) by name," said Bhattacharya. "But is that an issue for you?"

* * *

Out-of-state influence

The banking crisis and recession led to failures, purchases of struggling local banks and other pressures that have increased the market share of the three biggest institutions operating in Arizona: Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America. Here are the percentage of Arizona deposits held by the three giants:

2007: 62.1 percent

2008: 62.6 percent

2009: 63.5 percent

2010: 67.4 percent

2011: 68.9 percent

Source: FDIC

Arizona lags profit recovery

The banking industry is back from the depths, and Arizona-based banks are healing, too. Here are some statistics as of mid-2012: Q OUT/JD

All banks nationally

Percent that are unprofitable: 11 percent

First-half earnings: $69.3 billion

Five-year change in profits: -6 percent

Five-year change in employment: -5 percent

Five-year change in assets: +14 percent

Five-year change in loans: -1 percent

Arizona-based banks

Percent that are unprofitable: 32 percent

First-half earnings: $89 million

Five-year change in profits: -12 percent

Five-year change in employment: - 45 percent

Five-year change in assets: -32 percent

Five-year change in loans: -44 percent

Note: The five-year statistics compare profits, employment, assets and loans for the second quarter of 2012 against those for the second quarter of 2007.

Source: FDIC

by Russ Wiles - Sept. 18, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com Arizonans may not feel closure of local banks

Arizonans may not feel closure of local banks

Arizona's banking industry, like that of the nation overall, is gradually recovering from the housing collapse, subprime crisis and recession that began roughly five years ago.

But while locally run institutions suffered significantly, banking customers overall might not be much worse off after the experience.

The ordeal that began in the fall of 2007 cut the number of locally based institutions, their employee count and their loans outstanding by more than 40 percent. Fifteen banks headquartered here failed, with most eventually taken over by bigger, stronger rivals based elsewhere.

Arizona's home-grown industry is much smaller and less influential than it was, with consumers and businesses more under the sway of big institutions based in New York, San Francisco and Charlotte, N.C. -- the hometowns of the three largest banks operating here, which hold nearly 70 percent of statewide deposits.

But does it really matter that fewer banks call Arizona home?

Interest rates charged here on mortgages and other loans are comparable to those in other states, and deposit yields just as skimpy. Online bill-paying, mobile-banking and other cutting-edge services are available throughout Arizona, just as they are elsewhere around the nation.

"Does it matter that Wells Fargo is headquartered in San Francisco?" asked Anand Bhattacharya, a professor of finance practice at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. "The average person needs a mortgage, credit card and checking account. The national banks, regardless of whether they are headquartered in Arizona or not, are fully capable of handling that."

Still, shrinkage of the local industry would seem to have some impact in reducing competition and service. It can be handy to have personal contacts at a bank with authority to say yes or no, especially if you're trying to get a loan or handle other sensitive business. Anyone who has applied for a loan lately recognizes that the process has become more onerous. Business owners, in particular, seem to value the personal touch.

"There's no question about it -- there is value to having local decision makers," said Ed Zito, president of Phoenix-based Alliance Bank of Arizona. "We offer speed and access to senior executive management at any moment."

Elden "E.G." Barmore, a retired Arizona banking executive with about four decades of experience, thinks banking has become less responsive to customers, with fewer local decision makers and less flexibility.

"Basically, the staffs (at larger banks) are doing their jobs, hoping to get good reviews and pay increases," he said. "But they have limited authority and don't have a vested interest in the bank or its future."

Barmore also thinks the industry has grown riskier, with derivatives use by banks outpacing the ability of regulators to monitor them. Meanwhile, the government is sending mixed messages to banks, he says -- prodding them to boost lending but warning them not to make any bad loans.

Speaking of loans, smaller banks typically recycle all their deposits within the state where they operate -- a claim large institutions can't all make. Small and midsize banks account for 20 percent of assets but hold 60 percent of small-business loans, reports the Independent Community Bankers of America.

There's plenty of lingering animosity directed at the nation's biggest banks, as the Occupy movement exposed. The anger has been focused much less at small banks and credit unions.

Woody Thomas, an appraiser who lives in Litchfield Park and is critical of the "large industrial banks," said he switched to a credit union for basic banking services and a mortgage.

"The reason I left the banks is that I don't believe they're being honest with people or are trustworthy," he said.

Carol Palmer, a former bank employee who lives in Mesa, believes banking services and products have been in a "steady decline" for more than five years.

"In my opinion, three things are seriously lacking in today's banking world -- service, respect (toward customers) and regulation," she said.

When she worked as a teller decades ago, Palmer said, the president of her bank "stressed that customers could receive the same products at any other bank in town, but what set our bank apart from the others was the service they received."

She also questions the multimillion-dollar compensation packages paid to top banking executives at the big institutions.

"I personally don't think any one person is worth being paid some of the millions they get in bonuses and packages," Palmer said.

Dick Jensen, a business consultant and manager in Scottsdale, is critical of the many fees charged by banks and sees the institutions as difficult to work with.

"If you own a small business, just try to get a working capital loan," he said. "I have a number of clients who have never missed a payment but have had their credit line revoked because they simply were not big enough or created enough yield for the bank." Without lines of credits, he added, small companies often must downsize or struggle to survive.

Limited impact

Most Arizonans weren't directly affected by failures over the past five years. The largest collapse, First National Bank of Arizona, counted just 2 percent of statewide deposits when it went under in 2008, with Mutual of Omaha Bank taking over. Most of the banks that went under during the past five years were small firms serving a small-business clientele through a branch or two.

"They were doing higher-risk real-estate lending, for the most part," said Scott Schaefer, president of Meridian Bank in Phoenix "I think things are just as competitive, if not more so, despite several banks leaving the market."

The biggest banks insist they're ready to lend money and, with greater financial wherewithal than their smaller rivals, are in a better position to do so. Industry profits have come roaring back over the past few years. Led by the giants, the nation's banks earned a combined $120 billion in 2011 and are on pace to top that this year.

"At Chase, we have built our market share in Arizona because of the commitment to being there in the good times and the bad," said Joseph Stewart, Chase's manager of middle-market banking in Phoenix. "Throughout the economic cycle, we have continued to lend."

From 2009 to 2011, Chase's loan growth in Arizona roughly doubled, with further increases this year.

Wells Fargo, Arizona's leader in deposits, also claims leadership in small-business loans, home-equity lending and mortgages. Pamela Conboy, an executive vice president who serves as lead regional president for Arizona, said the company views itself as a community bank and shows that through grass-roots volunteerism, grants to local non-profits and leadership on local boards.

"You may see us as a large bank, but we see ourselves as very locally managed," she said.

Wells Fargo's Arizona employment base of 14,000 has risen by about 500 positions over the past five years, helping it to absorb some of the job losses suffered by small banks. Like Stewart at Chase, Conboy emphasizes that her bank has been on the scene through good times and bad. "We've been there for our customers," she said.

Even some community-bank advocates agree that competition is stiff in Arizona.

"It definitely decreased in 2008, 2009 and part of 2010 because everyone was internally focused," said Zito at Alliance Bank, part of Western Alliance Bancorporation. "But the 800-pound gorillas have awakened and have stepped up their competitiveness dramatically."

Schaefer at Meridian asserts most banks want to make loans because they can earn higher returns on those transactions than by parking the money in short-term government notes.

"When people say banks aren't lending or don't want to lend, I completely disagree," he said.

More shrinkage coming

The pressures that began building around mid-2007 hastened what some see as a long-term consolidation trend that could shut thousands of additional banks.

"There has been consolidation in the banking industry, but we're still overbanked," said Bhattacharya at ASU. "We have way too many banks here compared to other countries."

The national count has dipped from more than 8,500 banks in 2007 to roughly 7,200 today. Zito thinks it could decline to less than 5,000 within a decade.

The costs to establish a new bank are higher and the cycle longer than before, said Schaefer. Regulations are getting tougher, and so are the technology requirements to stay competitive. Bhattacharya cites ongoing and pending new Dodd-Frank federal regulations and a new round of international requirements known as the Basel III standards that will force banks to maintain higher capital levels.

"Smaller banks got a pass on Basel II but won't get it on Basel III," he said. "The regulatory requirement for banks will become more stringent."

Plus, it's just not as profitable to run a small bank, at least currently.

"There is owner fatigue out there and recognition of limited growth potential," said Zito.

Despite more than 440 bank failures and mergers nationally since 2007, there hasn't been a single truly new bank founded -- anywhere in the country -- over the past six quarters, reports the FDIC.

So as banking becomes more commoditized, the question is whether most customers will notice or even care, especially as they conduct more transactions impersonally through the Internet and smart phones, rarely visiting a branch.

"With the local banks, one of the big marketing points is more personal service and an ability to recognize (customers) by name," said Bhattacharya. "But is that an issue for you?"

* * *

Out-of-state influence

The banking crisis and recession led to failures, purchases of struggling local banks and other pressures that have increased the market share of the three biggest institutions operating in Arizona: Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America. Here are the percentage of Arizona deposits held by the three giants:

2007: 62.1 percent

2008: 62.6 percent

2009: 63.5 percent

2010: 67.4 percent

2011: 68.9 percent

Source: FDIC

Arizona lags profit recovery

The banking industry is back from the depths, and Arizona-based banks are healing, too. Here are some statistics as of mid-2012: Q OUT/JD

All banks nationally

Percent that are unprofitable: 11 percent

First-half earnings: $69.3 billion

Five-year change in profits: -6 percent

Five-year change in employment: -5 percent

Five-year change in assets: +14 percent

Five-year change in loans: -1 percent

Arizona-based banks

Percent that are unprofitable: 32 percent

First-half earnings: $89 million

Five-year change in profits: -12 percent

Five-year change in employment: - 45 percent

Five-year change in assets: -32 percent

Five-year change in loans: -44 percent

Note: The five-year statistics compare profits, employment, assets and loans for the second quarter of 2012 against those for the second quarter of 2007.

Source: FDIC

by Russ Wiles - Sept. 18, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com Arizonans may not feel closure of local banks

Monday, September 17, 2012

Proposed Scottsdale condo plan gains height, density

A Los Angeles company wants to increase the height and density of a condominium complex it hopes to build in downtown Scottsdale's entertainment district.

Hewson Investment Group has submitted an application to amend development standards for floor area, height and density to build the complex on a 1.8-acre site at 4422 N. 75th St., near the southwestern corner of Indian Plaza Road and 75th Street.

The area is home to the largest concentration of bars in Maricopa County.

The application is being submitted under the downtown infill-incentive district and plan, which was approved by the City Council in July 2010.

It allows property owners to request amended development standards in the downtown area to include such things as greater height and density, in exchange for public benefits.

The complex would include 112 condominiums in an eight-story building totaling 90 feet in height. It would be built in the current location of the Lodge, an area bar.

In 2007, the council approved rezoning for Hewson to build Boutique 75 Lofts on the site.

The complex would have included about 45 condominiums in a four-story building.

Hewson is utilizing the city's downtown infill-incentive district to provide additional housing in the area, said John Berry, a zoning attorney representing the firm.

"The Lodge is not immediately closing, but eventually it will close," he said. "It would close whether the project approved in 2006 or this is (built)."

Hewson has owned the parcel since before the 2007 rezoning, Berry said.

The complex would be adjacent to the Hotel Indigo, which has five floors, and in proximity to the W Hotel, which has six floors.

"There's a belief that there's a demand for the product in that area," Berry said. "These are intended to be for-sale condos, and it's going to be people who want to live in proximity to the entertainment district or in downtown."

The condominiums will range in size from about 600 square feet to 1,200 square feet, and 27 percent of the site would be maintained as open space, according to the application. The complex would not include any commercial, restaurant, bar or retail uses to compete with existing or future land uses in the district.

"The request for additional height is appropriate given the height of the adjacent Hotel Indigo and the densities of the nearby projects such as the W Hotel and Waterfront (and planned developments such as Safari Drive and Blue Sky)," according to the application.

The zoning for the project is already in place, said Greg Bloemberg, city planning staff coordinator. City staff is reviewing the infill-incentive district proposal, he said.

Berry said condominium development is starting to make a comeback as the market continues to improve. He also is working with Deco Communities on the Echo at Windgate condominium complex to be built on an 11-acre site that wraps around the Windgate Crossing shopping center northwest of Bell Road and Thompson Peak Parkway.

Other residential is being planned in the entertainment district. Developer Shawn Yari has two projects in the pipeline that would bring 320 apartment units to the district.

Industry East (188 units plus retail) and Industry West (132 units plus retail) are in the early stages of the city's planning-approval process.

The complexes would be on the north side of Stetson Drive between Wells Fargo Avenue and 75th Street.

by Edward Gately - Sept. 16, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com




Proposed Scottsdale condo plan gains height, density

Proposed Scottsdale condo plan gains height, density

A Los Angeles company wants to increase the height and density of a condominium complex it hopes to build in downtown Scottsdale's entertainment district.

Hewson Investment Group has submitted an application to amend development standards for floor area, height and density to build the complex on a 1.8-acre site at 4422 N. 75th St., near the southwestern corner of Indian Plaza Road and 75th Street.

The area is home to the largest concentration of bars in Maricopa County.

The application is being submitted under the downtown infill-incentive district and plan, which was approved by the City Council in July 2010.

It allows property owners to request amended development standards in the downtown area to include such things as greater height and density, in exchange for public benefits.

The complex would include 112 condominiums in an eight-story building totaling 90 feet in height. It would be built in the current location of the Lodge, an area bar.

In 2007, the council approved rezoning for Hewson to build Boutique 75 Lofts on the site.

The complex would have included about 45 condominiums in a four-story building.

Hewson is utilizing the city's downtown infill-incentive district to provide additional housing in the area, said John Berry, a zoning attorney representing the firm.

"The Lodge is not immediately closing, but eventually it will close," he said. "It would close whether the project approved in 2006 or this is (built)."

Hewson has owned the parcel since before the 2007 rezoning, Berry said.

The complex would be adjacent to the Hotel Indigo, which has five floors, and in proximity to the W Hotel, which has six floors.

"There's a belief that there's a demand for the product in that area," Berry said. "These are intended to be for-sale condos, and it's going to be people who want to live in proximity to the entertainment district or in downtown."

The condominiums will range in size from about 600 square feet to 1,200 square feet, and 27 percent of the site would be maintained as open space, according to the application. The complex would not include any commercial, restaurant, bar or retail uses to compete with existing or future land uses in the district.

"The request for additional height is appropriate given the height of the adjacent Hotel Indigo and the densities of the nearby projects such as the W Hotel and Waterfront (and planned developments such as Safari Drive and Blue Sky)," according to the application.

The zoning for the project is already in place, said Greg Bloemberg, city planning staff coordinator. City staff is reviewing the infill-incentive district proposal, he said.

Berry said condominium development is starting to make a comeback as the market continues to improve. He also is working with Deco Communities on the Echo at Windgate condominium complex to be built on an 11-acre site that wraps around the Windgate Crossing shopping center northwest of Bell Road and Thompson Peak Parkway.

Other residential is being planned in the entertainment district. Developer Shawn Yari has two projects in the pipeline that would bring 320 apartment units to the district.

Industry East (188 units plus retail) and Industry West (132 units plus retail) are in the early stages of the city's planning-approval process.

The complexes would be on the north side of Stetson Drive between Wells Fargo Avenue and 75th Street.

by Edward Gately - Sept. 16, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com




Proposed Scottsdale condo plan gains height, density

Luxury retirement facility's sales rise

Sagewood, a northeast Phoenix retirement community featuring resort-like amenities.


Officials at a northeast Phoenix luxury retirement community say its record sales so far this year are indicative of improvement in the housing market and the Valley's high demand for upscale living and on-site health care.

The 278-unit Sagewood, near Tatum and Mayo boulevards, opened in 2010. It features independent- and assisted-living units.

Stewart Ingram, Sagewood's executive director, said in a release that the complex has sold more units in the first seven months of 2012 than all of last year.

From January 2011 to July 2011, the complex sold 11 units, compared with 33 during the same period this year.

"Interest has steadily grown since we opened, and more retirees are taking notice of our complete approach to senior living that emphasizes well-being, an active lifestyle and independence," Ingram said.

At least three entrance-fee luxury retirement communities have opened in the Northeast Valley in the past few years, providing a wide choice of senior-living options for wealthy retirees. Other rental retirement communities include Maravilla Scottsdale, Belmont Village Scottsdale and Arte'.

Tom Mertensmeyer, president of Senior Financial Benefits, a Valley financial-services firm, told The Republic in May that some large entrance-fee retirement communities have offered incentives to buyers but generally have not cut prices despite the downturn in the real-estate market.

According to Ingram, the recovering housing market has allowed prospective clients to quickly sell their homes and move into the retirement community.

"I think when the bubble first started bursting, people were afraid to list their homes at a lower price," he said. "Obviously there has been an improvement in the real-estate market, but clients are also now pricing their homes to sell."

Once residents pay an entrance fee, they make monthly payments covering rent, most utilities, most meals, weekly housekeeping and other services. Entrance fees at Sagewood start at $310,000. Monthly payments range from $2,500 to $4,500.

The community provides on-site health care at no additional cost to residents unless the patients require meals or supplies during health stays, Ingram said.

Sagewood is operated by Life Care Services, an Iowa-based company.

by Brittany Smith - Sept. 14, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com




Luxury retirement facility's sales rise

Luxury retirement facility's sales rise

Sagewood, a northeast Phoenix retirement community featuring resort-like amenities.


Officials at a northeast Phoenix luxury retirement community say its record sales so far this year are indicative of improvement in the housing market and the Valley's high demand for upscale living and on-site health care.

The 278-unit Sagewood, near Tatum and Mayo boulevards, opened in 2010. It features independent- and assisted-living units.

Stewart Ingram, Sagewood's executive director, said in a release that the complex has sold more units in the first seven months of 2012 than all of last year.

From January 2011 to July 2011, the complex sold 11 units, compared with 33 during the same period this year.

"Interest has steadily grown since we opened, and more retirees are taking notice of our complete approach to senior living that emphasizes well-being, an active lifestyle and independence," Ingram said.

At least three entrance-fee luxury retirement communities have opened in the Northeast Valley in the past few years, providing a wide choice of senior-living options for wealthy retirees. Other rental retirement communities include Maravilla Scottsdale, Belmont Village Scottsdale and Arte'.

Tom Mertensmeyer, president of Senior Financial Benefits, a Valley financial-services firm, told The Republic in May that some large entrance-fee retirement communities have offered incentives to buyers but generally have not cut prices despite the downturn in the real-estate market.

According to Ingram, the recovering housing market has allowed prospective clients to quickly sell their homes and move into the retirement community.

"I think when the bubble first started bursting, people were afraid to list their homes at a lower price," he said. "Obviously there has been an improvement in the real-estate market, but clients are also now pricing their homes to sell."

Once residents pay an entrance fee, they make monthly payments covering rent, most utilities, most meals, weekly housekeeping and other services. Entrance fees at Sagewood start at $310,000. Monthly payments range from $2,500 to $4,500.

The community provides on-site health care at no additional cost to residents unless the patients require meals or supplies during health stays, Ingram said.

Sagewood is operated by Life Care Services, an Iowa-based company.

by Brittany Smith - Sept. 14, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com




Luxury retirement facility's sales rise

Audit: Maricopa County housing-agency woes continue

An internal audit has found that the Housing Authority of Maricopa County still is struggling to handle its finances properly because of a lack of certain internal controls.

The agency, which helps provide affordable housing to lower-income families, in 2010 came under fire from federal auditors for mismanagement.

Following up on that federal audit, internal county auditors recently found inconsistent procedures in processing and approving certain financial transactions. That has led in some cases to the authority underreporting its financial liabilities and overstating revenue.

For example, the agency incorrectly was reporting voided checks as income instead of unclaimed property. County auditors found $18,187 in incorrectly reported unclaimed property in 2010 and 2011.

Reporting unclaimed property is a state requirement. The Housing Authority will adjust its records and report according to state requirements, said agency Director Gloria Muñoz. The agency has signed a compliance agreement with the state.

The Housing Authority launched an investigation into voided checks for low-income and public housing to make sure all previously posted voided checks were classified correctly.

The audit found that the agency also violated county procedures for making purchases and awarding contracts. Auditors said the agency needs more monitoring and enforcement of procurement policies and procedures.

In fiscal 2011, 65 percent of vendor transactions did not have proper approval or follow set procedures. The agency overspent and may not have gotten the best value for what it was spending, the report said.

Transactions worth $1.9 million were done incorrectly, leading to inaccurate reporting of the agency's assets and spending.

County housing officials promised to correct the issues outlined in the audit by July 2013.

"I had an indication that there were some weaknesses there. We've been working toward resolving through policy development and procedure development," Muñoz said. "This internal audit is basically a road map for our plan to address some of the weaknesses there."

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials in 2010 uncovered more than two dozen financial, procurement and human-resource management problems with the Housing Authority. Doug Lingner, former executive director of the agency, resigned amid allegations of nepotism and mismanagement.

The county Board of Supervisors later that year took tighter control of the Housing Authority and appointed Muñoz, a veteran housing administrator, to direct the organization with the help of an advisory committee. The county audit was the first internal review since Muñoz took the helm.

County Manager Tom Manos said the audit's findings were disappointing. But he said the lack of financial control is not affecting the county's ability to help provide affordable housing for low-income families. He noted the audit did not identify any specific incidents in which housing clients were harmed.

Manos said he has met with Muñoz and has said the county administration will help her agency improve its financial processes.

The Housing Authority and HUD now have corrective-action and repayment plans for the county agency. Most of the authority's budget comes from HUD.

Under Muñoz, the authority has made organizational changes and refocused its strategic priorities. She has made several changes per federal guidelines to bring the agency into good standing with HUD.

Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors approved a revised Housing Authority ethics code that housing projects seeking federal funding must follow. The agency recently hired a consultant to help it comply with HUD requirements.

Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a public-housing advocate, said she was not surprised by the internal audit's findings, adding that Muñoz made it clear from the start that the agency's longstanding management and financial issues will take longer than one year to resolve.

Wilcox said Muñoz so far has worked to revamp the authority's structure and change the agency's internal culture.

"The prior director and the prior running of the Housing Authority was even worse than we thought, and this audit really proves it," Wilcox said.

by Michelle Ye Hee Lee - Sept. 14, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com




Audit: Maricopa County housing-agency woes continue

Audit: Maricopa County housing-agency woes continue

An internal audit has found that the Housing Authority of Maricopa County still is struggling to handle its finances properly because of a lack of certain internal controls.

The agency, which helps provide affordable housing to lower-income families, in 2010 came under fire from federal auditors for mismanagement.

Following up on that federal audit, internal county auditors recently found inconsistent procedures in processing and approving certain financial transactions. That has led in some cases to the authority underreporting its financial liabilities and overstating revenue.

For example, the agency incorrectly was reporting voided checks as income instead of unclaimed property. County auditors found $18,187 in incorrectly reported unclaimed property in 2010 and 2011.

Reporting unclaimed property is a state requirement. The Housing Authority will adjust its records and report according to state requirements, said agency Director Gloria Muñoz. The agency has signed a compliance agreement with the state.

The Housing Authority launched an investigation into voided checks for low-income and public housing to make sure all previously posted voided checks were classified correctly.

The audit found that the agency also violated county procedures for making purchases and awarding contracts. Auditors said the agency needs more monitoring and enforcement of procurement policies and procedures.

In fiscal 2011, 65 percent of vendor transactions did not have proper approval or follow set procedures. The agency overspent and may not have gotten the best value for what it was spending, the report said.

Transactions worth $1.9 million were done incorrectly, leading to inaccurate reporting of the agency's assets and spending.

County housing officials promised to correct the issues outlined in the audit by July 2013.

"I had an indication that there were some weaknesses there. We've been working toward resolving through policy development and procedure development," Muñoz said. "This internal audit is basically a road map for our plan to address some of the weaknesses there."

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials in 2010 uncovered more than two dozen financial, procurement and human-resource management problems with the Housing Authority. Doug Lingner, former executive director of the agency, resigned amid allegations of nepotism and mismanagement.

The county Board of Supervisors later that year took tighter control of the Housing Authority and appointed Muñoz, a veteran housing administrator, to direct the organization with the help of an advisory committee. The county audit was the first internal review since Muñoz took the helm.

County Manager Tom Manos said the audit's findings were disappointing. But he said the lack of financial control is not affecting the county's ability to help provide affordable housing for low-income families. He noted the audit did not identify any specific incidents in which housing clients were harmed.

Manos said he has met with Muñoz and has said the county administration will help her agency improve its financial processes.

The Housing Authority and HUD now have corrective-action and repayment plans for the county agency. Most of the authority's budget comes from HUD.

Under Muñoz, the authority has made organizational changes and refocused its strategic priorities. She has made several changes per federal guidelines to bring the agency into good standing with HUD.

Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors approved a revised Housing Authority ethics code that housing projects seeking federal funding must follow. The agency recently hired a consultant to help it comply with HUD requirements.

Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, a public-housing advocate, said she was not surprised by the internal audit's findings, adding that Muñoz made it clear from the start that the agency's longstanding management and financial issues will take longer than one year to resolve.

Wilcox said Muñoz so far has worked to revamp the authority's structure and change the agency's internal culture.

"The prior director and the prior running of the Housing Authority was even worse than we thought, and this audit really proves it," Wilcox said.

by Michelle Ye Hee Lee - Sept. 14, 2012 The Republic | azcentral.com




Audit: Maricopa County housing-agency woes continue

Foreclosure starts fell on annual basis in August - Yahoo! Finance

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The evolution of the U.S. foreclosure crisis is increasingly diverging along state lines.

On a national level, fewer homes were placed on the foreclosure track last month than in August last year, when they hit a 17-year high, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

At the same time, so-called foreclosure starts increased almost exclusively in states like Florida and New York, where the courts must sign off on foreclosures, the firm said.

Conversely, in many so-called non-judicial states, like California and Arizona, the number of foreclosure starts declined versus August last year.

The pace of homes entering the foreclosure process is expected to decline gradually, barring another severe economic shock that sends the slowly rebounding housing market into a tailspin, experts say. But that decline is likely to continue playing out unevenly, in part because of the differing approaches to handling foreclosures from state to state.

In addition, some states have passed laws that effectively slow down the process, creating a backlog of foreclosure cases that will take longer to wade through.

Foreclosure activity has been declining in most non-judicial foreclosure states because they didn't build a huge backlog of pending cases during an industrywide slowdown in foreclosures last year. The slowdown stemmed from widespread claims that lenders had been processing foreclosures without verifying documents.

The slower process in states where courts play a role in foreclosures contributed to a logjam of pending foreclosure cases that now has lenders playing catch-up.

All told, 99,405 homes entered the foreclosure process in August, up 1 percent from July, but down 13 percent from August last year, RealtyTrac said.

The latest figure shows a marked slowdown in foreclosure starts since they peaked in April 2009 at about 203,000. But they're still well above the 34,000 recorded in May 2005, before the housing bubble burst.

Foreclosure starts posted annual increases in 18 states — mostly in those where courts are involved in foreclosure cases. One of the exceptions was Washington state, a non-judicial state where foreclosure starts more than doubled.

Lenders there were catching up with foreclosures cases that had been delayed by a state law that took effect July last year and allowed borrowers facing foreclosure to request mediation, said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.

"This trend in state legislation intervening in the foreclosure process in some of the non-judicial states, particularly over the past six months to a year, is actually going to prolong the time it takes to fully clear this backlog of foreclosure properties," he said.

Meanwhile, the number of completed foreclosures nationwide declined last month to 52,380. That's down 2 percent from July and down 19 percent from August last year, the firm said.

Home repossessions have been down on an annual basis the past 22 months. But they increased last month in 35 states, including Nevada, where they jumped 76 percent, and Oregon, where they climbed 57 percent.

Between January and August, banks completed foreclosures on 452,016 homes. At that pace, the nation is on track to end the year with 678,000 completed foreclosures, down from 800,000 last year, Blomquist said.

There are as many as 1.5 million homes already repossessed by banks or in some stage of the foreclosure process.

At the state level, Illinois had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last month, a rate of one in every 298 households in some stage of foreclosure. Both foreclosure starts and completed foreclosures rose in Illinois last month.

Florida, California, Arizona and Nevada rounded out the top five states with the highest foreclosure rates in August.

by Alex Veiga Associate Press Sep 13, 2012


Foreclosure starts fell on annual basis in August - Yahoo! Finance

Foreclosure starts fell on annual basis in August - Yahoo! Finance

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The evolution of the U.S. foreclosure crisis is increasingly diverging along state lines.

On a national level, fewer homes were placed on the foreclosure track last month than in August last year, when they hit a 17-year high, foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

At the same time, so-called foreclosure starts increased almost exclusively in states like Florida and New York, where the courts must sign off on foreclosures, the firm said.

Conversely, in many so-called non-judicial states, like California and Arizona, the number of foreclosure starts declined versus August last year.

The pace of homes entering the foreclosure process is expected to decline gradually, barring another severe economic shock that sends the slowly rebounding housing market into a tailspin, experts say. But that decline is likely to continue playing out unevenly, in part because of the differing approaches to handling foreclosures from state to state.

In addition, some states have passed laws that effectively slow down the process, creating a backlog of foreclosure cases that will take longer to wade through.

Foreclosure activity has been declining in most non-judicial foreclosure states because they didn't build a huge backlog of pending cases during an industrywide slowdown in foreclosures last year. The slowdown stemmed from widespread claims that lenders had been processing foreclosures without verifying documents.

The slower process in states where courts play a role in foreclosures contributed to a logjam of pending foreclosure cases that now has lenders playing catch-up.

All told, 99,405 homes entered the foreclosure process in August, up 1 percent from July, but down 13 percent from August last year, RealtyTrac said.

The latest figure shows a marked slowdown in foreclosure starts since they peaked in April 2009 at about 203,000. But they're still well above the 34,000 recorded in May 2005, before the housing bubble burst.

Foreclosure starts posted annual increases in 18 states — mostly in those where courts are involved in foreclosure cases. One of the exceptions was Washington state, a non-judicial state where foreclosure starts more than doubled.

Lenders there were catching up with foreclosures cases that had been delayed by a state law that took effect July last year and allowed borrowers facing foreclosure to request mediation, said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac.

"This trend in state legislation intervening in the foreclosure process in some of the non-judicial states, particularly over the past six months to a year, is actually going to prolong the time it takes to fully clear this backlog of foreclosure properties," he said.

Meanwhile, the number of completed foreclosures nationwide declined last month to 52,380. That's down 2 percent from July and down 19 percent from August last year, the firm said.

Home repossessions have been down on an annual basis the past 22 months. But they increased last month in 35 states, including Nevada, where they jumped 76 percent, and Oregon, where they climbed 57 percent.

Between January and August, banks completed foreclosures on 452,016 homes. At that pace, the nation is on track to end the year with 678,000 completed foreclosures, down from 800,000 last year, Blomquist said.

There are as many as 1.5 million homes already repossessed by banks or in some stage of the foreclosure process.

At the state level, Illinois had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last month, a rate of one in every 298 households in some stage of foreclosure. Both foreclosure starts and completed foreclosures rose in Illinois last month.

Florida, California, Arizona and Nevada rounded out the top five states with the highest foreclosure rates in August.

by Alex Veiga Associate Press Sep 13, 2012


Foreclosure starts fell on annual basis in August - Yahoo! Finance

Housing prices up in most NE Valley communities

Scottsdale's housing market is showing improvement with median home prices up 13 percent in June over last year and a drop in investor flips, short sales and pre-foreclosure deals.

Prices were up year-over-year in five of the six Northeast Valley communities with increases ranging from 18.7 percent in Cave Creek on 87 sales to 39 percent in Paradise Valley on 42 sales, according to the latest monthly report from the Arizona State University Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice.

Fountain Hills showed an 11 percent dip in median price to $320,000 on 58 sales.

It has not helped that the number of short sales and pre-foreclosures in the town doubled to 12 in June and investor flips doubled to four.

Scottsdale reported 85 short sales and pre-foreclosures in June, a 13 percent decline. That runs counter to the greater Phoenix market that saw distressed sales up 8 percent.

Scottsdale also showed a steep decline in bank-owned homes from 79 last June to 31 this year, according to the report with data compiled by the Information Market LLC of Glendale.

"The continued imbalance between high demand and low supply remains the main story for the greater Phoenix residential market," the report said. "After a strong move upward during the spring, prices remained relatively flat during June, as predicted last month. We expect to report something similar next month."

The number of home sales in Scottsdale dipped 12 percent in June to 561 deals.

Scottsdale's price per square foot for homes was $183.13, up 6.5 percent, and significantly higher than the overall market average of $98.11.

The condominium and townhouse median price of $90,000 in the overall market was up 32 percent from a year ago.

Scottsdale's median price for condos of $142,000 on 281 sales was up 13.6 percent.

Office deal completed

Scottsdale has completed the purchase of a $1.87 million office-warehouse building in the Scottsdale Airpark.

The nearly 18,000-square-foot building northeast of Greenway-Hayden Loop and Scottsdale Road will be used for the Scottsdale Police Department Investigative Service Bureau.

The bureau currently operates in a leased 13,000-square-foot facility at an annual cost of $430,000. That lease expires in April 2013.

The Scottsdale City Council approved the purchase of the police building in early July and the deal was finalized a few weeks later. The seller was James Dobbs III.

The city has declined to identify the location of the new building. The Arizona Republic confirmed the building's location based on Maricopa County property records.

Built in 1995, the property includes warehouse space and second-floor offices.

The sale price of $104.90 per square foot is within the range of other office-warehouse buildings that have sold recently in the Airpark, according to commercial real-estate brokers.

Scottsdale-area home prices

Median home prices in June increased from last year in five of six Northeast Valley communities, according to the latest monthly report from the Arizona State University Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice. Here are the number of sales, median price and percentage change since last June:

Scottsdale -- 561, $391,000, up 13.3 percent.

Cave Creek -- 87, $355,000, up 18.7 percent.

Fountain Hills -- 58, $320,000, down 11 percent.

Paradise Valley -- 42, $1,325,000, up 39 percent.

Rio Verde -- 11, $550,000, up 31.4 percent.

Carefree -- 7, 701,000, up 23.6 percent.

Source: Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business.

by azcentral.com Aug 16, 2012


Housing prices up in most NE Valley communities

Housing prices up in most NE Valley communities

Scottsdale's housing market is showing improvement with median home prices up 13 percent in June over last year and a drop in investor flips, short sales and pre-foreclosure deals.

Prices were up year-over-year in five of the six Northeast Valley communities with increases ranging from 18.7 percent in Cave Creek on 87 sales to 39 percent in Paradise Valley on 42 sales, according to the latest monthly report from the Arizona State University Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice.

Fountain Hills showed an 11 percent dip in median price to $320,000 on 58 sales.

It has not helped that the number of short sales and pre-foreclosures in the town doubled to 12 in June and investor flips doubled to four.

Scottsdale reported 85 short sales and pre-foreclosures in June, a 13 percent decline. That runs counter to the greater Phoenix market that saw distressed sales up 8 percent.

Scottsdale also showed a steep decline in bank-owned homes from 79 last June to 31 this year, according to the report with data compiled by the Information Market LLC of Glendale.

"The continued imbalance between high demand and low supply remains the main story for the greater Phoenix residential market," the report said. "After a strong move upward during the spring, prices remained relatively flat during June, as predicted last month. We expect to report something similar next month."

The number of home sales in Scottsdale dipped 12 percent in June to 561 deals.

Scottsdale's price per square foot for homes was $183.13, up 6.5 percent, and significantly higher than the overall market average of $98.11.

The condominium and townhouse median price of $90,000 in the overall market was up 32 percent from a year ago.

Scottsdale's median price for condos of $142,000 on 281 sales was up 13.6 percent.

Office deal completed

Scottsdale has completed the purchase of a $1.87 million office-warehouse building in the Scottsdale Airpark.

The nearly 18,000-square-foot building northeast of Greenway-Hayden Loop and Scottsdale Road will be used for the Scottsdale Police Department Investigative Service Bureau.

The bureau currently operates in a leased 13,000-square-foot facility at an annual cost of $430,000. That lease expires in April 2013.

The Scottsdale City Council approved the purchase of the police building in early July and the deal was finalized a few weeks later. The seller was James Dobbs III.

The city has declined to identify the location of the new building. The Arizona Republic confirmed the building's location based on Maricopa County property records.

Built in 1995, the property includes warehouse space and second-floor offices.

The sale price of $104.90 per square foot is within the range of other office-warehouse buildings that have sold recently in the Airpark, according to commercial real-estate brokers.

Scottsdale-area home prices

Median home prices in June increased from last year in five of six Northeast Valley communities, according to the latest monthly report from the Arizona State University Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice. Here are the number of sales, median price and percentage change since last June:

Scottsdale -- 561, $391,000, up 13.3 percent.

Cave Creek -- 87, $355,000, up 18.7 percent.

Fountain Hills -- 58, $320,000, down 11 percent.

Paradise Valley -- 42, $1,325,000, up 39 percent.

Rio Verde -- 11, $550,000, up 31.4 percent.

Carefree -- 7, 701,000, up 23.6 percent.

Source: Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business.

by azcentral.com Aug 16, 2012


Housing prices up in most NE Valley communities

Housing key part of SkySong's 'secret sauce'

Arizona State University is launching a major residential expansion at its SkySong innovation campus in south Scottsdale. Construction begins this month on a 325-unit apartment complex that will house, among others, people who work at SkySong businesses.

We asked ASU Foundation Vice President of Real Estate Don Couvillion to tell us about these plans.

Question: Could you briefly explain what SkySong is?

Answer: SkySong is a global business community that links technology, entrepreneurship, innovation and education to position Greater Phoenix and ASU as leaders of the knowledge economy.

SkySong is already an exciting place with a variety of people from small and large companies, from the university and various student entrepreneurs interacting together on a daily basis. Visitors often comment on the energy at SkySong — it is already a hub of business activity that will continue to grow over the next decade.

Q: Why is this residential expansion so important?

A: We have been working since 2004 to create a real mixed-use facility, a place where people can live, work and learn. The residential project is the culmination of that development plan; with it we now have a project that is unique in the metro area, offering our knowledge workers the opportunity to experience a true community within the campus.

Q: How will more residential development change the campus?

A: More residential will help to create a 24-hour community — one that will support retail, additional office space and, most importantly, continued collaboration among the residents and workers at SkySong. This kind of collaboration is the “secret sauce” that leads to new ideas, new technology, and new products that will help southern Scottsdale revitalize itself in the new economy.

Q: Who do you envision will live in the new housing?

A: Employees of the SkySong tenants such as Ticketmaster, Adaptive Curriculum, Yodle, Earth 911 and Global Patent Solutions. We will also see folks who work at Scottsdale Healthcare, General Dynamics, the downtown Scottsdale merchants, airline employees from Sky Harbor, and some members of the ASU community. An eclectic mix.

Q: Why has residential development been slow to emerge there?

A: It took awhile for the players in the “new economy” to sort themselves out. Now, projects have to make sense on their merits, not just ride on the up-currents of easy debt and rosy projections. The city of Scottsdale has approved several projects of late that are in good locations and have good prospects for success. We welcome the company.

Q: When is SkySong projected to be built out?

A: We are preparing for a build-out of about 150,000 square feet of office space every three years, meaning build-out in about 15 years.

Q: What do you anticipate it will be like at build-out?

A: I see an eclectic mix of buildings, architecture, tenants, companies and products being developed there. I see people from all over the world living there, collaborating and creating a new ecosystem of companies that educate and innovate in fields as varied as alternative energy, education software, Web design and technologies we haven’t even imagined.

Q: Will we ever see innovation campuses like SkySong crop up in other parts of the Valley?

A: I think there will be those that attempt to emulate our success. If so, we will be flattered.

Q: Is SkySong gaining attention as a possible model for other cities and universities?

A: Yes, we receive inquiries every day from people all over the world who ask us how we have created the vibrancy of SkySong. We host delegations from U.S. cities, from Asia, Europe and Latin America, who ask lots of questions about how we created the ecosystem of collaboration and entrepreneurship that they see at SkySong.

Q: What are you reading this summer?

A: I finally got around to getting “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. I love the outdoors, and appreciate her take on the challenges of a good long hike.

by Scottsdale Republic Aug 15, 2012


Housing key part of SkySong's 'secret sauce'

Housing key part of SkySong's 'secret sauce'

Arizona State University is launching a major residential expansion at its SkySong innovation campus in south Scottsdale. Construction begins this month on a 325-unit apartment complex that will house, among others, people who work at SkySong businesses.

We asked ASU Foundation Vice President of Real Estate Don Couvillion to tell us about these plans.

Question: Could you briefly explain what SkySong is?

Answer: SkySong is a global business community that links technology, entrepreneurship, innovation and education to position Greater Phoenix and ASU as leaders of the knowledge economy.

SkySong is already an exciting place with a variety of people from small and large companies, from the university and various student entrepreneurs interacting together on a daily basis. Visitors often comment on the energy at SkySong — it is already a hub of business activity that will continue to grow over the next decade.

Q: Why is this residential expansion so important?

A: We have been working since 2004 to create a real mixed-use facility, a place where people can live, work and learn. The residential project is the culmination of that development plan; with it we now have a project that is unique in the metro area, offering our knowledge workers the opportunity to experience a true community within the campus.

Q: How will more residential development change the campus?

A: More residential will help to create a 24-hour community — one that will support retail, additional office space and, most importantly, continued collaboration among the residents and workers at SkySong. This kind of collaboration is the “secret sauce” that leads to new ideas, new technology, and new products that will help southern Scottsdale revitalize itself in the new economy.

Q: Who do you envision will live in the new housing?

A: Employees of the SkySong tenants such as Ticketmaster, Adaptive Curriculum, Yodle, Earth 911 and Global Patent Solutions. We will also see folks who work at Scottsdale Healthcare, General Dynamics, the downtown Scottsdale merchants, airline employees from Sky Harbor, and some members of the ASU community. An eclectic mix.

Q: Why has residential development been slow to emerge there?

A: It took awhile for the players in the “new economy” to sort themselves out. Now, projects have to make sense on their merits, not just ride on the up-currents of easy debt and rosy projections. The city of Scottsdale has approved several projects of late that are in good locations and have good prospects for success. We welcome the company.

Q: When is SkySong projected to be built out?

A: We are preparing for a build-out of about 150,000 square feet of office space every three years, meaning build-out in about 15 years.

Q: What do you anticipate it will be like at build-out?

A: I see an eclectic mix of buildings, architecture, tenants, companies and products being developed there. I see people from all over the world living there, collaborating and creating a new ecosystem of companies that educate and innovate in fields as varied as alternative energy, education software, Web design and technologies we haven’t even imagined.

Q: Will we ever see innovation campuses like SkySong crop up in other parts of the Valley?

A: I think there will be those that attempt to emulate our success. If so, we will be flattered.

Q: Is SkySong gaining attention as a possible model for other cities and universities?

A: Yes, we receive inquiries every day from people all over the world who ask us how we have created the vibrancy of SkySong. We host delegations from U.S. cities, from Asia, Europe and Latin America, who ask lots of questions about how we created the ecosystem of collaboration and entrepreneurship that they see at SkySong.

Q: What are you reading this summer?

A: I finally got around to getting “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. I love the outdoors, and appreciate her take on the challenges of a good long hike.

by Scottsdale Republic Aug 15, 2012


Housing key part of SkySong's 'secret sauce'

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