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Updated: Where fire victims can apply for tax relief and FEMA grants and loans

Sat, 14 Oct 2017 21:25:05 UT

Financial help is coming for California fire victims in the form of income- and property-tax relief for individuals and businesses in most affected counties and federal grants and loans for those in Sonoma, Napa, Butte, Lake, Mendocino and Yuba counties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency made “individual assistance” available to people and businesses in Sonoma County starting Thursday and those in Napa County starting Friday. FEMA added Butte, Lake, Mendocino and Yuba counties to the list Saturday. Previously, FEMA had only made funds available in seven North Bay counties for “public assistance” such as debris removal and emergency services.



New law bans California employers from asking applicants their prior salary

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 13:00:00 UT

California employers can no longer ask job applicants about their prior salary and — if applicants ask — must give them a pay range for the job they are seeking, under a new state law that takes effect Jan. 1. AB168, signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown, applies to all public- and private-sector California employers of any size. The goal is to narrow the gender wage gap. If a woman is paid less than a man doing the same job and a new employer bases her pay on her prior salary, gender discrimination can be perpetuated, the bill’s backers say. Last year, the state passed a weaker law that said prior compensation, by itself, cannot justify any disparity in compensation.




FEMA offers assistance to Sonoma County fire victims

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 05:18:36 UT

Sonoma County residents whose homes or businesses have been destroyed or damaged in the North Bay wildfires can apply for federal disaster assistance to help pay for their losses, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday. The grants are for temporary housing, essential home repairs, and property losses not covered by insurance, the agency said. FEMA grants do not have to be repaid, are not taxed as income, and do not affect a recipient’s eligibility for Social Security, Medi-Cal or other federal benefits. Grants are available for damage to a resident’s primary home, but not for second or vacation homes or rental property, the agency said.



6 things fire disaster victims should do now

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 23:10:10 UT

If your home was destroyed or damaged in the North Bay fires, here are six things you should do now. Take care of yourself and family. Get a roof over your head, talk to your employer, get your kids back in school when it’s possible to do so, let your friends and family know you are safe via phone, text or social media. Stay in touch with neighbors for information that could affect you. Contact your lenders. If you have a mortgage, you are still responsible for paying it, even if the only thing left standing is the chimney. After disasters, however, many lenders will give you a temporary reprieve.




Santa Rosa housing scarce before the fire — what now?

Wed, 11 Oct 2017 17:13:19 UT

The fires that destroyed at least 2,000 homes and other structures in the North Bay could put more upward pressure on rents but also cause buyers to think twice before purchasing a home in the ravaged region. In June, voters in Santa Rosa narrowly rejected a measure that would have implemented rent and eviction controls. As in many Bay Area cities, rents there have been rising because the supply of new homes has not kept up with demand, which in Sonoma County is being driven largely by the growing industries of tourism, wine, beer and cannabis. The rental vacancy rate in Sonoma County last year averaged 2.3 percent, compared with 3.3 percent in California and 5.9 percent nationwide, according to U.S.




Why Equifax’s free lifetime credit lock is not nearly enough

Sat, 7 Oct 2017 21:00:00 UT

The grilling of former Equifax CEO Richard Smith on Capitol Hill last week revealed how little the company has done to protect or compensate the 145.5 million consumers whose personal information was stolen through a gaping hole in its “dispute portal.” Smith conveniently “retired” on Sept. 26, then went on to represent the Atlanta company in hearings before three congressional committees last week. Given the scope of the breach, several committee members asked whether consumers should be able to delete their information from credit bureaus entirely, or at least have it “locked down” by default.




Equifax temporarily waives fees to freeze credit report

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 22:36:12 UT

Bowing to pressure over its mega data breach, Equifax said it is temporarily waiving fees to freeze and unfreeze credit reports. “As of Saturday, Sept. 9, we are waiving all charges for placing or removing a security freeze on an Equifax credit file during the enrollment period for the credit file monitoring and identity theft protection service we are offering for free to all U.S. consumers. We also are in the process of refunding any fees consumers may have paid since Thursday night to place a security freeze on their Equifax credit file,” the company said in a statement.



What happened to Bay Area home prices in July

Wed, 30 Aug 2017 22:56:50 UT

The Bay Area housing shortage showed no signs of abating in July, as the number of homes sold fell by 17.3 percent from June and by 2.6 percent from July of last year, according to a CoreLogic report released Wednesday. Sales typically fall between June and July as house hunters and real estate agents head off on vacation, but the average drop-off since 1988 has been only 6 percent. The number of homes sold last month was the lowest for a July since 2011. CoreLogic attributed the sharp slowdown to “a tight inventory and waning affordability.” Meanwhile, the median price paid for a home in the nine-county region last month was $758,000, down 1.6 percent from a record $770,500 in June but up 9.




One couple’s bedbug saga: “exactly what a nightmare would be”

Sat, 26 Aug 2017 21:00:00 UT

Bedbugs didn’t cause the breakup of Straten Schemel and his ex-girlfriend Paige Govey, but they contributed to it, both sides agree. The former couple said they moved from San Jose, where they were bug-free, into San Francisco’s Potrero Launch apartment complex in December 2015. Part of their 63-page lease agreement included a two-page addendum about bedbugs, Schemel said. The addendum noted that there may have been a prior infestation in the dwelling or building, but it was treated by a professional and the unit was believed to be free of further infestation. He figured that was a routine disclosure and forgot about it, even after he and Govey started getting what they thought were spider or flea bites.



Bay Area home prices hit another record in June

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 00:06:46 UT

Bay Area home prices hit another record in June Bay Area home prices marched to a fourth consecutive monthly record in June as limited supply, especially among lower-price homes, failed to keep up with demand, according to a CoreLogic report issued Wednesday. Real estate agents say there has been some softening in prices at the upper end of the market, and in some new condos. In any of the resale neighborhoods, there is just no supply, said Robin Hubinsky, an agent with Zephyr Real Estate in San Francisco. Hubinsky said there are few single-family homes on the market, because empty-nesters who might want to move to a condo are finding them too expensive and the dues too high. Garrett Frakes, a managing partner with Polaris Pacific, said prices of new condos in San Francisco have fallen about 3 or 4 percent since their peak in early 2015. Some homes in the popular areas of Oakland and Berkeley are selling for 60 percent more than the asking price and approaching San Francisco on a price-per-square-foot basis, said Linnette Edwards, associate broker with Abio Properties. A study released Friday by the California Association of Realtors that covered all nine Bay Area counties said the median price hit a third consecutive monthly record in June — $908,740. The mix-up probably resulted from a change in the company that microfilms documents from the San Mateo County recorder’s office for long-term storage.




Bay Area median home price hit another record in May

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 23:31:11 UT

Bay Area median home price hit another record in May The median price paid for a Bay Area home hit $755,000 in May, a third consecutive monthly record, as scorching demand continued to outstrip supply. In San Francisco and San Mateo counties, the median price reached an identical $1,207,500 (although CoreLogic had to estimate San Mateo sales for the last two weeks of May). The San Francisco market “turned into a feeding frenzy (in May), the hottest market since spring 2015, driven by very strong demand, which came roaring back, and a deeply inadequate supply of listings,” Patrick Carlisle, chief market analyst of Paragon Real Estate Group, said in an email. “The fact that interest rates have declined since the first of the year, and that people are afraid of coming increases, may be playing some role in pressurizing demand,” Carlisle said. The home has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, parking, a yard and an unfinished attic and basement, but what really sold it was the location — near hip restaurants and less than two blocks from Dolores Park, Minson said. The home received 29 offers — about a third from builders, a third from investors and a third from prospective homeowners. The website SocketSite highlighted a Hayes Valley condo and a high-end home in Cow Hollow that just sold for roughly the same price they fetched in 2014. “Demand is being driven by the incredible job demand, not just in high tech but in biotech,” said Coldwell Banker agent Jeff LaMont. Home buyers are also attracted by proximity to the airport and the county’s public schools. The sellers “were first-time home buyers when they bought it nine years earlier” and were probably persuaded by the fact that his clients were also first-time buyers.




Bay Area home prices hit record as sales drop

Thu, 25 May 2017 04:26:08 UT

Bay Area home prices hit record as sales drop The median price paid for a Bay Area home last month surged to a record — $750,000 — as the inventory of homes for sale continued to fall far short of demand, according to a report released Wednesday by the research firm CoreLogic. The median price paid for new and existing single-family homes and condos in the nine-county region was up 4.9 percent from a revised $715,000 in March, and up 8.7 percent year over year, the report said. The condo, listed at $1,249,000, has 1,525 square feet of “gracious living space,” according to its ad, and monthly homeowners association fees of $500. “I just sold a home, the buyers were tired of getting outbid and went way overboard,” said Murline Monat, an agent with Paragon Realty Group in Danville. The Castro Valley deal has not closed, and Monat believes the appraisal will come in at least $25,000 below the accepted offer price. Because the buyers had released their appraisal contingency to sweeten the deal, they will have to increase their down payment by the difference between the appraised price and the offer price, Monat said. Real estate agents blame the current situation largely on a persistent lack of inventory, which has plagued the region since around 2013. The California Association of Realtors reported this week that the median amount of time it would take to sell all Bay Area homes on the market at the current sales rate was 2.4 months in April, down from 2.6 months the previous April and about half the historical average of 5.1 months, said Jordan Levine, the association’s senior economist. The median time it took to get an offer accepted on a Bay Area home was just 20.1 days last month, down from 20.4 days a year ago and about half the long-term average of 36.8 days. During the recession, he added, “many homes foreclosed upon were bought up by investors and turned into rental units.” [...] in some markets, rising income inequality has helped widen the price gap between starter, move-up and luxury homes. More construction would help, but it can’t solve the problem considering that new homes typically account for only one out of 10 homes on the market. On the plus side, if you can call it that, 40 percent of Americans age 18 to 34 (excluding college students) are still living with parents or relatives, the highest percentage since around 1940.



Shareholders re-elect Wells Fargo directors, some just barely

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 18:22:47 UT

Wells Fargo shareholders re-elected all 15 of the company’s directors at the company’s annual meeting in Florida Tuesday, despite calls that some should be jettisoned for not acting sooner to prevent the fraudulent-account scandal that has engulfed the San Francisco bank since September. The individual directors received votes in favor ranging from 53 to 99 percent. A vote as low as 53 percent is highly unusual in the corporate world, where directors are routinely re-elected with percentages in the high 90s. In 2016, only 44 directors at the 3,000 U.S. companies in the Russell 3000 index failed to win a majority vote, according to the Council of Institutional Investors. Both are members of the board’s corporate responsibility committee, which oversees political, environmental and consumer lending risks, as well as customer service and complaints. Peña is a former U.S. secretary of the energy and transportation departments. The overall vote is “a significant show of opposition to board members,” said Greg Waters, a research director with Glass Lewis, a San Francisco firm that advises large shareholders how to vote in corporate elections. After the vote was announced, Sanger said that stockholders had sent the board “a message of clear dissatisfaction.” At one point during the three-hour meeting, Sanger called a recess so that a shareholder could be removed. The shareholder, Bruce Marks, CEO of the nonprofit Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, would not stop demanding to hear from each individual director about their knowledge of fraudulent account openings. Glass Lewis recommended voting against the four longest-serving members of the corporate responsibility committee. Institutional Shareholder Services, another proxy advisory firm, recommended voting against 12 directors for “failure to provide sufficient timely risk oversight.” “I am surprised that everybody received a majority vote,” said Jason Schloetzer, an associate business professor at Georgetown University. Schloetzer said receiving a low percentage of the vote could have “a negative spillover effect” for Wells Fargo directors serving on other corporate boards. The state’s two largest public pension funds — the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System — both voted against the company’s nine longest-tenured directors for oversight failures. Berkshire Hathaway, the bank’s largest shareholder with a roughly 10 percent stake, said it was voting in favor of the entire slate of directors. The board formed a committee to launch an in-depth investigation of the unauthorized account openings on Sept. 25. A report on the investigation issued April 10 found “mass terminations” of employees for sales practice violations dating back to “at least 2002.” Wells Fargo said last week it would increase the size of a preliminary class-action settlement to $142 million to cover claims arising from fraudulent accounts dating back to 2002. Based on preliminary results, here is the approximate percentage of shareholder votes cast in favor of each Wells Fargo director at Tuesday’s annual meeting.



CalPERS, CalSTRS to vote against some Wells Fargo directors

Sat, 22 Apr 2017 00:21:52 UT

The state’s two largest public pension systems each said Friday they are voting against nine of Wells Fargo’s 15 directors, all of whom are standing for re-election at the company’s annual meeting in Florida Tuesday. On Sept. 8, in a settlement with regulators, Wells disclosed that about 5,300 employees had been fired since 2011 for opening deposit and credit card accounts that customers probably did not know about or want, allegedly to meet aggressive sales goals. CalPERS and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System are voting against John Baker II, John Chen, Lloyd Dean, Donald James, Cynthia Milligan, Federico Peña, Stephen Sanger, Susan G. Swenson and Enrique Hernandez, Jr. A CalPERS spokesman said it was focusing its “no” votes on directors who had served from 2013 or earlier, because “that is the time frame the primary oversight failures had occurred.” On Wednesday, California Treasurer John Chiang, who is a board member of both retirement systems, issued a press release urging shareholders and to vote against all five directors on Wells Fargo’s corporate responsibility committee, which oversees the bank’s reputational risk and customer service and complaints. Two companies that advise large investors on how to vote in corporate elections have also recommended against some directors for failing to do more to stop the fraud. Last week, Berkshire Hathaway, Wells Fargo’s largest shareholder with a roughly 10 percent stake, said it and was voting its shares in favor of all 15 directors.



Scandal continues to weigh on Wells Fargo earnings

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 22:48:57 UT

Wells Fargo’s first-quarter earnings beat estimates by a few cents per share, but its stock price fell 3.3 percent Thursday on concerns about the direct and indirect costs of the sham-account scandal that has rocked the bank. Wells Fargo earned $5.5 billion, or $1 per share, for the first quarter of 2017, beating expectations by 3 cents per share and roughly matching last year’s first-quarter earnings of $5.5 billion or 99 cents per share. [...] the San Francisco bank responded to a “sales and marketing” scandal by “unveiling a new marketing campaign.” Last week, Institutional Shareholder Services, which advises large investors on how to vote in corporate elections, recommended voting against 12 of Wells Fargo’s 15 directors at the meeting for failing “to provide a timely and sufficient risk oversight process.” The bank’s non-retail operations have fared better than its consumer side, which has suffered since September when the bank disclosed in a $185 million settlement agreement with regulators that it had fired 5,300 employees over several years because they may have opened more than 2 million deposit, credit card and debit card accounts without customers’ knowledge or approval. In a call with analysts Thursday, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said that retail banking metrics the company has been releasing monthly since October have come off their lows but are “certainly not back to pre-settlement levels.” The company spent about $80 million on legal, compliance and other fees related to the scandal in the first quarter and expects to spend $70 million to $80 million per quarter the rest of the year. On the bright side, the firm’s wealth and investment management business generated a 22 percent increase in income over the past 12 months on a 9 percent increase in client assets, Sinegal said in a note. In an email, the treasurer’s office said, State law requires that a competitive sale of State of California General Obligation bonds be awarded ‘to the bidder whose bid will result in the lowest interest cost on account of those bonds.’ Because Wells Fargo has been buying back stock (reducing its shares outstanding below 5 billion for the first time since 2009), Berkshire’s stake had risen above 10 percent. According to the Federal Reserve, an ownership interest above 10 percent “would materially restrict our commercial activity with Wells Fargo,” Berkshire said in a press release.