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SF home prices see big drop in January

Wed, 1 Mar 2017 00:47:48 UT

The median price paid for new and existing Bay Area homes and condos that sold in January was $630,000, down 5.3 percent from December and up 1.6 percent from January of last year, according to CoreLogic data released Tuesday. Buyers in San Francisco want to be the first to cook on a stove and the first to use a bathroom, said Gregg Lynn, a real estate agent with Sotheby’s. The city’s condo-building boom can cause distortions in monthly data because developers generally begin selling units long before construction is completed, but sales are not recorded until the building is ready for occupancy and buyers close escrow. [...] the median price for the nine-county region rose a mere 1.6 percent because a higher share of sales occurred in the more affordable inland stretches of the Bay Area. Because they feel the future is so uncertain, “people who can choose not to sell are choosing not to sell,” Lynn said. New construction will add to supply this year, but generally in higher price ranges (except for mandatory affordable housing).

Almost 67,000 polluting VW and Audi diesels returned so far

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 19:17:34 UT

Almost 67,000 of the roughly 470,000 Volkswagen and Audi 2-liter diesel models sold in the United States with emissions-cheating software have been returned to dealers for buybacks or lease terminations, an attorney for the automaker said at a hearing in federal court in San Francisco Wednesday. Under a consumer class-action settlement that will cost VW up to $10 billion, people who own or lease one of the 2-liter TDI models with a so-called defeat device can sell the car back to the manufacturer at the vehicle’s September 2015 trade-in value or terminate their lease without penalty and receive a cash restitution payment ranging from $2,634 to $9,852. U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer approved the consumer class action settlement, the largest in U.S. automotive history, on Oct. 25. At a status conference on the settlement Wednesday, Robert Giuffra, an attorney with Sullivan & Cromwell who represents VW, said that about 451,000 cars have been “registered” for the settlement, 383,000 claims have been filed and 160,000 buy-back appointments have been scheduled with dealers. Earlier this month, federal and state environmental regulators approved the first repair, but it only covers about 70,000 so-called generation 3 vehicles from model year 2015.

Stocks defy conventional wisdom, soar on Trump victory

Fri, 11 Nov 2016 16:00:10 UT

When early returns started pointing to a Trump presidential victory Tuesday night, futures contracts on the Dow Jones industrial average plunged as much as 800 points. [...] futures began paring their losses “in the wee hours, when Trump gave a victory speech that was much more conciliatory than people expected,” said Rob Sharps, a portfolio manager with T. Rowe Price. [...] they sold off on Wednesday morning, apparently on concerns that Trump would increase government spending while cutting taxes, which could lead to bigger deficits, higher inflation and higher interest rates. [...] if you look underneath those indexes, “there was really wicked volatility as people repositioned” their portfolios for a Trump presidency, Sharps said. Trump’s vow to increase spending on infrastructure caused a surge in shares of metals, mining, construction and engineering firms. On the flip side, some hospital and health insurance companies were stricken by fears that Trump will carry through on his promise to replace the Affordable Care Act with “something better.” Banking, asset managers and other financial service companies were big winners, apparently on the belief that the Trump administration will relax the Dodd-Frank Act, as well as the Department of Labor’s new fiduciary rule for brokers and other laws and regulations that have weighed on financial institutions. Banking and finance employees and political action committees poured $64.3 million into her campaign and pro-Clinton super PACs — and less than $2 million into Trump’s, according to Politifact. Investors should not read too much into a single day’s action, warned Brad Sorensen, director of sector analysis and market research with Charles Schwab. In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity this spring, Trump claimed that Bezos is using the newspaper for political purposes to save Amazon in terms of taxes and in terms of antitrust. Martin Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post, issued a statement that said, “I can say categorically that I have received no instructions from Jeff Bezos regarding our coverage of the presidential campaign — or, for that matter, any other subject.”

Bay Area rent control measures getting mixed results

Wed, 9 Nov 2016 18:16:29 UT

Measures initiated by citizens to establish rent control programs appeared headed for victory in Richmond and Mountain View but were losing in Alameda, San Mateo and Burlingame. Citizens in the five Bay Area cities placed initiatives on the ballot to protect tenants from spiraling rents and evictions that have resulted from job growth outstripping housing creation. In Alameda and Mountain View, the city councils placed on the ballot less-stringent measures to temper rent increases. The measures, which all needed a simple majority to pass, aimed to bring urban-style rent and vacancy controls to Bay Area suburbs. Like the Burlingame measure, it generally would have limited rent hikes on pre-1995 multifamily buildings to the CPI increase. The initiative would roll back rents on pre-1995 multifamily units to October 2015 levels and generally limit future increases to the CPI increase. Placed on the ballot by the City Council, the measure would continue a city program that requires mediation on rent increases above 5 percent and limits evictions on all rental property.

Prospect of Trump victory roils markets

Wed, 9 Nov 2016 07:18:56 UT

Asian stocks and U.S. stock index futures collapsed Tuesday night as Donald Trump appeared on the verge of winning the presidential race. The Dow rose a total of 444 points on Monday and Tuesday, after FBI Director James Comey said there was no additional evidence in new emails uncovered in an unrelated case that would warrant a prosecution of Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server for U.S. State Department business. Contributions from people or political action committees in the banking and finance industry to the Clinton campaign and pro-Clinton super PACs totaled $64.3 million. With Trump, you don’t know what to expect today or next week or really until his transition leader, Chris Christie, starts making appointments. Is Newt Gingrich going to be Treasury Secretary? CNBC reported that plunges of more than 5 percent in S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures Tuesday night triggered “limit down” measures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which prevent those contracts from trading above but not below those levels until regular trading opens on Wednesday.

Nation’s largest brokerage firm acquires SF’s Climb Real Estate

Wed, 31 Aug 2016 23:12:12 UT

Climb Real Estate, a boutique San Francisco brokerage focused on city-dwelling Millennials, has been acquired by NRT LLC, the nation’s largest residential brokerage, the companies announced Wednesday. NRT is the parent of Coldwell Banker, Sotheby’s International Realty and ZipRealty and a subsidiary of Realogy, a publicly traded real estate conglomerate. NRT has pursued the same approach with other regional firms it acquired including the Corcoran Group in New York City and Laura McCarthy Real Estate in St. Louis, said Bruce Zipf, NRT’s president and chief executive. Climb tries hard to appeal to Millennials by focusing on mobile technology and social media. “I believe what this represents is a more traditional type platform coming together with a more innovative, unique-type platform” and providing the financial capital to expand Climb in the Bay Area, Zipf said. Greg Macres, NRT’s executive vice president for the western region, said, We want our agents to be more mobile (and) stretch the boundaries of technology.

Nonbank lenders surging in California mortgage market

Tue, 12 Jul 2016 23:42:12 UT

Nonbank lenders surging in California mortgage market The number of home loans originated in California by nonbank lenders soared last year to 537,757, up 47.3 percent from 2014, according to a report issued Monday by the California Department of Business Oversight. The principal amount of mortgages originated in the state by nonbank lenders last year grew 56.7 percent, to $179.3 billion. Nationwide, the principal amount of nonbank mortgage originations grew only 43.9 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance. The California department regulates nonbank lenders, meaning those that do not accept insured deposits to make loans, like traditional banks do. The department could not say how much of the growth in nonbank mortgage lending came from an increase in the underlying loan market and how much from nonbanks taking business from banks. Nationwide, however, nonbanks have been taking big chunks of market share from banks. In the first quarter of 2016, the nonbank share of U.S. originations was 48.3 percent. “Banks are pulling back from certain types of mortgage lending due to settlements (with government agencies) and enforcement actions,” Cecala said. Banks are still dominant in jumbos, but it’s only 20 percent of the market. The other 80 percent, they are reducing, and that is giving an opening and the nonbanks are stepping in to fill that void, Cecala said. Nonbanks typically borrow money from investors or banks to make loans, then quickly sell these loans to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, banks and other buyers, so they can repay their loans and start the process over again. Banks also sell loans but hold onto some of them. Many banks and nonbanks continue to service loans they sell for a fee. Servicers collect payments, forward them to the new loan owner and take action when borrowers fall behind. “Mortgage lending has pretty thin profit margins,” said Keith Gumbinger, a vice president with mortgage information service HSH Associates. Nationwide, San Francisco’s Wells Fargo was still the nation’s largest mortgage lender in the first quarter of this year, with 11.4 percent of the market, but that was down from 28.2 percent in the first quarter of 2012. Chase was number two in the first quarter, followed by Quicken Loans, the largest nonbank lender nationwide, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. Quicken Loans was also the largest nonbank lender in California last year, according to the department. Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Top nonbank lenders California mortgages by nonbank lenders in 2015 Quicken Loans Pinnacle Capital Mortgage United Shore Financial Services California Department of Business Oversight

What VW drivers should know about the giant emissions settlement

Wed, 29 Jun 2016 00:17:15 UT

What VW drivers should know about the giant emissions settlement Under the largest automotive class-action settlement in U.S. history, people who own or lease one of about 475,000 Volkswagen and Audi 2.0-liter diesel models designed to cheat emissions tests could sell their car back to the manufacturer or terminate their lease without penalty and receive cash restitution ranging from $2,634 to $9,852. Details of the settlement, which still requires approval by the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, were disclosed Tuesday by plaintiff’s attorneys and federal and state regulators. Under related settlements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board, Volkswagen will pay $2.7 billion to support environmental programs and reduce emissions nationwide, including $380 million for programs in California. VW promoted its TDI models as “clean diesels,” but secretly installed devices and software that allowed them to pass emissions tests while spewing illegal levels of nitrogen oxide pollutants. The state air resources board “uncovered the fraud and figure out how it worked,” Chair Mary D. Nichols said in a press conference. The nearly $15 billion agreement is one of the swiftest and largest settlements of a complex class-action case, said San Francisco attorney Elizabeth Cabraser, the court-appointed lead counsel for VW owners. “I hope it will be a model for future resolutions in which private plaintiffs and government entities can work together to forge resolutions that, like this one, as a whole are greater than the sum of its parts,” she said. Owners who remain in the class will have the option of selling these cars back to the company or obtaining an approved emissions fix. [...] of whether they choose a repair or buyback, they also will get a cash payment equal to 20 percent of the vehicle’s value, plus $2,986.73 (subject to a minimum of $5,100). If you combine the trade-in and cash payments, total compensation for a buyback will range from $12,475 for a basic 2009 VW Jetta Sedan TDI to $44,176 for a loaded Audi A3 TDI Prestige, according to a court document posted at If an owner sold one of the tainted cars after Sept. 18, the current owner can get the buyback or repair and roughly half of the cash payment. The previous owner will get the rest of the cash payment, but must identify himself or herself within 45 days of preliminary approval, which could happen as early as July 26. People who sell an eligible car after June 28 (except back to the company) cannot participate in the settlement. People who had leased an eligible car with VW Credit as of Sept. 15 and remain in the class can terminate the lease without penalty or get it fixed. “I’m heartbroken that the fabulous, efficient, fun-to-drive, environmentally friendly car I thought I bought turns out to be a fraud,” said David Jones, a Peninsula resident who owns a 2011 Jetta Sportwagen TDI. The settlement does not cover about 100,000 late-model TDIs made by Audi and Porsche that also had emissions tampering. If preliminary approval is granted by the court, eligible owners can go and enter their Vehicle Identification Number to see what their payment would be. In general, “any settlement you get for something other than personal physical injury or sickness is taxable,” said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Theoretically, owners who sold their cars back would not owe tax if the combined payment (trade-in plus cash payment) was less than their basis, which is generally what they paid for the car (or the depreciated basis if they used it in a business).

Can Lending Club survive federal probe, investor skepticism?

Tue, 17 May 2016 23:06:25 UT

Can Lending Club survive federal probe, investor skepticism? Embattled Lending Club disclosed late Monday that it has received a grand jury subpoena from the Department of Justice after it ousted Renaud Laplanche as chairman and CEO on May 9 over internal control issues. The San Francisco company, which operates an online marketplace for consumer loans, also disclosed that a number of investors that, in the aggregate, have contributed a significant amount of funding on the platform, have paused their investments. ... The news, included in a quarterly report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, calls into question whether Lending Club can regain the investor trust it needs to survive. “I think survival is very much a question mark at this point,” said Julianna Balicka, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. [...] they have a clear strategy to regain investor confidence,” she said, “it really isn’t possible for us to know how this will play out. On May 9, Lending Club said Laplanche resigned after a board review found that the company sold $22 million in loans to an unnamed institutional investor “in contravention of the investor’s express instructions.” Separately, the company said Laplanche failed to fully inform the board that he had a personal interest in an outside fund while Lending Club was considering an investment in the same fund. Hedge funds might be willing to take the place of departing investors, but they are likely to want higher rates, said Evan Singer, president of SmartBiz Loans, a San Francisco company that helps banks originate Small Business Administration loans through its online marketplace. Lending Club said, We are not surprised to receive a Department of Justice subpoena in light of our public disclosures and the focus of the department on financial services.

‘Million Dollar Listing San Francisco’ won’t return for 2nd season

Thu, 28 Apr 2016 00:22:49 UT

Bravo has confirmed it won’t renew its reality TV show “Million Dollar Listing San Francisco” for a second season. The show followed the professional and personal lives of three Bay Area real estate agents. A Bravo spokeswoman confirmed that the cable network “decided not to move forward with a second season” but wouldn’t say why. The show’s other two stars, Justin Fichelson and Andrew Greenwell, said Bravo’s casting company spent about four months looking for another cast member for season two but did not sign one. Los Angeles has a plethora of people involved in the entertainment industry looking to be on TV in the first place, Fichelson said. On the New York version, one cast member had been on a soap opera and another had been a filmmaker, he said. San Francisco real estate agent Gregg Lynn said he interviewed for the show “three years before it ever got here” and knows people on the New York production team. Eighty percent of it was fabricated — the listings were not really on the market, the buyers were not really buyers. Greenwell believes the show could come back at some time, and pointed out that the New York version went a year between its first and second seasons.

California’s new Secure Choice retirement plan idea gets boost

Tue, 29 Mar 2016 00:20:04 UT

California’s plan to set up a mandatory, state-sponsored retirement plan for private-sector workers whose employers don’t offer one moved a step closer to reality Monday. Kevin De León, D.-Los Angeles, president pro tempore of the state senate, said he will put the board’s recommendation into a bill that he hopes will get to the governor’s desk by July. The board recommended that the default contribution rate would start at 2 to 5 percent of pay, said Grant Boyken, California deputy treasurer. The board hired New York consulting firm Overture Financial to conduct a financial feasibility study, market analysis and design such a program. In this complex option, each participant would have an account that would be credited based on the performance of an underlying portfolio of securities managed by a state authority. The Investment Company Institute, which represents mutual funds, sent a 30-page letter to the board on Thursday raising questions about the plan that it said warranted further attention. The Secure Choice plan could only go forward if it would not be treated an employee benefit plan under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. To streamline such plans, the U.S. Labor Department in November issued a proposal that said state-sponsored auto-enrollment IRAs would not fall under that act, as long as employees could opt out and employers “are minimally involved.” Reid said California is also “trying to get exemptions from having to register as a mutual fund” with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Even if Secure Choice charges participants a 1 percent annual fee, the plan will run at a deficit for much longer than the Overture report predicted even under its most pessimistic participation and contribution-rate scenarios, Reid said.

Some Blue Shield, Kaiser members get faulty Obamacare tax forms

Sat, 26 Mar 2016 02:21:31 UT

Thousands of Blue Shield and Kaiser Permanente customers who enrolled through Covered California last year received erroneous tax forms saying they did not have health insurance in 2015 — when they actually did. The faulty 1095-A forms were issued in late February, after the customers had already received correct 1095-A forms indicating they were covered. Covered California also sends the forms to the Internal Revenue Service to verify that people have health insurance as required under the Affordable Care Act and are therefore not subject to a penalty. People who get insurance through a marketplace such as Covered California need the forms to finish their tax returns, which are due April 18 unless an extension is requested. The snafu affected about 15,000 Blue Shield customers across the state and was caused by “a systems error on our end,” said Mia Campitelli, a spokeswoman for Blue Shield of California. A spokesman for the exchange said people who received an erroneous second form, marked “void,” should have already received a third, correct one — or will soon. If you have already filed your tax return and completed Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit, based on the original Form 1095-A you received, you may need to file an amended return. Kevin Knauss, an insurance agent in Granite Bay, posted a notice sent to Blue Shield agents about the snafu on his website at Insurers are required to issue Form 1095 to customers who have qualifying coverage, showing who in the household is covered and for what period of time. Marketplace customers can get their subsidy in the form of an advance premium tax credit, which reduces their monthly premium. When they file their 2015 tax return, they must fill out Form 8962 to figure out whether their advance credit was too high or too low, based on their actual 2015 income.

If your tax refund is delayed, here’s why

Wed, 23 Mar 2016 23:19:20 UT

The Internal Revenue Service, which has been beset by fraudsters, has been requiring victims and suspected victims of tax-related identity theft to take extra steps before filing returns. Most state income tax refunds “are arriving within 12 business days for taxpayers who file electronically and request direct deposit,” the Franchise Tax Board said Wednesday. [...] some refunds can take significantly longer as (the agency) joins a nationwide effort to protect taxpayers’ money by preventing fraud, tax theft and other abusive practices. If a taxpayer has not received a refund within the normal time frame, “more than likely their return is being reviewed to make sure we get the correct amount to the correct person,” tax board spokesman Daniel Tahara said. Tax scams “continue to adapt and evolve in an attempt to catch people off guard just as they are preparing their tax returns,” IRS Commissioner John Koskinen warned in a news release last week. Many people have wised up to a phone scam in which crooks impersonating IRS agents threaten to have them arrested if they don’t pay “back taxes” immediately with a debit card, wire transfer or money order. Thanks to public outreach and counteroffensives, “Where the perpetrators used to be able to get a victim every 40-50 calls, now they must make 300-400 attempts to claim a victim,” the office said in March. In another widespread scheme, criminals use stolen names and Social Security numbers to file fraudulent federal and state tax returns claiming refunds early in tax season. Before March 7, people who lost their PIN could retrieve it by going to the IRS website and answering four multiple-choice questions drawn from their credit file, such as loan amounts or previous addresses, security expert and journalist Brian Krebs reported. In some cases of suspected fraud, the IRS has been sending an Identity Verification Letter, or 5071C form, by snail mail to the address on the return. Scam artists are also calling people to say they have your tax return and just need to verify a few details — such as your Social Security or bank account number — to process your refund, the IRS said.

Chinese developers muscling in to Bay Area housing market

Sun, 13 Mar 2016 21:01:01 UT

The flood of Chinese money into Bay Area housing is coming not just from home buyers. The only U.S. metro area attracting more Chinese development dollars between 2013 and 2015 was New York and its boroughs, according to Jim Costello, a senior vice president with Real Capital Analytics. Can they hire some local brokers with Chinese language skills who can go back and forth” between the U.S. and foreign partners “and even potentially Chinese buyers? The newest investment came in late February from Landsea Holdings, the U.S. subsidiary of one of China’s largest home builders. Watt was planning to build one or two of the villages itself, but “we ended up getting an offer from Landsea that made it attractive ... to sell the whole project,” said Max Frank, a Watt division president. Chinese developers generally prefer permitted properties, said Darlene Chiu Bryant, executive director of ChinaSF, which promotes economic ties between the city and China. Robert Ritner, Singpoli’s head of architecture and design services, said the company has domestic and foreign investors. In 2013, Hongye International Investment Group of Wuhai, China, invested $100 million in Singpoli to develop real estate construction in California and other projects. Singpoli’s website says Landmark is a joint venture with Shanghai Bading Group. [...] Ritner said the developer is BDK Capital, which according to news reports is a joint venture between Singpoli and American BD. Kin Hui, Singpoli’s CEO, did not return phone calls. The program awards green cards to foreign investors and their families who invest at least $500,000 or $1 million (depending on the location) in a business that directly or indirectly creates or preserves 10 U.S. jobs. Of the more than 400 units sold, about 80 percent went to Bay Area residents, 10 percent to Chinese buyers and 10 percent to other international buyers, a Tishman spokesman said. In April 2013, Signature Development Group of Oakland said it had brought in Zarsion Holdings Group, a Beijing home builder, to co-develop the $1.5 billion mixed-use Brooklyn Basin. The 64-acre project on Oakland’s waterfront will have 3,100 residential units, 200,000 square feet of commercial space and 30 acres of parks and open space. Encompassing two towers, it would add 1 million square feet of office space, 169 hotel rooms and 12,500 square feet of ground floor retail. R&F Properties, a Chinese real estate developer based in Guangzhou, has gone on a buying binge in the Bay Area since acquiring its first U.S. property, 555 Fulton St. in Hayes Valley.

United to reinstate 13 flight attendants fired for walking off

Tue, 8 Mar 2016 22:30:48 UT

United Airlines has agreed to reinstate 13 flight attendants who were fired for refusing to work a flight from San Francisco International Airport to Hong Kong in July 2014 because of “menacing” graffiti they perceived as a security threat. “The protections that federal law provides to airline workers are essential to the safety of passenger airline operations,” he said. Someone had scrawled “BYE BYE” in six-inch letters above two faces, “one smiling and the other with a more troubling expression that could be described as frowning or devilish,” the complaint said. The image was near the access panel to a gas turbine engine housed in the tail cone that was about 30 feet off the ground, an area accessible only by authorized personnel using specialized equipment, the complaint said. Maintenance inspectors finished searching the engine compartment and found nothing suspicious, but did not investigate other portions of the plane, the complaint said. United’s SFO inflight supervisor, Virginia Coronado, urged the flight attendants to trust the captain’s decision, but some attendants wanted a complete security sweep to ensure the plane’s safety. The Federal Aviation Administration requires airlines to deplane passengers and conduct such a search “in the face of a specific and credible threat to the security of the flight,” the complaint says. Sometime after 3:30 p.m., a United customer service agent came aboard and announced that the flight was canceled because of “crew availability,” the complaint says. “All of FAA’s and United’s own safety procedures were followed, including a comprehensive safety sweep prior to boarding, and the pilots, mechanics and safety leaders deemed the aircraft entirely safe to fly,” United said in an email last year.