Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Neighborhood Launch building upscale apartments

Via email
Neighborhood Launch is Growing . . . Again!

Neighborhood Launch is excited to announce the next phase of its development in downtown Columbus, luxury apartments.  

Neighborhood Launch offers a great urban residential product that meets the needs of many types of lifestyles including townhomes, garden flats and bridge lofts.  The readers of Columbus Monthly reflected this last October when Neighborhood Launch was voted Best Condo Development.

Now, Neighborhood Launch is pleased to another option with new luxury apartments to be built on Long Street at the northern edge of Neighborhood Launch. These upscale apartments will be housed in two, five-story buildings featuring one and two bedroom units with balconies and underground parking.  

Construction is expected to begin in spring 2012 and in the summer of 2013.  

The design and quality of the apartment building will be compatible with the overall look and feel of other buildings at Neighborhood Launch.  Brian Kent Jones who also designed Bishops Walk, the Park and Fourth Street buildings, is designing the exterior of the apartment buildings.  Edwards Communities Construction Company will oversee construction.

We believe that building these apartments affords us the opportunity to keep neighborhood growing by appealing to another segment of professionals who are not ready to buy but want to be at Neighborhood Launch. 

Contact me to check out life downtown from a neighborhood perspective.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Columbus Dispatch: Five-story apartment building proposed for N. High St. in Weinland Park

By  Mark Ferenchik
The Columbus Dispatch Sunday February 19, 2012 5:45 AM

A five-story apartment building geared toward graduate students and young professionals might go up along N. High Street between the Short North and Ohio State University this year.

City leaders hope that the building will spur other projects to fill in the gaps along High Street, but some neighborhood leaders and residents fear that the building might make too big of a statement.

“We haven’t seen the last request for more density along High Street,” said Susan Keeny, the zoning chairman of the University Area Commission. “In some areas, it’s not appropriate.”

The city’s Board of Zoning Adjustment approved a variance in January to allow a building as tall as 75 feet in the area zoned for buildings no taller than 35 feet. The University Area Commission had voted against it.

The developer, Kohr Royer Griffith, could break ground at the northeast corner of N. High and E. 7th Avenue in the Weinland Park neighborhood by fall, if architectural reviews and other issues can be resolved by then, said John Royer, the company’s president.

The building would go up along the street, adding a similar urban look to the streetscape as the new Kroger store, located just to the south. “Our location is a very key component to trying to keep the Short North and campus and Downtown merging together,” Royer said.

The building’s 86 apartments would be on the top three floors. The second floor and part of the first floor would be for parking. Plans also call for ground-level retail stores, including a pharmacy.

Columbus Planning Administrator Vince Papsidero said the city wants to see more high-density, mixed-use developments along High Street to connect the Short North with the South Campus Gateway area and the Ohio State University campus.

“We definitely want to see that kind of density take place on a commercial corridor,” Papsidero said. “If you want to have successful neighborhood retail, you have to have housing within walking distance.

And although residential neighborhoods border High Street, the area needs more housing to strengthen the retail corridor, he said.

University Area Commissioner Tom Wildman said he fears that the project will encourage more like it.

City staff members who reviewed the proposal reported that the building would not be out of character for the area and pointed to the five-story buildings at the South Campus Gateway less than a half-mile to the north and the eight-story Jackson on High condominiums just to the south in the Short North.

A 2002 plan for the area calls for a one- to three-story building on the site, but “It doesn’t reflect today’s economic realities,” Papsidero said. He said younger people want to live in denser urban areas, and plans should be updated to reflect that.

Commission members spent years developing plans for the area along High Street as a footprint to guide developers, Wildman said. “This company, they have absolutely ignored the guidelines and decided to build whatever they want to build.”

The developer would tear down a building housing a Dollar Tree store and a laundry, and eliminate a large surface parking lot to make way for the project.

Laura Bidwa, vice president of the Weinland Park Community Civic Association, said some Weinland Park residents are concerned about losing those businesses and that the new units would cost too much for many in the neighborhood.

Campus Partners, Ohio State’s nonprofit development arm, has always envisioned closing the gap between the Short North and the South Campus Gateway, which it developed, said Campus Partners President Doug Aschenbach.

Many people would find the building an attractive place to live, he said. “I think there is a demand for living in the urban environment that goes beyond undergraduate students.”

Columbus Dispatch: Apartments driving Columbus rebound

Apartments driving Columbus rebound

Developers filling in spaces near Downtown

Story is here

Rising numbers of new-building permits and zoning applications in Columbus bode well for two things: the local economy and controversy.

Development has been rebounding since the end of the recession, officials, developers and neighborhood leaders agree, although it hasn’t come close to the boom times of the 1990s and early 2000s.

In 2001, for example, Columbus annexed 1,230 acres, nearly 2 square miles. Annexations reached a low of 19.4 acres in 2009 and in 2011 edged up to 146 acres, including 108 acres for the Hollywood Casino on the West Side.

“They were taking in, back in the heyday, plots of a couple hundred lots at a time,” said Chris Presutti, the city’s chief zoning official, “and they were building the houses before they were even sold.”

Today, he said, most development is infill development — meaning it typically occurs inside the city, not at the edges, and in smaller batches to fill in empty spaces.

Single-family homes and large shopping centers once were king, but today’s projects are smaller and more likely to be rentals.

“If you look at where the residential is being built, it’s infill development in Franklinton or the Near East Side and places like that,” Presutti said.

Becky Obester, chairwoman of the 5th by Northwest Area Commission, said she’s seeing a burst of such development in her neighborhood, which is tucked between Upper Arlington and Grandview Heights.

The Columbus City Council just signed off on zoning changes for 16 new rental units, a request that also has her group’s approval.

There’s also plenty more development in the parts of Nationwide Realty’s Grandview Yard development that are in Columbus.

“Our liaison with the city of Columbus told our zoning chair we’re one of the busiest areas in the city,” Obester said. “Our zoning committee works really hard. We try not to have a lot of controversies. We try to keep it moving forward and ask, ask, ask, ask.”

That’s not to say that controversy — which was common in the days when residents frequently packed City Council meetings to fight new subdivisions, malls and drugstores — won’t come in with the current tide of infill development.

Last month, residents of two neighborhoods — one in Clintonville and the other in Harrison West — filled the council chamber to fight separate infill developments.

One of those was a 108-unit apartment complex proposed by Wagenbrenner Development in Harrison West. The City Council approved the project despite residents’ concern that it would place too many apartments in the space.

It’s the type of project that’s becoming more common as developers realize that the rental market is robust. In the core city, said Mark Wagenbrenner, president of the development company, apartment complexes are 97 percent full, and one-bedroom apartments are almost impossible to find.

Wagenbrenner has infill projects, including hundreds of apartments, in the works in several neighborhoods, many of them on reclaimed industrial land. It doesn’t make sense, he said, for plots that were originally planned for owner-occupied housing to stay that way.

“What you see is people reworking multifamily condo ground for apartments,” Wagenbrenner said.

“That’s going to create tensions. There’s a perception that rental always tends to impact value. That’s true in the suburbs. But in an urban area, we’ve always had a mix of owner-occupied and rental. From a demographic standpoint, we just don’t see any difference.”

In other words, the young professional who was buying a condominium with little credit checking in 2005 is the same person who wants to rent an apartment in today’s tougher credit and housing markets.

“When you’ve gone through the housing crisis we’ve just gone through, people aren’t interested in ownership,” Wagenbrenner said.

Business First: Middle West Spirits doubling up with distillery expansion

Middle West Spirits LLC founders Ryan Lang, left, and Brady Konya plan to more than double the size of their Courtland Avenue plant.

Central Ohio’s first microdistillery is getting a little less micro.

Middle West Spirits LLC plans to more than double the size of its 1230 Courtland Ave. plant, an expansion that will double the capacity of the almost 2-year-old spirits maker.

“Demand for our artisan Oyo products has grown so quickly we’ve outgrown our current space in less than 18 months,” co-owner Brady Konya said in a press release. “Currently we distill, bottle and ship our spirits in a facility that also includes office space and a retail area. We really need 8,000 to 9,000 square feet to meet that growing demand.”

Konya and Ryan Lang opened Middle West in 2010.

Construction is scheduled to start March 1, adding 4,200 square feet to the existing 3,200-square-foot facility. The added space will allow the addition of new distilling equipment and create more room for on-site storage.

The focus will be on more production of brown liquors like whiskey. The Oyo brand lineup includes Vodka, Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, Whiskey and Stone Fruit Vodka, and is sold in Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington D.C. Expansion into Indiana and Florida is expected this summer.

Konya said the expansion is necessary to improve the economies of scale for the business, which he said is squeezed by high state and federal taxes. Middle West has been an advocate of several legislative changes to make the microdistilling business more profitable, including Ohio House Bill 243 that reduced restrictions on the nascent industry and freed up producers to provide samples. The current target is the federal excise tax. House Resolution 777, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Columbus), would bring taxes on microdistilleries in line with those on wineries and microbreweries.

“Highly regressive tax structures at both the state and federal levels make it incredibly difficult to produce and distribute spirits locally and still make a profit,” Konya said. “The federal excise tax for distilleries is (17 times) that of a microbrewery or small winery — which also enjoy graduated tax schedules based on production volume. The tax we pay on each bottle is (four times) the cost to produce the product itself and exceeds the entire cost of overhead to run and operate the company.”

January Central Ohio Housing Sales Best In Years

Central Ohio Housing Report – January 2012
Posted: 2/22/2012
Columbus Board of REALTORS®

January housing sales best in years

(Feb 22, 2012) Not only were central Ohio housing sales up in January, but they showed the highest activity for that month since 2008. The 1,125 sales showed a 6.0 percent increase over January of 2011 according to the Columbus Board of REALTORS®.

In addition, 1,845 residential homes and condos were placed in contract – up over 40 percent from the same time one year ago.

“Sales last month were at the same level as we experienced just prior to the housing boom,” said Jim Coridan, 2012 President of the Columbus Board of REALTORS®. “It’s a direct result of the increased activity during the last few weeks of 2011 – and a great way to begin 2012.”

The inventory of homes for sale in central Ohio continued to decline during 2011 and the beginning of 2012, helping to further stabilize the local housing market. The total number of homes for sale at the end of January was 11,322 – 26.5 percent lower than the previous year (15,391).

“Traditionally a sellers market, central Ohio has been a buyers market since the end of the housing boom back in the mid 2000s,” said Coridan.

A seller's market is one in which there are more buyers than homes for sale. Since supply is less than demand, homes will be higher priced and more attractive to the sellers in the market.

In contrast, a buyer's market is one in which there are lots of sellers and relatively few buyers, which leads to lower prices.

“We were fortunate to have experienced positive absorption last year,” adds Coridan. “The result is that now we’re down to pre-housing boom inventory levels.”

“This is good news for homeowners who want to sell their home and move up and those who’ve been wanting patiently for the inventory levels to come down.”

The monthly housing reports can be found at ColumbusRealtors.com/stats. The reports include breakouts for 18 central Ohio counties and 52 local municipalities and school districts. New areas included in the 2012 reports include: Grove City and local school districts for Big Walnut, Miami Trace, Johnstown-Monroe and Northridge.

The Columbus Board of REALTORS® Multiple Listing Service (MLS) serves all of Franklin, Delaware, Fayette, Licking, Madison, Morrow, Pickaway and Union Counties and parts of Athens, Champaign, Clark, Clinton, Fairfield, Hocking, Knox, Logan, Marion, Muskingum, Perry and Ross Counties.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

10TV: Former Short North "Happy Greek" Owner Murdered

The Franklin County Coroner said Wednesday that the man who was found dead in a gas station suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

A coworker found Mohamed Hassan shot to death inside the Sunoco gas station, located at 201 W. Bridge St., at about 6 a.m. Tuesday, 10TV’s Chuck Strickler reported.

Hassan, 46, died after he was shot multiple times in the back and chest, Franklin County Coroner Jan Gorniak said.

Hassan’s former attorney, Sam Weiner, said that he was shocked when he heard about Hassan’s death.

“I wouldn’t have thought he would take a job as a night clerk,” Weiner said. “He was a high-level functioning entrepreneur.”

Weiner said that Hassan was an Egyptian immigrant and a chef who received training in England, New York and Columbus.

Hassan and his wife, Gihan “Gigi” Zalat, owned an operated the Happy Greek Restaurant in the Short North. In 2006, the couple sold the restaurant and moved it to the Gateway District.

“He was just a good man and hardworking guy,” Weiner said. “He worked 10-14 hours a day. It didn’t make any difference to him, as long as the business was going.”

Two years later, Zalat was indicted and charged in a multi-million dollar mortgage fraud scheme. She was sentenced to four years in prison and was released in 2010.

“They were talking about charging him, and I was fortunate enough to deal with very reasonable people up in Delaware, and they realized he wasn’t the issue,” Weiner said.

Weiner said that he last spoke with Hassan about a year ago when his wife was released from prison, Strickler reported.

“He was in a state of flux,” Weiner said. “He told me he wanted to go back to Egypt to get his head right, that kind of thing. I feel terrible. He really was one great guy, and it’s a real shame he had to meet this end.”

Investigators were reviewing surveillance video of the slaying, which was Dublin’s first in 12 years.

The circumstances surrounding Hassan’s shooting had not yet been determined.

Police said that anyone with information should call 614-410-4847.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Columbus Dispatch: Ohioans will get share of $25 billion foreclosure settlement

The story is here

Ohioans will get share of $25 billion foreclosure settlement

Fund is enough to give each Ohio homeowner in trouble only $1,000

By  Jim Weiker

The Columbus Dispatch Friday February 10, 2012 11:08 AM

Tens of thousands of struggling Ohioans stand to benefit from a landmark settlement reached yesterday with the nation’s largest lenders.

Ohio’s $335 million share of the $25 billion settlement will be used to help residents stay in their homes, demolish thousands of blighted properties and compensate some who lost their homes to foreclosure.

“Although this settlement is of historic proportion, we know it does not solve the mortgage crisis,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “It is a start. It is a first step.”

The deal is the biggest settlement involving a single industry since a 1998 multistate tobacco deal.

Under the agreement between 49 state attorneys general and the lenders — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial — will modify loans for almost 1 million households. They also will send checks to about 750,000 Americans who were foreclosed upon. The banks will have three years to fulfill the terms of the deal.

The five banks service about 55 percent of U.S. home loans. Federal and state officials are pursuing a similar settlement with nine other lenders, which could bring the value of the deal to more than $40 billion.

Ohio’s share of the settlement will be divided this way:

• $102 million will come in the form of loan modifications to homeowners who are delinquent or in the foreclosure process, possibly allowing them to remain in their homes.

• $90 million will allow homeowners who owe more than their home is worth — so-called “ underwater” mortgages — to refinance or reduce the loan balance.

• $44 million will compensate former homeowners who were foreclosed upon between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2011. The amount of the payment will depend on the numbers who apply, but it is expected to be between $1,500 and $2,000 per home. Exactly who will qualify for the money has yet to be determined.

• $97 million will come as a direct payment to the state, $75 million of which the attorney general’s office will use to demolish abandoned properties across the state. The money will be distributed in matching grants to communities, although details on disbursement still are being worked out.

“The time has come to shout, ‘Tear down these houses; tear down these buildings!’ ” DeWine said.

The settlement is the result of months of negotiations between the states and the lenders, after several states including Ohio threatened to sue lenders over shoddy foreclosure paperwork.

President Barack Obama and other politicians praised the settlement as an important step to fixing the nation’s housing industry, which is in a six-year slump.

The agreement, said Obama, “will speed relief to the hardest-hit homeowners, end some of the most-abusive practices of the mortgage industry and begin to turn the page on an era of recklessness that has left so much damage in its wake.”

Others were more cautious. They noted that the total value of the agreement addresses a fraction of housing’s problems and that banks already are modifying loans.

“I really don’t see this as being that big a deal,” said Richard Green, director of the University of Southern California’s Lusk Center for Real Estate. “In reality, the total number of dollars is still small compared to the value of the mortgages that are underwater. To some extent, the numbers reflect losses the lenders would have taken anyway.”

About 9 percent of Ohio’s 1.4 million home mortgages are delinquent, and more than 4 percent are in the foreclosure process, leaving almost 200,000 state homeowners in trouble. The $192 million reserved for troubled Ohio homeowners in the settlement amounts to less than $1,000 per homeowner.

“I think this will be beneficial for some, but we don’t see a lot of folks who are just $1,000 behind,” said Stephen Torsell, executive director of Homes on the Hill, which assists troubled West Side homeowners.

“Sometimes, that’s a large gap to fill, with a reduction in income or loss of a job, but any funds will be helpful,” Torsell said.

Just as important, said some, is that the agreement helps clarify mortgage rules moving forward.

The settlement addresses, for example, one of the biggest complaints from homeowners during housing’s meltdown: the difficulty in getting clear answers from the bank.

The deal requires banks to establish a single point of contact between the bank and homeowner.

The agreement also prohibits lenders from foreclosing on a homeowner who is being considered for a modification.

Banking representatives praised the settlement as an important step toward getting housing back on track.

“It’s good that the settlement is finally here, so we can move on,” said Bob Niemi, executive director of the Ohio Mortgage Bankers Association.

Columbus Dispatch: Council OKs directing Weinland Park property taxes to upgrades there

By  Doug Caruso
The Columbus Dispatch Monday February 6, 2012 10:29 PM

Columbus will set aside new property taxes on developments in the Weinland Park neighborhood to pay for streets and other public improvements there.

The Columbus City Council approved two tax-increment-financing districts tonight in an agreement with Wagenbrenner Development, the company that is redeveloping the former Columbus Coated Fabrics site with homes and condominiums.

In the districts, taxes on the increased value of the property will go into a special fund. That fund will reimburse Wagenbrenner for upgrades it makes to public streets, curbs, street lights and other infrastructure.

Councilman Zach M. Klein, who leads the council’s development committee, praised the Weinland Park project. “It’s been a very successful project in the community,” he said.

The city will reimburse Columbus Public Schools for the schools' share of the property taxes set aside in the districts, City Council President Andrew J. Ginther said after the meeting.

“The policy of the city of Columbus is to make the schools whole,” said Ginther, a former school-board member.

Other agencies supported by property taxes, such as Children Services and the zoo, will not be reimbursed.

Wagenbrenner has been before the council regularly recently for its developments in Weinland Park and the Harrison West neighborhood just south of Ohio State University.

Last month, the council approved zoning changes necessary for the company to build 108 apartments in Harrison West. The council also has supported the company’s requests for millions in state grants to clean up the former industrial sites.

In another matter tonight, the council approved refinancing up to $253.5 million in city debt.

“With the interest rate levels we have today, I am absolutely convinced we can save millions of dollars,” said city Auditor Hugh J. Dorrian.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Columbus Dispatch: Ibiza’s developers face state allegations

By  Jim Weiker
The Columbus Dispatch Wednesday February 8, 2012 6:44 AM

The Ohio Division of Securities has accused the developers of a major Short North condominium project of lying to investors and improperly distributing funds to themselves.

An attorney for the developers denied the allegations and said he plans to dispute them.

The allegations are the latest twist in the six-year saga of Ibiza, a proposed 11-story, 135-unit condominium at Hubbard and High streets.

The securities division accuses developer Apex Realty Enterprises of lying to potential investors in 2006 by stating that 120 of the 135 condominium units had been sold for a total of $68 million.

In fact, says the division, none of the units had been sold at that time.

Apex’s attorney, Timothy Miller, said the figures came from an estimate of the project’s future earnings that was distributed to potential investors and was not a statement of actual sales.

The division also alleges that Apex’s four principals each took about $80,000 in investor money without disclosing it to outside investors. The principals are Raymond Brown, Michael Council, Wilbur Ischie and Rajesh Lahoti, all of Columbus.

In addition, Council improperly received an $80,000 loan from the investment fund, according to the securities charges.

Miller said the principals were entitled to all the money they withdrew and much more that they didn’t.

“They put in more money than that — hundreds of thousands of dollars that they lost on this deal,” said Miller, a lawyer with Isaac, Brant, Ledman & Teeter of Columbus. “They were also entitled to a million-dollar development fee they never took.”

Miller said he will seek a hearing with the securities commission by the end of the week to fight the allegations. “I feel very confident that we will prevail on the claim simply because our clients haven’t done anything wrong,” he said.

The commission said it will issue a cease-and-desist order against the developers if they do not appeal or if a hearing fails to change the allegations. The order is essentially a ruling that the developers violated Ohio securities law but is not a criminal charge.

Brian Laliberte, a Columbus lawyer who represents buyers who lost deposits on Ibiza condominiums, said the state’s allegations reinforce his belief that developers mishandled money.

“The division’s findings confirm everything we believe to be true about the project,” he said.

The allegations provide a further glimpse into the financial collapse of what was to be the biggest condominium development in the Short North, a luxury complex with prices ranging from $159,999 to $1.5 million for a penthouse unit.

Starting in 2008, Apex and its sister company, ARMS Properties, collected 5 percent deposits on 75 of the units for a total of $1.16 million, an average of about $15,000 each.

The project never broke ground, however, and Apex filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April. In a reorganization filing, Apex has proposed reimbursing condominium depositors an average of $2,600.

Other developers are eyeing the property for an apartment complex.

Business First: Sutherlands Lumber closing east Columbus store; promises to reopen in new location

Business First by Dan Eaton, Staff reporter 
Kansas City-based Sutherlands Lumber Co. is winding down business at its store at 575 N. Nelson Road, near Bexley. A spokeswoman would not confirm the last day of operation, but said the company plans to reopen at a new location in Central Ohio, though no location has been found yet.

Family-run Sutherlands has 57 stores in 13 states, primarily in Texas and surrounding states. Central Ohio is home to two additional stores at 2590 Clime Road in southwest Columbus and in Circleville, but otherwise the market is a geographic outlier for the chain, whose next closest store is in Hannibal, Mo.

The spokeswoman said there are no plans to close the other stores and leave Ohio.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Forbes: COSI is 5th Best Children's Museum

 The story is here

COSI: Center of Science and Industry, Columbus, OH

This huge children’s museum is one of the nation’s largest – and one of the few that can also keep adults fully engaged. It features more than 320,000 square feet of exhibit space, including “little kidspace®”, a 10,000 square foot area for kids not yet in first grade, designed by early education experts. The main part of the museum consists of 10 permanent exhibits exploring space, the oceans, our bodies, minds and spirits, gadgets and much more, all geared towards helping children learn while having fun. One unique highlight is the daily live shows, including rat basketball - real rats playing basketball! - and the hair-raising Electrostatic Generator show.

Reuters: Obama presses Congress to step up aid for homeowners

President Obama holds up a piece of paper he demonstrated as what he would like to see used for future mortgage loans while he talks about the economy at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church, Virginia, February 1, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing
WASHINGTON | Wed Feb 1, 2012 6:48pm EST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday proposed a multi-billion-dollar package to help U.S. homeowners refinance and stave off foreclosure, part of an election-year push that is likely to face an uphill battle by the Republican opposition in Congress.

Obama moved to counter Republican criticism that the proposal would use taxpayer money to bail out irresponsible borrowers by stressing that only homeowners current on their payments could benefit. The president had sketched out the plan in his State of the Union address last week.

Home values have dropped 33 percent from their 2006 peak and nearly 11 million Americans now owe more than their homes are worth. Millions more have lost their homes in states that are up for grab in November's presidential election.

The White House is seeking to contrast Obama's stance with that of Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, who has said foreclosures should be allowed to run their course.

"The truth is, it will take more time than any of us would like for the housing market to recover from this crisis," Obama said at a community center in Falls Church, Virginia. "But there are actions we can take, right now, to provide some relief to folks who've been making their payments on time."

The $5 billion to $10 billion program, that would be funded by a tax on the nation's largest banks, would allow homeowners to refinance at record low borrowing costs through government-backed loans. A senior administration official said it could reach 3.5 million Americans whose loans are not government-guaranteed. An additional 11 million homeowners whose loans are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could also be eligible, the official said.

The Federal Housing Administration would run the program -- another sticking point for Republicans, who are worried about the agency's solvency. The FHA has been hard hit by mortgage defaults, and Republican lawmakers have warned it could eventually need a taxpayer bailout.

Republicans also have rejected Obama's call to pay for the program with a bank tax that Congress has turned down twice before.

"Rather than increase the government's stranglehold on our nation's housing finance system, we need to dial it back," said Republican Representative Scott Garrett of New Jersey.


Obama's plan would allow borrowers to refinance even if they owe far more than their homes are worth. Many homeowners have not been able take advantage of current record-low mortgage rates because the value of their homes has fallen and lending standards have tightened.

The White House said the program could save borrowers an average of $3,000 a year. It would be open to homeowners who have been current on their payments for the last six months and who have not missed more than one payment in the prior six months.

Applicants would need to occupy their home and have a credit score of 580 or higher to be eligible for the program. Only loans that fall beneath the FHA lending cap, which reaches as high as $729,750 in some high-cost markets, would be eligible.

"Government certainly can't fix the entire problem on its own. But it is wrong for anyone to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom," Obama said.

The administration also said it intends to ask Congress to broaden a separate refinance program that seeks to help underwater borrowers with loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac win new loan terms. It said the regulator that oversees the two government-controlled mortgage firms - the Federal Housing Finance Agency - had not done enough to make the program accessible.

Together, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA own or guarantee nine out of 10 new U.S. home loans.

In addition, the administration called for a single set of federal standards for the mortgage servicing industry that would include simpler loan forms and greater efforts to assist borrowers facing foreclosure. An effort by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is already underway to streamline mortgage paperwork.

Obama also highlighted an effort the administration has undertaken with FHFA to convert foreclosed properties held by the two firms into rental units.

FHFA said on Wednesday that investors could now sign up to prequalify to bid on properties under the program, and said it would kick off a pilot phase soon.

Last week the administration called on FHFA to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to reduce loan principal for struggling homeowners, an effort to widen the reach of its main foreclosure prevention program -- the Home Affordable Modification Program

When it launched the program in 2009, the administration said it would help as many as 4 million Americans. So far, only about 900,000 households have won permanent mortgage relief under the program.
"I'll be honest - it didn't work at the scale we'd hoped," said Obama.

(Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis and Alister Bull; Editing by Tim Ahmann; Andrea Evans; Diane Craft)

Columbus Dispatch: For buyers and sellers, a few good bets

On the House: For buyers and sellers, a few good bets 

 Jim Weiker

A colleague becomes irritated every time I write a story based on new real-estate statistics.

Perhaps he’s jealous. After all, the figures give me plenty of material for stories.

But, of course, it’s precisely the abundance of material that annoys him.

Real estate is the baseball of industries: awash in numbers that can be manipulated to demonstrate just about anything.

Want to show that home sales are up? Mention that year-over-year sales rose for five of the past six months in central Ohio.

Want to show they’re down? Note that annual home sales dropped in 2011 for the sixth straight year to the slowest year in more than a decade.

Want to show that foreclosures are up? Point out that central Ohio filings have risen for two straight months.

Want to show that they’re down? Point out that foreclosures have dropped now for two consecutive years in Ohio.

For those weary of keeping daily score, here is the big picture:

Let’s start with foreclosures. The rise in foreclosures is often linked with the housing crisis but predates it by a decade. Foreclosures started rising in Ohio in 1996 and rose steadily until 2010, when they began to taper off slightly.

As for home construction, a key measure of the housing industry, it peaked in central Ohio in 2003 before starting a precipitous five-year decline that has yet to show any signs of improvement.

If you’re a homebuilder or a worker who relies on that industry, you’re still in the dark without a flicker of light.

By two other indicators — home sales and average sale prices — the housing industry started its slide in central Ohio in early 2006 and plummeted sharply during the next three years.

But the past two years show a more complex picture: Since the end of 2009, housing sales and prices have largely leveled out; they haven’t improved but neither have they worsened significantly.

What does this mean if you’re a buyer or seller?

If you’re a buyer . . .


The chance that your dream home is going to drop a lot in price is slim.

Prices are still a moving target in some areas, such as certain inner-city neighborhoods that are full of foreclosures. But in most neighborhoods, prices have stabilized and aren’t likely to drop significantly.

Indeed, in some places, prices show signs of rising. The median sales prices of homes in Gahanna, Grandview Heights and Downtown Columbus were up substantially in December compared with a year earlier. (But those are one-month figures only and are based on relatively few sales.)

If you qualify for financing, are ready to buy and have found the right home, you should bite the bullet. Even if the price drops $10,000 on the home you’re eyeing, you’re gambling on three things: that someone else won’t buy the home, that interest rates will stay low and that borrowing won’t get more difficult.

The odds are in your favor on interest rates, which experts think will remain low at least through the year. But Washington is considering several changes that could make borrowing more difficult and perhaps more costly.

In addition, the number of homes for sale in central Ohio is sharply down from a year ago, meaning that there’s going to be more competition for that home you’re considering.

If you’re a seller . . .


Forget 2005. Your home probably isn’t worth that now. In fact, I happen to know exactly what it’s worth: No matter what you paid for it, no matter what you owe on it, no matter what it once appraised for, it’s worth precisely what someone will pay for it.

If your home has sat on the market for six months with only a handful of queries and no offers, you need to drop the price if you want to sell it.

If you can’t afford to drop the price, you had better have some cash to bring to the closing or plan to rent it, or start pleading with your bank.

So what does the future hold? Anyone who tells you they know for sure doesn’t know for sure.

But, in housing, there are many more reasons to think the worst is behind us than ahead of us.

Jim Weiker is the home and garden writer. Reach him at 614-461-5513 or by email.