MetLife Provides $725 Million in Financing for Manhattan Office Buildings

November 1, 2011

Emily Philips via MetLife

NEW YORK, Oct 31, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) — MetLife, Inc. MetLife announced today that it provided, through its real estate investments department, a $350 million, five year, fixed rate mortgage for the office condominium unit at the Bertelsmann Building, located at 1540 Broadway in Manhattan. MetLife, which provides loans on office, multi-family, industrial and retail properties, has a $40 billion* commercial mortgage portfolio.

"We are pleased to be providing financing for such a high quality asset as 1540 Broadway," said Robert Merck, senior managing director and head of real estate investments for MetLife. "We originate, underwrite and manage each investment with a long-term view, and we are well positioned to identify and complete attractive financing opportunities in top-tier markets such as New York."

The Bertelsmann Building is a 44-story, 907,000 square foot, Class A office building located in Times Square. The building is leased to several high quality tenants, including Viacom, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP, Duane Morris LLP, and Yahoo!. The borrower is a joint venture between affiliates of Edge Fund Advisors and HSBC Alternative Investments.

In addition to providing financing for 1540 Broadway, MetLife was the lead lender on a $725 million loan for Boston Properties’ 59-story, 1.6 million square foot, Class A office tower and retail property located at 601 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. MetLife provided $375 million of the total $725 million loan, joining with Prudential Mortgage Capital Co. and New York Life.

Through its real estate investments department, MetLife oversees a well diversified real estate portfolio of approximately $60 billion*, which is one of the largest in the U.S. and consists of real estate equities, commercial mortgages and agricultural mortgages. MetLife is a global leader in real estate investment and real estate asset management, with a vast network of regional offices that keep in close contact with major real estate markets. For more information, visit http://www.metlife.com/realestate .

MetLife, Inc. is a leading global provider of insurance, annuities and employee benefit programs, serving 90 million customers in over 50 countries. Through its subsidiaries and affiliates, MetLife holds leading market positions in the United States, Japan, Latin America, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. For more information, visit http://www.metlife.com .

This press release may contain or incorporate by reference information that includes or is based upon forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements give expectations or forecasts of future events. These statements can be identified by the fact that they do not relate strictly to historical or current facts. They use words such as "anticipate," "estimate," "expect," "project," "intend," "plan," "believe" and other words and terms of similar meaning in connection with a discussion of future operating or financial performance. In particular, these include statements relating to future actions, prospective services or products, future performance or results of current and anticipated services or products, sales efforts, expenses, the outcome of contingencies such as legal proceedings, trends in operations and financial results.

Any or all forward-looking statements may turn out to be wrong. They can be affected by inaccurate assumptions or by known or unknown risks and uncertainties. Many such factors will be important in determining the actual future results of MetLife, Inc., its subsidiaries and affiliates. These statements are based on current expectations and the current economic environment. They involve a number of risks and uncertainties that are difficult to predict. These statements are not guarantees of future performance. Actual results could differ materially from those expressed or implied in the forward-looking statements. Risks, uncertainties, and other factors that might cause such differences include the risks, uncertainties and other factors identified in MetLife, Inc.’s most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K (the "Annual Report") filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the "SEC") and Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q filed by MetLife, Inc. with the SEC after the date of the Annual Report under the captions "Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements" and "Risk Factors", MetLife, Inc.’s Current Report on Form 8-K dated March 1, 2011 and other filings MetLife, Inc. makes with the SEC. MetLife, Inc. does not undertake any obligation to publicly correct or update any forward-looking statement if we later become aware that such statement is not likely to be achieved. Please consult any further disclosures MetLife, Inc. makes on related subjects in reports to the SEC.

 

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HARP Strikes A Sour Chord

November 1, 2011

Matthew Campione via Forbes

Around 11 million homeowners, about 25% of all homeowners, owe more debt on their homes than the homes are worth, hence the term “underwater mortgage”. Most were victims of the housing bubble (2004-2008) fueled by easy financing that artificially inflated prices while people were buying houses, or borrowing against their existing homes. The interest rate on these mortgages in most instances is in excess of 6.5% but the homeowners do not qualify for refinancing at current interest rates as low as 4%. This means the homeowner is paying hundreds of dollars and in some instances thousands of dollars more each month than he would otherwise pay if he could refinance at current rates.

Lenders may have already written off a portion of these loans for financial or tax reasons, but the borrower is still treated as owing the entire amount with monthly payments still due per the terms of the mortgage, including payments on amounts the lender may have treated as a loss.  Every month the lenders get the borrowers to make payments on the underwater loans, the lenders receive a windfall of interest payments well in excess of current market interest rates. Lenders actually prefer to keep the homeowner captive to the terms of the mortgage and debt in excess of home value. Imagine how much is being paid on underwater mortgages each month to the satisfaction of the lenders. Every month a homeowner writes a check on an underwater mortgage is another victory for the lender.

It is in this environment the lender plays on the homeowner’s fears and takes advantage of his moral predisposition to pay what he owes. It is obvious that if most people stopped paying on their underwater mortgages lenders would no longer have the luxury of letting the homeowners twist in the wind. Of course, this will not happen because most people fear the stigma of foreclosure and bankruptcy and do not want to be among the first to default in what may not be a mass movement. So most borrowers will act the way lenders are counting on already.

If the President and Congress really want to help these homeowners, a program much broader than HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) should be established. For example, legislation could provide for a new subset of a Chapter 11 or 13 bankruptcy for underwater mortgages only, but without the stigma of the B(ankruptcy) word. Under this program underwater mortgages would be modified based on the fair market value of the home, and the net worth and income of the homeowner.

Continuing with this example, homeowners that meet the following criteria would be eligible to participate: (1) home value less than 85% of the mortgage, (2) annual PITI (principal, interest, property taxes and insurance) greater than 30% of homeowner’s adjusted income (mostly cash income less taxes and other specified permitted expenses), and (3) an adjusted net worth (e.g., excluding certain assets that would be exempted in a conventional bankruptcy) less than 25% of the mortgage amount. If the home value is at least 75% of the mortgage the interest rate would be reduced (not below current market rates) and principal amortization would be deferred (not beyond the original mortgage term) so that PITI would be no more than 30% of adjusted income. If the value of the home is less than 75% of the debt the principal amount of the debt would be reduced so that the home value is not less than 75% of the reduced mortgage. The reduction of debt would be further limited so as not to increase the homeowners adjusted net worth in excess of 25% of the reduced mortgage. The interest rate reduction and deferral of principal amortization discussed above would also apply to the reduced mortgage so PITI is no more than 30% of adjusted income. In situations where a mortgage cannot be modified as discussed above because 30% of adjusted income cannot support payments on a modify mortgage, the program would allow for a short sale with the borrower no longer liable for all or part of the remaining loan balance.  Most important, this program would allow the borrower to immediately reduce PITI payments to no more than 30% of adjusted income until the debt restructuring is completed thereby discouraging lender procrastination. The establishment of the program itself may make lenders more willing to work with homeowners outside the program.

This program would not create a windfall for the borrower. Borrowers with substantial income or substantial net worth will still be expected to honor their loan obligations or pursue existing alternatives. However, I suspect such legislation would not be popular with lenders, parties who provided guaranties related to securitized debt, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. But like the pig in the python, it is time for our economy to digest the underwater mortgage problem.

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Mortgage Insurers Grapple with High Delinquency Rates

October 25, 2011

Paragon Financial Limited, via Market Watch

The Paragon Report Provides Equity Research on PMI Group & Radian Group

NEW YORK, NY, Oct 25, 2011 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) — Mortgage Insurers continue to struggle as the aftermath of the recession and economic slowdown weighs on their recovery. Matthew Howlett, an analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd, argues that Mortgage Insurers probably won’t "be able to handle a sustained increase in delinquencies" that would come with another recession. The Paragon Report examines investing opportunities in the Property & Casualty Insurance Industry and provides equity research on PMI Group, Inc. PMI -14.58% and Radian Group, Inc. RDN -3.34% . Access to the full company reports can be found at:

http://www.paragonreport.com/PMI

http://www.paragonreport.com/RDN

Last month a report released by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency revealed that the number of homeowners behind on their mortgages rose during the second quarter of 2011. Early-stage delinquencies, which count mortgages that are between 30 and 59 days delinquent, increased 0.4 percent in the second quarter, the report said. More serious delinquencies — mortgages that are 60 or more days delinquent — and delinquent mortgages to bankrupt borrowers also increased slightly in the second quarter after falling for the previous five quarters.

The Paragon Report provides investors with an excellent first step in their due diligence by providing daily trading ideas, and consolidating the public information available on them. For more investment research on the Property & Casualty Insurance industry register with us free at http://www.paragonreport.com and get exclusive access to our numerous stock reports and industry newsletters.

High delinquency rates have plagued Mortgage Insurers. PMI Group said on Saturday that the main subsidiary of the company has been seized by Arizona insurance regulators, and will begin paying only 50 percent of claims. Under a court order obtained by Arizona regulators, "the Arizona Department of Insurance now has full possession, management and control of PMI," the company said in a brief statement.

The seizure of Arizona-based PMI Mortgage Insurance Co comes two months after two PMI units were ordered to stop writing new business due to their failure to meet capital requirements.

The Paragon Report has not been compensated by any of the above-mentioned publicly traded companies. Paragon Report is compensated by other third party organizations for advertising services. We act as an independent research portal and are aware that all investment entails inherent risks. Please view the full disclaimer at http://www.paragonreport.com/disclaimer

SOURCE: Paragon Financial Limited

Copyright 2011 Marketwire, Inc., All rights reserved.

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MGIC Weathering Mortgage Storm

October 25, 2011

Paul Gores, Journal Sentinel

Although the private mortgage insurance industry continues to lose money amid the lingering foreclosure crisis, Milwaukee’s MGIC Investment Corp. is in far better condition than a competitor that was seized by regulators last week, analysts said Monday.

Claims on mortgage defaults had sapped capital at Arizona-based PMI Mortgage Insurance Co. to the point that regulators in that state took control of the company and ordered it to pay claims at only 50 cents on the dollar.

Mortgage insurers pay lenders part of their costs when borrowers default.

MGIC, which has not had a profitable year since 2006 and last Friday reported a third-quarter loss of $165.2 million, nonetheless is prepared to handle losses, analysts said.

"MGIC is clearly in a better position than PMI was," said Thane Bublitz, a financial industry analyst for Thrivent Asset Management in Appleton.

MGIC raised about $1 billion in new capital in 2010, and the parent company intends to contribute $200 million to its insurance operations. Company investor relations spokesman Michael Zimmerman said Monday that even under a more stressful scenario, MGIC would expect to have resources to be able to pay its mortgage insurance policy obligations.

In addition, the company has – and is seeking an extension of – waivers to ease capital requirements needed to write new business if its risk-to-capital ratio would no longer meet normal standards. MGIC also has in place a subsidiary which, if needed, could issue new policies while the current one handles policies already in its portfolio.

PMI had been under regulatory scrutiny as its capital fell, and was ordered by regulators in August to stop selling new policies.

Jim Ryan, an analyst with Morningstar Inc. in Chicago, said MGIC is "certainly nowhere near as bad off as PMI was even three months ago."

As competitors are restricted from issuing new mortgage insurance, a stronger company such as MGIC could benefit, Ryan said. New policies are desirable because they provide new revenue and, under today’s restrictions, are less risky than those from the mid-2000s that continue to go into default.

"These are all things that work in their favor," Ryan said.

Still, how MGIC fares in the long run depends on the duration of the downturn in housing, analysts said. MGIC doesn’t appear to need additional capital at the moment, but could down the road, they said.

"If the housing market doesn’t stabilize and start improving, then that’s when they may get into trouble," Bublitz said.

He noted, however, that "fundamental trends" have been improving for MGIC.

While Ryan stressed that MGIC isn’t in the same boat as PMI, he said the housing market remains in a malaise – something MGIC can’t control. He said "it’s possible, but it’s not inevitable" that MGIC would need to raise additional capital.

 

 

 

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Re-Stringing the Housing HARP

October 25, 2011

David Reilly, Wall Street Journal

The government’s latest move to bolster housing marks yet another transfer from savers to borrowers.

Such transfers have been the norm since the Federal Reserve instituted its zero-interest-rate policy in late 2008—shifting funds away from the likes of depositors, bondholders and pension funds to debtors. The latest iteration came Monday, when the Federal Housing Finance Agency unveiled changes to a program meant to make it easier for underwater homeowners who are current on payments to refinance into a lower-rate mortgage.

The thinking is that this will reduce defaults. Or as FHFA said, "Such refinances bring benefits to borrowers, to housing markets, and to [Fannie Maeand Freddie Mac] and taxpayers."

Missing from that winners’ list: investors who finance housing markets by purchasing mortgage-backed bonds. They will fund this new effort. Here is how: As homeowners refinance, investors who bought mortgage bonds will be given back their money and will have little option but to reinvest at far lower yields. The transfer is the difference in yield.

Just how big that will be isn’t clear as it is tough to tell how effective the program will be. The original Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, led to refinancings by 894,000 homeowners in about two years. Estimates for how many borrowers could now take part range from 500,000 to three million, while FHFA said it is "very difficult to project the number of mortgages that may be refinanced." Some mortgage bonds traded lower Monday on news of the plan.

Granted, prepayment risk is inherent to mortgage bonds. There is also likely to be little sympathy for bondholders having to give up money to shore up housing. But that ignores that the government is picking winners and losers. Effectively, it is deciding some losses on some things are acceptable, say on 401(k) retirement plans, yet aren’t on others, namely housing.

The government also potentially undermines its own effort to create a housing-finance market independent of Fannie and Freddie. Many mortgage investors may choose to reinvest elsewhere, ultimately shrinking the pool of lenders available to fund that market. In the short term, the Fed may well take their place. That isn’t the basis, though, for a functioning mortgage market underpinned by private capital.

Another unsettling wrinkle: The FHFA is adding an incentive for borrowers to refinance into shorter-maturity mortgages. But in many cases, this will mean a borrower’s monthly payment, including principal repayment, won’t decline. It may actually rise. That undermines the notion that these borrowers are unable to meet monthly payments and need government assistance.

Banks may also benefit depending on how FHFA decides to limit the risk that they could be forced under some circumstances to repurchase shoddily underwritten mortgages.

The biggest issue, though, isn’t necessarily with HARP or similar programs. It is that both parties in Washington are studiously avoiding any real effort to overhaul housing finance and decide what to do about Fannie and Freddie.

 

 

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Wholesale is Part of the Solution … and Ready to Grow Again

October 25, 2011

John Walsh, via Mortgage Professional

The mortgage industry has dealt with sweeping changes over the past few years significantly impacting the mortgage broker and wholesale lending. As a result, the wholesale origination model has been largely redefined. Although many brokers and lenders have left the business, the wholesale channel now has a well-defined regulatory framework with higher-quality and better-skilled mortgage professionals to advise borrowers on their most important financial decision. This is why I believe the mortgage broker will thrive in the coming years.

I see a compelling future for wholesale lending, one that plays a vital role and guarantees that borrowers have access to the most competitive rates and an array of responsible program options. In the absence of wholesale, there is no doubt that consumer choice would be significantly reduced, as the mortgage marketplace would be dominated by a handful of large national lenders. The mortgage broker-to-consumer option helps guarantee healthy competition in the marketplace.
Additionally, mortgage brokers provide borrowers with access to a mortgage professional who will act as their partner, trusted advisor and advocate throughout the lending process. Mortgage brokers are knowledgeable about multiple products from various lenders and can help borrowers navigate the myriad of options to find the loan that is best suited to their needs.

Wholesale lending plays a critical role in ensuring that the mortgage industry does not become too heavily reliant on a select few large lenders, so that borrowers will continue to have plenty of mortgage options for any purchase or refinance transaction. In the coming years, mortgage brokers and lenders need to be committed to ethical behavior, responsible lending, ongoing training and the highest levels of customer service. Together, we must continue to improve, practice responsible lending, and advocate for this important channel and solution for borrowers.

 

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U.S. Plan to Expand Mortgage Aid May Boost Spending, Stumpf Says

October 25, 2011

Donal Griffin, via Bloomberg

U.S. regulators’ plan to expand aid to underwater mortgage borrowers may leave consumers with more spending money and boost the economy, said Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf.

“This could be really helpful,” Stumpf said today at a press club lunch in Atlanta. It may put “more money in people’s pockets. They’ll go out and spend, and get this economy going again.” San Francisco-based Wells Fargo is the nation’s biggest home lender.

Regulators will let qualified borrowers refinance mortgages regardless of how much their houses have dropped in value as the government expands relief efforts for homeowners. The Federal Housing Finance Agency will also enhance the Home Affordable Refinance Program by eliminating or reducing some fees and waiving some risk for lenders, Edward J. DeMarco, the agency’s acting director, said today.

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Obama Offers Mortgage Relief on Western Trip

October 25, 2011

Obama, in first leg of three-day Western trip, offers mortgage relief in struggling Nevada.

Jim Kuhnhenn, via Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — President Barack Obama offered mortgage relief on Monday to hundreds of thousands of Americans, his latest attempt to ease the economic and political fallout of a housing crisis that has bedeviled him as he seeks a second term.

"I’m here to say that we can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job," the president declared outside a family home in Las Vegas, the epicenter of foreclosures and joblessness. "Where they won’t act, I will."

Making a case for his policies and a new effort to circumvent roadblocks put up by Republican lawmakers, Obama also laid out a theme for his re-election, saying that there’s "no excuse for all the games and the gridlock that we’ve been seeing in Washington."

"People out here don’t have a lot of time or a lot of patience for some of that nonsense that’s been going on in Washington," he said.

The new rules for federally guaranteed loans represent a recognition that measures the administration has taken so far on housing have not worked as well as expected.

His jobs bill struggling in Congress, Obama tried a new catchphrase — "We can’t wait" — to highlight his administrative initiatives and to shift blame to congressional Republicans for lack of action to boost employment and stimulate an economic recovery.

Later in the week, Obama plans to announce measures to make it easier for college graduates to pay back federal loans. Such executive action allows Obama to address economic ills and other domestic challenges in spite of Republican opposition to most of his proposals.

While Obama has proposed prodding the economy with payroll tax cuts and increased spending on public works and aid to states, he has yet to offer a wholesale overhaul of the nation’s housing programs. Economists point to the burst housing bubble as the main culprit behind the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, the combination of unemployment, depressed wages and mortgages that exceed house values has continued to put a strain on the economy.

While the White House tried to avoid predicting how many homeowners would benefit from the revamped refinancing program, the Federal Housing Finance Agency estimated an additional 1 million people would qualify. Moody’s Analytics say the figure could be as high as 1.6 million.

Under Obama’s proposal, homeowners who are still current on their mortgages would be able to refinance no matter how much their home value has dropped below what they still owe.

"Now, over the past two years, we’ve already taken some steps to help folks refinance their mortgages," Obama said, listing a series of measures. "But we can do more."

At the same time, Obama acknowledged that his latest proposal will not do all that’s not needed to get the housing market back on its feet. "Given the magnitude of the housing bubble, and the huge inventory of unsold homes in places like Nevada, it will take time to solve these challenges," he said.

In spelling out the plan to homeowners in a diverse, working-class Las Vegas neighborhood, Obama chose a state that provides the starkest example of the toll the housing crisis has exacted from Americans. One in every 118 homes in the state of Nevada received a foreclosure notice in September, the highest ratio in the country, according to the foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac.

Obama visited the home of Jose and Lissette Bonilla, two grocery store workers whose house was refurbished under a program paid for by the original 2009 economic stimulus plan. The program was designed to stabilize communities hit by foreclosures or abandonment. Lissette Bonilla said she told the president that without his stimulus plan, the five members of her family would still be living in a one-bedroom apartment.

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney criticized Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for proposing last week while in Las Vegas that the government not interfere with foreclosures. "Don’t try to stop the foreclosure process," Romney told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Let it run its course and hit the bottom."

"That is not a solution," Carney told reporters on Air Force One. He said Romney would tell homeowners, "`You’re on your own, tough luck.’"

The president also was using his visit to Las Vegas to promote a $15 billion neighborhood revitalization plan contained in his current jobs proposal that would help redevelop abandoned and foreclosed properties and stabilize affected neighborhoods.

The Nevada stop was the first leg of a three-day tour of Western states, blending his pitch for boosting the economy with an aggressive hunt for campaign cash.

From Nevada, Obama will head for the glamor of Hollywood and the homes of movie stars Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas and producer James Lassiter for some high-dollar fundraising. On Tuesday, he will tape an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. He will also raise money in San Francisco and in Denver.

Before the president addressed his mortgage refinancing plan, he attended a fundraiser at the luxurious Bellagio hotel, offering a sharp contrast between well-to-do who are fueling his campaign and the struggling homeowners hoping to benefit from his policies.

The mortgage assistance plan by the Federal Housing Finance Agency will help borrowers with little or no equity in their homes, many of whom are stuck with 6 or 7 percent mortgage rates, to seek refinancing and take advantage of lower rates. The FHFA plans to remove caps that had allowed homeowners to refinance only if they owed up to 25 percent more than their homes are worth.

The refinancing program is being extended until the end of 2013. It was originally scheduled to end in June 2012.

The administration’s incremental steps to help homeowners have prompted even the president’s allies to demand more aggressive action.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza, a moderate Democrat from California, gave voice to Democratic frustration on the housing front last week when he announced his decision not to seek re-election, blaming the Obama administration directly for not addressing the crisis.

"I am dismayed by the administration’s failure to understand and effectively address the current housing foreclosure crisis," Cardoza said in a statement that drew widespread attention. "Home foreclosures are destroying communities and crushing our economy, and the administration’s inaction is infuriating."

Obama’s new "We can’t wait" slogan is his latest in a string of stump-speech refrains he hopes will pressure Republicans who oppose his $447 billion jobs package. He initially exhorted Congress to "Pass this bill!" then demanded "I want it back," all in the face of unanimous Republican opposition in the Senate, though even some Democrats were unhappy with the plan.

Obama has now agreed to break the proposal into its component parts and seek congressional approval one measure at a time. The overall proposal would increase taxes on millionaires, lower payroll taxes on workers and businesses for a year, pay for bridge, road and school construction projects, and help states and local governments retain teachers and emergency workers.

The proposals with the best chance of passage are the payroll tax cuts and extensions in jobless insurance to the long-term unemployed.

Countering Obama’s criticism, GOP leaders say the sluggish economy and stubbornly high unemployment rate are the result of failed Obama administration policies.

"It’s another day in the campaign life of President Obama, and he’s bringing his re-election tour to Nevada, ground zero for the damaging effects of his failed economic policies," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Monday.

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Mortgage Rates Rise to Begin The Week

October 24, 2011

Matthew Graham, Mortgage News Daily

Mortgage Rates rose slightly today.  Bond markets were slightly weaker today while stocks surged on optimism over Wednesday’s conclusion to the EU summit which some hope will contain a "solution" to the seemingly imminent Greek default.

So no…  Rates are not in the 3’s, nor is there any guarantee from the government that they will be.  The expansion of the government’s refi program doesn’t make any promises about rates either.  Preliminary details were out today and the main thing to be aware of is this: the changes being discussed ONLY apply to ELIGIBILITY.  There’s no mention whatsoever of any government mandated interest rate for the ‘refi’ program.

If anything, the additional economic optimism over a slightly higher percentage of the population being able to refinance and prevent foreclosure points to HIGHER rates if the economic effects of the program are even measurable at all-a matter still open to debate.  Bottom line for today, rates are slightly higher, and the only thing that will bring them down in the short term is either some really awful economic data or a really anticlimactic conclusion to the EU Summit on Wednesday.

But before you consider what today’s rates are, here’s a Good Article on "How to Shop for a Mortgage" from last week.

Today’s Rates:

  • BESTEXECUTION 30YR FIXED –   Mostly 4.25% today
  • FHA/VA – More 3.875% today, 3.75% still out there for some.
  • 15 YEAR FIXED -  Mostly 3.5%
  • 5 YEAR ARMS – low 3% range, huge variations from lender to lender.

Ongoing Guidance While Best-Ex Is At Or Below 4.25%:

Guidance: While we’re encouraged by rates’ recent ability to draw a line in the sand at 4.25%, we can’t rule out upside risks from European headlines or domestic economic surprises.  With the increased volatility in the outlook, we’d lean more toward locking, EVEN THOUGH that volatility can swing both ways.   The possibility that rates get lower in spite of the increased disposition to lock is part of the frustration of  dealing with volatility.  But better safe than sorry.

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Lake Erie “Mod Pod” Listed for $19.5M; Was Drop Ceiling Inventor’s Shangri-la

October 24, 2011

Laura Vecsey, Zillow

Dobermans released every two hours to patrol the property. Underground streets lined with a restaurant, bars and a barber shop. A private beach and marina sculpted into the shores of Lake Erie. Helicopter pad. Rotating garage floor made of marble so no one had to back out that rare Ducati.

These are just a few of the unique features found in the Waterwood Estate, a fascinating Ohio property owned by the late Don Brown, an inventor who gave the world the drop ceiling.

“It takes four-and-a-half hours to show this property,” said Scott Street of Sotheby’s, the listing agent for the Waterwood Estate, which is now listed on the Vermilion real estate market for $19.5 million.

The property sits on 160 acres, boasts three-quarter miles of frontage on Lake Erie and contains a series of “pods” connected by glass corridors that were navigated by scooters and golf carts.

When Brown and his wife, Shirley, were killed in a plane crash in 2010, their two living sons (their third son, Kevin, died in a speed boat race in 1989) decided to sell the sensationally unique property. But to who?

So far, Street said the listing has attracted a ministry group and a group of Colorado helicopter pilots have expressed interest in turning the property into a fly-in, fly-out resort (Waterwood comes with an FAA-approved helicopter pad). Then there’s a couple who, perhaps like the octogenarian Browns, wants to grow old in an amenity-laden house.

“This was a very forward-thinking house when it was built in 1990 in terms of systems and functionality,” said Randal Darwin, vice president of CB Richard Ellis, the firm brought in to help market Waterwood.

“It was 20 years ahead of its time because of its features and unique characteristics. Mr. Brown literally broke the mold on this house. I know he had the white brick specially fabricated for this project and when it was done, he had the molds destroyed so no one else would ever use them,” Darwin said.

These few details only begin to tell the story of Brown’s Waterwood Estate. One other important fact? The listed size of Brown’s dream house is off — by about 30,000 square feet.

The Inventor and the Architect

“They’ve got the square-footage listed wrong,” said architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen. “It’s not 38,000 square feet. It’s 60,000 square feet. The underground floor is the same size as the main floor. They forgot to count that.”

Jacobsen would know about the true size and intricacy of the Brown estate. The world-acclaimed architect was hired by Brown to deliver the visionary design, just as Jacobsen has done for more than 400 private homes for clients that included Jackie Onassis, Meryl Streep and members of the Mellon family. But the collaboration ended when the secretive Brown fired Jacobsen.

“We were a year-and-a-half into the project and he sacked me. I’ve never been fired before,” Jacobsen said from his Washington D.C. office, still bemused about the turn of events.

“He kept a secret of his life. He thought everyone wanted him. He’d say, ‘Hugh, jealousy is a terrible thing.’ I asked him, ‘Don, do you think I’m jealous of you?’ I think he was offended,” Jacobsen said.

At 81, Jacobsen has been at the forefront of American architecture for sixty years, ever since he attended Yale and apprenticed with Philip Johnson. The rich and famous are Jacobsen’s clients. He delivers uniquely landscaped structures that reference the Quaker-simple lines of the American barn, smokehouses and farmhouses. He has won many awards and published three books cataloging his work, but his first look at the Waterwood Estate came when he saw listing photos after the property was put up for sale.

“About two months before he died, after 20 years since I’d heard from him, he called and said,  ‘I guess you’d like to see the place.’ I said, yes, I’d like to see it. My homes are like my children. But then he died in the crash,” Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen used his trademark “pod” style design to give the design more flexibility and allow it to evolve as Brown wanted other things added. The entire home is a series of 20 castle-like concrete buildings connected by glass corridors and each structure is topped with a slate pyramid.

Marble, Glass, Polar Bears and Dobermans

On the lower level of the house, there are a series of streets built to scale and named after streets in cities like Georgetown, Paris and Savannah.

“There were five bars in the house, one with a full-mounted polar bear. There’s a barber shop with a pole where Don would go every morning for a shave. At one end of the house, he had cages that would open every hour on the hour and two Dobermans trained to run the perimeter of the property would run out. The next hour, another pair would take off,” Jacobsen said.

He also used tons of sand and dirt from the lake shoreline, where cliffs were graded to build a beach and the harbor, to shape hills into the flat, Midwestern terrain. From the road, the house is not visible behind those hills. But from the lake, boaters can see the modernist white castle.

If it sounds wild, Jacobsen disagrees.

“No, it’s not wild. It’s your dream. This house is the house of an inventor. It has a space where, inside eight white columns, there are chairs and a couch. This floor lifts up through the ceiling to a pergola so guests can look out over the lake. The floor also goes down to the ground floor, where there’s a piano so the family can sing Christmas carols,” Jacobsen said.

“Near the main entrance, there is a 10-by-10-foot room behind the closet. You slide the door, remove the clothes’ pole and there’s a fully decorated Christmas tree. The room had its own air filter and air conditioner to keep the dust off the ornaments. He was so embarrassed about having a fake tree he had it sprayed so that it smelled like pine needles,” he said.

What amuses Jacobsen is that despite being fired, his plans were fully executed. Brown brought in another renowned and innovative architect, the late Hideo Sasaki.

“Don told Sasaki, ‘Don’t change Jacobsen’s plan.’ And they didn’t change a thing. Sasaki would call and tell me,” Jacobsen said.

During his lifetime, Don Brown never allowed the property to be photographed. It was a sanctuary for his family, lacking for nothing. Now, with the house listed for sale and photographs to prove its splendid fruition, the architect who designed Don Brown’s house is curious.

“He was building his dream, he had money and he hired me. We bought the furniture, the art, we did the landscape, then I was fired. I’d like to see it, but I’ve  never paid my own airfare to see a home I built for a client,” Jacobsen said.

And if you’re wondering whether the home has a drop ceiling, it does — in a workshop.

 

 

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