DEBJ Best Developer

Nothing like the weekend to get the real estate buzz brewing. Almost every developer I spoke with — three, all off the record, of course — is scratching their head about the way Hayman Capital Management’s Kyle Bass has brought Mehrdad Moayedi, founder and CEO of Centurion Development, into the United Development Funding story spotlight.

Bass is accusing United Development Funding of running a Ponzi scheme at the Grapevine-based institution. The company was raided by the FBI on Thursday. United Development Funding has financed more than $1 billion in residential development across Texas.

Agents carried boxes out the company door all day Friday to see what UDF is up to.  We think it’s because, starting last month, Bass began posting reports and sending letters to the media with claims that UDF is mishandling investor REIT funds, overstating the value of its assets and making improper loans to developers.

A “billion dollar house of cards” and a “Ponzi-like real estate scheme,” is what he called it. Kyle Bass’s website is udfexposed.com.

It’s hard to tell exactly what the company has been doing, unless we look at one of their prospectuses. What a firm does with investor money is supposed to be outlined in a prospectus, and the client is supposed to read it (even the fine print) and understand.

One of Bass’ beefs is that UDF is overly concentrated with lending to two clients, one being Centurion America.

“The concentration issue becomes that much more problematic if the borrowers cannot repay the loans,” said Bass, whose hedge fund, Hayman Capital Management LP, claims that UDF is operating like a Ponzi scheme by “using new investor money to pay existing investors.” At a website put together by his team at Hayman Capital — UDFexposed.com — the likely outcome is bankruptcy, he predicts.

But here’s my confusion: Centurion’s acres of dirt are tangible assets — secured by lots. And they are located in some of the hottest parts of North Texas, too, like The Normandy in Plano, Prosper, Flower Mound. And our real estate market is not in trouble as of this date and time, though house flipping is making a comeback in Vegas — yikes! Not saying our market will always be so strong, and maybe that’s one of Bass’ points.  But Centurion usually makes damn good buys — many of the company’s assets were bought back when the market was low and the company held them. Kind of a bottom-feeder. Mehrdad bought the Stoneleigh out of bankruptcy, for example.

Centurion-0122_0003_frisco

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What the hec! A few days ago a story came across the desk about Kyle Bass, he of Hayman Capital Management, complaining about a Ponzi scheme going on at a financial institution in Grapevine. This happened about the time we were hearing about Nancy Carroll and the missing funds over at Millennium Title. Unrelated, but my antennae perked.

Now KXAS-TV is reporting that the FBI just raided the office of United Development Funding, a Grapevine company that has financed more than $1 billion in residential development across Texas.

This is the company Bass says operates as a Ponzi scheme.

Agents were seen carrying boxes out of United Development Funding on the 1300 block of Municipal Way and loading the boxes into large trucks.

Starting last month, Bass began posting reports and sending letters to the media with claims that United Development is mishandling investor funds, overstating the value of its assets and making improper loans to developers.

A “billion dollar house of cards” and a “Ponzi-like real estate scheme,” is what he called it.

But Bass had been shorting the company’s stock, United Development Fund, which has lost more than half its value in the last couple of months. Of course, that’s what hedge funds and brokers do to make money for their clients. (Some have accused Bass of being self-serving and making all this noise to benefit his shorts.) It is unusual, however, that they blow the whistle and call foul. Bass even “says he’s aided small investors who might have lost money with the company.” Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 2.15.08 PM

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Britt fair headshot

Does this guy look familiar? He should, he is Britt Fair, former President of Hexter-Fair/First American Title Company, once a family title business with deep roots in Texas founded by the Hexter family in 1916 and bought by Britt’s grandfather Bill Fair in 1968. California-based First American Title Insurance Co. bought Hexter-Fair in January of 2012, along with all 21 Dallas Fort Worth-area offices. Hexter-Fair owner and CEO David Fair, Britt’s father, ran the company as chairman, then this guy took over.

In November, it didn’t surprise me to learn that Britt, a graduate of Highland Park High School who holds an undergraduate degree from Princeton as well as an MBA in accounting and finance from the University of Texas at Arlington, was striking out on his own to create Fair Texas Title.

Britt’s detailed and keen analysis of the North Texas real estate market has long captured local Realtors, and he and his father are probably the most-quoted real estate experts in North Texas. Here it is, one month from taking his license live, and three Fair Title Texas offices are open, staffed, and doing business the old-fashioned way, with a caring, personal feel, exclusive focus on North Texas, and the best possible service.

The family legacy continues…

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Remodeling Impact Report

The new Remodeling Impact Report from the National Association of Realtors looks at renovation “joy scores,” as well as reasons for doing remodeling jobs and which ones Realtors say get the biggest ROI. Photo: Ebby Halliday Realtors

Americans are crazy about renovations. Entire entertainment mediums are dedicated to our love of home improvement, like DIY Network and HGTV Magazine.

In the first ten months of October 2015 alone, Americans spent $326.1 billion on remodeling their homes. The big goals were to upgrade worn-out surfaces, finishes, and materials; add features and improve livability; and just because it was time for a change.

That’s according to a new report from the National Association of Realtors, the 2015 Remodeling Impact Report. It examined reasons homeowners tackle renovations, as well calculating a “joy score” from each project. The report also details Realtors’ opinions of home renos, how they add value to a property, and what projects are most likely to attract a buyer.

This report is the first of its kind from NAR, surveying Realtors, consumers, and members of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“Realtors know that certain home upgrades and remodels can be beneficial to get more buyer eyes on a property, potentially bring in more offers or gain more equity from a home,” said NAR President Tom Salomone. “But remodeling projects are just as valuable to homeowners who simply want to get more joy out of their dwellings. Regardless of the situation, Realtors know what remodeling projects bring the biggest bang for the buck and what projects are most likely to improve a homeowner’s impression of their current place.”

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(Photo: Linus Bohman via flickr)

(Photo: Linus Bohman via flickr)

As it turns out, all of those negative Nellies and harbingers of end times over TRID weren’t completely wrong. In November’s Realtors Confidence Index from the National Association of Realtors, home sales sunk 11 percent for the month following a 4 percent decline in October.

“Compared to a year ago, market activity improved. Sustained job creation, the low interest rate environment, and measures to reduce the cost of borrowing and make credit more accessible to responsible borrowers continue to bolster the housing market recovery,” the report states. “However, the implementation of the TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) regulations on October 3, 2015, appears to be delaying the settlement of contracts and impacting sales. About 47 percent of respondents reported longer closing times compared to a year ago, up from 37 percent in the October 2015 survey.”

So there’s housing demand, as jobs and consumer confidence remain lofty, but closing messes are having a negative impact on the market. I can only imagine the frustration from Realtors who are feeling the pinch from closings taking days and weeks longer than before.

Jump to see the full report.

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Multi-Million Dollar Homes are a Pathway to a Green Card for some Chinese Buyers

Multi-Million Dollar Homes are a Pathway to a Green Card for some Chinese Buyers

When the Chinese economy was stronger, wealthy residents sought investments outside China. With the Chinese economy and stock markets faltering of late, you might expect international investment to be slowing. It’s not. In fact, the Chinese are even more galvanized to move money outside China and into what are viewed as more stable economies before the situation in China deteriorates further. Depending on your viewpoint, selecting the US as one of those “more stable” places may prove a more controversial pick.

The recent wave of investment has been concentrated on large cities in US coastal states. Investment is now moving into the Midwest, particularly Texas (Candysdirt.com has covered Chinese buying since 2013 here, here and here). Our economy and tech sector are listed as some of the main drivers.

Real estate is viewed as a good investment for several reasons. First, all property in China is leased for a maximum of 70 years; the United States’ “own forever” property right is appealing. Secondly, the educational prospects for children are important. In 2015, there were 250,000+ graduate and undergrad students from China in US schools and many parents purchased homes for their student children. Asian families are very focused on their children’s educations. Third, while the Chinese government has eased some regulations on overseas investment, they have the instant ability to shut off the tap and they’ve also been known to be capricious in personal asset seizures. Finally, large purchases, couched as job-creating investments, shave years off the time it takes to gain a Green Card.

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CBHomes page

When NRT, the nation’s largest residential real estate brokerage, bought out Coldwell Banker United in several markets last April, many thought that big changes were on the way. Months later, our region is finally starting to see NRT tweaking the marketing and online presence of the brand as it will launch ColdwellBankerHomes.com in North Texas next month, after which CBDFW.com will go dark.

Our sources say that the new website, which serves only CB Residential companies (Not APEX or other Coldwell Banker franchises) in several states across the U.S., is already getting more hits than coldwellbanker.com. Now that’s something.

Here’s a breakdown of what NRT will say about the new site launch for Texas, which combines the websites of 25 different Coldwell Banker companies into one consumer portal on Dec. 2:

· It is expected to be the largest brokerage website in the U.S.

· It combines the websites of 25 different Coldwell Banker NRT companies – which together reached 50 million visitors last year – into one powerhouse site

· NRT will now focus its more than 60,000 search terms and search engine optimization on this one website, delivering more visitors and more leads.

Sold and For Sale Signs

As I mentioned in my live-blogging at MetroTex Association of Realtor’s annual “state of the DFW Real Estate union” that happened today, Dr. James Gaines, chief economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, told 300 plus DFW real estate agents that we might expect a slowdown in the frenetic market we are experiencing, to what he called a “new norm”: 2.3% growth instead of the 3, 4, or 5% we have been seeing.

So yes, I can see how Steve Brown wrote that “Dallas-Fort Worth’s runaway real estate market is likely to slow down in 2016.” But his headline was almost a shade of 2007 Debbie Downer days:

“Forecast for 2016 sees slower D-FW real estate, fewer job gains”
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