Monday, April 26, 2010

The Morality of a Short Sale

Is walking away from a home when you're upside-down immoral or simply a financial deal that didn't work out? This question was put to the group of real estate professionals recently and the discussion, especially when it came to the million dollar market, exploded.

For many low-to-mid-range homeowners the scenario goes like this: buyer purchased a home when the market was high, with an adjustable rate mortgage and bought at the top of their game. Time goes by and the ARM resets, doubles the mortgage and blows the family out of their budgetary waters. Add a major life change; wage cut, job loss, illness with or without health insurance and our humbled buyer, sinking deeper into debt drifts closer to the mouth of foreclosure. But should a higher price point or a higher income stream make a difference?
Consider the family who buys a $1.5 million hilltop home in 2006 with the Denver market at its peak. Using a stated income loan and 5% down, they move in and comfortably pay the monthly mortgage. Over the next few years home prices decline and their $1.5M home has depreciated by $250k of its former value. In the midst of an historical banking crisis, recession hits, banks stop lending leaving the homeowner unable to make his employee payroll. He puts his home on the market, jumbo loans have all but dried up and his neighborhood's filled with vacant spec homes selling at deep discounts or falling into foreclosure like a McMansion of cards.
There has been a lot of criticism lately of the high-end buyer, yet it may not be as cavalier as it may seem. The tricky part with a high-end short sale is that though the seller can prove hardship, they may have assets which don't allow for bank approval. Like homeowners across the income spectrum, many of them in the million dollar range, they burn through much or all of what they've got, waiting for the market to turn around, in an attempt to save their FICO score and face. Is there any difference between homeowners who look at their balance sheet and realize they've got a liability on their hands or the option of starting over? We understand the relief for the homeowner put into an adjustable rate mortgage at 8% interest, who now has no job and no ability to refinance. But should our empathy be limited to those who purchased homes under $200,000?

Most of us begin with integrity and every intention of repaying our loan. Inherent to the process is the understanding that at its heart, buying a home is a business deal. You loan me the money, I pay you under the agreed upon terms and interest rate, if I default you have the right to redeem your secured asset, my home.

I've seen short sales where I've walked away empty-handed, scratching my head in wonder...A seller in an under $100k price point submits a short sale offer to the bank, and after waiting seven months for approval he's denied under FHA guidelines for having too much income. In the meantime, he moved with his family to a larger home in a nicer neighborhood, courtesy of his mother-in-law. A mid-priced listing went under contract with a buyer on a VA loan and got approval from the lender on the first mortgage. The second agreed to settle, provided the seller could make one payment of $400 to keep the loan from hitting 180 days late. Though this payment was feasible for the seller, she decided against making it; she is set to file bankruptcy anyway. These are good people, making bad decisions under awful circumstances and there will always be those who try to skirt the system. But the system is set up to protect us equally and it is up to the bank to approve or deny the short sale on a case-by-case basis.
In an effort to let more Americans stay in their homes, this month the government put a new program into effect. With sellers waiting far too long before applying, loan modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) has done little to stem the tidal wave of foreclosures. The Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative (HAFA) attempts to go further, offering financial incentives. Currently the seller is not allowed to take a penny from the closing table, but HAFA allows $3000 for borrower's relocation assistance, $1500 to cover servicing costs and up to $2,000 for investors who allow a total of up to $6,000 in short sale proceeds to be distributed to subordinate lien holders, on a one-for-three matching basis. Will this help? Only time will tell, but borrowers may now receive pre-approved short sale terms before listing the property and that should help expedite the process.

So... is the short-sale-as-business-deal much different morally than an off-shore account to lower one's taxes? Or cheating on them? I don't know. But with tax day just behind us, it looks like we'll all have to belly up. Equally.

Create Denver Week 2010

I'm always a bit leery of special events called "Expo" "Convention" or "Rally." The names conjure birds of a feather picking through rows of vendor tables, snagging pens and key chains for their swag bags, and popping from workshop to seminar in search of the The Next Big Thing. Perhaps it's my fear of living in a corporate structure, or the year I spent on the road riding up a hotel elevator filled with drunken conventioneers, but "Create Denver Week," kicked off by tomorrow's all day "Create Denver Expo," has me in paradoxical state of intrigue and trepidation.

As a founder of the Thriving Artist Alliance and Create Denver Week exhibitor/participant/presenter, I'll be actively engaged with my swag squad and workshop poppers. There's no easy exit. But a little voice inside - or is it wishful thinking? - tells me this Expo will be different, special.

For the last four years, the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs has brought together the creative community and the local businesses that support them for a group think about the Petri dish that is Denver's cultural scene. And getting everyone, including some very heavy hitters, into the same room to talk strategy, policy, programming initiatives, technical assistance, and arts advocacy seems to be working. Colorado creatives are large drivers of Denver's economy, and so it makes good sense for the city to invest its time and focus here. But often cities don't make sense.

Mayor Hickenlooper calls this year "splashy," and with multiple mingling ops, he might just be right. On top of the all-day info-slam of the Expo, events are planned throughout the city, throughout the week .

Saturday's workshop topics include Turn Your Passion for the Arts into a Thriving Business, Arts-to-Business Marketing, Building Wealth with Real Estate, Performance on the Fringe. The one that hits all my buzz words is Time Management; the Artist and the Internet presented by MakeBigArt. Experts are on hand to review portfolios, as well as attorneys to answer copyright questions. There are presentations on the subjects of health insurance options for creatives, financial assistance, and business start-up, and an exhibition hall where you can find an expert to scratch whatever your itch.

I'll be there too, wandering the aisles, collecting pens and key chains, working the booth, handing out pens and pamphlets, my Expo aversion only mildly concealed behind a smile.
(I trust you will find me smiling.)

As the week unfolds, there'll be more skills and thrills, with events such as Yoga & Hoop Dance, Denver Kids Create, with the folk, a Pop-up Market, a Thriving Artist Alliance panel From Survival to Success to Significance, and of course the Launch Party.

Sounds like there's plenty here to stimulate thought and the senses, but one dark thought plagues: Do we have a week's worth of attention span? Hope so. Part think-tank, part talent show, part party, Denver should be alive with the buzz and frolic of the Creative Class. I for one am eager to see what programs are in place now that have come out of the Create Denver initiative and what will grow out of the week ahead.

What do I want out of all the activity? I'm hopeful about new connections made, old ties strengthened, and ideas - perhaps The Next Big Thing or two - generated. Our mayor seems to have a clear vision about his desired outcome: Hick's office is looking to position Denver as "The Creative Capitol of the Rocky Mountain West." But that sounds so yesterday to me. Aren't we that already? I mean, what are we up against: Laramie?

NY, LA, Amsterdam... Denver?

I wouldn't say I've lived a Big Life, but decidedly larger than medium. Call it medium well.

I spent my childhood on beaches, in swimming pools, and racing around the back lot of MGM Studios. Flying on my purple Stingray through the streets of long-abandoned sets, in-between sound stages, chasing seagulls and stars. There were few signs of the straight line, the bumpy road and circuitous route that would lead me to a bike path in the Colorado Rockies.

Along that road I worked as an actress in New York, Hollywood and theatres around the country. I traveled the world and met legends: movie stars, rock stars, art stars, captains of industry and heirs to a throne. My familiars included Tony winners, Grammy winners, Oscar and Emmy winners, Pulitzer Prize candidates, Smithsonian inductees, who taught me, shaped and mentored me. There was the invitation to lunch at the White House, an accidental dinner with Warhol: my life, medium well. Meeting billboard-size people seems to be in my cards.

When we moved to Denver Fall was in the air. As the movers were unloading the truck, we plugged in the TV at the exact moment the verdict was being read in a murder trial involving of our former neighbor, Nicole Brown Simpson. I was glad I'd left LA. Unpacking myself and my young family, I settled into a town full of strangers, snow, and a "Plan B" I was none too thrilled with: a toddler, a television and Oprah were my only friends that winter... until she turned on me. We were sitting in my living room. I was on my couch bandaging my foot from yet another casualty caused by an unseen Lego. She was she in Chicago on her couch. The cast of an upcoming movie sauntered out on to the stage, gracefully plopping themselves down on in the hot seat. Staring blankly at the screen, wrapping gauze around and around and around my tiny wound, I realized I'd worked with the people behind the smiles, the bitches who had stolen my life. In a flash, it hit me.

I'd gone from Hollywood and Vine to dying on a vine, from playing on the streets of Oz to a cow town close to Kansas. Like Dorothy, if I told anybody where I'd been and who was there with me, they'd cluck in disbelief. Cary Grant and Ava Gardner, Billy Barty, and a Beatle.
How's a girl gonna keep that inside forever?

That cold winter's truth delivered the promised bulbs, as I began to trade the holler and congestion of L.A. for an open space where I could hear my thoughts. Manhat-tenacity morphed into a soft determination and my gloom gave way to creativity I'd never known before. Preferring not to spin my wheels I took a spin around this hood and what I found delighted me: smiling people, art galleries springing up, theatres, museums, one of them growing a brand new wing. All those things one takes for granted in a larger city were springing to life here in living color, and everything was a whole lot more accessible. Just like that I fell in love with my new home and got busy intersecting the roles of mother/actress/playwright/REALTOR® to create a vortex called the Thriving Artist Alliance.
Oh... and I am still meeting some amazing people.

Lodo's Culinary Wonderland.

Spring fever hit Colorado, creating the perfect opportunity to stroll away a sunny afternoon with virtuoso chef and Foodswings owner, Brian T. Jacobson. First stop, coffee at Paris on the Platte; Brian swinging in with his energy as fresh and delicious as the food he cooks. Dipping biscotti into double espresso, we talk food, spices and the five essentials I must have in my kitchen. Brian leads me down the spice trade routes and into my very own culinary Age of Discovery. We speak of Dutch West Indies Trading Company, talk of blends, balance and the culture of cardamom. Trading the secrets of pepper and hanging on his every word, and armed with my vintage parasol, I’m restless to sojourn in the sunshine. Under the umbrella of a turquoise floral print, I link my arm in Brian’s and saunter up Little Raven to the Savory Spice Shop.

Savory is the love child of Mike and Janet Johnston, who in 2004, opened their hearts and their spice cabinet to bring some big flavor to downtown Denver. More than 140 original recipe seasonings, small-batch-blended on-site, bear names like Pikes Peak Lemon Pepper and Lodo Red Adobo. Sidled up next to the blends are rows of exotic and common (like me) spices from around the world. Freshly ground and sold in large or small amounts, you can buy just what you need or as much as you like. Brian’s current favs are Berbere Ethiopian Style Seasoning and an Italian Black Truffle Sea Salt that smells of an earthy heaven. Whispering together about the mixes and the meats to rub them on, Brian leads me to a wall of infused sugars in flavors like lavender and vanilla bean. My mind was racing with my taste buds chasing after in a flush of excitement I rarely feel… the urge to cook. Following that urge just got easier as Savory premieres their new Food Network TV show, “Spice & Easy” this month.

On advice from the chef, which is close to doctor’s orders, I throw some Herbs de Provence Sea Salt, Bohemian Forest European Style Rub and Cherry Creek Seafood Seasoning into my canvas bag, pay the winsome clerk and we breeze out the door. Heading south on 15th Street toward Market, and feeling oh so European, Brian stops mid-step in a brain-storm, cooking up ideas for the Biennial of the Americas. Heading up the cuisine committee for the July event, he’s alive with ideas on whom and what should be included in month long celebration.

When Telluride Inside... and Out editor Susan Viebrock told me about Evoo Marketplace I didn’t get it. A store that only sells oil and vinegar? I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea… until I walked through the door. Located in one of Denver’s oldest buildings at 15th & Market, light streams in the high, arched windows, bouncing off the polished steel canisters called “fusti.” These rows of fusti hold some of the finest extra-virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars from across America and around the world. The concept is try before you buy. We made our way around the shop mixing flavor infused oils with complementary vinegars and dipping delicious bits of bread from The Denver Bread Company to taste our creations. Each combo delivers excitement, both in flavor and the things you choose to blend. I particularly liked the Roasted Garlic oil with a Meyer Lemon balsamic, and the Blood Orange oil with Dark Chocolate vinegar. EVOO owner, Mick, is very customer-centered, sharing his passion and hospitality with ease. I think the only words that came out of my mouth that half hour were “OMG”.

The perfect finish to our lovely day was a stop at Tag Restaurant on Larimer Square for “Social Hour”, with Baja Tacos, Da Bomb Sliders and the Mojito of the Day.

With the grill heating up and the fresh summer produce headed your way, I’m thinking a trip around our Culinary Wonderland makes parking in Lodo worth it!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Different, not less"

What a wonderful morning! One of those where it’s a bit overcast and you’re wishing you’d never scheduled those outside meetings on a Friday because you’re so content to work from home. That is how the silvery light in my golden room looked today as I roused myself and vowed to keep my commitment. I’d set up coffee and an interview with Brooke Young, Autism Specialist with the Colorado Department of Education to discuss autism; not something I normally bounce out of bed for. I headed downtown to one of fifteen Starbucks in a five block radius, ordered my Joe and asked around to see if any of the blondes in line was Brooke. Feeling luckily out of luck, I sat to write and enjoy my overpriced java, secretly hoping I was at the wrong Starbucks and guiltily scrolling the Blackberry to find her number. A minute later in walked Brooke, apologetic for having gone to the wrong Starbucks, along with Gina Quintana, Significant Support Needs Specialist, also with the CDE. And the next two hours of conversation were amazing!
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a cognitive disability identified by a triangle of attributes within target areas of brain; communication, social relatedness and repetitive behaviors. Many of us function well in the world with slight variations in these areas of neurological development, but when added together they prevent social adaptation for the person with ASD. There is no known cause and no cure. What we do know is that the numbers of children being identified is growing globally at a staggering rate, each one exhibiting the disorder individually. As Gina put it, “To know a child with autism is just that”, the philosophy being person first, disorder second.
The movie “Rain Man” is to autism what Helen Keller is to the deaf/blind community. They were both anomalies that brought mass attention to our brothers and sisters living with these disabilities but to Brooke and Gina they are sweeping generalities. No one knows what it’s like to live with autism except for those who have it, it’s hard to even imagine. The hearing/sighted world can establish empathy with the deaf/blind experience through sensory deprivation, but it’s impossible to wrap your head around the autistic experience. And though we see commonalities within families of children with autism, even their experiences are singular because autism presents in such a wide variety of ways. Television shows are on the bandwagon now with the introduction of characters with autism, most recently “Parenthood”. So far, it is the HBO special on CSU Professor, Dr. Temple Grandin which presents the most practical, pragmatic look at autism. Temple's mother, Eustacia reframed the challenge: "Different Not Less," with the banner that she waved to threads.
Ms. Young is headed to the Southwest Region this week to implement a model program of training and dialogue between educators, families and students in the Telluride, Ouray, Ridgway, Norwood and the West End. Having spent my Friday morning in the inspirational and compassionate company of these two, I can’t help but think how lucky the families and students they so fervently serve are.