Gonzalez: U.S. firms buy housing in Spain, raise rent and evict tenants

It’s not just inner city neighborhoods like Harlem and the South Bronx where giant hedge funds have amassed breath-taking numbers of housing units in recent years, then sent rents soaring and sought to evict tens of thousands of longtime tenants. Major U.S. firms like Blackstone Group, Goldman Sachs, Apollo Management and Cerberus are on a mission to conquer the housing markets of other countries as well, hoping to reap huge profits in the process. In Spain, for instance, these firms have been vying quietly for two years to gobble up tens of thousands of residential properties in Madrid and Barcelona at fire sale prices. None has moved more quickly than Blackstone, which is why a group of Spanish emigres in this country has joined with local housing advocates for a planned protest Wednesday outside Blackstone’s Park Ave. headquarters. Even as unemployment has eased in our own country, Spain remains mired in deep depression — with a 25% unemployment rate, the collapse of several major banks and astronomical budget deficits. Spanish real estate prices remain 40% below their level in 2007. More than 700,000 citizens have fled the country since 2008 and some 3 million housing units sit empty. Municipal and regional governments have resorted to selling off their small stock of public housing, along with residential mortgages previously issued by the failed banks. Nearly 42,000 rental and mortgaged units, most of them in Barcelona, were gobbled up by Blackstone, which is already the largest owner of single-family residential housing in the U.S. Goldman Sachs bought another 3,900 units in Madrid. Meanwhile, a conservative Spanish government made it easier for landlords and mortgage holders to evict residents who fall behind on their payments. Between 2008 and 2013, more than 327,000 Spaniards were evicted from their homes. The public outcry became so great that a grassroots anti-eviction movement erupted, known as PAH. Continue Reading

How Wal-Mart plans to transform the way we buy groceries

On a sweaty September morning in the Nashville suburbs, Anna Brummel pulls her white SUV into a Wal-Mart parking lot to stock up on groceries.But she never sets foot in the store.The mother of three had tapped out her order on her smartphone earlier while lying in bed. And now, she parks in a designated spot during a time slot she selected, and Wal-Mart workers load up her car with the goods they picked and packed for her.Wal-Mart is America's largest grocer, and its aggressive expansion of pickup services has turned its parking lots into a laboratory for the future of online grocery shopping — one of the trickiest puzzles in all of retail.Plenty of companies have tried to carve out a market for this. Instacart, along with tech titans Google and Amazon.com, have put their muscle behind doorstep grocery-delivery models that are similar to what Peapod has offered for decades.And yet, despite an e-commerce stampede that has upended sales of items such as books, electronics and clothes, researchers estimate that online shopping accounts for 2 percent or less of total U.S. grocery sales.With the pickup model, Wal-Mart is testing whether its best weapon in this digital fight is its most old-school - and hardest to replicate - asset: a network of more than 4,600 stores.It is counting on a different idea of convenience, one that caters to time-starved suburbanites who spend hours each day in their cars. Maybe for them swinging into a parking lot for a few minutes makes more sense than waiting around the house for a delivery.Kroger and Giant are also touting pickup services, and even Amazon is reportedly considering opening bricks-and-mortar locations with grocery pickup capabilities. Pickup programs, not delivery, were the main driver of growth in habitual online grocery shopping in the past year, according to Tabs Analytics, a firm that studies the consumer-products industry.While Wal-Mart does not disclose sales figures for online grocery pickup, it has taken Continue Reading

Nonprofit buys house across from Westboro Baptist Church and paints it colors of gay pride flag

The Westboro Baptist Church has a colorful new neighbor, and Roy G. Biv isn’t going anywhere soon. Planting Peace, a Destin, Fla.-based nonprofit, has purchased a house directly across from the notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church, and today it is being painting with the rainbow pattern of the gay pride flag. President and founder Aaron Jackson, 31, told the Daily News that this all started when he came across the picture of nine-year-old Josef Miles countering the Westboro Baptist Church’s picketing with a small sign written in pencil that simply said “Gods hates no one.” Jackson checked to see where the infamous fire and brimstone church was located. While messing around with Google Maps’ street view feature, he saw that the house across the street from the church’s Topeka, Kan. location was up for sale. “The idea came right away: buy it and paint it the colors of the pride flag,” Jackson said. Jackson called the realtor, only to find out that the house wasn’t for sale — but a neighboring one was. After about six months of negotiations, Jackson’s nonprofit bought the house for approximately $83,000. Jackson said painting was supposed to take place in December, but it was too cold. Everything went ahead as planned Tuesday morning, despite some flurries in Topeka. Jackson said that they hired a company to handle the painting. “We didn’t want this to be a sideshow thing,” he said. “We knew this was going to be a big deal, so we needed it to look good. I’m not out to make upset neighbors.” The home, which has been named the Equality House, will be used to house volunteers that will push Planting Peace’s anti-bullying initiative to combat the messages that being gay is wrong and makes you “less than,” Jackson said. “We thought there was no better place to start than the Westboro Baptist Continue Reading

Bristol Palin buys house in Arizona, rumors abound she may attend ASU

It appears Bristol Palin has moved to the lower 48 – and may even be going to college there. The former Alaskan governor's daughter dropped $172,000 in cash for a 5-bedroom house in Maricopa, Arizona, TMZ first reported. "I'm not sure why she wanted to buy that home, but we are real happy for her," Michael Smith, who owned the house with his wife, told The Arizona Republic. "She seems like a nice girl. We're excited for her." The 20-year-old single mom was also telling friends she was thinking about enrolling in college in Arizona, TMZ.com reported. The website speculated that she’s thinking about enrolling at Arizona State – the same school that denied President Obama an honorary degree when he spoke there. The 3,900 sq.-foot estate was built in 2006 and originally sold for $329,560, the AP reported. But after the housing market crashed, the two-bedroom house went into foreclosure and was sold to the Smiths for about a third of that price. Arizona is also notably the home state of John McCain, her mother's running mate in the 2008 election. Palin recently finished competing on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and spends her time traveling around the country encouraging teens to practice abstinence. No one from the Palin camp has publicly commented on the recent real estate buy. On her Facebook page, where both she and her mother usually communicate with fans, she only posted a Christmas wish for her followers. "I hope everyone has an opportunity to reflect on what is truly important and to create a Christmas memory that will last a lifetime," she wrote. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Independence Party in hot water over aide’s use of $1.2M Mayor Bloomberg donation to buy house

The state Independence Party came under withering attack Tuesday from a judge who said it betrayed its members by poorly monitoring a $1.2 million donation from Mayor Bloomberg. The party, the third-largest in the state, got the money to run Bloomberg's Election Day operation in his 2009 campaign, but most of the cash went to mayoral campaign aide John Haggerty - who used it to buy his family home in Queens. "It doesn't smell right," Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Martin Shulman said at a hearing on prosecutors' attempt to reclaim what they say is stolen money. "How does one allow these funds to be used for the interests of the party without anything to show for it?" Haggerty is charged with masterminding a fraud by running a phony Election Day poll-watching campaign that he promised the mayor would cost up to $1.1 million. The Independence Party, a noncriminal defendant in the same case, was promised an extra $100,000 from the mayor as what Shulman called "icing on the cake." Shulman told party lawyer William Wexler his clients should have noticed the cash was spent without any evidence of a vigorous street operation on Election Day. "I'm more interested in knowing why you believe you get a pass in the context of your chairman and your vice chairman not having a clue where the $1.1 million went," the judge said. "Shouldn't someone have been out there saying, 'Where was the operation that day?'" The judge continued to bar the Independence Party from spending any money left in its bank accounts, which the Manhattan district attorney's office claims is Bloomberg's stolen property. The judge originally barred the party from spending the money, but officials blew $50,000 of it, prosecutors said. "We are not at all satisfied that the money is in a safe and secure place," said Assistant District Attorney Tara Miner. "They want to take directly stolen property and apply it to their personal use." Not true, Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay said Continue Reading

We want Lebron James so much, we went apartment shopping for him

Dear LeBron,the Big Apple. We've got the best food, the prettiest women and the ultimate hoops arena. Michael Jordan, just like the Knicks' John Starks did way back when.Chicago. We want you here so badly, we went house hunting for you.           Fifth Ave. in the 60s - $25MEven Jay-Z will want a piece of this 42-foot wide apartment with 23-foot ceilings and a living room that used to be a ballroom. "You walk out onto the terrace and the world is in your hands," says Roberta Golubock, the Sotheby's broker who has the listing. This condo is practically across the street from Barney's and near Central Park, where you can run the Reservoir. The New York Athletic Club, which has one of the best indoor basketball courts in the city, is blocks away. Now here's the best part: It's comedian Joan Rivers' house. That means she'll always be able to joke how she slept in your bedroom for years.   West Chelsea - $18MWalk to work from this modern masterpiece on W. 23rd, eight blocks from Madison Square Garden. The only building to cantilever over the High Line, it has a stunning steel, aluminum and glass facade that shines silver in the sun. This triplex penthouse has six bedrooms and a high tech media room. You'd be steps from the arts district and close enough to see the Boom Boom Room, the best nightspot in the universe. No one in the history of the NBA will have had it this good since Walt Frazier launched the Puma "Clyde." Where did he get his ring? NYC!!!   The Clocktower, Dumbo - $25MWhether you become a Knick or Brooklyn Net, this Dumbo penthouse with four floors has its own private glass elevator and 360-degree views of New York City. It's a working clocktower, that sits perched above the East River. "The Brooklyn Nets should sign him and make this place the signing bonus," says Asher Abehsera, the head of residential for Two Trees Development, the company that built this one-of-a-kind home. "This place is Continue Reading

Economy outlook mixed after downer housing report

WASHINGTON – An unexpected jump in U.S. durable goods orders last month backed hopes that the economy was healing, but news from the hard-hit housing market remained mixed. New orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods rose by a much stronger-than-expected 1.8 percent in May, Commerce Department data on Wednesday showed. Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast durable goods orders would decline 0.6 percent last month. May's increase, the third gain in 4 months, followed a revised 1.8 percent gain in April. U.S. stocks opened higher after the much durable goods data, while U.S. government bond prices fell, although trading was also somewhat overshadowed by a Federal Reserve policy statement due later. "The economy is bottoming here, and we're looking for the Fed to maybe change its statement slightly and maybe start to suggest a more neutral balance of risk. A nod, basically, to an exit strategy," said Kim Rupert at Action Economics LLC in San Francisco. The Fed is due to deliver its policy decision about 2:15. It is expected to leave interest rates unchanged in a range between zero and 0.25 percent, and many economists think it will lean against rate hike speculation by emphasizing they will stay low for an extended period. The U.S. central bank is also likely to stress the economy remains fragile, although acknowledging signs that activity is picking up here and there. Manufacturing, which accounts for about one-third of the economy, provides a good barometer for overall business health, and the May durable goods orders report showed solid gains. New orders excluding transportation advanced 1.1 percent last month, compared with a forecast for a 0.4 percent decline, buoyed in part by a 7.7 percent rise in new machinery orders. This was the largest percentage increase in that category since March 2008, the Commerce Department said. New orders excluding defense were 1.4 percent higher, versus a Reuters' poll prediction for a 0.4 Continue Reading

I’ll buy this: Stocks may have hit bottom

Watching your money disappear can make you feel old fast. I feel like I aged a decade last week. Of course, when it comes to investing, all you should care about is what happens next. If I were smart enough to pick the tops and bottoms in the market, I might be on a yacht somewhere. Until I get that smart, you can find me on the 1, 2, 3 or 7 train. Yet the past few days, for the first time in months, I have been a net buyer of stocks. I'm a bit hesitant like most everyone, but it indicates I'm making a bet that Friday's activity could mean we hit bottom. Here is where I think we're headed: I feel much better about the economy than I did a week ago. The economy is not better. It is worse. But at least everyone seems to realize the severity of the problem. If I had been Treasury secretary or Fed chief, I would have done many things differently leading up to this crisis. But the world does not need a Monday morning quarterback. It needs solutions from the leaders of the world's major countries. There are many potential solutions. But the only hope we have is for coordinated action. Credit is starting to get freed up. The Europeans have saved their largest banks. We are likely to do the same. A new stimulus plan will be needed. I would prefer payments to state and local governments and for infrastructure spending, but there are many other choices. I expect the government to pump money directly into the banking system so people can borrow to fund their businesses and buy houses and cars. I also think we will have to provide additional support to America's automakers. A main risk to a comprehensive solution comes from politicians. This election is not about mistakes people made in the past, it is about finding a way out. If our economy is to pull back from the abyss, we must all pull together. Another risk to the economy is the stock market itself. Investors, with good reason, are in a panic. When you see your net worth going down the drain, Continue Reading

Brothers find sharing house is a home run

Brothers John and Michael Ceriello Jr. wanted to buy houses in Brooklyn, but prices were out of their reach. Their solution: a two-family home. Both make good money, but found they were priced out of the city's real estate market. "Along the way, we realized neither of us could do it alone," said Michael, who's 39 and single and makes about $85,000 a year as a technician at a high-definition video editing company. John, who's 45 and married with a daughter, is an FDNY lieutenant in Bushwick, and earns about $110,000 including overtime. They grew up in Roslyn, Long Island. John and his wife and child lived in a one-bedroom rental in Carroll Gardens, while Michael lived in a rented studio around the corner. Even with their combined incomes, they discovered many areas were too pricey. Even after looking for five years for a place they could buy and renovate for less than $1 million, they came up empty. Then early last year, a friend sent Michael a link from Brownstoner.com about a lottery for first-time homebuyers. Pratt Area Community Council, a Brooklyn nonprofit, was gut-renovating nine houses for middle-income purchasers. Michael was taken with a two-family Clinton Hill rowhouse built in the 1880s. The price was right: $455,000 after more than $200,000 in government subsidies. He liked its location on a sunny block near Gates Ave. and its brownstone exterior. "It looked robust," he said. Out of 705 lottery applications, his was drawn second. The house he most wanted was available. And he was a good match for its income requirement — the purchaser would be allowed to earn no more than $88,698 a year. "I pinch myself at least once a day," he said. Prior to his purchase, Michael attended first-time homebuyer workshops at Pratt Area Community Council. "They reinforce that you have to be diligent and responsible," he said.He'd cleaned up his personal finances several years before, paying off $18,000 in student loans and Continue Reading

Evolution of Packers houses drive prices higher around Lambeau Field

GREEN BAY - They are called "Packers party houses," and some of them are, but their use has evolved in the dozen years since the first party houses opened on Stadium Drive in Ashwaubenon and Shadow Lane in Green Bay.Property prices on the streets closest to the stadium are booming and that is changing how the houses are used.The most recent evolution was out-of-town buyers who demolished existing houses on Shadow Lane, immediately north of the stadium, and replaced them with something bigger and more expensive. Doug Schoepp, a Madison car dealer, started the trend, spending about $1 million to buy, demolish and rebuild 1233 Shadow Lane. Robert Endries of Brillion took the process further, spending $615,000 on 1225 Shadow Lane and replacing it with a $1.6 million, Lambeau Field-looking castle."I think as time goes on, you'll have 10 more of them," Endries said.Houses on the residential streets closest to Lambeau now are routinely listed for $500,000 and one on Shadow Lane is on the market for $1 million. RELATED: Packers 'party house' on Shadow Lane for sale for $1 million RELATED: Packers fence painter is hanging up his brushes A steep price escalation began with purchases in 2016 and shows no sign of slowing. Endries said he negotiated down to get to $615,000 for the existing house."It's nothing like we've ever seen before," said Mark Olejniczak of Mark D. Olejniczak Realty, Allouez. "I don't know if it would happen in any other city but Green Bay. Packers Nation extends throughout the world."Economically, there are benefits and challenges to owning and selling houses near Lambeau Field.High prices are a boon to long-time property owners, who might sell them for three or four times what they paid.But there also are challenges for sellers. For example, sales might have to be cash deals, because appraisals necessary to obtain a loan won't support prices that much more than similar properties in other Continue Reading