Carefree Theatre’s Cohen expresses support for banned Iranian director

Charles Cohen, chairman of Cohen Media, which is the co-distributor of The Salesman. The film's Iranian director is barred from entering the U.S. under Trump's executive order
Charles Cohen, chairman of Cohen Media Group. Photo by Damon Higgins.

Charles Cohen, the owner of West Palm Beach’s Carefree Theatre site, is the co-distributor of The Salesman, the foreign film whose director now is barred from entering the United States.

On Monday afternoon, Cohen Media Group tweeted a message of support for Asghar Farhadi,  the Iranian director of The Salesman, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. The film opened Friday.

On that same day, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that bans citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for 90 days, Farhadi is banned from traveling to the United States for the Feb. 26 award ceremony in Los Angeles.

On Sunday, Farhadi said he wouldn’t attend the ceremony even if he were granted an exception.

In a statement, Farhadi condemned the executive order, and then said the following: “To humiliate one nation with the pretext of guarding the security of another is not a new phenomenon in history and has always laid the groundwork for the creation of future divide and enmity.”

Cohen Media Group co-distributed the film with Amazon Studios in a 50-50 partnership.

On Monday afternoon, Cohen Media tweeted this message: “Asghar Farhadi, @CohenMediaGroup understands and supports your decision not to attend the Oscars.”

In a December interview, Cohen called the film “fabulous….it’s a fascinating film. Really wonderful. I’m keeping my fingers crossed” for an Oscar nomination.

Cohen Media has distributed several award-winning foreign language films, including two Oscar nominees: 2014’s French-Mauritanian Timbuktu and 2015’s Turkish drama, Mustang.

Cohen has a condominium in Palm Beach as well as homes in New York, Los Angeles and Connecticut.

He runs two businesses: New York-based Cohen Brothers Realty Corp., which owns and manages more than 12 million square feet of U.S. office space; and Cohen Media Group, which produces films and also owns an array of American classics, British cinema, foreign classics and a range of avant-garde films.

Cohen wants to rebuild the Carefree Theatre on Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach and turn the property into a complex featuring six auditoriums, totaling 750 seats for classic, art house and foreign films. About 97 apartments and space for restaurants and stores also are part of the plan.

If you’re curious about The Saleman, check out the trailer. Or broaden your cultural horizons and consider other top Iranian films.

 

Ocwen slammed by Treasury’s special inspector

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Ocwen Financial Group long has been a punching bag for regulators, and the West Palm Beach-based loan servicer finds itself taken to task again in a quarterly report from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Released Friday, the report’s summary of Ocwen’s performance spans just over a page, and includes nine uses of “wrongfully,” along with one instance each of “improperly,” “misconduct” and “mismanagement.” Among the findings:

“Treasury continued to find in 2014 through 2016 that Ocwen wrongfully cancelled homeowners out of [the Home Affordable Mortgage Program]. More than 127,000 homeowners who were in a HAMP modification with Ocwen have fallen out of HAMP. Ocwen was paid in excess of $725 million through HAMP for these cancelled homeowners. More than 30,000 of these homeowners went into foreclosure or otherwise lost their home.”

“Treasury has found that Ocwen wrongfully cancelled people out of HAMP based on Ocwen’s own misconduct similar to the conduct in Ocwen’s enforcement action. Ocwen cancelled homeowners out of HAMP finding that they had missed three payments, when in reality homeowners made the payments, but Ocwen held mortgage payments in suspense, improperly reversed and later reapplied mortgage payments, and did not timely post payments made to an Ocwen lockbox. Treasury does not know how many homeowners Ocwen has wrongfully cancelled out of HAMP.

“Ocwen’s denial of 68 percent of those who applied for HAMP should be looked at through the lens of the enforcement action which found that Ocwen ‘improperly denied loan modifications.’”

“With Treasury contracted to pay up to another scheduled $2.2 billion and possibly an additional $941 million to Ocwen, continued oversight over these billions of dollars and this program remains critical.”

UPDATE: Ocwen offers this statement:

“Ocwen led the industry in HAMP modifications during the life of the program, and we are extremely proud of our performance and our success. As of September 2016, Ocwen has helped 330,000 struggling borrowers remain in their homes under the HAMP program. We took our participation in the HAMP program very seriously and made significant investments in our risk and compliance management infrastructure in that time.

Under the umbrella of The U.S. Department of the Treasury, we believe the HAMP program has been successful in keeping borrowers in their homes and has executed rigorous oversight over servicers.  

We remain committed to working with distressed borrowers to find the right loan modification to allow them to keep their homes while continuing to provide cash flow for loan investors. There is no doubt that a homeowner whose loan is serviced by Ocwen has a much better chance of avoiding foreclosure than if their loan is serviced by any other large mortgage servicer. This has been confirmed by independent third-party studies, which consistently illustrate that Ocwen has a superior record helping borrowers bring their payments current, stay current, and repay their mortgage. This is a record we are proud of.”

Tiffany building on Worth Avenue on track to fetch top dollar

259 Worth Ave. is on the market.
259 Worth Ave. is on the market.

When the Tiffany building at 259 Worth Ave. went on the market late last year, dozens of investors showed interest, said Robert Granda, the Franklin Street broker marketing the property.

The seller is weighing 10 offers for the property, and Granda said the final price is likely to be $40 million, or more than $2,300 a square foot.

“It is a pure, prime, Class A, trophy asset,” Granda said. “When you Google Worth Avenue, this is the building that comes up.”

Tiffany plans to stay in the building after the sale, he said.

Illustrated Properties buys Jupiter brokerage

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Continuing the bigger-is-better trend in residential real estate brokerage, Illustrated Properties Real Estate said Thursday that it bought JT Brokers Group of Jupiter.

JT Brokers Group, which has 12 agents, will operate under the Illustrated Properties name. Brokers say small companies are being squeezed by an increasing need to invest in technology and demands from agents to keep a bigger share of their commissions.

Illustrated Properties itself is part of Miami-based Keyes. The two companies merged last summer, although they operate under separate names. They have 1,100 agents in Palm Beach County.

In a statement, Pamela Coffey, the longtime co-owner of JT Brokers Group, cited Illustrated Properties’ “wonderful marketing and unbelievable technology.”

Office Depot lays off undisclosed number of workers at Boca Raton headquarters

Office Depot's Boca headquarters
Office Depot’s Boca headquarters

Office Depot said Wednesday that it laid off an undisclosed number of workers at its Boca Raton headquarters.

“As part of Office Depot’s three-year strategic plan announced in August 2016, the company today completed a restructuring effort aligned with the third pillar of our strategic plan,” spokeswoman Karen Denning said in an email.

The struggling retailer had hoped to cope with shrinking sales by combining with Staples, its larger rival. But the Federal Trade Commission last year nixed the merger.

Denning wouldn’t say how many people were cut by Office Depot, but she said the total wasn’t high enough to require the company to make a disclosure under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The WARN Act requires employers to disclose layoffs if they cut more than 500 workers within 30 days, or if they fire 50 to 499 workers and the total represents more than a third of the work force.

 

Good news: You’ll live to 115! Bad News: You have to pay living costs for an extra 30 years

Scripps Florida's lab in Jupter
Scripps Florida’s lab in Jupter

Medical breakthroughs mean Americans someday can expect to remain healthy well past their 100th birthdays, said scientists from Stanford, the Mayo Clinic and other top-shelf institutes who gathered this week at Scripps Florida’s aging conference in Jupiter.

That’s great news. Now, for the not-so-great news: Americans already struggle with retirement savings, and an extra three decades of living expenses will only tighten the squeeze.

“A lot of people can’t afford to retire,” Will Maier of Mapi Group said during a panel discussion Wednesday. “They’re working themselves to death. All you’re telling them is they’ll be able to work themselves to death longer.”

Americans’ median 401(k) balance is just $22,683, according to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trusts. And the maximum Social Security benefit for someone who retired last year at full retirement age was $2,639 a month, or $31,668 a year.

A big jump in life expectancies will have “a massive, massive trickle-down effect” on investments and the economy, said Robert Wolfe, managing director at United Capital Financial Advisers in Fort Lauderdale. Wolfe already runs savings scenarios for clients based on 100-year life spans, but even that might come to seem pessimistic.

“The greatest threat to retirement isn’t the daily, weekly or monthly fluctuations of the stock market,” Wolfe said. “It’s inflation.”

At 3 percent inflation, the total cost of living would double in 24 years, posing harsh challenges for retirees’ savings calculations.

Meanwhile, scientists say were’ poised for promising new breakthroughs in the next few years. The diabetes drug Metiformin shows potential as an anti-aging elixir, as does the antioxidant resveratrol.

The goal is not simply to extend life but to keep people healthy longer, scientists said.

“I am sick of prescribing better wheelchairs, walkers and incontinence devices,” said Dr. James Kirkland, a physician and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Mind the gap: Palm Beach County home to three of nation’s most “unequal cities”

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Palm Beach County, known for some of the nation’s priciest oceanfront real estate, is home to three of the nation’s six most “unequal cities,” Seattle-based brokerage Redfin says.

Redfin’s measure compares average prices in the top 5 percent of the market to average prices in the bottom 95 percent. Delray Beach ranks No. 2 nationally with luxury homes costing 7.7 times regular houses. Boca Raton is No. 4 at 6.5 times, while West Palm Beach is No. 6 with a ratio of 6.1.

Redfin Chief Economist Nela Richardson offers this analysis:

“It’s not surprising that you’re seeing so many Florida cities on this list of the most unequal housing markets in the country. The luxury market in Florida is driven more by foreign investors than by the local economy. The median income is a little under $45,000; that’s often times not enough to buy a house, let alone a luxury home. Unlike in some states, there aren’t really dominant tech, financial or fossil fuel industries that lead to high-paying jobs. Rather, the economy is driven by service workers and the tourism industry. Another barrier to luxury homeownership is the high cost of flood insurance and the large down payments that a lot of luxury developers require.”

Tab for Trump’s FHA reversal? About $540 a year for typical borrower in Palm Beach County

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In the waning days of the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a plan to cut mortgage insurance costs for homeowners with Federal Housing Administration loans. And in the opening hours of the Trump administration, HUD reversed course.

The rate cut would have saved $540 a year for the typical FHA borrower in Palm Beach County. But, with memories of the mortgage meltdown still fresh, Congressional Republicans worried that the move would shift risk from private borrowers onto taxpayers.

Because FHA loans are easy to qualify for, they’ve become a staple for first-time buyers. FHA loans require down payments of only 3.5 percent (compared to 20 percent for the standard mortgage), and they’re offered to borrowers with credit scores as low as 580 (well below the 740 level required for most Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans).

The downside? Borrowers must pay hefty premiums for mortgage insurance, coverage that protects the lender in the event of default. Hence HUD’s announcement earlier this month that it would shave 0.25 percent from mortgage insurance premiums starting Jan. 27.

According to an analysis by ATTOM Data Solutions, the typical FHA borrower in Palm Beach County has a loan amount of $216,000. The 0.25-point cut would have saved that borrower $540 a year.

Because of the high mortgage insurance costs, FHA borrowers typically aim to boost their credit scores and build enough equity to refinance into a less expensive loan.

Where are Palm Beach County’s hottest housing markets? Look south, Redfin says

Houses in Boca's Hidden Valley neighborhood. Photo by Bill Ingram/The Palm Beach Post
Houses in Boca’s Hidden Valley neighborhood. Photo by Bill Ingram/The Palm Beach Post

All three of Palm Beach County’s hottest housing markets for 2017 are in Boca Raton, according to a forecast by Seattle-based real estate brokerage Redfin.

The Hidden Valley neighborhood east of Interstate 95 is No. 1, followed by Boca Raton Square, also east of I-95. Boca Greens in West Boca ranks No. 3.

It’s not clear how perfect Redifn’s crystal ball is. The company describes its methodology thus: “Redfin’s Hottest Neighborhoods is a prediction based on the most recent growth we’ve seen in pageviews and favorites on Redfin.com.”

Perfect or not, the company’s predictions seem to fit with the latest shifts in real estate. At a time when the high end of the housing market has faltered, the top three neighborhoods have median prices in the range of $380,000 to $430,000. And Hidden Valley and Boca Raton Square boast good schools and proximity to beaches, shopping and downtown Boca.