Publix center in Palm Beach Gardens fetches $49 million

Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post

The Publix-anchored Promenade Plaza in Palm Beach Gardens just changed hands for $49.25 million, and the buyer isn’t Publix.

According to a deed, an affiliate of the Lone Star Funds of Dallas sold the 205,189-square-foot center at 9852 Alternate A1A to TH Real Estate, an affiliate of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America.

TH Real Estate says the property is 97 percent occupied. Tenants include Bealls Outlet, Planet Fitness and CVS. The center was built in 1972 and redeveloped in 2015.

Over the past decade, Publix has pursued a clear strategy of snapping up centers where it leases space.

South Florida home values climb again, still below bubble levels

South Florida home values rose slightly in February, according to the latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller index, released Tuesday.

However, property prices in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties remain well off their bubble highs, the index said. Case-Shiller reports an index level, not a dollar amount.

Nationally, home values have inched past their previous highs.

Ocwen’s customer service: Still dead last, but not as bad as it once was

When JDPower released its customer satisfaction ratings for mortgage servicers last year, Ocwen once again ranked dead last.

West Palm Beach-based Ocwen — which was hammered Thursday by federal and state regulators for shoddy customer service — routinely ranks last or dead last in JDPower’s customer service ranking.

In one bit of improvement, Ocwen has narrowed the gap a bit between its score and the industry average since 2010.

MORE OCWEN COVERAGE

In sweet deal for billionaire chairman, Ocwen buys Bill Erbey’s house for $2 million premium

Ocwen chairman’s mansion still on market — two years after shareholders bought it for a hefty price

Former Ocwen Chairman Bill Erbey’s paper loss grows to $2.5 billion

Ocwen chair must resign in settlement with New York

Billionaire Wilbur Ross quits Ocwen board

Ocwen spinoff says federal agency considering enforcement action

What big peers you have! For CEO pay, Ocwen compares itself to large companies

Ocwen CEO’s pay nearly doubles in 2016

Construction hiring boosts Palm Beach County job market

The Bristol condominium site in West Palm Beach, now under construction

Spurred by a sustained surge in Palm Beach County’s long-dormant construction industry, the region’s unemployment rate fell to 4.2 percent in March.

That matches a post-recession low set in May. The county’s jobless rate was down from 4.7 percent in February, state labor officials said Friday.

The building sector added 3,000 positions over the past year, a 9 percent growth rate, CareerSource Palm Beach County said Friday. That follows 10 percent jumps from February 2016 to February 2017 and from January 2016 to January 2017.

While large-scale homebuilding has yet to return, construction workers have been toiling at other types of structures, including the parking garage at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, the Brightline railroad station and a new north bridge between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach.

However, the county’s job growth continued to lag the state’s. Palm Beach County employment expanded by 2.3 percent from March 2016 to March 2017, trailing Florida’s overall job growth of 3 percent.

Florida’s annual job growth matched Georgia’s and Nevada’s in a three-way tie for the fastest pace in the nation, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday. Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.8 percent in March, compared to a national average of 4.5 percent.

Construction was the big gainer in Palm Beach County, but the low-paying leisure and hospitality sector added 2,900 positions.

“Businesses added more than 12,000 jobs in the West Palm Beach area over the year, which means thousands of new opportunities for families,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement.

How much did Texas company pay for Palm Beach County marinas? $57 million and counting

Dallas-based Suntex Marina Investors this week announced that it bought five Loggerhead Marina locations in Palm Beach County, but it didn’t disclose a price. Now details are showing up in property records, and Suntex appears to have paid nearly $57 million for four of the Loggerhead properties.

For the four-acre Inlet Marina of Palm Beach Ltd. property in Riviera Beach, Suntex paid $25.8 million. The marina last sold for $1.3 million in 2001.

The five-acre GMC of Lantana site at 870 N. Dixie Highway: $12.8 million. The property last sold for $2.9 million in 2002.

The Loggerhead Jupiter Ltd. property in an unincorporated area near Jupiter: $9.95 million. That site sold for $4.9 million in 2009.

The half-acre Frenchmans Marina Resort in Palm Beach Gardens: $8.3 million. The facility last sold for $1.8 million in 1995.

A deed has yet to be recorded for the Loggerhead property at the Moorings of Lantana.

Hidden cameras in the women’s bathroom, DMX raps, billion-dollar enforcement actions and other high drama from Ocwen

Ocwen’s Atlanta mansion: Sweet deal for Bill Erbey

To the uninitiated, the phrase “subprime mortgage servicer” sounds deadly dull. To followers of West Palm Beach-based Ocwen Financial Corp., the sobriquet evokes high drama of the sort that unfolded Thursday, when Ocwen shares cratered amid an onslaught of federal and state lawsuits.

Ocwen (that’s “new co” backwards, if you didn’t know) has elicited consumer complaints in eye-popping numbers.

“Since April 2015, Ocwen has received more than 580,000 complaints and written notices of error from more than 300,000 different borrowers,” the federal Consumer Financial Protection Burea said in its suit.

But Thursday’s headlines were just the latest in the company’s two-decade history. Other lowlights:

Hidden camera shooting up women’s skirts. In 1999, police arrested an Ocwen employee and found on his video camera footage from a hidden camera placed under a desk in the company’s West Palm Beach mailroom. Two of the women who appeared in the video sued, saying they were harassed at work even after the cameraman was fired. In 2005 they won $1 million settlements after a jury trial in Palm Beach County Circuit Court. They said that in addition to the under-the-desk camera, they also saw a man’s hand moving ceiling tiles in a women’s bathroom. Their complaints to management went unheeded, the women said.

“Y’all gon make me lose my house.” In 2008, about 30 protesters crowded into the lobby of Ocwen’s offices, where they chanted to the tune of the DMX song: “Y’all gon make me lose my house, up in here, up in here.” The protest was sparked in part by Ocwen’s rep for losing homeowners’ payments and making them wait on hold for hours. Another spark: A Government Accountability Office report said Ocwen, as the property manager for thousands of foreclosed homes owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, neglected maintenance and charged taxpayers for repairs that weren’t made.

A sweet deal for the billionaire chairman. In a generous perk for its chairman, Ocwen in 2012 bought William Erbey’s Atlanta mansion for $2 million more than he paid at the peak of the housing market. Ocwen paid $6.48 million for Erbey’s house in so he could move to the tax haven of St. Croix. “It is really ironic that a company that is a subprime mortgage processor would give a sweet deal to its executive chairman that its own customers couldn’t get,” Vineeta Anand, chief research analyst at the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investment, said at the time. Ocwen put the mansion on the market for less than it paid. Ocwen finally unloaded the house in 2016 for $3.6 million — a 44 percent haircut.

The $2 billion fine that cost only $67 million. In late 2013, federal and state regulators hit Ocwen with a $2.1 billion settlement for cheating homeowners. But investors shrugged off the news. Ocwen told the Securities and Exchange Commission its actual cost to settle the regulatory action would be about $67 million.

Ocwen slapped with federal, state lawsuits alleging “widespread errors, shortcuts, and runarounds”

Add a couple more headaches to Ocwen Financial’s list of woes. Federal and state regulators on Thursday filed suits against the mortgage servicer. Shares of West Palm Beach-based Ocwen, already battered, plunged more than 50 percent Thursday afternoon.

In one devastating blow, North Carolina led a group of 20 states in barring Ocwen from taking on new business until it proves that it accurately records escrow payments. Meanwhile, echoing years of gripes from borrowers, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau slammed Ocwen’s practices.

MORE OCWEN COVERAGE

In sweet deal for billionaire chairman, Ocwen buys Bill Erbey’s house for $2 million premium

Ocwen chairman’s mansion still on market — two years after shareholders bought it for a hefty price

Former Ocwen Chairman Bill Erbey’s paper loss grows to $2.5 billion

Ocwen chair must resign in settlement with New York

Billionaire Wilbur Ross quits Ocwen board

Ocwen spinoff says federal agency considering enforcement action

What big peers you have! For CEO pay, Ocwen compares itself to large companies

Ocwen CEO’s pay nearly doubles in 2016

“The Bureau alleges that Ocwen’s years of widespread errors, shortcuts, and runarounds cost some borrowers money and others their homes,” the CFPB said. “Ocwen allegedly botched basic functions like sending accurate monthly statements, properly crediting payments, and handling taxes and insurance.”

While the CFPB, an Obama-era creation, is a favorite target of Republicans pointing to regulatory overreach, Ocwen seems to have run afoul of overseers on both sides of the aisle: Also Thursday, Pam Bondi, Florida’s staunchly Republican attorney general, sued Ocwen.

Bondi says Ocwen fleeced Florida borrowers by “filing illegal foreclosures, mishandling loan modifications, misapplying mortgage payments, failing to pay insurance premiums from escrow and collecting excessive fees.”

“Since 2014, when we first entered the multistate settlement with Ocwen, we have listened to Ocwen’s promises that they would ‘right the ship’ and resolve the improper mortgage servicing and foreclosure misconduct that has plagued it,” Bondi said in a statement. “Enough is enough. Florida’s distressed Ocwen borrowers should no longer have to endure costly servicing errors and unfair practices.”

In a third suit, the state of North Carolina’s banking commissioner barred Ocwen from expanding its service operations in the state. Mortgage servicers collect loan payments and keep escrow accounts on behalf of borrowers.

Ocwen, for its part, called the CFPB’s allegations “inaccurate and unfounded.”

“Ocwen strongly disputes the CFPB’s claim that Ocwen’s mortgage loan servicing practices have caused substantial consumer harm,” the company said in a statement. “In fact, just the opposite is true. Ocwen believes its mortgage loan servicing practices have and continue to result in substantial benefits to consumers above and beyond other mortgage servicers.”

In Palm Beach Gardens, poster child of condo conversion craze sells for big money

San Merano at Mirasol. Photo by Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post

The 476-unit San Merano at Mirasol was built in 2002 as a high-end apartment complex. At the height of the real estate bubble, then-owner Kolter Communities marketed the property as a condo conversion.

Wisely, Kolter pulled the plug on the condo conversion and stuck with rentals. In 2010, Kolter sold the property to TA Associates Realty of Boston for $69 million.

Now TA Associates has sold the property for $103.6 million, according to property records. The buyer is Blackstone Group, the New York private equity giant. It paid nearly $218,000 a unit for the property at 100 Portofino Circle, near Hood Road and Florida’s Turnpike in Palm Beach Gardens.

 

Surprise: UF ranks No. 3 nationally in tech transfer, topping CalTech, MIT

In a boost to Florida’s tech ambitions, three Florida universities cracked the Milken Institute’s list of 25 “Best Universities for Technology Transfer.”

The University of Florida — perhaps best known for its success at raking in athletics revenue — ranked third, behind only the University of Utah and Columbia University and ahead of such stalwarts as Stanford, CalTech and MIT.

“Many are aware of the tremendous source of income that Gatorade provided the university, but Florida’s overall success is due to much more than one product,” Milken’s report says.

Over the past four years, UF generated 395 patents, 547 licenses, $127.9 million in income and 62 start-ups, the report says.

The University of South Florida ranked 19th, and the University of Central Florida was 22nd.

At UCF, Milken said, “A sea change occurred at the institution after it was granted a medical school in 2006.”

UF’s Century Tower. Photo courtesy University of Florida.

Palm Beach County’s mansion market still soft, broker’s numbers show

Prices in Palm Beach County’s mansion market remained soft in the first quarter, according to a report released Thursday by brokerage Douglas Elliman. That continues a downward trend in mansion prices that emerged in the fourth quarter.

 

The most dramatic price declines came in Palm Beach, where the average sales price of the top 10 percent of houses fell 23 percent to $7.2 million. The median sale price was off 29 percent, to $5.8 million.

Yet the average price per square foot climbed 10 percent to $1,493. That shows the market isn’t crashing, just shifting to smaller homes, said Jonathan Miller, the New York analyst who prepared Douglas Elliman’s report.

“The bigger product isn’t moving, and the sales are skewing to the lower end,” Miller said.

Other findings, for the top 10 percent of single-family sales in each market:

  • In Delray Beach, the average sales price plunged 38 percent to $2 million and the average price per square foot fell 25 percent to $414. The median sale price was off 12 percent, to $1.7 million.
  • In Jupiter, the average sales price fell 1 percent to $2.4 million and the average price per square foot dipped 1 percent to $469. The median sale price cratered 25 percent, to $1.8 million.
  • In Wellington, the average sales price rose 14 percent to $1.7 million and the average price per square foot jumped 24 percent to $426. But the median sale price plummeted 33 percent, to $1 million.