Sheriff’s Office brass to Realtors: Be careful out there

Photo by Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post
Photo by Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post

Here’s a recipe for danger: Realtors are mostly women who spend their days showing empty houses to strangers.

Most times, nothing goes wrong — Wellington broker Nancy Jennings says she has held hundreds of open houses in Palm Beach County without incident. Indeed, violent crime rates have fallen in half over the past 20 years, according to the FBI.

Sometimes, though, Realtors become victims. The 2014 murder of an Arkansas real estate agent spurred Realtors to examine their security practices. On Friday, Michael Gauger, chief deputy at the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, told Jennings’ Keller Williams agents in Wellington how to stay safe.

His tips:

  • Check ID. Always meet new clients at the office, not at a vacant home. Make a copy of new clients’ drivers licenses. To be sure a Florida license is legit, hold it at an angle and look for the circles hidden on the surface. Also make note of the client’s vehicle and tag number.
  • Use security cameras. “Cameras are so cheap now,” Gauger says, “and the pictures are unbelievable.” Brokers can install cameras at the office for a few hundred bucks. For agents on the move, Gauger suggests using GoPro cameras to capture video during open houses and showings. The footage can help cops catch the bad guy.
  • Get a buddy. Don’t hold open houses alone. And agents should tell someone at the office before meeting a client at a property. They also should have a code phrase — such as, “It’s in the red file” — that serve as a distress signal.
  • Ditch the high heels. Female agents should wear shoes that let them run away from bad guys.
  • If you have a gun, know how to use it. A gun in the possession of an untrained owner can be a disaster waiting to happen. A bad guy can snatch it, or the owner might accidentally shoot herself. For agents not experienced with firearms, Gauger recommends pepper spray.
  • Lose the jewelry, keep the smartphone. Don’t wear fancy jewels and lug big purses, Gauger says. But set up your phone so you can easily dial 911 if things go wrong
  • Be wary. When you get to an empty property, walk around the perimeter before going in. If the lockbox has been tampered with or there are signs of a break-in, call 911 before entering the house. “Awareness has kept me alive for 45 years,” Gauger says.

Of course, Gauger had a more dangerous job than agents. Realtors die on the job from violent crime about once a year, safety experts say, and there have been a handful of news reports about murdered Realtors in recent years. An Ohio agent in 2010 was strangled by two men who told her they wanted to view a property. And in 2011, an Iowa agent was murdered during an open house.


Mansion sale sets new price record for Ocean Ridge


An under-construction mansion in Ocean Ridge just sold for $13.6 million, setting a new price record for the town.

The one-acre property is at 6125 N. Ocean Blvd. It had been listed for $17.95 million.

The town’s previous record: $7.9 million, paid by Al Malnik for the spread at 6301 N. Ocean Blvd. in 2006.

For housing market, “2016 will be best year in a decade,” economist says


U.S. home sales in 2016 will hit their highest levels since the bubble year of 2006, says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at

“2016 will be the best year in a decade,” Smoke said Thursday in Miami Beach during the annual conference of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World.

Smoke projects 5.4 million home sales this year, up 3 percent from last year. He says the combination of rock-bottom mortgage rates and an improving job market will spur sales.

“People are doing well in this economy” Smoke said. “Consumers are confident, and they’re planning to buy homes.”

In another sign of a potential upswing in home sales, counted more than a billion searches on properties on its site in January, Smoke said.


New priciest mansion in Palm Beach: $75 million

1960 S. Ocean Blvd. as it looked in 2014. Photo courtesy Palm Beach County.

Now that the Palm Beach mansion at 1071 N. Ocean Blvd. is priced at $74.5 million, there’s a new most expensive listing in town. It’s 1960 S. Ocean Blvd., for sale for $75 million.

The $75 million listing isn’t in the multiple listing service, but it’s being marketed on the website of agent Cristina Condon. The 2.25-acre property just north of Sloan’s Curve includes 274 feet of ocean frontage. The Shiny Sheet’s Darrell Hofheinz has more details.

The mansion at 1071 N. Ocean was listed last year at $84.5 million, but the price has been cut twice, the second time late last week. Meanwhile, the house lost its spot as Palm Beach County’s most expensive listing when the Ziff estate in Manalapan hit the market for $195 million.

Another price cut for Palm Beach’s priciest mansion

The mansion at 1071 N. Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach. Courtesy Smith and Moore Architects.
The mansion at 1071 N. Ocean Blvd. in Palm Beach. Courtesy Smith and Moore Architects.

The most expensive listing in Palm Beach just got a little less expensive. The mansion at 1071 N. Ocean Blvd. now is asking $74.5 million.

Originally listed at $84.5 million, the seller cut the price in November to $79.5 million. The listing agent is Christian Angle.

Meanwhile, the house lost its spot as Palm Beach County’s most expensive listing when the Ziff estate in Manalapan hit the market for $195 million.

UPDATE: New priciest mansion in Palm Beach: $75 million

See how much Jupiter apartments sold for


The freshly built Dakota at Abacoa apartments just sold for $42 million, or $221,000 a door, according to property records.

The 190-unit complex in Jupiter was completed in 2013. Rents start at $1,370 a month for a one-bedroom unit.

Other recent apartment deals:

Boca Raton apartments sell for $82 million

Jupiter apartments sell for $65 million

Student apartments near FAU fetch $105 million

Eastwind Development of Palm Beach Gardens was the seller of the Dakota development. Priderock Captial Partners of West Palm Beach is the new landlord.

UPDATE: Index Apartments LLC of Jupiter notes that it was Eastwind’s partner in the project.

Florida to get $78 million from feds for Hardest Hit Fund

house money

Despite a less-than-stellar record for Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund, the program is getting an additional $78 million, the U.S. Treasury Department said Friday.

The new money extends the end date of the Hardest Hit Fund from Dec. 31, 2017, to Dec. 31, 2020, the feds said. California gets the most of any state, at $213 million, and Illinois ($118 million), Ohio ($98 million) and North Carolina ($78 million) all received more than Florida.

Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund has accepted the smallest percentage of applicants of any state, a federal inspector general said last year. Only 20.5 percent of Florida borrowers who applied to the federal program were accepted, according to the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Not only are few Floridians helped by the Hardest Hit Fund, those that are must endure long waits. Out-of-work Florida homeowners seeking unemployment assistance through the program had to wait a median of 167 days, the inspector general said.

Florida’s acceptance rates are low because the state program doesn’t weed out applicants who might not qualify, said Cecka Green, spokeswoman for the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which runs the state’s $1 billion Hardest Hit Fund.

The Hardest Hit Fund, announced in February 2010 by the Obama administration, devoted $7.6 billion to 18 states and the District of Columbia. Florida received $1.06 billion, an allocation eclipsed only by California’s $2 billion. The money was meant to help unemployed homeowners pay the mortgage until the job market improved.


In regime change at Ocwen, Chairman Barry Wish resigns, replaced by former regulator

012210 met ocwen 1.jpg

As Ocwen Financial sweeps out its old regime, the company announced Friday that a longtime director will leave the chairman’s post — and be replaced by a former federal regulator who was appointed to the embattled mortgage company’s board last year on the orders of New York state regulators.

Barry Wish, the chairman of West Palm Beach-based Ocwen, will step down next month. His replacement is Phyllis Caldwell, who served for two years as chief of the Homeownership Preservation Office at the U.S. Department of the Treasury during the first Obama administration.


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

Wish, a 74-year-old Manalapan resident, has been a director of Ocwen (NYSE: OCN) since 1988. He took over as chairman last year, when regulators pushed out former Chairman and Chief Executive William Erbey.

Wish “did not wish to stand for re-election at the Company’s annual shareholder meeting in May 2016,” the company said in a statement. Wish owned 4.15 million shares of Ocwen as of the company’s May proxy.

Caldwell is not just a former regulator but the only woman on Ocwen’s board. In the 1990s, the company was the target of a class action by employees who claimed sexual harassment. And two women who worked at Ocwen’s West Palm Beach headquarters won a $2 million sexual harassment verdict in 2005.

Ocwen shares briefly touched an all-time high of $59.98 in 2013. Shares closed Thursday at $5.69.

A regulatory crackdown punished shares of Ocwen, which has a reputation for playing hardball with subprime borrowers.

Minto says new Westlake project wooing commercial uses, too

John Carter of Minto Communities. (Bruce Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)
John Carter of Minto Communities. (Bruce Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Minto Homes’ massive Westlake development is known mainly as the future site of 4,500 homes. But the project in unincorporated Palm Beach County also is slated for some 2 million square feet of commercial space.

During a speech Thursday to the Economic Forum, Minto Communities Vice President John Carter said one unnamed company is interested a 42-acre site approved for 250,000 square feet of space.

“We’re already entertaining an offer for someone to occupy all of” that site, Carter said Thursday.

Carter outlined plans that included 1 million square feet of offices, 500,000 square feet of retail and 450,000 square feet of light industrial space.

Affordability squeeze tightens in Palm Beach County

house money

Palm Beach County’s home-price gains continue to outpace income growth, a trend that’s creating an affordability challenge.

In the third quarter of 2015, 60.8 percent of homes sold in Palm Beach County were in reach of a median-income family, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index. That was down from 61.7 percent the previous quarter.

The index looks at the median price for new and existing houses and condos ($210,000 in Palm Beach County in the third quarter) and compares it to median income ($66,004 in 2015).

Broward and Miami-Dade counties also saw dips in affordability. The Treasure Coast bucked the trend with a slight increase in affordability.