Real estate agent safety an ongoing concern

A roundup of real estate news making headlines

News and notes from a very broadly defined real estate landscape:

Crimes against agents

Real estate agent safety continues to be a topic making headlines: 

  • Real estate agents in Des Moines held a memorial service on April 9 to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of Ashley Okland, who was murdered while showing a townhouse in West Des Moines. The case remains unsolved, despite the offer of a $150,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction, according to the Des Moines Register.
  • A man in Great Falls, Mont., who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting an agent in May 2011, has been sentenced to 75 years in prison after the judge called his crime "a heinous and terrifying event," according to the Great Falls Tribune. Prosecutors said the defendant, Bradley Crisman, had "profiled" six agents in the months leading to his crime, and some of them had shown him homes. He brought duct tape and plastic zip ties with him when the crime victim showed him a home.
  • An agent in Suitland, Md., was sexually assaulted in late March while showing a home, according to the Washington Post. Police said that as the agent entered the basement, the assailant grabbed her and attacked her.

Where home sales are hot … and not

Even with widespread reports of the general housing market stabilizing, it’s still a mixed bag from metro area to metro area.  Some hits and misses:

  • The Birmingham, Ala., Association of Realtors reported that first-quarter home sales rose 15 percent, year over year, though average prices fell 2 percent;
  • Home sales in Las Vegas’ long-troubled market were up slightly in March from a year ago — a 4.4 percent increase.  However, the median price of a single-family home sold that month dropped from $126,000 to $123,000, compared to one year earlier, according to an Associated Press report;
  • There were "up" arrows in north Texas in the first quarter: Existing-home sales were 13 percent higher than the year before, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In a 29-county region, median sales prices climbed 5 percent;
  • The federal Department of the Treasury in early April highlighted its concerns for Chicago in its monthly Housing Scorecard, calling the local market "fragile" and saying that it is burdened by long foreclosure processing times, an abundance of vacant homes and many severely underwater mortgages, according to the Chicago Tribune.
  • Just up the road from Chicago, however, Milwaukee appears to be having a strong spring selling season, according to the Milwaukee Business Journal, which said home sales in March increased 26.5 percent, the ninth month in a row of double-digit percentage increases.

TV host starts over

Toronto real estate agent Sandra Rinomato is no longer hosting HGTV’s popular "Property Virgins" program, but she hasn’t left television: She is debuting a show in Canada called "Buy Herself," in which she works with single women to find and purchase properties, according to Global Toronto.com.

CAR against bulk home sales

The California Association of Realtors opposes the prospect of the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s "bulk sales" foreclosure program, which would call for the sale of 600 foreclosed homes in Southern California to institutional investors.  CAR argues that bulk sales will drive overall home prices downward and that bank-owned home sales are closing in an average of less than 60 days without government intervention, according to the Sacramento Business Journal.

The Florida bubble, part II?

Some experts are seeing another condo bubble forming in South Florida, with the construction of as many as 10,000 new units contemplated by the end of 2012, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The report said that some of the developers are requiring buyers to put down 80 percent of the cost of the condos before closing, freeing them from pressure to acquire institutional financing to spur construction.

A shed is apparently a good thing

Decorating diva Martha Stewart is known for having a lot of "stuff," and apparently it all has to go somewhere: She plans to appear before a local planning board to seek approval to build a 25-foot-tall, 3,200-square-foot storage unit on her 137-acre property in Bedford, N.Y., according to Lohud.com, which said the approval is needed because of the size of the unit.

Poodle sparks a condo-board suit

A unit of the Illinois government is suing the condo board of a high-rise on Chicago’s tony Lake Shore Drive because it won’t allow a tenant who suffers from chronic depression to keep a poodle as a service animal for therapeutic purposes, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The Illinois Department of Human Rights, in its suit, claims that the man’s poodle made his mood "more stable and less dark"; the condo association denied his request twice, though two doctors wrote letters supporting the dogs’ therapeutic value.

Fraud, in a black leather jacket

A leader of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang recently was sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay $130,000 restitution for heading a mortgage fraud scheme, according to CNN. Josh Leo Johnson, a vice president of the Sonoma, Calif., chapter, admitted to conspiring to obtain loans fraudulently, the news network reported.

Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.

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