DENVER — Inman News writers received four awards in an annual National Association of Real Estate Editors competition, including awards in the best freelance collection, best column, best series, and best residential real estate or mortgage/finance report or feature categories.
NAREE’s Journalism Awards recognize excellence in reporting, writing and editing stories about residential and commercial real estate, with prizes totaling $8,000 in 25 categories with three overall winners.
A panel of judges from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, selected Kenneth Harney, a columnist for Inman News and the Washington Post Writers Group, as one of three overall winners, for "Best Freelance Collection."
Commenting on Harney’s work, judges singled out as "particularly outstanding" a "hard-hitting exposé" on homebuyer tax credits the Internal Revenue Service mistakenly awarded to "dead people, babies, and prisoners."
"Wow!" judges said of the series, which included one piece published exclusively by Inman News. "After several months of continuous research, the reporter was able to detail startling incompetence in the Internal Revenue Service."
Harney was also awarded second place in Category 14, "Best Column." Judges said a column about penalizing a borrower merely because she expected to take a maternity leave "was sure to spark outrage."
The winner in Category 14 was Mary Beth Breckenridge of the Akron Beacon Journal, who judges said had "demonstrated a wide range of moods" in her columns, "tempered with a mix of whimsy and skepticism and fun."
Inman News Associate Editor Matt Carter was awarded second place in Category 9, "Best Residential Real Estate or Mortgage/Finance Report or Feature" for an article that kicked off a multipart series on dual agency.
The article, "Dual agency and ‘double-dipping’ still risky business," stood out "for exploring the risks involved in the practice," judges said, and benefited from the addition of a color-coded, interactive map allowing readers to discover the details in their states.
The winner in Category 9 was "Homes with something to hide," by Leah Culler of MSN Real Estate. Judges lauded the story as, a "fun and original article about the building of secret rooms in homes. It was a well-sourced story about a subject that homeowners might not want to share with the public because it defeated the purpose of the rooms."
Inman News reporter Andrea V. Brambila received an honorable mention in Category 15, "Best Series," for a three-part series on safety issues for real estate professionals.
"This series provides practical information for all real estate agents and was highlighted by an eye-opening story about potential safety hazards of showing an open house," judges said. "This was a novel idea highlighting the vulnerability inherent in a real estate routine that is taken for granted."
Judges said the winner in Category 15, David Migoya of the Denver Post, reported a series that uncovered "a world where powerful attorneys created and controlled a system of real estate foreclosure auctions without competitive bidding," prompting legislators to initiate legislative reform.
Also during the NAREE conference, winners were announced for the 2012 Robert Bruss Real Estate Book Awards, named for the former Inman News syndicated columnist who died in 2007 and sponsored by NAREE presidents Leigh Robinson, founder of Express Publishing, and Brad Inman, founder of Inman News and video book company Vook, with a special gift from Art Michaels, executor of the Bruss estate.
Author Kalvin Platt won the first place Gold Award in the Bruss competition for his book: "Master-Planned Communities: Lessons from the Developments of Chuck Cobb," published by the Urban Land Institute.
Judges praised the book as beautifully designed and illustrated, including overlays of "smart growth" concepts on original plans to see how well the communities reflect sustainable principles as understood today.
A full list of NAREE journalism awards winners follows:
Best Overall Entry by an Individual
Winner: Felix Gillette, Bloomberg Businessweek, "The King of All Vegas Real Estate Scams."
Judges’ comment: "To be blunt, the reporter wrote the hell out of this. It is a complicated story about underdog, ordinary people bringing down the cons scamming their condo complex. Yet despite the wealth of information that the reporter had to unearth and bring together, the article was compellingly told, starting with a world-class lead that ended with, ‘They didn’t think there would be four old ladies who wouldn’t put up with their stuff. They really pissed me off.’"
Best Freelance Collection
Winner: Kenneth Harney, Washington Post Writers Group and Inman News
Judges’ comment: "Particularly outstanding was his hard-hitting expose of special IRS deals going to dead people, babies, and prisoners. Wow! He placed the blame for housing tax credit screw-ups squarely on the IRS. After several months of continuous research, the reporter was able to detail startling incompetence in the Internal Revenue Service."
Best Entry by a Young Journalist
Winner: Daniel Miller, The Hollywood Reporter
Judges’ comment: "In a very sophisticated story, the reporter took on one of the most controversial read estate stories in California — the Church of Scientology buying up a lot of key properties in Hollywood. He walked confidently through the landmines and emerged with a tough but fair story. Public records provided the background of a story that the reporter enriched with a broad spectrum of interviews and description."
Category 1: Best Residential Real Estate Report in a Daily Newspaper
Winner: Mary Shanklin, Orlando Sentinel
Judges’ comment: "This is an unsettling look at the unsavory practices of a developer who found a way to make money off of other people’s misfortunes. Owners were fined so heavily that they were losing their condo units in foreclosure. Vivid writing underscored the realities of regulators failing to control health, safety, and basic fair practices."
Second Place: Jennifer Hiller, San Antonio Express-News
Judges’ comment: "Lively and fun, this was the backstory on a nationally famous house flipper. The story was balanced and yet insightful, and readers learned something. It was enhanced by good writing and a great lead-‘Go ahead and hate him.’"
Honorable Mention: Jason Sheftell, New York Daily News
Judges’ comment: "A valentine to the tallest building in the United States, the reporter marshaled wonderful details and descriptions in a highly readable feature. The article was enhanced by a rare interview granted by the building’s developer."
Category 2: Best Mortgage or Financial Real Estate Report in a Daily Newspaper
Winner: Greta Guest, Detroit Free Press
Judges’ comment: "This reporter chronicled the good and the bad of short sales, discovering the reasons why these are unexpectedly underused. Great personal examples draw readers into the article, causing them to share the frustrations of both buyers and sellers."
Second Place: Nick Timiraos, Wall Street Journal
Judges’ comment: "This reporter broke plans to unveil a major overhaul of the mortgage finance program by the federal government. The article did a good job of explaining the revamp to streamline the process."
Category 3: Best Commercial Real Estate Report in a Daily Newspaper
Winner: Eric Pryne, Seattle Times
Judges’ comment: "This inside look at the greenest building ever built in the world posed the question of whether this was the future for standard construction. The article was enhanced with breakouts, simple explanations, and interviews with key figures, including the co-founder of Earth Day."
Second Place: Kristi Heim, Seattle Times
Judges’ comment: "This is the inside story about the design of a building — the Gates Foundation headquarters — and how it turned out radically different than originally envisioned. The writer explored the marriage between form and function through interviews with Melinda Gates and a detailed analysis of the architectural plans."
Category 4: Best Report in a Daily Newspaper under 250,000 Circulation
Winner: Paola Iuspa-Abbott, Daily Business Review
Judges’ comment: "In spite of Miami’s expectations of a taxpayer windfall from a casino, the reporter’s digging showed that in fact the city would have a considerable payout for civic services. The article led to a push by the city to get more tax money from developers to pay their fair share."
Second Place: Lily Leung, San Diego Union-Tribune
Judges’ comment: "This article exposed deep flaws in the property appraisal system in San Diego. This provided a behind-the-scenes look at how the appraisal system contributed to the overvaluing of homes and helped lead to the bursting of the property value bubble in 2008."
Category 5: Best Report in a Weekly Business Newspaper
Winner: Jeanne Lang Jones, Puget Sound Business Journal
Judges’ comment: "This reporter wrote about an obscure federal green card program that allows foreign investors to fast-track their citizenship by investing heavily in American commercial real estate. The article, which was surprising and significant, then showed how a local real estate developer used the program to become a big owner in Seattle’s industrial district."
Second Place: Sam Black, Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal
Judges’ comment: "In a good shoe-leather, beat article, this reporter pulled together many personal and financial threads to weave a story of a complicated downtown casino deal. The result was highly readable and fair, which was particularly significant because of additions to the story that had to be made only thirty minutes before deadline."
Category 6: Best Real Estate, Mortgage or Financial Report in a Magazine
Winner: Daniel Miller, Hollywood Reporter
Judges’ comment: "In what the judges felt was the strongest category in this year’s contest, this was a novel story that connected the dots about the Church of Scientology and its expanding real estate holdings in Hollywood. The outstanding reporting was deep, hard hitting, and yet entirely fair. The writer clearly knows how to keep the reader turning the page."
Second Place: Seth Lubove, Bloomberg Markets Magazine
Judges’ comment: "The reporter spotted billionaires investing in farms as a way to hedge against inflation. The average value of farmland has tripled in the last thirty years, and big-time investors are exploiting soaring food prices. This is a great trend story that also profiled bankers who were leaving their jobs to invest in farmland full time."
Honorable Mention: Alyssa Abkowitz, SmartMoney Magazine
Judges’ comment: "The reporter showed that estimates of property values created by computer algorithms were often markedly different from actual sales prices. Common quirks and tiny changes to these algorithms were frequently throwing estimates far off kilter. This article performed a valuable service for readers."
Category 7: Best Trade Magazine Report for the Residential Real Estate, Mortgage/Finance, or Home Building/Residential Development Industries
Winner: Candace Taylor, The Real Deal Magazine
Judges’ comment: "The article, which combined an FOIA request, interviews, and personal observations by the reporter, unearthed a range of problems at one of Manhattan’s condominiums. It highlighted the tension between creating a building as a work of art and as functional living space."
Second Place: Adam Pincus, The Real Deal Magazine
Judges’ comment: "The reporter undertook a rare in-depth look at the real estate board of New York City by mining its public filings. The results demonstrated that residential brokers and agents were underappreciated and underrepresented on the board, which had led to considerable internal discontent."
Category 8: Best Trade Magazine Report for the Commercial Real Estate Industry
Winner: Adam Pincus, The Real Deal Magazine
Judges’ comment: "The reporter obtained rarely seen internal financial documents for a rental apartment building in Manhattan. The ‘insider baseball’ article gave viewers a seldom-seen glimpse of the issues related to the best use of space, building finances, and the difficulty of dealing with rent-regulated tenants."
Second Place: Elaine Misonzhnik, Retail Traffic Magazine
Judges’ comment: "The writer spotted a reversal in the move from open-air lifestyle centers to the return of enclosed malls. She used industry statistics, interviews with experts and builders, and a remarkably detailed time line that traced the rise, fall, and rise of malls. The result was thorough and eye opening."
Category 9: Best Residential Real Estate or Mortgage/Finance Report or Feature
Winner: Leah Culler, Freelance, MSN Real Estate
Judges’ comment: "This was a fun and original article about the building of secret rooms in homes. It was a well sourced story about a subject that homeowners might not want to share with the public because it defeated the purpose of the rooms."
Second Place: Matt Carter, Inman News
Judges’ comment: "This article explored the risks involved in double dipping in which real estate brokers represented both buyers and sellers. The addition of a color-coded, interactive map allowed readers to discover the details in their states."
Category 10: Best Commercial Real Estate Report
Winner: David Levitt, Bloomberg News
Judges’ comment: "This article deftly managed a massive amount of information, including an impressive list of sources, to describe the surprising office space renaissance on Wall Street. The mix of details both large and small added richness to what otherwise could have been a straight business story."
Second Place: Timothy Trainor, CoStar News
Judges’ comment: "This article began with a seminar on commercial real estate of the future, but rather than stopping there, the reporter’s enterprise expanded it into a look at larger demographic and building issues. The story suggested the controversial idea that America might not need any more new commercial buildings."
Category 11: Best Blog
Winner: Ilona Bray, Nolo’s Real Estate Tips for Home Buyers and Sellers
Judges’ comment: "The writer explained how the latest real estate news affected readers and how they could react to it. She offered legal tips, common sense advice, and observations on the real estate market in language that readers could understand. Her high-level expertise and light-hearted spirit showed through."
Second Place: Teresa Mears, MSN Real Estate
Judges’ comment: "The writer captured the true spirit of a blog, posting regularly in short bursts about a variety of topics related to real estate. The information was useful and organized for efficient browsing."
Category 12: Best Broadcast Report-Online, Radio or Television-Local, Network or Cable Channels
Winner: Shannon Behnken, Tampa Tribune/WFLA-TV, News Channel 8
Judges’ comment: "This broadcast showed how homeowners had to deal with the fallout of the housing bust and a landfill under their homes. The investigative report uncovered secrets kept by one of the country’s largest homebuilders and rendered a real public service. This resulted in a state senator pushing for additional testing of the site by the builder as well as by the state."
Second Place: Amy Hoak, MarketWatch/Dow Jones
Judges’ comment: "This was a real trend story about the shift from large homes to small homes as the hottest properties in the Chicago market. The reporter did a good job of detailing this change to utilitarian living spaces where every square foot has a purpose."
Category 13: Best Home & Design Feature
Winner: William Morgan, Design New England
Judges’ comment: "Comparing recycled metal shipping containers to bright yellow children’s blocks, the reporter provided vivid imagery about an on-going trend in real estate of building commercial buildings out of containers. The story explored the creation of something funky and beautiful out of the most ordinary of materials."
Second Place: Jenny Sullivan, Builder Magazine
Judges’ comment: "The reporter chronicled one of the first arrivals to America of a European phenomenon known as the passive home. The article clearly explained the technical aspects of the construction with simple language — ‘think Thermos’ — so lay readers could understand and appreciate the concept."
Category 14: Best Column
Winner: Mary Beth Breckenridge, Akron Beacon Journal
Judges’ comment: "Her columns demonstrated a wide range of moods, but they were tempered with a mix of whimsy and skepticism and fun. A column about a very expensive toilet would have kept her audience reading and smiling until the end."
Second Place: Kenneth Harney, Washington Post Writers Group
Judges’ comment: "This collection of columns rested on exceptionally strong reporting but added a layer of indignation and advocacy for ordinary people connected to the housing market. His column about penalizing a borrower merely because she expected to take a maternity leave was sure to spark outrage."
Category 15: Best Series
Winner: David Migoya, Denver Post
Judges’ comment: "The reporter uncovered a world where powerful attorneys created and controlled a system of real estate foreclosure auctions without competitive bidding. The engaging series resulted in legislators introducing reform bills targeting the key issues raised in the series. The outrage factor was magnified by the personal stories of the victims."
Second Place: Scot Paltrow, Reuters
Judges’ comment: "This series did not take the official word for granted. The reporter checked and found many foreclosure abuses, including robo-signing and missing documents relating to key real estate transactions. The stories had great impact both on those directly affected as well as the U.S. House and Senate."
Honorable Mention: Andrea Brambila, Inman News
Judges’ comment: "This series provides practical information for all real estate agents and was highlighted by an eye-opening story about potential safety hazards of showing an open house. This was a novel idea highlighting the vulnerability inherent in a real estate routine that is taken for granted."
Category 16: Best Collection of Work by an Individual
Winner: Jason Hidalgo, Reno Gazette-Journal
Judges’ comment: "This reporter dug through public records to go above and beyond the numbers to get the real story. This exposed the secrecy behind Nevada’s foreclosure mediation program, showing how the government said one thing but the data showed something else. This excellent example of computer-assisted reporting, which resulted in Bank of America notices of default dropping to zero, made this rise to the top in the contest category with the most entries."
Second Place: Mary Shanklin, Orlando Sentinel
Judges’ comment: "This collection of stories is an exemplar of traditional journalism: afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. The reporter described governmental and developer neglect that led to extreme deterioration of a resort complex, home devaluations that hit African-American neighborhoods particularly hard, and excessively high home owner association fines allowed by an unusual Florida law."
Honorable Mention: Jon Prior, HousingWire Magazine
Judges’ comment: "All of the articles in this collection captured the small, telling details that illustrated larger abstract issues. With a good narrative structure and a clear voice, the reporter explained the human cost of the failure of community banks in Georgia, the potential future of Fannie Mae, and an attempt by the Bank of America to have a clean balance sheet in three years."
Category 17: Best Newspaper Real Estate or Home Section More Than 250,000 Circulation
Winner: Kansas City Star: Stacy Downs, Jocelyn Jacobson, Gentry Mullen and Pamela Spencer
Judges’ comment: "This section had intriguing and innovative story ideas, such as the use of barn doors in indoor living spaces and recycling homes. It had extremely diverse content, which was enhanced by excellent color photography."
Second Place: New York Post: Lois Weiss and Steve Cuozzo
Judges’ comment: "This commercial real estate section had a refreshing dimension of hard news of interest to a broad audience from bed bugs to bad bridges."
Category 18: Best Newspaper Real Estate or Home Section Less Than 250,000 Circulation
Winner: The Santa Fe New Mexican, Paul Weideman
Judges’ comment: "Filled entirely with local content, this newspaper home section was an invaluable source of information for the Santa Fe buyer, seller, or owner. It was chock full of columns and articles focused on southwestern issues, such as solar power and water management."
Category 19: Best Design Magazine
Winner: Design New England Magazine, Gail Ravgiala
Judges’ comment: "This was a nicely written and inviting magazine that readers would want to come back to again and again. It had a good mix of design, art, travel, and topical articles, packaged with great photography."
Second Place: Ocean Home Magazine, Lindsay Lambert, Hugh Malone, Melissa Gillespie, Robert Parsons, Jessica Talbot and Rick Sedler
Judges’ comment: "This was a striking example of eye candy that invited readers to sit down and be inspired. It covered the world, writing not only about homes but also recreation, people, and health."
Category 20: Best Residential Trade Magazine
Winner: Builder Magazine, Denise Dersin
Judges’ comment: "The good writing in this magazine was not only focused on builders but also invited them into a conversation, tapping them for ideas and content. It had a great mix of articles, which were appealingly packaged, and it was packed with a wide range of topics from radiant heat to renovations of old schools to reacting to the recession with smaller homes. It was on top of the trends."
Second Place: ecohome Magazine, Rick Schwolsky, Jennifer Goodman
Judges’ comment: "This magazine contained inspiring case studies, a wide variety of concept homes, and good photographs and graphics to explain technical subjects in a clear manner. It had a clear mission and a clear focus. It was a sophisticated and sometimes witty publication focused at a specialized audience."
Category 21: Best Commercial Trade Magazine
Winner: The Real Deal Magazine, Jill Noonan and Candace Taylor
Judges’ comment: "Readers should keep this magazine and enjoy it all month. It was a top resource for real estate professionals in New York City because it was loaded with information on a wide range of topics. The layout and the color were a big plus."
Second Place: Construction Executive, Lisa Nardone, Joanna Masterson and Jessica Porter
Judges’ comment: "This was a real magazine with heft and was readable and substantial. From creative business strategies to articles about specialized contractors, it zeroed in on what contractors needed to know to make it in a highly competitive and challenging market."
Category 22: Best Newsletter
Winner: The Institutional Real Estate Letter
Judges’ comment: "This newsletter was thorough, slick, and professional. It was very institutionally focused for a niche market with solid in-depth information."
Second Place: IREN- Institutional Real Estate Newsline
Judges’ comment: "This newsletter featured short hits, graphics, and charts presented information in an easily understandable format. A wrap-up of the week’s top stories in each issue offered insider looks at property transactions and research about the industry in a very attractive package."
Category 23: Best Web Site Solely Devoted to Residential or Commercial Real Estate and/or Home Design
Winner: TheRealDeal.com, Candace Taylor, Lauren Elkies
Judges’ comment: "This website had a lot of fresh news, created in-house. It was constantly updated and easy to navigate with an inviting mixture of headlines, blurbs, and graphics."
Second Place: The Real Reporter
Judges’ comment: "This site was thorough and insightful as well as uncluttered and inviting. Multiple points of entry had readers delving into in-depth features and briefs."
Category 24: Best Team Report or Series
Winner: Housing Wire, Kerry Curry, Jacob Gaffney, Jason Philyaw, Jon Prior, Kerri Panchuk and Liz Enochs
Judges’ comment: "This collection of stories expanded beyond the usual coverage of governmental efforts to help the housing sector, including the sale of foreclosed homes to investors, converting to rental units, and the extension of more time for underwater refinances. The articles were topical, timely, and interesting."
Second Place: Reuters, Matthew Goldstein, Jennifer Ablan, Daniel Wilchins and Kristina Cooke
Judges’ comment: "This series took a bold look at possible solutions to fix the broken housing market. The judges enjoyed the rich detail and the lively narrative on what could have been merely an academic discourse."
Category 25: Best Investigative Report or Series
Winner: Jamie Smith Hopkins and Scott Calvert, Baltimore Sun
Judges’ comment: "This is a sophisticated series about ‘double dippers.’ The Sun had to scrape tax data off of a public web site because the city claimed that it was unable to provide the information. The reporter discovered that hundreds of property owners illegally collected tax breaks on multiple homes and then she named names. This was watchdog journalism at its best."
Second Place: David Migoya, Denver Post
Judges’ comment: "This series showed enterprise, persistence, and advocacy for ordinary property owners. The reporter started with an article on sweet deals on foreclosure auctions, which morphed into further articles about people who lost their homes, not getting all they were due, and finally into revelations of incompetence and conflicts of interest among public officials. The reporter should be commended for following the story from a small beginning to an extremely significant end."
2012 Bob Bruss Book Awards
Bruss Gold Award: Kalvin Platt, "Master-Planned Communities: Lessons from the Developments of Chuck Cobb," published by the Urban Land Institute.
Judges’ comment: A "beautifully designed and illustrated" book that is "well organized, clearly written and important" and serves as a "comprehensive look back on what worked — and what didn’t — in early planned communities."
Bruss Silver Award: Charles Long, "Finance for Real Estate Development," published by the Urban Land Institute.
Judges’ comment: A "terrific look at how real estate development deals work. This book is the first year of business school in your hands," the judges commented.
Bruss Bronze Award: Buddy Norman with Jay Papasan, "Shift Commercial: How Commercial Brokers Tackle Tough Times," published by Keller Williams Realty International.
Judges’ comment: "Written for commercial real estate professionals, the book is a timely how-to guide navigating through today’s prolonged economic downturn."
NAREE’s First-Time Author Award: Adam Leitman Bailey, "Finding the Uncommon Deal," published by Adam Leitman Bailey PC.
Judges’ comment: "The book is a good up-to-date handbook on the basics of home-buying in today’s market."
Allen Norwood, freelance editor, HGTV online, retired homes editor, Charlotte Observer and former NAREE vice president, judged the Bruss Book Competition along with two NAREE past presidents: Judith Stark, freelance editor/writer and retired real estate and homes editor, St. Petersburg Times and Carl Larsen, freelance journalist and retired homes section editor, San Diego Union-Tribune.
NAREE, a nonprofit association of writers celebrating 83 years of service to real estate writers, was founded in 1929.