Real estate odds and ends: Look for more Realtors, smaller apartments, and Bruce Wayne in Chicago

A global roundup of real estate industry items of interest

Glimpses (and confirmed sightings) across a very broadly defined real estate landscape:

He’s a 1 percenter

That’s one interesting way to get a tax deduction: Facebook.com founder Mark Zuckerberg refinanced the mortgage on his Palo Alto, Calif., home in April with a 1.05 percent adjustable-rate mortgage on a loan of $5.95 million, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Boldface names department

If Wayne Manor were real, it would list for $32.1 million, calculates Movoto.com. The blog on the online brokerage’s site, inspired by the release of the latest Batman flick, "The Dark Knight Rises," decided, inexplicably, that Gotham City is really Chicago, and created a listing for the imagined home of the Caped Crusader’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne.

In this fantasy listing, the house sits on 150 acres (we’re wondering how far out from the city Mr. Wayne would have to go in order to nail 150 contiguous acres in Chicagoland, but never mind); the house boasts 42,500 square feet of space, with 11 bedrooms and seven baths. There’s no reference to a Bat Cave, perhaps other than "multicar garage, underground parking."

Also in Chicago, there’s a real house that stood in for the ultra-sleek home of Dr. Richard Kimble, protagonist in 1993’s  "The Fugitive," starring Harrison Ford. The house got a ton of publicity with the release of the movie, but local fame doesn’t necessarily translate into a quick sale, according to CribChatter.com, a Chicago real estate blog.

The blog reports that the house, in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, went on the market in June 2011, for $3.95 million, and this year was reduced to $3.69 million. Still no takers, according to CribChatter.com.

It’s an unusually large home for its urban neighborhood, at more than 6,100 square feet, with five bedrooms, five baths, an elevator and an indoor pool. 

Perhaps the listing needs to specify that a one-armed man didn’t really kill anybody there.

Meanwhile, in Newport, R.I., a house where the lady of the house did appear to be murdered recently sold for $13 million.  That would be the estate once owned by Claus von Bulow and his late bride, Sunny. After his socialite wife failed to awaken from a coma, financier Claus was convicted of trying to murder her; he later won a new trial and was acquitted, according to Associated Press reports.

The saga was made into a movie, "Reversal of Fortune," though the house in question wasn’t involved.

The 21-room home sits on 7 acres (clearly, not "Batman" territory), though it does sit alongside Newport’s famous Cliff Walk millionaires row.

Back to real estate reality

American Banker reports that Wells Fargo & Co. has decided to cut its mortgage joint ventures with real estate brokerages to 14 by early 2012. A Wells Fargo spokesman confirmed the report but said she didn’t know the number of alliances that would be cut.

An unnamed realty executive told the trade publication that at the beginning of this year, Wells Fargo may have had 80 active joint ventures, in which, typically, Wells and a realty firm jointly own a mortgage-banking operation.

Here’s an addition to your real estate lexicon: "scratch-and-dent" houses.  That’s what the Bradenton (Fla.) Herald calls an overabundance of homes on the market that need significant work — more work, that is, than the average buyer is likely to be willing to tackle. The newspaper recently reported that the local multiple listing service had 322 properties priced under $50,000 in the Manatee County area, most of them fixer-uppers. 

Singling out the difficulty of selling such units, the paper quoted local brokers as saying that when the scratch-and-dent houses are subtracted from the inventory, the already-paltry supply of salable houses drops to "crisis level."

With an uptick in the local market, real estate sales classes are starting to fill up again in Oklahoma, according to the Tulsa World newspaper, which said enrollment in the classes there is the highest in four years.

Peter Galbraith, president of Coldwell Banker Select and vice chairman of the Oklahoma Real Estate Commission, estimated his company would increase the number of its agents by 15 to 20 percent this year.

It’s the law

A new Oregon law gives homeowners the right to meet face to face with a neutral mediator and the bank or institution that owns their mortgages before foreclosure can occur, according to the Portland Business Journal. The law also eliminates "dual tracking," a process where a bank can continue to foreclose while simultaneously working on a loan modification for a homeowner.

A new Iowa law prohibits auctioneers who lack real estate licenses from hosting open houses at properties they are selling at auction, according to the Des Moines Register.

That’ll teach ‘er

Elena Vavilova (also known as Tracey A. Foley) was exposed as a Russian spy and deported from the United States two years ago. Now she officially is forbidden from being a real estate agent — in Massachusetts, anyway.

Vavilova/Foley was working as a real estate agent in Cambridge, Mass., in 2010 when she and eight other Russians were arrested for espionage; she pleaded guilty, then was returned to Russia in a spy-swap deal.

The Boston Globe recently reported that Vavilova was found to have violated real estate licensing regulations by failing to report her conviction within 30 days, and a state board has revoked her real estate license. The board deemed her conduct unprofessional and "undermines the public confidence in the integrity of the real estate profession."

Teenier and teenier

New York City got a lot of media attention recently when it invited developers to devise plans for "micro unit" apartments of 275 to 300 square feet, each one containing a kitchenette, bathroom, and space for a fold-out bed in a combined sleeping/living space; current housing regulations require new apartments in the city to have at least 400 square feet, Reuters reported.

But Gotham — that is, New York, not to be confused with Chicago, see above — isn’t the only urban area thinking about getting small(er): San Francisco is considering shrinking its size requirements for rental apartments, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The move, the paper said, is prompted by the demographic shift toward one-person households in a market that’s known for its high rents and a shortage of housing. The new minimum would be 150 square feet, plus kitchen, bathroom and closet — totaling about 220 square feet, or the size of a one-car garage. The current minimum is 290 square feet.

Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in  Chicago.


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