SAN ANTONIO — Inman News writers received five awards in an annual National Association of Real Estate Editors competition, including awards in the Best Team Report, Best Series, Best Blog, Best Freelance Collection and Best Column categories.
Inman News reporters Matt Carter and Andrea V. Brambila shared a second-place award for a three-part series, "Rebuilding Homeownership," that focused on the depleted pool of borrowers and the financial challenges in store for consumers to buy back in to the American Dream of homeownership after enduring a foreclosure or short sale.
The judges commented, "Rather than wringing their hands at another gloom and doom article, the reporters assessed the damage and went on to explain what needed to happen for the real estate market to turn around. The exhaustive report compiled results from surveys and official reports."
The category was open to all media. The first-place winners, Sanjay Bhatt and Jennifer Lafleur of The Seattle Times, teamed with ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit investigative news organization, in a report that highlighted common foreclosure triggers.
Inman’s Brambila also won a second-place award for a three-part report, "Meet the Cash Buyers," that included interviews with real estate buyers and industry professionals participating in all-cash transactions, which now account for a significant share of all real estate sales.
Judges commented, "This solid series describes the positive effect of the real estate crisis for a variety of buyers who have cash. It is one of the few entries that focuses on who is purchasing foreclosed properties and why."
The category was open to all media. Kirsten Grind of The Puget Sound Business Journal won the first-place award in this category for a series that focused on "the struggles of two Oregon community banks to survive amid the financial crisis," judges noted.
Katie Lance, social media manager for Inman News and writer for the Future of Real Estate Marketing blog, a part of Inman News, won a second-place award for Best Blog in NAREE’s 61st annual awards, based on several submitted sample blog posts and the judges’ review of the site itself.
Judges commented, "On the surface, this blog seems to offer conventional, common sense tips on effective real estate marketing, but the writer brings research to the blog and is particularly aware of the value of lists and links. The information is fresh because the writer updates it regularly."
Sheree R. Curry, a freelance writer for AOL Real Estate, won the first-place award in the category, with judges commenting, "This is a newsy blog, well written in a personal style. It also is well targeted to people buying and selling homes."
Mary Umberger, a regular Inman News contributor who also writes for The Chicago Tribune, for the second year in a row won the award for Best Freelance Collection.
Judges commented, "Reading this writer is like getting good advice from an old friend. Her columns particularly are memorable because they are easy to read and yet full of good information for those interested in real estate. They are a pleasure to read." The articles Umberger submitted for judging did not include Inman News articles.
Also, Ken Harney, an Inman News columnist since December 2010 who also writes a nationally synidcated real estate column, "The Nation’s Housing," as a part of the Washington Post Writers Group, won a first-place award for Best Column — an award he has won numerous times.
Judges commented, "Regular readers of this writer’s syndicated column come to expect the occasional ‘Kaching!!!’ Or ‘Wow!!!’ that punctuate his lively writing. Particularly noteworthy was a column on private transfer fees that can catch unwary buyers and sellers." The columns Harney submitted for judging did not include his Inman News columns.
Also during the NAREE conference, winners were announced for the 2011 Robert Bruss Real Estate Book Awards, named for the former Inman News syndicated columnist who died in 2007 and sponsored by NAREE President Leigh Robinson, founder of Express Publishing; and by Bradley Inman, publisher for Inman News and video book company Vook.
Sheri Koones, author of "Prefabulous + Sustainable," published by Abrams, won the first-place Gold Award in the annual book competition. Head judge Allen Norwood commented: "Authoritative and beautiful. Once again, Koones builds her case for prefab thoroughly, and presents it in a compelling, well-organized package."
Galina Tachieva won the second-place Silver Award for "The Sprawl Repair Manual," published by Island Press. Norwood commented that the book is "filled with interesting and innovative case studies."
And authors Ben Kinney and Jay Papasan won the third-place Bronze Award for "Soci@l," published by Rellek Publishing Partners Ltd. Norwood said in his comments that "Soci@l" is "one of the most timely — and helpful — examinations of the media transforming real estate. (This book) belongs on every agent’s desk."
Gregory Zuckerman, author of, "The Greatest Trade Ever," won the First-time Author Award for what Norwood commented is a "detailed account" that "reads like a compelling novel … from (the) perspective of one of the most important periods in the nation’s financial history."
Norwood, a freelance editor for HGTV online who is a retired homes section editor for the Charlotte Observer newspaper and a past NAREE vice president, was joined by fellow judges Judith Stark, freelance editor and writer, and retired real estate and homes editor for the St. Petersburg Times; and Byron Koste, executive director emeritus for the University of Colorado Real Estate Center.
Awards for the book competition ranged from $250 to $1,000, and first-place winners in the NAREE journalism competition received $250.
A full list of journalism awards winners follows:
Best Overall Entry by an Individual
Winner: Shannon Behnken, The Tampa Tribune
Judges’ comment: "This year’s competition is filled with articles about foreclosure processing and some of its dubious practices, but this article focuses directly on the processing fees which are more harmful than helpful to homeowners. The writer extensively investigated billing documents and internal record to make this problem apparent to readers and to state officials."
Best Freelance Collection Award
Winner: Mary Umberger,The Chicago Tribune
Judges’ comment: "Reading this writer is like getting good advice from an old friend. Her columns particularly are memorable because they are easy to read and yet full of good information for those interested in real estate. They are a pleasure to read."
Ruth Ryon Best Entry by a Young Journalist
Winner: Alyssa Abkowitz, SmartMoney magazine
Judges’ comment: "This writer won the largest category (number 16) by noticing patterns in the real estate industry that not every writer noticed. She coupled her initiative in finding fresh stories with lively writing."
Category 1: Best Residential Real Estate Report (daily newspaper)
Winner: Robbie Whelan, The Wall Street Journal
Judges’ comment: "The title of this story, ‘The 25-Year Foreclosure From Hell,’ tells it all. This was a great story about a trendsetter in the movement to resist foreclosure while refusing to pay a mortgage and using the courts to stay in her home. The story is exceptionally well written and resourced and shows how careless lenders can sometimes be their own worst enemy."
Second Place: Dina ElBoghdady, The Washington Post
Judges’ comment: "This is a good attempt to explain the psychological aspect of a broken housing market in which the buyers and sellers do not seek the same end. Not taking a typical approach to this problem, the writer describes the buy-low-and-sell high concept in the extreme."
Honorable Mention: Josh Flory, The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Judges’ comment: "This story chronicles the plans of a luxury home developer in Tennessee and shows how these plans went from ambitious dreams to projects fraught with unpaid tax bills, law suits, and upset buyers. It is a particularly well told regional story that reflects a situation happening nationwide."
Category 2: Best Mortgage or Financial Real Estate Report (daily newspaper)
Winner: Nick Timiraos, The Wall Street Journal
Judges’ comment: "This writer deserves kudos for looking at big picture questions in the current real estate muddle. The story focuses on the government’s role in propping up the housing sector and questions how much risk that taxpayers should be willing to take on. The irony is not lost on the writer of the story of a New Deal agency, which was founded to solve the depression’s housing problems in the 1930s and is now embroiled in another housing crisis."
Second Place: Dina ElBoghdady, The Washington Post
Judges’ comment: "This in-depth story looks at the foreclosure crisis and how owners are lured into participating in a loan modification only to find out that they spend unexpected money on fees and often end up in foreclosure. This is one of the better examples of a common story told over and over by real estate writers."
Category 3: Best Commercial Real Estate Report (daily newspaper)
Winner: Kris Hudson, The Wall Street Journal
Judges’ comment: "This is an original story that reveals that the professional scam of going to exotic resorts for conventions has come to an end for a number of reasons in addition to the recession and penny pinching. Particularly interesting was the writer’s observation that the word ‘resort’ in a title can hurt a hotelier’s bottom line."
Second Place: Eric Pryne, The Seattle Times
Judges’ comment: "The writer gives readers a comprehensive look at a major player in the region’s real estate, who is developing an area in Seattle which is the size of Boston but which has gone largely unnoticed by the public. This is a great piece of in-depth reporting."
Category 4: Best Report (daily newspaper, under 250,000 circulation)
Winner: Eric Pryne, The Seattle Times
Judges’ comment: "This extensively researched profile paints a picture of a family-owned real estate empire and the secretive individual at its helm. Given the subject’s unwillingness to speak to the press, the writer does a superb job of accessing public records and interviewing people close to the subject."
Second Place: Kristy Eppley Rupon, The State newspaper, Columbia, SC
Judges’ comment: "The story is an excellent example of service journalism. The writer shows how difficult it is for consumers to glean information about the past records of home building companies and the failure of lawmakers to regulate licensing."
Honorable Mention: Mimi Whitefield, The Miami Herald
Judges’ comment: "This feature is an example of solid trend reporting. The writer noticed the interest of foreign buyers in low-priced Miami real estate and builds an argument that international buyers represent a solution to the housing slump."
Category 5: Best Report (weekly business newspaper)
Winner: Theresa Agorino, Crain’s New York Business
Judges’ comment: "This analysis of loans of CMBS deals points to a problem that U.S. regulators are paying little attention to compared to the problems with residential mortgages. It is a difficult, unsexy subject, but the writer brought it alive. The story issued a warning that this is going to happen again."
Second Place: Adrianne Pasquarelli, Crain’s New York Business
Judges’ comment: "The headline — "ICK!" — and the blowup of a bedbug leaping off the page caught the judges’ attention, just as it probably did the readers. The story shows that no place is safe from an infestation of pests, and it describes what two Manhattan companies were doing to lessen the financial impact of this on real estate. The writer also shows the efforts to conceal the extent of the problem."
Category 6: Best Real Estate, Mortgage or Financial Report (magazine)
Winner: Cindy Hoedel, The Kansas City Star
Judges’ comment: "This is a piece on modernist architecture coming of age and being eligible for historic preservation. Without falling into a nostalgic tone, the writer considers technological advances that shaped 1960s designs and stresses the importance of the modernist movement, whether its products were striking architectural icons or simply uninteresting."
Second Place: Pat Regnier, Money magazine
Judges’ comment: "This is an excellent description of the impact of the mortgage crisis on an upscale Orange County development in California. In many ways, it establishes that upscale communities are affected much the same as downscale suburban developments that drew much less wealthy buyers before 2006."
Category 7: Best Trade Magazine Report for the Residential Real Estate, Mortgage/Finance or Building/Development Industries
Winner: Kerry Curry, HousingWire
Judges’ comment: "This well written article focuses on a segment of the foreclosure market that would not necessarily be on readers’ minds: foreclosed golf courses. She describes challenges with this ‘asset class’ and how everyone thought the future of golf courses was on a continual upswing."
Second Place: Jon Prior, HousingWire
Judges’ comment: "This article on minority real estate brokers shows the challenges that they face working in a largely white-dominated field. Framing the story in historical terms, he notes the industry today cannot afford to ignore the contributions of minority professionals."
Category 8: Best Trade Magazine Report for the Commercial Real Estate Industry
Winner: Sarah Ryley, Real Deal magazine
Judges’ comment: "This writer took a fresh angle to the financial foreclosure story by tracing 100 years of downturns in the New York City real estate market. And while readers may not feel much comfort in learning that this is only the fourth worst downturn, it does put what has happened in an historical perspective."
Second Place: Elaine Misonzhnik, Real Traffic magazine
Judges’ comment: "This is an excellent speculative think piece for retail store operators. It is a difficult story to write. The writer remains credible throughout by constant reference to current communication technologies that support her futuristic predictions."
Category 9: Best Residential Real Estate or Mortgage/Finance Report
Winner: Prashant Gopal, Bloomberg News
Judges’ comment: "This feature highlights how the downturn in the downtown Miami real estate market in condos actually improved the city, bringing in a lot of young professionals, who otherwise would not be able to afford to live there. The story highlights the ironies of the current real estate market and is well researched and written."
Second Place: John W. Schoen, MSNBC.com
Judges’ comment: "This report traces the failure of the government’s foreclosure relief program. It does so with thorough, understandable reporting."
Honorable Mention: Leah Culler, MSN Real Estate
Judges’ comment: "This feature was interesting because the writer looked at a real estate area that is largely overlooked: life in trailers. It shows how the stigma of living in a mobile home park appears to be changing."
Category 10: Best Commercial Real Estate Report
Winner: Dan Levy, Bloomberg News
Judges’ comment: "The writer takes readers into the Napa Valley to hear from vineyard owners on how dropping land values and consumers’ love of bargain wines are resulting in a ‘vintage’ year for foreclosures. The story demonstrates how the financial crisis hits the affluent involved in agricultural commerce."
Second Place: David Levitt, Bloomberg News
Judges’ comment: "Given that we still hear from mainstream media, especially television, how stable New York City real estate remains and how expensive it is, this is an excellent analysis of the overbuilding and vacancies among Wall Street office buildings. It not only looks at the present but speculates on the real estate market’s future."
Category 11: Best Blog
Winner: Sheree R. Curry, Freelance-AOL Real Estate
Judges’ comment: "This is a newsy blog, well written in a personal style. It also is well targeted to people buying and selling homes."
Second Place: Katie Lance, Inman News
Judges’ comment: "On the surface, this blog seems to offer conventional, common sense tips on effective real estate marketing, but the writer brings research to the blog and is particularly aware of the value of lists and links. The information is fresh because the writer updates it regularly."
Category 12: Best Broadcast Report (online, radio or television; local, network or cable channels)
Winner: Shannon Behnken, The Tampa Tribune
Judges’ comment: "This is an example of local broadcast investigative reporting that revealed the homeowner association fee scandal to a broad audience. It featured fresh interviews with people on both sides of the issue and performed a real service."
Second Place: Amy Hoak, MarketWatch
Judges’ comment: "This report explained innovative building practices that create homes with low energy usage. Viewers could watch a home come together from the foundation to the finished product."
Category 13: Best Home and Design Feature
Winner: Elizabeth Fenner, Money magazine
Judges’ comment: "This feature nicely establishes the principles of inexpensive design upgrades, based on scientific research, and then illustrates their application throughout a two-story home. This was the most helpful, most interesting feature in this category."
Second Place: Rebecca Teagarden, The Seattle Times
Judges’ comment: "In tough financial times, many people may want, or be forced, to move into smaller accommodations. The writer does an intriguing story on a man who imaginatively arranged an extremely small condo (only 182 square feet) and made it quite livable, thus perhaps encouraging others to try the same thing."
Category 14: Best Column
Winner: Kenneth R. Harney, Washington Post Writers Group
Judges’ comment: "Regular readers of this writer’s syndicated column come to expect the occasional ‘Kaching!!!’ Or ‘Wow!!!’ that punctuate his lively writing. Particularly noteworthy was a column on private transfer fees that can catch unwary buyers and sellers."
Second Place: Ralph Bivins, RealtyNewsReport.com and CultureMap.com
Judges’ comment: "This writer has the ability to be entertaining, thus keeping a reader wanting more, while discussing serious topics dealing with real estate. This makes not only for a lively read but an informative one. Clearly, this writer knows the difference between a column and a feature."
Category 15: Best Series
Winner: Kirsten Grind, The Puget Sound Business Journal
Judges’ comment: "This series details the struggles of two Oregon community banks to survive amid the financial crisis, showing how inaction by federal regulators helped prompt their closure. While Wall Street crises grabbed front-page headlines all year, this series illustrates the critical role of investigative journalism on a community level."
Second Place: Andrea V. Brambila, Inman News
Judges’ comment: "This solid series describes the positive effect of the real estate crisis for a variety of buyers who have cash. It is one of the few entries that focuses on who is purchasing foreclosed properties and why."
Honorable Mention: Greta Guest, Detroit Free Press
Judges’ comment: "This series examines the cost of walking away from your home, an important topic in a state where one-of-three properties with a mortgage was underwater. The well written articles show the problem through homeowners’ stories and statistics."
Category 16: Best Collection of Work by an Individual
Winner: Alyssa Abkowitz, SmartMoney magazine
Judges’ comment: "In this year’s largest category, these articles stand out because they approached the housing crisis in imaginative ways. They shine because of the writer’s personal voice and the fact that they focus on patterns in the real estate industry that not every other writer noticed: the movement toward efficient prefabrications, response to devaluation through property tax protests, and the effort that it now takes for a Realtor to make a sale."
Second Place: Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun
Judges’ comment: "These excellent newspaper features put a face on current damaging patterns in real estate: strategic defaults, mortgage foreclosure frauds, and the effect of foreclosures and defaults on neighborhoods. The writer’s stories show rather than merely tell."
Honorable Mention: Dawn Wotapka, The Wall Street Journal
Judges’ comment: "Employing the classic Wall Street Journal formula, these stories illustrate how it is possible to make lemonade from lemons. The angles that the writer takes on the housing crisis stand out from so many of the gloom and doom stories submitted in this competition."
Category 17: Best Newspaper Real Estate or Home Section (more than 250,000 circulation)
Winner: Craig Nakano, Lauren Beale, Lisa Boone, Chris Erskine, Mary MacVean, Deborah Netburn, The Los Angeles Times
Judges’ comment: "This home section maintains a local focus packaged in great graphic design and contains considerable promotional real estate writing that is informative and readable between excellent feature stories. The section provides particularly helpful information in its section on sales and auctions of classic home accoutrements."
Second Place: Anne Nelson, Susanne Althoff, Chin Wang, Josue Evilla, Veronica Chao, The Boston Globe
Judges’ comment: "While this newspaper magazine’s design seems a bit cramped among all of the advertising, it offers good photographic display on how to transform a home. The stories take readers inside homes to find out how to implement renovations."
Category 18: Best Newspaper Real Estate or Home Section (less than 250,000 circulation)
Winner: Julie Gallego, Jeff Collins, Scott Albert, Jonathan Lansner, Marilyn Kalfus, Kelli Hart, Erika Chavez, The Orange County Register
Judges’ comment: "This real estate section is all about selling, but given that limitation it still produces interesting graphic layouts and provides a great deal of statistical data about the area’s real estate market. It also entertains with briefs about hot properties of celebrities."
Second Place: Aisha Sultan, Amy Bertrand, Karen Deer, Debra D. Bass, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Judges’ comment: "This newspaper’s section focuses on home décor and gardening and does it well with excellent photos and graphic presentations. Readers will be drawn to the advice from experts."
Category 19: Best Shelter Magazine
Winner: Gail Ravgiala, Jenna Talbott, Danielle Ossher, Design New England
Judges’ comment: "This showcases upscale homes with elegant photography and design. It is well targeted to its audience of design professionals and architects."
Category 20: Best Residential Trade Magazine
Winner: Denise Dersin, Builder magazine
Judges’ comment: "This serves its readers with a solid editorial mix of upbeat success stories, trend analysis, new building techniques, and new product information. It contains readable short articles, columns, and departments."
Second Place: Paul Jackson and Kerry Curry, Housing Wire
Judges’ comment: "This magazine does a good job of covering the mortgage banking and financial markets. Its stories feature analysis and profiles of industry leaders, packaged in a no frills but attractive design."
Category 21: Best Commercial Trade Magazine
Winner: Stuart Elliott, Real Deal magazine
Judges’ comment: "This publication gives New York City real estate leaders ‘best of’ rankings, news, and analysis in a no-nonsense, tabloid format. It shouts ‘here is the latest news’ with well written features and columns."
Second Place: Matt Valley, Denise Kalette, Jaun Mims, National Real Estate Investor
Judges’ comment: "This magazine lives up to the ‘National’ in its name. It covers the country broadly and comprehensively, and it reports on the real estate industry broadly as well. All of this is delivered in a clean design with striking covers and good illustrations."
Category 22: Best Newsletter
Winner: Heather Ogilvie and Carol Johnson Perkins, Fair Housing Coach newsletter
Judges’ comment: "The Fair Housing Coach is focused and well written in straight forward English about important topics in real estate and packaged in a simple yet distinctive design. Its extensive coverage is easily assessed."
Second Place: Denise Dersin, Builder magazine
Judges’ comment: "Builder Business Update is sent by email to subscribers, giving them well targeted stories and lively videos. It has a clean design, the information is easily assessed, and it has useful articles for general building industry employees, who are targeted by this publication."
Category 23: Best Website Solely Devoted to Residential or Commercial Real Estate and/or Home Design
Winner: Denise Dersin, Builder magazine
Judges’ comment: "This site has an excellent front page that uses three-column design as a guide to informative stories. Readers may find it even easier to traverse than its print version."
Second Place: Steve Cook, Real Estate Economy Watch
Judges’ comment: "Graphically, this site may be more difficult than necessary to navigate, but it is rich and deep in current information, whether in features or short statistical reports. It is easy to read after you jump to the stories."
Category 24: Best Team Report
Winner: Sanjay Bhatt and Jennifer Lafleur The Seattle Times
Judges’ comment: "The reporters teamed with ProPublica to create a special report debunking the notion that predatory loan features were common triggers of foreclosures. The investigation compared King County to other regions in the U.S."
Second Place: Matt Carter and Andrea V. Brambila, Inman News
Judges’ comment: "Rather than wringing their hands at another gloom and doom article, the reporters assessed the damage and went on to explain what needed to happen for the real estate market to turn around. The exhaustive report compiled results from surveys and official reports."
Honorable Mention: Anton Troianovski and Nick Timiraos, The Wall Street Journal
Judges’ comment: "There is LEED, Green, and Energy Star Building, but not all efforts, including a ‘trash house,’ are attractive to mortgage companies and financing firms. This was an interesting report on over-the-top green building techniques, the limits of LEED building, and the problems of appraising innovative buildings."
Category 25: Best Investigative Report or Series
Winner: Kirsten Grind and Jeanne Lang Jones, The Puget Sound Business Journal
Judges’ comment: "This series illustrates excellent investigative reporting at the local level using court records, depositions, property records, and interviews. The reporting uncovered the story of a small company’s lending deals that lost millions of dollars for its investors in four states."
Second Place: Christine Willmsen and Sanjay Bhatt, The Seattle Times
Judges’ comment: "This is a great piece of investigative work revealing another side of the housing downturn: lenders loaning desperate homeowners money at high rates in an effort to capture their properties. The story brought to light the lack of consumer safeguards."
Honorable Mention: Laurie Udesky, The New York Times
Judges’ comment: "This story presents a new angle on foreclosures. How many sad pet stories have appeared in connection with foreclosures? Only now are we hearing about confused, elderly people being thrown from nursing homes because owners do not need to notify residents that they are being foreclosed. Computer-assisted reporting and on-the-ground investigative footwork were used to create a compelling story."