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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13, 2009
The Commercial Record
Connecticut’s Weekly Business Newspaper Since 1882
Vol. CXXVI I No. 7 • $6.00
THE WARREN GROUP
OP P ORT UNI T Y OP E NS
As Manhattan Housing Prices Plummet Fairfield County Commuters Wait And See
BY LAURIE WIEGLER coMMerciaL recorD corresPonDent
HK Group Founder Not Done Yet
BY DANIEL D’AMBROSIO coMMerciaL recorD corresPonDent
D E C I SI O N D O L D R U M S
Insurers Decry Reserve Proposal’s Death
BY LAURA SCHREIER coMMerciaL recorD staFF Writer
YOUR ONLINE LIFE JUST GOT MUCH MORE INTERESTING
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ife insures were feeling confident that a hoped-for proposal would get the OK from regulators last month – but to their surprise, the proposal got shot down. 1999 Insurers were unhappy to lose a 2000 source of potential help in troubled times, but some insurers have 2001 paused to grumble that the pro2002 posal’s death had more to do with 2003 political maneuvering than pure 2004 policymaking. The proposal would have 2005 allowed insur2006 ers to lower 2007 capital and 2008 surplus reserve requirements by about 6 percent, a move industry representatives TOM SULLIVAN say would have freed up more money to make investments and do business. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners was considering the proposal until the NAIC’s executive committee shot it down, saying the industry hadn’t demonstrated a strong enough need for such changes now. “I was just baffled,” said Bob Sheridan, head of Savings Bank Life Insurance of Massachusetts, who
couldn’t speculate as to the proposal’s demise, but said it had seemed like regulators had consensus and were moving forward. Peter Tedone, president of Connecticut’s VantisLife Insurance, said: “I do not believe it [the pro310 posal] was rejected on its merits 421 … I think there’s politics in every environment, and this is just one of 395 them.” 435 Tedone had been watching the 437 NAIC’s actions on the proposal, 757 even though they wouldn’t have 862 directly affected his company. Regardless, he said, it was frustrating 863 to see the idea get derailed. 917 The plan of loosening capital and surplus requirements had garnered its share of controversy. Consumer groups argued it was the height of irresponsibility to lower requirements at a time when the nation was learning the harsh consequences of free-and-easy finances. Insurers countered the capital requirements for the industry were long considered overly conservative, and freeing up more capital would have allowed them to do business in a constricted financial environment. Now, individual state commissioners might allow those capital changes within their state borders. Continued on Page 2
Number of Connecticut Multifamily Home Sales
Not So Free And Easy
00 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 '2005 2006 2007 2008 ’99 ’00 ’01 ’02 ’03 ’04 ’05 ’06 ’07 ’08
❑ Source: The Warren Group
Photo courtesy Citi-Spaces
n the past six months, prices for apartments and co-ops in Manhattan have fallen as much as 10-20 percent, depending on location. In addition, landlords and co-op managers are being forced to throw in freebies – such as one or two months’ free rent, waiving broker fees and slashing parking costs. Yet it is unclear whether or not Fairfield County residents who regularly commute into Manhattan are taking advantage. Brokers who spoke to The Commercial Record indicated that part of the problem is a lot of people are taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to any move. Barry Salottolo, listings director with Citi-Spaces in Manhattan, is one of those brokers. “Some people are waiting for the prices to drop even more, [but] we don’t see that
as really viable because they’re not going to bottom out to the degree that people might be waiting for it. It’s a great time now with the interest rates at 4½ to 5 percent but, like I said, it’s really driven by the market and whether you’re working, whether you can afford it.” Great rates aside, Salottolo is confident the lure of living in Manhattan will at least keep prices more stable than they are in Brooklyn, which he says has just cratered. Some of the top brokers Salotollo works with in the city have seen prices plummet from $1,100 a square foot for a condo to about $600 or $700. “So people who bought a couple years ago are reeling right now. They have to actually sit a lot longer, and they may never recoup everything they paid. “In Park Slope and in Williamsburg I have seen a 30-percent to 40-percent drop in some properties for both sale and for rent. Brooklyn crashed well before ManContinued on Page 2
he news last month from HK Group Commercial Real Estate was a head scratcher. The founder, Ted Hampe, had resigned after two decades at the helm, and the star broker he took on as partner TED HAMPE in 2001, Matthew Keefe, was now in charge. Keefe claims Hampe, 74, needed to “slow down.” Meanwhile, Hampe went out and got a full-time job elsewhere – and questioned Keefe’s honesty about his exit. Hampe started HK Group in Westport in 1988 after years in corporate marketing. But then it was announced that as of Dec. 31, Hampe – who will turn 75 in April – would walk away from a company that has racked up more than $1 billion in sales in the past 20 years. According to Keefe, who is 56, it’s a natural progression. “He’s 75 years old. At some point or another you got to slow down or the Good Lord makes you slow down,” said Keefe. “He founded the firm and left it to his partner, and is throttling back. This is all natural, it’s not weird.” On the question of why he left his successful company, Hampe was guarded. “I can’t tell you everything, but the official word is that I wanted to get out of management,” he said. Although Keefe was a very big producer, he “was not interested in part-time management of the company,” Hampe said. “He was solely focused on selling,” he added. “I was spending as much as 75 percent of my time managing two offices and 13 brokers.” Hampe now has other plans in his new position as a senior vice president in the Westport office of Prudential Commercial Real Estate, and was a little taken aback at his former partner’s assessment of his position in life. “It sort of belies the fact that I’m working full time and looking forward to a new challenge,” Hampe told The Commercial Record. Hampe said he will be doing his own deals at Prudential, and will be recruiting brokers “who don’t require that much attention” to join him. He admitted leaving the company he founded was emotionally draining, but said he was excited by the challenge of getting back into property sales full time. ■
THE COMMERCIAL RECORD
February 13, 2009
▲ ▲ ▲ ▲
ON THE WEB
A ROUNDUP OF OUR MOST POPULAR WEB-ONLY STORIES FROM THE PAST WEEK
If you weren’t reading CommercialRecord.com last week, here’s a sampling of what you missed: NEWPORT FEDERAL LOSES $800K IN ‘08
Newport Bancorp, the holding company for Newport Federal Savings Bank, which has plans to open a branch in Stonington “soon,” has reported a net loss of $609,000 for the quarter ended Dec. 31. For the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2007, the bank reported a net loss of $47,000. For the year ended Dec. 31, the company reported a net loss of $848,000, compared to net income of $757,000 for the year ended Dec. 31, 2007, a decline of more than 200 percent. According to Newport Federal’s Web site, the bank has plans to open a branch in Stonington, but does not offer a timeline.
U.S. HOUSING MARKET BOTTOM WITHIN SIGHT?
U.S. housing markets from Florida to California have suffered price drops of 50 percent or more from their peak, but now, at long last, a bottom is within sight, likely in the fourth quarter nationally, according to a report from Moody’s Economy.com. By the end of the housing downturn, nearly 62 percent of the nation’s 381 metropolitan areas will have experienced double-digit-percent declines in house prices, peak-to-trough, says the report by chief economist Mark Zandi and a team that includes Celia Chen, senior director of housing economics. The declines will exceed 20 percent in about 100 metro areas.
CBRE NET FALLS 95 PERCENT IN Q4
CB Richard Ellis, which has offices in Hartford, New Haven and Stamford, saw its 2008 fourth quarter net income fall 95 percent year-over-year, from $122.4 million in 2007 to just $6.5 million last year. For the year, net income stood at $83.9 million in 2008, down almost 79 percent from $390.5 million in 2007.
CBIA VP OFFERS BLEAK ‘09 JOBS OUTLOOK
Peter Gioia, vice president and economist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), isn’t expecting any substantial improvement in the state’s employment outlook until at least 2010. Gioia cited reports from the New England Economic Partnership and Moody’s Economy.com, both of which expect Connecticut to lose 60,000 to 80,000 jobs in the next 18 months, with no recovery until mid-2010. Gioia said the state may lose up to 40,000 more jobs in 2009, though things may be less bleak in the second half of this year.
SUBMIT A COMMENT
here’s What YoUr Peers Were interesteD in Last WeeK:
Turf War: Towns’ MLS Independence Draws Fire Perks Are Being Dropped – And Added – By Banks CBIA VP Offers Bleak ‘09 Jobs Outlook Newport Federal Loses $800K In ‘08 CBRE Net Falls 95 Percent In Q4
MLS MERGER FERVOR
FAIRFIELD COUNTY MLS
We asked readers last week to weigh in on whether or not they felt the Greater Fairfield County CMLS ought to merge with the Connecticut Statewide MLS. An overwhelming majority of respondents, more than 93 percent of total votes and more than 550 total, were in favor of a merger, saying it might serve agents better this way. Here’s what one reader had to say after voting: “The real question should have been.... whom does it better serve to go State wide....The BIG Real Estate Companies or....the clients/customers? The simple answer is “a statewide MLS system benefits the customers/clients and THEREFORE the agents”. Another reader had this to say after reading the poll’s accompanying story “Turf War: Towns’ MLS Independence Draws Fire”: “It certainly would make it easier for appraisers to get accurate information without having to join every board in the state.”
U.S. Housing Market Bottom Within Sight? Turf War: Towns’ MLS Independence Draws Fire Perks Are Being Dropped – And Added – By Banks UBS Top Job A Poisoned Chalice AMA, Others Suing Aetna, Cigna Over Payments
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February 13, 2009
THE COMMERCIAL RECORD
Fear Of Employment Status Factoring Into City Move
Continued from Page 1 hattan had its slowdown,” says Salotollo.
Where Have All The Commuters Gone?
Yet, all this prospective good news for buyers means naught if everyone fears losing his job. New York State Unemployment figures reflect cause for worry, too, as the state has issued two extensions of emergency benefits, the most recent being approved by President Obama. Salottolo says it’s another reason why people are waiting. “Even the people who had ‘good jobs’ – you see them walking around the streets and they’re unemployed – so it’s a scary thing. [These are] people who think that they’re untouchable.” Further supporting the unemployment problem: bridge and tunnel traffic for the main nine arteries into New York was down 5 percent over last year. Aaron Don-
ovan, MTA spokesperson, points out that this is subject to a slight variation after further review. How it all will play out is, of course, unclear. If consumers are not buying stereos and microwaves, chances are they are also afraid to buy a new condo or flat as well. Asked how much the prices will have BARRY SALOTTOLO to drop, if there will be a tipping point before the commuters will move into the city where they work, Salotollo was skeptical. “That’s going to have a lot to do with the fact that people in Fairfield County who are middle- or upper-middle class who are living pretty nicely may not want to come into the city and be priced out,” Salottolo says. ■
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Angst Adds To Surplus Controversy
Continued from Page 1 This, though, would only apply to insurers domiciled at these states, and critics have said piecemeal regulatory changes would create an uneven playing field, not to mention public confusion when different companies start playing by different rules. Jack Dolan, spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurers, said the industry had hoped to avoid this mishmash of different rules by getting the NAIC to approve the regulations for the entire country. Dolan also expressed surprise at the proposal’s demise. It had solid support from the committee that initially reviewed it, he said, so it caught everyone off guard when the executive committee put the kibosh on the idea. He pointed to New York insurance superintendent Eric Dinallo as being particularly vocal about dismissing the proposal during the executive discussion. “You could put a lot of the leadership for killing this on the shoulders on Eric Dinallo,” he said. According to a statement from the NAIC, association president and New Hampshire Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny said, “Simply put, the industry has not made a credible case for why we need to make changes on an emergency basis.” As for the New York superintendent, first deputy superintendent Kermitt Brooks said that yes, Dinallo had been vocal in his belief that the proposal was too broad. “Eric took the charge and framed the issues, that the broad industry relief at the NAIC level was not good.” Meanwhile, individual states met last week to discuss allowing such changes within their own borders. Connecticut Commissioner Thomas Sullivan had been the only member of the executive group to approve the industry’s proposal, but has since stayed mum on whether he would allow individual companies to change their capital and surplus requirements in his state. A flurry of attention surrounded the issue in Connecticut last week when The Hartford Financial, facing a $2.7 billion net loss in its latest filings, asked the commissioner to be allowed such a change. Sullivan issued a public statement saying he was forbidden by law from discussing the matter of an individual company. Regulators who rejected the proposal disagreed with the proposal’s particulars, and disagreed the measure deserved the “emergency” status the industry had given it, according to an NAIC release. Ohio’s insurance director, Mary Jo Hudson, approved the capital requirements proposal on Jan. 22, even before the NAIC’s executive committee issued its decision. Ohio spokeswoman Carly Glick demurred from discussing the politics of the NAIC’s decisions, and said the Ohio director’s decision was based on concern for consumers. If other states lowered capital requirements, she said, it would leave Ohio insurers lagging behind and forced to raise prices on their products. ■ Email: email@example.com.
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THE COMMERCIAL RECORD
T HE NAT I ON' S HOUS I NG
February 13, 2009
No Foolin’: Feds To Toughen Lending Rules April 1
BY KENNETH R. HARNEY Washington Post neWs service
t’s not what homebuyers, sellers and refinancers want to hear, but they need to know: Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are ratcheting up their mandatory fees and toughening credit score and down-payment rules as of April 1. Most major lenders already are pricing in the higher fees, effectively raising costs to consumers immediately and reducing KENNETH R. HARNEY the impact of housing stimulus efforts from Congress and the Obama administration. Under Fannie’s and Freddie’s new guidelines, even applicants who assumed that their FICO scores would get them favorable rates will be charged more unless they can come up with down payments of 30 percent or higher. For example, a buyer with a 699 FICO score who can bring a sizable down payment of about 25 percent to the table will now get hit with a 1.5 percent “delivery” fee at closing under the new guidelines. A buyer with a FICO score between 700 and 720 will pay an extra three-quarters of a point. Even someone with a 739 FICO – once considered a platinum guarantee of the best rates available – will get dinged with a quarter-point add-on. Applicants who seek to buy a condominium and cannot come up with a 25 percent down payment will be hit with a three-quarter point add-on penalty, no matter how high their credit score – simply because they are not purchasing a traditional
detached, stand-alone home. Buyers of duplexes, where one unit is owner-occupied and the other is rented, will be charged a flat 1 percent add-on from Fannie, even if they’ve got FICOs above 800 and make 50 percent down payments. Refinancers who take cash out at settlement also will be forced to pay extra – as much as three points if they’ve got low credit scores and modest equity stakes. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac say they are tacking on these extra fees to counter higher risks and losses associated with certain loan products, buyer equity stakes and credit scores. Declining home values in many parts of the country are intensifying losses for both companies when loans go to foreclosure. Though quasi-private enterprises until last September, Fannie and Freddie now are operating under the control of federal regulators and are bleeding billions of dollars of red ink. Freddie spokesman Brad German said that some of the loan categories and credit risk combinations targeted in the latest round of fees “default at four to eight times” the rate of other mortgages in the company’s portfolio. “We have to manage these risks appropriately,” he added, and that means pricing them based on the probability of higher losses. However, realty agents, mortgage bankers and brokers are incensed at the new round of fee increases, calling them counterproductive in an environment where housing needs help, not new impediments. They have begun lobbying Congress and the two companies’ federal overseers to scrap the latest add-ons. Charles McMillan, president of the National Association of Realtors, complained in a letter to the Federal Housing Finance
As recently as two years ago, FICO scores in the upper 600s were enough to qualify any applicant for prime financing. Now scores of 720 to 740 are the bare minimum if you’re going to escape add-on fees – and still not good enough if you choose to buy a condo or a duplex.
Agency, the regulator of Fannie and Freddie, that not only were individual fee increases unjustified, but that in combination they could seriously deter home purchases. McMillan said “a borrower with a credit score of 670 making a 20 percent down payment for a condominium would have the fee raised from 150 basis points (1.5 percent) to 350 basis points (3.5 percent) – more than double” under Fannie Mae’s new schedule. “They’re shooting themselves in the foot,” said Steve Stamets, a mortgage loan officer in Rockville, Md. With substantial down payments of 20 percent and more, said Stamets, “they don’t need to be that tough” on applicants even if home prices decline slightly more before the cycle ends. “When consumers with 720 credit scores are being adjusted, there is something seriously wrong with the system,” said Harry H. Dinham, a Dallas, Texas, mortgage company owner and former president of the National Association of Mortgage Brokers. As recently as two years ago, FICO scores in the upper 600s were enough to qualify any applicant for prime financing. Now scores of 720 to 740 are the bare minimum if you’re going to escape add-on fees – and still not good enough if you choose to buy a condo or a duplex. Where’s all this headed? Absent congressional intervention or new marching orders from the companies’ regulator, the add-on fees are here to stay. But there’s an alternative readily available for just about anyone who wants to avoid the fees: FHA mortgages, where down payments go as low as 3.5 percent and credit scores are not an issue for most applicants. ■ E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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