Financial Blog

Vern Holbrook, Daniel Blizzard: 'Dateline' On ID Airs Yakima Real Estate Broker Beaten To Death By Hired Hitman

Vern Holbrook was a 79-year-old real estate broker in Yakima, Washington, who was beaten to death by a killer hired by his business associate. Holbrooks tragic story will be reenacted on Dateline on ID tonight. The episode, which fist aired on NBC in 2015 titled, Secrets At The Sunshine Motel, will focus on the investigation to find out who attacked a successful real estate agent and left him for dead in a vacant home that he planned to sell. Detectives are taken on a winding road of suspects who lead them back to someone very close to home.

Real estate team helps homebuyers invest wisely

Brianna Morant, Realtor

Founder of Oak Street Group of Benchmark Realty

2500 21st Ave. S., Nashville 37212

615-432-2919 (office), 615-484-9994 (mobile)

Years in business: Eleven years in the business; three years as Oak Street Group of Benchmark Realty.

Describe the company and explain what makes it unique. How did you become involved in real estate? I was raised in a family of real estate investors and understand how buying and/or selling real estate can involve critical decisions which can positively or negatively affect individuals and families.

In 2005, I became a Realtor shortly after purchasing my first duplex, which netted a nice 40 percent profit when sold in 2007, the same year of the subprime mortgage crisis. My intuition and forward thinking helped me sell before the crash.

However, as a young Realtor, I saw so many families hurt during this nationwide disaster that I became passionate about developing a strategic approach to real estate so my clients would have a more positive outcome and less stress when buying or selling their home.

Over the years, my team and I have perfected this proprietary process, now called the "Oak Street Advantage," that helps families and individuals identify their real estate goals and creates a strategy to achieve them, which utilizes her investor skill set. With more than 11 years of proven success, this process has helped Oak Street Group earn the GNAR award for No. 1 Selling Real Estate Team for 2015.

Oak Street Group is unique in their team approach, which is highly focused and specialized, while ensuring their clients have the best experience and best possible outcome.

Where in the Nashville region are you active? Our team helps people buy and sell homes within an hour in all directions of downtown Nashville. With having a real estate team of highly focused specialists, we are able to bring an unprecedented level of understanding to a variety of areas in and around Nashville.

When selling a home, what can the owner do to maximize its value? Every home is as individual as its owner, so we take a very proactive, hands-on approach with our sellers to ensure a maximized value.

The first thing we do is to take the time to understand our clients' needs, goals and abilities. Then we create a specific plan that always involves hiring an Oak Street-approved, licensed stager. Please be aware that not all stagers are equal, and that is why we can't advise people to just hire any stager.

Together with our approved stager, I help sellers make critical decisions as to what truly needs to be done to improve the marketability of the home so that the sellers will maximize its value within their budget constraints.

There are occasions when work needs to be done. If that is the case, our team works diligently to coordinate quotes and vendors to help ease the stress and to also allow them to benefit financially from the relationships we have established over the years. Once the home is market ready, we then will implement the Oak Street Advantage marketing process that is specifically "tweaked" to match the goals of our sellers and to ensure top dollar for the sale.

What advice do you have for clients who are preparing to buy a home? What steps should they take? The best homebuying decisions happen when a person connects with the right Realtor before they connect with a property. It's important to partner with a professional who truly cares and understands their clients' goals and needs.

I think it is critical to do a full consultation before someone begins the process so the Realtor truly understands what is important to them. The Realtor should guide the buyer through the process and also inform him/her about the market conditions by reviewing specific current data and facts. This is the only way a buyer can be focused, confident and prepared.

I also think its very important to work with full-time Realtors and, if possible, a buyer's agent specialist, so the person considering buying a home knows the agent is focused on just one thing: finding the best home within his/her budget.

How is technology changing the way people buy and sell houses? Technology has sped up the process of buying and selling real estate so much so that buyers and sellers need more than just a Realtor; they need a quality team of committed professionals who will go the extra mile, even finding deals off-market if necessary.

It almost requires being five different people in five different places at one time. With our team, we are able to accomplish this seamlessly, allowing us to be one step ahead of our clients and the internet. Having more manpower means having more time to do the old-fashioned networking and driving around to find homes that are off-market for our buyers.

In regards to working with sellers, we have more time to make calls to other Realtors who may have buyers and pre-market the listing to increase the amount of potential buyers for our listings.

What features are the most popular with today's buyers? Each buyer is different in what they are looking for in a home, but people still love open floor plans and nice fenced yards. The living room, kitchen and master suite are the three most important rooms in a home to most people.

What is the hallmark of the service you provide to your clients? The Oak Street Advantage is a unique, client-focused approach to buying and selling real estate as an investor-consumer and not just as a consumer.

Oak Street clients have a special competitive advantage in this highly desirable Nashville real estate market. While our Oak Street team won the GNAR award for No. 1 Selling Team in 2015, we believe it was just a byproduct of our collective effort in being the best partner in Nashville to sell, purchase or build a real estate portfolio for our clients.

Real estate diversifies as developers build for today's end users

The international media's coverage of The Panama Papers has characterized South Florida's real-estate market as being dominated by luxury condos owned by absentee buyers. In fact, a deeper look reveals that our housing landscape is becoming increasingly diverse as developers meet demand among actual residents, so-called "end users."

While the perception is that our market is one-dimensional due to the sheer number of high-rise condos that have been built over the past decade, today there are thriving single-family home and apartment communities under way in neighborhoods like Doral, Weston, Pembroke Pines, and even in and around downtown Miami.

Although we have seen an uptick in condo development in the past three years, the majority of units being built this cycle are selling to owners who will spend all or part of their time here. This marks a shift from the boom-turned-bust of 2008, which was driven by condo developers, their buyers and banks over-leveraging themselves in the name of speculation.

Case in point: In downtown Miami, the center of overbuilding last cycle, 85 percent of the 3,438 condos delivering this year are pre-sold, according to the Miami Downtown Development Authority's latest market report. The same study found that 94 percent of downtown's existing units are occupied by full-time residents.

South Florida's real-estate sector has learned from its past mistakes, and today's housing market is proving resilient despite economic volatility overseas.

Several factors are fueling this stability.

Enhanced lifestyle offerings are appealing to end users from across the US, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia who want to own a home here, preserve their wealth, start a business or upgrade their family's quality of life. Our architecture has been elevated. World-class cultural and retail destinations are boosting our standing as a year-round destination. New museums are rising; our public and private schools are improving; and neighborhoods from Wynwood to Coconut Grove are being reimagined as urban and walkable.

Second, our market is on sound financial footing by comparison with past cycles. Because the vast majority of today's home sales are all cash, developers are insulated from the risks associated with insurmountable debt. Even when lenders finance purchases, buyers are contributing 30 to 40 percent equity, a high threshold favoring residents over speculators. The days of easy-to-access loans are gone, resulting in one of the country's most under-leveraged markets.

At the same time, we are making important investments in our infrastructure, from creating new parks and public transit options to expanding Miami International Airport and adding high-speed rail service.

Developers are doing their part to lure end-user residents by building low-density projects, prioritizing neighborhoods that foster a sense of community and offering amenities that make people feel at home.

At Grove at Grand Bay in Coconut Grove, set for completion this summer, buyers include local accountants, attorneys and doctors. More than half of the building's owners are from the US, including many empty-nesters relocating from across South Florida.

Nearby, at Park Grove, we've sold units to New England transplants and seasonal snowbirds. One of our buyers is a middle-aged couple relocating from Connecticut after years of vacationing on a sailboat in Coconut Grove.

At Glass in Miami Beach, each of the tower's 10 units has been purchased by an end user. Residents include a banking executive, a tech mogul, members of a powerful steel family and an Icelandic couple that divides their time between Miami Beach and New York.

Likewise, the majority of our single-family homes at Modern and NeoVita in Doral and at Botaniko in Weston are selling to existing South Florida families in search of new construction, contemporary home designs, more private space and a suburban community offering a strong quality of life.

After years of enduring criticism as a one-dimensional market overrun by absentee buyers, South Florida's diverse housing options are increasingly appealing to end users. That's good news for our real-estate market, our economy and our city's newest crop of residential developments.

Sam Zell: It's really hard not to be a seller in real estate right now

"No one has ever accused me of not being a realist," Sam Zell told CNBC. The chairman of Equity Group Investments and of apartment mega-landlord Equity Residential was talking about the markets for office and apartment buildings in some major cities that have already peaked.

"Overall we've come off this extraordinary period of liquidity and this extraordinary period of low interest rates," he said. "I think we're unlikely to see a repeat of that going forward, and I think we're going to see more supply in what had been pretty tight markets."

And he has been selling. Back in 2007, he once again proved his sense of market timing. As the commercial property bubble was already teetering, he sold Equity Office Properties Trust to Blackstone for $23 billion, not including $16 billion in debt. Then prices crashed, and commercial property defaults hit the banks. As the dust was settling at the end of the Great Recession, he went on a shopping spree.

Now he's selling again, unloading multifamily properties at peak prices on a massive scale just when a multi-year construction boom is flooding the market with new supply. Here are some nuggets:

Last October, Equity Residential sold 72 low- and mid-rise properties with over 23,000 apartments for $5.4 billion to Starwood Capital Group. With "pricing currently available in the commercial real estate market, it is very hard not to be a seller," Zell said at the time.

Equity Residential still held 318 properties with nearly 86,000 apartments. In November, it put its Berkeley, CA, portfolio up for sale: eight buildings with 452 apartments and the entitlement rights to build a 205-unit complex.

In February, it inked a deal to sell its Woodland Park property with over 1,800 rent-stabilized apartments in East Palo Alto, CA, to an affiliate of Sand Hill Property Co. It had bought the property in 2011 at the bottom of the local real estate market. More deals are expected or are already transpiring.

So when Sam Zell speaks, our ears perk up.

On CNBC, Zell lashed out in his soft-spoken and well-balanced manner against the current zero-interest-rate environment in the US, and the fundamental damage it was doing -- the man who so hugely benefited from it:

"In the most simplistic terminology, I would ask you the question, if something is free, is it valued? Is it appropriately risked?"

"I think when you talk about interest rates being close to zero for a long period of time, I'm very concerned about the fact that we have desensitized our business community to the cost of capital."

"And we know that the cost of capital ain't free," he said. "Every time you defer facing up to the cost of capital, it's going to catch up to you. That I think is the biggest concern."

"We have distorted markets. Maybe we have bubbles." Then, on second thought, he said, "I don't even know what a bubble is, so I wouldn't want to be the definer of it. But I think that we have too much intervention and not enough market movement in interest rates - and in other assets."

"You know what the problem is? The problem is I think the Fed should have raised interest rates two years ago, and therefore today would be able to make a much more rational decision as to what to do. The problem is that they've so deferred reality for so long that I think they have a serious credibility problem if they don't raise rates."

Then he added another twist to this conundrum: "So now we're talking about raising interest rates because of credibility and not because of economics."

And the fear of losing "credibility" - what's left of it after more than a year of flip-flopping on rates - may be why Fed heads are parading up and down in front of the media with suddenly invigorated rate-hike rhetoric. Meanwhile, Zell is selling, at peak prices, unloading assets at the top while he still can.

References to 2009 amp; the Global Financial Crisis keep popping up in reports on manufacturing, not only for the US but globally, because that's how bad it has gotten.

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