Sunday, May 25, 2008

Las Vegas Unpaid Property Taxes Mount

I've previously reported on some negative Las Vegas economic indicators -- as related to the nationwide housing bust and economic downturn.

- Real estate companies going bust
- Tops nation in preforeclosures AND foreclosures
- Near top of list for home price declines (> 22% YoY)
- Slowing construction industry
- Sales tax revenue down 9%
- Gaming revenue down4%
- Casino layoffs have begun

As if these issues weren't enough, Clark County Treasurer Laura Fitzpatrick states her statistics are starting to show big gains in the percentages of parcels with unpaid property taxes.

From the LVRJ:

The number of delinquent parcels advertised in a public notice in Wednesday's Las Vegas Review Journal rose 51.2% when compared with the number of lots published in the paper merely one year ago.

Fiscal year Delinquent parcels
2007-2008 32,626
2006-2007 21,581

What's more, 2.3 percent of the county's properties in Wednesday's notice were in arrears, compared with 1.4 percent a year earlier.

That's $51 million -- plus $7.7 million in penalties and interest -- Clark County property owners still owe for fiscal 2007-2008, which runs from July 1 to June 30.

That could mean less money for public schools and libraries, two of the functions financed through property taxes. But Fitzpatrick said the vast majority of landowners will likely pay up quickly, so the economic impact shouldn't be significant.

If they don't portend hardships for public services, the treasurer's figures do somewhat signal the state of the local economy.

Forty percent of property owners on Wednesday's list owned five or more delinquent parcels, a lot count that often indicates ownership by a builder, investor or bank. Just 15 percent of property owners listed a year ago owned five or more parcels. The change could come from troubles in the building and mortgage industries.

"Without going out and polling (late payers), I think the numbers are certainly reflective of the economic challenges that we've seen over the last several months," Fitzpatrick said. "Builders, developers and investors certainly have had a difficult time, as have some of the individuals experiencing challenges with (exotic) mortgages."

Astoria Homes claimed the single-biggest number of parcels on the list, with taxes due on about 1,300 pieces of property in the county.

Astoria President Tom McCormick noted it's the first time in the local builder's 13-year history that the company missed the deadline on property-tax payments.

"It's very embarrassing," he said.

But it's what happens in a credit crunch, when banks stop lending construction financing, McCormick said.

Astoria, which has eight actively selling neighborhoods in Las Vegas and five more under development, had secured agreements for construction funding from three lenders who have since decided they want out of residential real estate nationwide. Astoria officials met this week with prospective new lenders, and McCormick expects fresh funding within the next two months or so.

In the meantime, what cash flow the company has is going toward paying subcontractors "to keep everyone employed," McCormick said.

"We just got caught temporarily in a cash squeeze while the banks all sort things out," he added. "We're not worried about finding money, but the timing of it is embarrassing."

Avante Homes also owns a considerable share of properties on the treasurer's list. Avante owes levies on roughly 315 lots in its Denali subdivision at Mountain's Edge in southwest Las Vegas, as well as fees on 220 home sites in its Monticello community at Providence in northwest Las Vegas.

Avante officials didn't return a call seeking comment.

Other notables named on the past-due roster include Lennar Homes, Celebrate Homes and Vantage Lofts.

The banking sector is well-represented on the list as well. GMAC Mortgage, U.S. Bank National Association Trust, Wells Fargo and Wells Fargo National Association Trust, Citimortgage, Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. and even Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the federal mortgage guarantors that buy and sell home loans on the secondary market, all appeared on the delinquency register.

Many banks on the treasurer's list have no control over tax payments, two industry representatives said.

Teri Charest, a spokeswoman for U.S. Bank, said the delinquent parcels credited to the company fall under its trust entity, which bundles and resells home loans as securities. Trustees, though listed as owners per se, don't service the loans and thus aren't responsible for property-tax payments, Charest said.

Natalie Brown, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said of the bank's corporate-trust services unit: "As trustee, Wells Fargo does not have authority over how an individual loan is originated, serviced or foreclosed upon, nor do we have the authority to resolve any delinquent tax issues on these properties."

So where a banking trust company is named on the treasurer's list, the servicer who's supposed to make the tax payments remains anonymous.

Property owners have until June 2 to pay their taxes. If they don't come up with the cash, the clock starts ticking on a redemption period that gives them two more years to make good on the debt, plus penalties. Owners who still can't deliver a payment in two years will lose their property to an auction.


Expect Gvt layoffs to start within 6 months.


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