National Association of Realtors: Home sales up 2.3 percent in July

NEW YORK (CNN Money) – Americans seem to be stepping up their homebuying while they can still find bargains.

July home sales rose 2.3% from June, and 10.4% from a year earlier, to an annual rate of 4.47 million, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors.

The market has been bolstered by low home prices and mortgage rates, according to Lawrence Yun, NAR’s chief economist, but the inability of some potential buyers to obtain financing has cut into sales.

“The market is constrained by tight lending standards and shrinking inventory supplies, so housing could easily be much stronger without these frictions,” he said.

July sales were slightly below forecasts from a panel of industry experts put together by, which had predicted sales of 4.57 million.

Related: Best Places to Live where homes are affordable.

Stuart Hoffman, chief economist for PNC Financial, said the psychology of the market has turned. With mortgage rates coming up off of historic lows and home prices on the rise, homebuyers are more likely to think that housing will get more expensive, making them more inclined to buy.

NAR reported a rise in median home price of 9.6% in July, compared with a year earlier, to $187,300. Listing inventory has fallen to a 6.5 month supply, down 24% from a year ago.

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US home sales rose 2.3 percent in July

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans bought more homes in July than in June and prices rose, evidence that the housing market is slowly recovering.

The National Association of Realtors says sales of previously occupied homes rose to 4.47 million in July, a 2.3 percent increase from the previous month. It was the first increase in three months.

[Click here to check home loan rates in your area.]

But the recovery is slow and uneven. July sales were below the 4.6 million pace reached in April and May. And the annual sales pace is below the roughly 5.5 million that economists consider healthy.

Hennepin County sues Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claiming unpaid taxes

The Hennepin County attorney’s office has filed a federal lawsuit against mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, claiming the companies illegally failed to pay required taxes on home sales.

The class-action suit, filed on behalf of all 87 Minnesota counties, is the latest in a string of similar lawsuits filed by other states against federal government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in recent weeks.

Hennepin County Attorney Michael Freeman said at a press conference Friday, Aug. 24, that there are “tens of thousands” of transactions in question, going back six years, and that the lost tax dollars are in the millions.

“This is solely a question of law,” Freeman said after the conference, regarding the companies’ claim of tax exemption. “The question is: Are Fannie and Freddie exempt from this law? We know Fannie and Freddie sold houses and we know they didn’t pay the tax.”

Specifically, the lawsuit points to Minnesota’s deed transfer tax, a tax of 0.33 percent collected on any property sale of more than $500. About 97 percent of the tax funds go to the state and the rest to counties. Hennepin and Ramsey counties were granted, via special legislation, the right to collect an additional sliver of tax dollars for environmental clean-up funds.

Freeman estimated that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own or guarantee about 40 percent of home mortgages in Hennepin County, a number that has ballooned since the foreclosure crisis began in 2005.

His office

is working on a full tally of transactions in which the mortgage corporations did not pay the deed transfer tax, but the lawsuit offers “a conservative estimate” of 20,000 properties sold statewide since the start of the housing crisis, amounting to more than $10 million in unpaid taxes.

Fannie Mae, whose official name is Federal National Mortgage Association, and Freddie Mac, whose name is Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, were established by Congress in an effort to encourage widespread access to mortgages. Though federally backed, the companies are privately held.

The federal charter for Fannie Mae, and similarly for Freddie Mac, states the corporation “shall be exempt from all taxation now or hereafter imposed by any State,” as noted in the complaint.

But Hennepin County contends that “all taxation” does not include excise taxes, which are not direct taxes on real property. Minnesota’s deed transfer tax is an excise tax.

Freeman said at least eight similar lawsuits have been filed in other states over the last two weeks. He said a recent court decision in Michigan set a precedent for these cases.

The Michigan lawsuit, filed last year by Oakland County, hinged on the same tax exemption argument. A U.S. District judge ruled in favor of Michigan counties in March, saying the mortgage companies were not exempt and therefore required to repay the money.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have indicated they plan to appeal.

Elizabeth Mohr can be reached at 651-228-5162. Follow her at

Bailed-out banks Freddie Mac, AIG gave $6 million to 2008 conventions,

By John Dunbar and Michael Beckel

The Center for Public Integrity

The Republican nominating convention that kicks off Monday in Tampa (weather permitting), has been funded by tens of millions of dollars in corporate contributions, the exact source of which won’t be known until after the party is over.

But it’s a sure bet that there are at least two big donors from the 2008 event that won’t be giving this time around — American International Group and Freddie Mac.

The two institutions together gave $1 million to the Republican convention host committee. A few months after the conclusion of the convention they were in danger of collapse, and would ultimately receive a combined $139 billion taxpayer bailout.

The donations are possible thanks to a loophole in campaign finance rules that allow corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to give unlimited sums to support the conventions.

It is “absolutely ridiculous” that corporations are able to make such donations, says Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. He calls it “nothing but throwing money at the feet of congressional and White House leaders, presumably with the assumption of getting something in return.”

The two groups were bipartisan in their giving.

AIG gave $750,000 to both the Republican and Democratic host committees. The government would eventually sink $71 billion into the insurance giant. Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac gave $250,000 to both committees. Three days after the close of the Republican event, the government took it over along with Fannie Mae. Taxpayers ultimately sunk $70 billion into the floundering institution.

In all, $6 million was donated by financial institutions that received bailout money to both party conventions, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of Federal Election Commission filings — $3.4 million to Republicans and $2.6 million to Democrats

The total raised for the previous conventions is likely much higher than what we will see this year.

Through the end of 2008, the Republican host committee collected more than $65 million for the event, conducted in Minneapolis, while the Democratic convention in Denver drew about $63 million.

Republicans, meeting in Tampa, barring the arrival of a possible hurricane, aim for $50 million while Democrats, meeting in Charlotte, N.C., a week later, set a relatively modest goal of $37 million, having refused to accept direct contributions from corporations.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Reforms in the 1970s were meant to keep corporate money out of conventions. In 1972, as Republicans were trying to decide where to host their national convention, International Telephone Telegraph offered $400,000 if the GOP would bring it to San Diego. Eight days later, the administration of President Richard Nixon dropped antitrust litigation against ITT and offered a settlement that was favorable to the corporate giant.

After details of the apparent deal appeared in the press, Republicans tried to save face and moved the convention from San Diego to Miami Beach.

The scandal prompted Congress to enact a new law that would provide taxpayer funding for the parties’ conventions, thus removing the need for private contributions — in theory, anyway. For 2012, each party has received $18.2 million from the U.S. Treasury to help defray costs.

But both parties are permitted to operate nonprofit corporations known as “host committees” set up as charitable organizations to offset the financial burden on local governments associated with hosting the conventions.

Democrats have struck a populist note this year, prohibiting direct corporate, political action committee and lobbyist donations. Individual donations are capped at $100,000. Campaign finance reformers still see loopholes — corporations are allowed, for instance, to make “in-kind” contributions.

During the Democrats’ 2008 convention in Denver, companies provided the host committee with about $5.8 million in in-kind contributions, including $1.7 million in “network equipment” from the tech giant Cisco System, which, records show, was the No. 1 corporate donor to the host committee.

Yet still, “it’s a very significant departure from the past,” Holman said.

The No. 1 corporate supporter of the Republican’s host committee was Qwest, now CenturyLink, which provided nearly $5 million. About half of that was donated directly to the committee and about half was from in-kind contributions. The telecommunications firm also gave roughly $840,000 to the Democratic host committee.

The top individual donor to the Republican committee was Raymond T. Dalio, founder of Bridgewater investments, the world’s largest hedge fund. He gave $2 million.

Overall, companies contributed more than $40 million to the Democratic host committee in Denver and unions donated about $9 million, according to federal records. And companies contributed roughly $52 million to the Republicans’ host committee in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The Republicans’ Tampa host committee website lists more than two dozen companies and trade associations as “our sponsors.”

This year, companies ranging from Coca-Cola and Wells Fargo to Xerox and UPS are working to ensure that they have a presence at both conventions.

“There’s a lot of cost around the convention,” said Wells Fargo spokesman Kathy Harrison. “It is important as a good corporate citizen to support the host city.”

Wells Fargo was one of the banks that benefited from the government’s bank bailout, though it has paid the $25 billion equity investment back, plus a $2.3 billion profit.

In 2008, the Republican host committee received $3.4 million in donations from banks that received investments from the U.S. Treasury. Donations came from U.S. Bancorp ($1 million); Goldman Sachs Co. ($255,000); Wells Fargo ($250,000); J.P. Morgan Chase ($100,000) and Morgan Stanley ($100,000) and others.

The Democratic host convention collected $2.6 million, including nearly $330,000 from Wells Fargo and its foundation; nearly $317,000 from U.S. Bancorp; $250,000 from both Goldman Sachs and Citigroup; $150,000 from Morgan Stanley and $100,000 from Bank of America.

Most of the banks and other institutions that made contributions to the conventions have recovered nicely from the recession, once again posting healthy profits — with at least one major exception. Lehman Brothers, whose bankruptcy filing in 2008 spun the global financial markets into a panic, gave $100,000 to the Democratic convention.

Continue this story and read more investigations at The Center for Public Integrity

More stories about:

Business and Finance, Politics, Economy of the United States, Primary dealers, Bank of America, Freddie Mac, American International Group, Affordable housing, Wells Fargo, Financial services, United States presidential nominating convention, Citigroup, Economy of New York City, Mortgage industry of the United States, USD, Denver, Craig Holman, Tampa, AIG

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Freddie Mac Issues Monthly Volume Summary For July 2012

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The jury has reached a decision in Apple’s patent lawsuit against Samsung, according to people in the courtroom …

Options abound in vacation homes

While the primary home sector remained in the doldrums last year, sales of vacation homes rose 7 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors’ latest tally. Other forms of vacation ownership also are showing improvement. Sales of “fractionals,” an upscale category of shared ownership that includes multiweek intervals, private residence clubs and destination clubs, increased 4 percent in 2011, according to the annual count by Ragatz Associates.

Time-share sales were up 2.4 percent in 2011 and 14.1 percent, year over year, in the first quarter of 2012, according to the American Resort Development Association.

While the uptick in 2011 was “nominal,” says Richard Ragatz, who heads the consulting and research firm that bears his name, “a significant number of developers said that sales were better during the second half of 2011, giving the impression that the bleeding has finally stopped and we may be turning the corner.”

If you haven’t been in the vacation property market for a while, here’s what you’ll find:

Whole ownership. According to the Census Bureau, there are about 8 million vacation homes — recreational property purchased for personal use — in practically every burg and hamlet nationwide, and in some major cities too. (The total does not include the uncounted millions of vacation homes available worldwide.)

The choices are myriad. You can buy a small cabin in the woods, a retreat on the slopes, a beach bungalow or a condo in Gotham. The prices also range considerably, as do the headaches.

No one uses your place but you and your guests, which is usually a positive. But you pay for all the upkeep. And you pay for all the downtime when the house or apartment isn’t being used.

Time shares. More than 8 million people own a week or two at their favorite resorts. What’s more, 42 percent of last year’s time-share buyers were repeat buyers who were either adding to their weeks or moving up, perhaps to larger units or to more lavish properties. That’s a sign that despite the negative press, at least some people enjoy time sharing.

According to the American Resort Development Association, there are more than 1,500 time-share resorts with a total of nearly 195,000 units. As with location, time-share prices are all over the map. But sharing the same unit with 51 other owners is usually the least expensive way to own a vacation home. The average price per week was just over $15,000 in 2011.

Better yet, most resorts belong to exchange banks, where you can deposit your week at your home resort and take out time in a comparable spot elsewhere. So, as much as you may love your place, you are not stuck in that one spot every year. The amount of time purchased often is now expressed in “points” as opposed to weeks, allowing even greater flexibility.

Home sales and prices rose in July

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 (UPI) — Existing U.S. home sales rose 2.3 percent in July, while prices rose for the fifth consecutive month, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday.

The trade group said sales of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.47 million in July, up from a revised figure for June of 4.37 million.

Sales for the month were 10.4 percent higher than the 4.05 million level of July 2011.

“Mortgage interest rates have been at record lows this year while rents have been rising at faster rates. Combined, these factors are helping to unleash a pent-up demand,” said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

Data also shows the median sales price for existing homes rose 9.4 percent from a year earlier, reaching $187,300 in July.

The inventory of homes on the market rose 1.3 percent to 2.4 million, which represents a 6.4-month supply at the current rate of sales, NAR said.

Realtors: Sale of Foreclosed Homes to Spell Doom For Housing Market

The California Association of Realtors today said the planned bulk sale of about 500 Fannie-Mae owned homes that have been foreclosed upon in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire would hurt the local housing market, but the Federal Housing Finance Administration was moving ahead with the plan.

“We are disappointed that Fannie Mae and the FHFA fail to understand that this initiative will harm the communities in which it will be implemented and are going forward with this ill-conceived plan,” CAR President LeFrancis Arnold said.

“Moreover, not only are Fannie Mae and FHFA moving forward with the plan, they are refusing to disclose any details, such as property locations, final property count, sales price, or names of winning bidders.”

According to CAR, the FHFA, Fannie Mae’s conservator, has announced that winning bidders in the foreclosure auction had been picked, with sales expected to close in the third quarter.

In July, Fannie Mae created a limited liability corporation called SFR 2012-1 US West LLC to receive the foreclosed properties from Fannie Mae.

It is unclear if the winning bidders will get the LLC or only a share, which would split ownership between Fannie Mae and the winning bidders. That prompted CAR to ask the FHFA to disclose how the deal will shake out. It filed a Freedom of Information Act request for answers.

“We are also greatly concerned that the FHFA used extremely outdated market data, perhaps as old as 2011, to determine property valuations,” Arnold said.

“Because the transactions are only now in the process of closing, these dated valuations will drag down the Inland Empire’s home prices, which have shown strong signs of stabilization.

“Additionally, because of this price discrepancy and the very nature of bulk sales, we believe Fannie Mae is assured to not receive fair market value for the properties, thereby saddling taxpayers with their loss.”

Arnold said investors did not need government incentives to buy properties at a discount and that savvy buyers realize that the California market represents a great opportunity.

According to CAR, the targeted properties are in markets that have largely stabilized over the past three years, including the Inland Empire, where listings are slim but demand strong, with foreclosure listings selling in less than 30 days.

The long-run average for unsold inventory in the Inland Empire is a 5- to 6-month supply but now stands at 3.1 months in Riverside County and 3.8 months in San Bernardino.

In May, Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, and colleagues introduced a bill aimed at stopping FHFA bulk sales in California to institutional investors.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

SINCE 2008 Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, America’s two housing-finance giants, have been on life support, spared from insolvency by an intravenous drip of taxpayer cash. Lately, however, the companies have shown signs of life: earlier this month both reported their biggest profits since being forced into “conservatorship” four years ago (see chart).

That has sent a frisson through investors clutching preferred shares issued back when the companies minted money by using their quasi-governmental status to borrow cheap and buy or guarantee most residential mortgages in America. Between March and early August, many of Fannie’s old preferred shares, which now trade over the counter, jumped from around $1.50 to more than $3 (still a fraction of their $25 par value).

Several factors explain the turn in the companies’ fortunes. As home prices have stabilised, unemployment has gradually declined and troubled loans have been restructured or written off, the two have set aside ever smaller provisions for loan losses. In the second quarter Fannie reversed some prior provisions, adding $3 billion to the bottom line. More importantly, mortgages issued after 2008 now make up more than half of the companies’ portfolios. Thanks to stricter underwriting terms and slowing home-price falls, those mortgages sport far lower loan-to-value ratios and delinquency rates than “legacy” mortgages issued during the bubble years of 2005-08.

As a result, both companies are firmly back in the black. Fannie recorded a $7.8 billion profit in the first half of this year, compared with a loss of $16.9 billion in all of 2011. Her sibling earned $3.6 billion, against a loss of $5.3 billion.

Under the terms of the original bail-out, the Treasury invested just enough each quarter in senior preferred shares to cover the companies’ losses and to keep their net worth above zero. In return the companies pay the Treasury a 10% dividend on those shares. Perversely, to distribute those dividends both companies have routinely had to draw even more cash from the government. But in the second quarter, neither had to. That has begun to bring down the net cost of the bail-out, from a peak of $151 billion at the end of 2011 to $142 billion now. A decade from now, the administration reckons the tally will be just $28 billion.

The good news had one unwelcome side-effect, however. With profits now exceeding their dividends, the companies’ net worth began to grow, arousing hope that one day dividends might resume on their old shares. On August 17th the Treasury drove a stake through those hopes, announcing that rather than pay a 10% dividend, the companies would henceforth simply send every penny of profit its way. For those who did not get the message, the Treasury rammed it home: the move underlined that they “will not be allowed to retain profits, rebuild capital, and return to the market in their prior form.” Fannie’s old preferred shares promptly sank back to about $1.

While the companies’ status as public utilities now appears crystal clear, the federal government’s long-term role in housing finance is as muddy as ever. In the short run, it is indispensable. Fannie, Freddie and the Federal Housing Administration, another government agency, currently back some 90% of newly originated mortgages. In the long run, Democrats and Republicans agree that Fannie and Freddie should be wound down, but concur on little else. The Obama administration has proposed several options for a smaller federal role in backstopping mortgages: the companies’ regulator is exploring how to draw private insurers into the mortgage market via loss-sharing arrangements with Fannie and Freddie. Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans want to wind both companies down, but have not specified any remaining role for government. As with every policy of consequence in America, the fate of Fannie and Freddie must await the election.

Jennifer Britt, Detroiter, Considers Offer From Fannie Mae To Lease Foreclosed …

Jennifer Britt, a Detroit woman who has been fighting to keep her home after receiving a writ of eviction in July, has received an offer from the government-sponsored mortgage giant Fannie Mae that would allow her to stay in her home for the next two years, according to Britt’s lawyer Joe McGuire.

Britt’s near eviction led to a defense campaign that drew crowds to her Rosedale Park home for a vigil lasting several weeks. Her case also attracted the attention of U.S. Representative Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) who personally interceded to work out a deal with Fannie Mae.

According to McGuire, Fannie Mae has now offered Britt a two-year lease for $785 a month. Previously, she said her payments had climbed to nearly $2,000 monthly.

McGuire said she received the written offer last week, but has been hesitant to agree to the arrangement because it contains no guarantee that she can eventually own the house.

“She wants a road to owning her home,” he told The Huffington Post. “She doesn’t want to just live there another two years, pay rent and have nothing to show for it.”

Britt previously told The Huffington Post she put over $45,000 into the house, including $26,000 from her husband’s life insurance policy she received after he died in an auto accident. She alleges Flagstar Bank, who held the mortgage, raised her payments and would not allow her to modify them because it was her husband’s name on the mortgage, though a probate court had awarded her the estate. Her house was foreclosed on after she couldn’t keep up with the payments, and Fannie Mae later acquired the mortgage through a sheriff’s auction.

McGuire said his client is interested in working out a deal with Fannie Mae, but wants better terms, like a land contract, mortgage or a lease with an option to buy. She made a counteroffer to this effect on Tuesday, but has not yet heard back from them, he said.

The local nonprofit Southwest Solutions previously attempted to purchase the home on Britt’s behalf for $10,000, a price they arrived at after appraising the home, but Fannie Mae did not accept their offer.

Members of Britt’s eviction defense team will meet at her house Thursday to discuss their options. The vigil at Britt’s home had been suspended this week while negotiations played out, but McGuire said Britt’s supporters are ready to resume the action if needed.

A spokeswoman for Flagstar Bank previously told The Huffington Post she would not comment on Britt’s case, citing a concern for customer privacy. Fannie Mae was contacted for this story, but did not respond before it was published.

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow

  • ‘Worldly Possessions,’ John Moore

    Tracy Munch collects her belongings after an eviction crew cleared furniture from her foreclosed home on Feb. 2, 2009, in Colorado’s Adams County. Although she paid her rent, her landlord stopped paying his mortgage. Munch managed to borrow funds to rent another place but not soon enough to avoid this.

  • ‘Eviction Team at Work,’ John Moore

    Chase Milam, age 1, watches from a crib as a sheriff’s deputy and an eviction staffer empty his aunt’s home in Milliken, Colo. Brandie Barbiere, whose child care business had declined by more than half, stopped making mortgage payments.

  • ‘Stripped Bare,’ John Moore

    Children sprawl on the living room floor as an eviction crew removes furniture during an Oct. 5, 2011, foreclosure in Milliken, Colo. Eleven months earlier, Brandie Barbiere had stopped paying her mortgage. The bank took possession of the property after receiving a court order.

  • ‘Foreclosed Home Interior. Pittsburgh [Area], Atlanta, GA,’ Brian Shumway

    Squatters may have hunkered down at Atlanta’s 964 Sims St. SW, photographed by Brian Shumway in May 2009. At the time, Georgia ranked seventh in foreclosures nationwide. By the end of 2011, Georgia ranked fourth.

  • ‘Katrina, Whose Home Was in Foreclosure, Stands Outside Her Mother’s Home Holding Her Daughter. Atlanta, GA,’ Brian Shumway

    Outside her mother’s house in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood, Katrina Scott holds her daughter. This predominantly poor, black neighborhood was hard hit by foreclosures in 2009.

  • ’11th Ave., Saint Paul, MN, 2008,’ T.J. Proechel

    “By the time we got to the house parts of the roof had fallen in and there was water damage all throughout the house,” T.J. Proechel writes. “West St. Paul is a working class neighborhood that used to be adjacent to the large stockyards in St. Paul, which have all but disappeared.”

  • ’23rd Ave., Minneapolis, MN, 2009,’ T.J. Proechel

    Elsewhere in a home previously owned by a Mexican family who had moved to Minnesota, T.J. Proechel saw something unique: “The father of the family was a tiler and although it was a really simple stripped down house there was elaborate tile work all throughout it,” he writes.

  • ‘Michael, Saint Paul, MN, 2009,’ T.J. Proechel

    When T.J. Proechel worked as a contractor, fixing up and maintaining foreclosed properties, he would also try to photograph the homes involved. His boss was Michael, shown here.

  • ‘Foreclosure Alley, Antelope Valley, California, 2009,’ Guillaume Zuili

    “I don’t know if that lone person … was leaving or coming in,” says Guillaume Zuili. “I drove for miles and miles into ghost towns, emptied gated communities, deserted malls for sale, half-built cities, roads ending in nothing … everything had stopped.” Filming or even talking to people wasn’t easy.

  • ‘Untitled,’ Bruce Gilden

    In Fort Myers, Fla., Bruce Gilden discovered Christine Baker living in a van in 2008. The bank had foreclosed on her house.

  • ‘Untitled,’ Bruce Gilden

    A swimming pool lies adjacent to a foreclosed house near Fresno, Calif., in 2010.

  • ‘Untitled,’ Bruce Gilden

    Outside Fresno, Calif., in 2010, Bruce Gilden found this housing development unfinished.

  • ‘Untitled’ from the series ‘Just a Dream,’ John Francis Peters

    John Peters’ images focus on what’s left behind “to convey the weight of the crisis at large as well as the energy/emotion I felt within each individual home,” he writes. He’d spend time “quietly engaging the environment and attempted to visually bridge the physical and emotional space within.”

  • ‘Untitled’ from the series ‘Just a Dream,’ John Francis Peters

    “These environmental details are fading hints from more complicated individual stories and they exist neither here nor there,” John Peters writes. This “allows the viewer to engage the images in a unique way, where they may apply personal experience or creatively identify with the foreclosure crisis.”

  • ‘Foreclosed Home, Inland Empire, CA,’ Lauren Greenfield

    Lauren Greenfield tried to capture “the surburban dream and the suburban nightmare in one image,” says her husband, Frank Evers. The house for sale on the right presents a stark contrast to its neighbor in the Rosetta Canyon development in Lake Elsinore, Calif.


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