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Pricey US Home Sales Soar as Buyers Ignore New Tax Code

by Bob Ritchie

Tax Code

A housing shortage, strong economy and robust demand have pushed many homes in major U.S. cities over $1 million, offsetting buyers' concerns about the reduced benefits of owning a pricey property under President Donald Trump's tax reform, data show.

A housing shortage, strong economy and robust demand have pushed many homes in major U.S. cities over $1 million, offsetting buyers' concerns about the reduced benefits of owning a pricey property under President Donald Trump's tax reform, data show.

Home sales at $750,000 and above have surged by double digits annually in the past three years, closings data from show for 30 counties on the east and west coasts.

Sales below $750,000 are down in the past two years due to a scarcity of homes priced around $500,000 and below and the lower end’s larger market size has pulled down overall sales, the data show. While the Trump tax plan affects homes for sale above $750,000, the fact that overall sales fell suggests the new tax law is not the main culprit for the decline.

The new law caps the deductibility of mortgage debt at $750,000 and annual property taxes at $10,000. This was expected to hurt home sales as fewer people would be able to utilize mortgage interest and property deductions when paying taxes.

Overall sales in 30 counties with million-dollar homes that examined fell 8.5 percent in December from a year ago and 7.0 percent year-over-year in January.

But the number of homes sold above $750,000 actually grew in December and January, though they slowed to single-digit gains of 7.9 percent and 4.8 percent from a year earlier, respectively.

Ten counties accounted for three-fourths of the 4,268 sales in January above $1 million, while half or more homes sold in San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties in California and New York county, which is Manhattan, were above that mark.

"Our data suggests that in these high-priced markets there was enough momentum in demand and enough inventory toward the end of last year and the beginning of 2018 to power sales growth in the $750,000 plus segment," Javier Vivas, director of economic research at told Reuters.

The stock market boom and higher property values have helped propel the high end, said Russell Price, senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Services Inc in Troy, Michigan.

"Those that can afford a $1 million-plus property have seen their net worth benefit from asset price inflation over the last several years," Price said.

"This is a marked difference when compared to most working class Americans that primarily see their spending power and home affordability as a function of wage gains alone."

The 30-county data from represent 98 percent of final closings unlike the less comprehensive, but more timely, samplings often used to indicate real estate activity. The counties account for 10 percent of all home sales and 60 percent of sales above $1 million, but just 1 percent of U.S. counties.

The new tax code created a pause among home-buyers in December and is much discussed, said Paul Breunich, president and chief executive of William Pitt-Julia B. Fee Sotheby's International Realty in Stamford, Connecticut.

"It's definitely having some effect but consumer confidence and the economy are overriding the tax costs," Breunich said.

An overall sales decline in the 30 counties in December and January prompted an outcry from realtors about the tax reform's perceived impact.

The falloff was in line with declining nationwide home sales during those two months, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and sales rebounded in February, it said.

Preliminary data for the 30 counties still show an overall, though slower, decline in February. But sales rose at the high end that month too, highlighting the supply constraint at the low end and strong demand for pricier homes.

The variance is due to an accelerating decline in sales below $750,000 in the 30 counties and the shrinking size of that segment, which was almost three times larger than sales above that threshold in 2014. By last year it was less than double the size of the higher end where sales are still rising.

TAX LAW TAKES BACK SEAT FOR NOW

The supply-demand imbalance is proving to be less acute at the higher price points and the overall pool of buyers in this segment remains large, Vivas said.

"While many that were on the fence of buying a million dollar home many have had to reassess their move," Vivas said. "For many this year the purchase decision will be driven by finding the right home more than the new tax code."

Most buyers see around $1 million as a "sweet spot" because if $200,000 is put down on a purchase there's still a tax break on a mortgage up to $750,000.

"That is how most buyers are viewing it," said Judi Desiderio, chief executive of Town & Country Real Estate in East Hampton, New York, adding accountants are very busy fielding calls from their clients.

Sales have not been uniform, even within the same region. Manhattan had the sharpest overall sales slump from a year ago in January but the biggest gain was nearby Nassau county on Long Island. Both were 27 percent - one negative, the other positive.

NAR in January estimated home prices would likely slide this year by 6.2 percent in New Jersey and 4.8 percent in New York, the biggest declines by state, due to the tax reform.

New York had the highest average deduction of state and local taxes in 2014 at $21,000 per tax payer, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, followed by Connecticut and New Jersey.

But the high-end remains hot and is a seller's market. Never before have there been more eyes on fewer homes, Vivas has said.

A sampling of nationwide U.S. housing data for March show the median listing price was up 8 percent from a year ago, surpassing the 2017 high, and the inventory of available homes for sale was down 8 percent year-over-year, said.

If the pattern holds, one in 12 U.S. listings will be above $1 million this summer, a jump from the one in 40 homes listed at that price in February, Vivas said, citing NAR data.

 

Aspen Market Statistics for February 2018

by Bob Ritchie
ContinuingEducation.jpg

 

2018

Market Statistics for Pitkin County: February 2018infographic - Pitkin_2018.02

Highlights for February 2018 Complete Report 

  • Single Family Homes sales: up +87.62% from LY (55 units)
  •  
  • Gross Volume: up +27.91% from LY ($145,777,925)
  • YTD Transactions: up +9.18% from LY (107)
  • YTD Gross Volume: up +55.59% from LY ($277,550,833)
  •  

Archived Reports

 

PDF Format   |   Word Format

 

Homeowners are Sitting on $5.4 Trillion in Ready Cash

by Bob Ritchie

Homeowners are Sitting on $5.4 Trillion in Ready Cash, the Most Ever

Article originally posted on HERE on April 2, 2018

A home improvement contractor works on a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here’s how much homeowners could cash out in home equity  2 Hours Ago | 01:14

Rising home values are making homeowners richer, a lot richer. Whether they choose to use it or not, the amount of equity today’s homeowners are able to tap is at the highest level on record, according to a new report from Black Knight.

Over the course of 2017, the amount of money a borrower can take out of a home while still leaving 20 percent in it, which is what most lenders require, rose by $735 billion, the largest annual increase by dollar value on record. The brought the collective amount of so-called tappable equity to $5.4 trillion, which is 10 percent more than at the pre-recession peak in 2005.

Unlike during the last peak, homeowners today are far more conservative and lenders are stricter. Last year, even with record equity, homeowners took out only $262 billion via cash-out refinances or home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs. While that is another post-recession peak in dollars, it is less than 1.25 percent of all available equity, a four-year low.

More than half of borrowers who withdrew equity last year used cash-out refinances, thanks to near record-low interest rates. That is likely to change this year, given higher rates. Three-quarters of borrowers today with tappable equity have interest rates lower than the current rate, so will likely used second loans, HELOCs, instead.

“While rising rates tend to dampen utilization of equity in general, the market is poised for a strong shift toward HELOCs, as they allow borrowers to take advantage of growing equity while holding on to historically low first-lien interest rates,” said Ben Graboske, executive vice president of Black Knight Data & Analytics. “Over half of all tappable equity – approximately $2.8 trillion – is held by borrowers with credit scores of 760 or higher and first-lien interest rates below today’s prevailing rate, which creates a large pocket of low-risk HELOC candidates.”

As with everything in real estate, the amount of homeowner equity varies dramatically depending on location. It is highly concentrated in the high-priced state of California. In fact, 39 percent of the nation’s total tappable equity is there. Seattle and Las Vegas, which have seen huge home price jumps, have seen big equity increases as well.

Expect more remodeling

While borrowers tend to use home equity for a variety of purposes, including paying down debt and education expenses, the primary use is for home improvement. This is more true now than ever, as the critical shortage of homes for sale has more owners staying in their houses longer and choosing to renovate rather than upgrade to another home. The average homeowner now stays in their home for 10 years, an all-time high, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Homebuying optimism overall is at its lowest level in two years, according to the NAR, especially among first-time buyers who can afford less. Today’s homeowners are feeling more optimistic about selling, although the number of listings are still down double digits from a year ago.

An aerial view of a retirement community in Central Florida

Home equity hits record high  3:48 PM ET Mon, 8 Jan 2018 | 01:32

“There’s no question that a majority of homeowners have amassed considerable equity gains since the downturn. Home prices have grown a cumulative 48 percent since 2011 and are up 5.9 percent through the first two months of this year,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR. “Supply conditions would improve measurably, and ultimately lead to more sales, if a growing number of homeowners finally decide that this spring is the time to list their home for sale.”

That has yet to happen, and instead, projections for home remodeling are rising. Homeowner spending on remodeling and repair will approach $340 billion this year, an increase of 7.5 percent over last year, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies’ Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity.

“Despite continuing challenges of low for-sale housing inventories and contractor labor availability, 2018 could post the strongest gains for home remodeling in more than a decade,” said Abbe Will, research associate in the Remodeling Futures Program at the joint center. “Annual growth rates have not exceeded 6.8 percent since early 2007, before the Great Recession hit.

That could mean big gains for home improvement retailers like Home DepotLowe’s and Masco.

Wealth tracker takes note of prime Aspen real estate

  • Aspen Daily News Staff Report

 

  • Mar 27, 2018

The 2018 edition of “The Wealth Report” is out and, not surprisingly, Aspen has earned a prominent mention in the publication that focuses on global property markets, wealth distribution and investors. This year’s report, the 12th annual, was produced jointly by Douglas Elliman and Knight Frank Residential, with data provided by the market research firm Wealth-X.

“Increasingly, the trends of the world’s wealthiest are influencing markets around the globe. The Wealth Report provides unique insight into the evolving behaviors of this important investment class and is a valuable guide to the emerging trends that are shaping our residential real estate markets worldwide,” according to the summary.

Among its key findings is wealth concentration; the report notes that the number of individuals with $50 million or more in net assets increased by 10 percent during 2017, “taking the total to 129,730 individuals globally.”

Of that group, who are classified as “ultra high net worth individuals,” 20 percent in North America “plan to buy another residential home in-country in 2018, versus 10 percent who plan to purchase a home out-of-country.”

Where do the ultra rich want to own? New York came in first, “based on wealth, investment opportunity, lifestyle and future growth,” according to the report. Finishing right behind the Big Apple were London and San Francisco.

Aspen’s desirability was also noted in the section about the world’s luxury residential property markets.

“In Aspen, the residential prime property market — recognized as the top 5 percent of the market by price — recorded the third-largest price increase worldwide in 2017, with a 19 percent year-over-year growth,” according to the 2018 Wealth Report.

Guangzhou, China, “leads this year’s prime property market rankings, with prices up 27 percent year-over-year,” the report says. Seoul, South Korea, and Hong Kong continued to be strong performers in the prime property market sector. Four cities in Europe — Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris and Madrid — were among the world’s top 10 prime performing residential markets.

The ultra wealthy invested in more than just property during 2017. 

“Art led all asset categories in 2017, its value increasing 21 percent year-over-year,” according to the report, which points out that last year, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci sold for $450 million, which crushed the previous world record set in 2015 by the sale of a Picasso for $179 million.

“Investment-grade wine, which was the top-performing asset class in 2016 with a growth of 24 percent, put in another double-digit performance last year,” according to the report.

Classic cars and rare wristwatches were also popular acquisitions last year among the very well-heeled.

North America is home base to the “world’s largest wealth region. Some 34 percent of the world’s ultra wealthy are based here, and their ranks rose by a further 5 percent last year, taking the total to 44,000,” it reported. New York has the most households that earn over $250,000 annually, followed by Los Angeles.

The future looks rosy for the just plain wealthy, as well as the ultra wealthy across the globe, according to the report. It points out that the number of individuals with $5 million in net assets is projected to rise 43 percent during the next four years.

Impact of the New 2018 Tax Law on Real Estate Owners

by Bob Ritchie - Assett Preservation Inc.

Congress has approved sweeping tax cuts and tax reform that have not been tackled by the federal government in over 30 years (since the Tax Reform Act of 1986.). The new tax law, formally referred to as “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” will go into effect in less than two weeks on January 1, 2018. This article has the most up-to-date information along with a summary of how the new tax law provisions will affect homeowners and real estate investors who own all types of investment property. Although this article generally does not delve into tax issues not associated with real estate, there are many new tax provisions and this is essential information for anyone that owns real estate to understand.

Primary Residence Homeowners

As a result of doubling the standard deduction to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filing jointly, according to Moody’s Analytics, as many as 38 million Americans who would otherwise itemize may instead choose the higher standard deduction under the new tax plan. The doubling of the standard interest deduction, in essence, removes a tax incentive of moving from renting a home to home ownership and a likely outcome will be fewer Americans choosing to become homeowners versus renters solely for the tax advantages.

Any home mortgage interest debt incurred before December 15, 2017, will continue to be eligible for the home mortgage interest deduction up to $1,000,000. Any home mortgage interest debt incurred after this date will be limited to no more than $750.000 qualifying for the home mortgage interest deduction. Beginning in 2018, the deduction for interest paid on a home equity line of credit (“HELOC”) will no longer be eligible for the home mortgage interest deduction. However, the new tax law preserves the deduction of mortgage debt using to acquire a second home which should have a positive impact on supporting property values in resort and vacation destinations.

State and local taxes (referred to collectively as “SALT”) can be deducted but will no longer be unlimited as under current tax law. The 2018 tax law will allow homeowners to deduct property taxes and either income or sales taxes with a combined limit on these deductions being limited to no more than $10,000. The top earners who live in high state tax like California, Connecticut,  Oregon, Massachusetts,  New Jersey, New York and other states will be negatively affected the most by no longer having the previous full federal deduction available. There is the potential for home values in high state tax areas on both the West and East Coast to see a reduction in property values. A National Association of REALTORS™ study determined there could be a drop in home prices up to ten (10) percent in these and other high state tax areas.

Both the House and Senate tax bills had originally proposed increasing the length of time a homeowner would need to live in primary residence (from five out of eight years versus the current requirement to live in a primary residence two out of five years to qualify for the Section 121 tax exclusion.) This proposed change did not become a part of the 2018 tax law. Homeowners owners will continue to only need to live in their primary residence twenty-four (24) months in a sixty (60) month time period to be eligible for tax exclusion up to $250,000 if filing single and up to $500,000 if married filing jointly. Property owners will still have the ability to convert a residence into a rental property or convert a rental property into a residence and qualify for tax exclusion benefits under both the primary residence Section 121 rules and also potentially qualify for tax deferral on the rental property under Section 1031.

Investment Property Owners

Investment property owners will continue to be able to defer capital gain taxes using 1031 tax-deferred exchanges which have been in the tax code since 1921. No new restrictions on 1031 exchanges of real property were made in the new tax law. However, the new tax law repeals 1031 exchanges for all other types of property that are not real property. This means 1031 exchanges of personal property, collectibles, aircraft, franchise rights, rental cars, trucks, heavy equipment and machinery, etc. will no longer be permitted beginning in 2018.

Some investors and private equity firms will not have to reclassify "carried interest" compensation from the lower-taxed capital gains tax rate to the higher ordinary income tax rates. However, to qualify for the lower capital gain tax rate on “carried interest” investors will now have to hold these assets for three (3) years instead of the former one (1) year holding period.

Some property owners such as farmers and ranchers and other business owners will receive a new tax advantage with the ability to immediately write off the cost of new investments in personal property which is more commonly referred to as full or immediate expensing. This new provision is a part of the tax law for five (5) years and then begins to taper off later on. There are significant concerns these business and property owners will face a “tax cliff” and higher taxes once the immediate expensing provision expire.

Investment property owners can continue to deduct net interest expense but investment property owners must elect out of the new interest disallowance tax rules. The new interest limit is effective in 2018 and applies to existing debt. The interest limit, and the real estate election, applies at the entity level.

The new tax law continues the current depreciation rules for real estate. However, property owners opting to use the real estate exception to the interest limit must depreciate real property under slightly longer recovery periods of 40 years for a nonresidential property, 30 years for a residential rental property, and 20 years for qualified interior improvements.  Longer depreciation schedules can have a negative impact on the return on investment (“ROI”) and property owners will need to take into account these longer depreciation schedules if they elect to use the new real estate exception to the interest limit.

The tax law creates a new tax deduction of twenty (20) percent for pass-through businesses. For taxpayers with incomes above certain thresholds, the 20 percent deduction is limited to the greater of: 50% of the W-2 wages paid by the business or 25% of the W-2 wages paid by the business, plus 2.5% of the unadjusted basis, immediately after acquisition, of depreciable property (which includes structures, but not land). Estates and trusts are eligible for the pass-through benefit. The 20% pass-through deduction begins to phase-out beginning at $315,000 for married couples filing jointly.

The new tax law restricts taxpayers from deducting losses incurred in an active trade or business from wage income or portfolio income and this will apply to existing investment and becomes effective in 2018.

State and local taxes paid in respect to carrying on a trade or business, or in an activity related to the production of income, continue to remain deductible. Accordingly, a rental property owner can deduct property taxes associated with a business asset, such as any type of rental property.

The new tax law retains the 20% tax credit for the rehabilitation of historically certified structures, but taxpayers must claim the credit over a five (5) year time period.

This article is only intended to provide a brief overview of some of the tax law changes that will affect any taxpayer who owns real estate and is not intended to provide an in-depth overview of all the new tax law provisions. Every taxpayer should review their specific situation with their own tax advisor.

Local Woodbridge Office to Close, Colorado Securities Division Claims Violations

by Bob Ritchie - Ryan Summerlin Glenwood Springs Post

Woodbridge Realty's office in Aspen Glen, where the company holds numerous lots and listings, is closing.

"Woodbridge will close the sales office at the end of the month," the company said in an emailed statement. "Our remaining properties will be listed with local brokers. We will continue to sell, hold and develop land in Aspen Glen, based on market conditions."

The development coincides with news that the company is under a fraud investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Post Independent also learned Friday that Colorado is one of at least six states now where the company has been accused of securities violations. On Oct. 12, the Colorado Securities commissioner ordered Woodbridge to "show cause as to why he should not issue a sanction against them for Colorado Securities Act violations."

Colorado joins a list of states where, in the last two years, Woodbridge has been accused of securities violations related to sale of unregistered securities. As previously reported, the firm has faced similar litigation in Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona. The Colorado securities division's allegations are practically identical to those in the other five states.

According to the securities commissioner's order, the Colorado filing "alleges that in the pursuit of these investments, the respondents and their agents have made misleading statements to investors regarding: the lack of proper registration and licensure; qualifications of the fund managers; the company's ability to pay back investors should the loans default; the risk involved in the investments; and the fact that the Woodbridge Funds and companies have already been sanctioned by securities divisions in Massachusetts and Texas for similar violations."

The Colorado securities division's order also called out three Front Range sales agents, who the division accused of having sold the company's unregistered securities and omitted material facts to investors.

"Woodbridge made these sales to Colorado investors using at least 10 other sales representatives, none of whom were licensed to sell securities in Colorado," according to the Colorado filing.

"To date, the division alleges that [Woodbridge has] raised approximately $57 million from 450 Colorado investors, and [continues] to solicit investors through online and radio advertising," according to the securities division.

Robert Shapiro, president of Woodbridge, said by email that the company has settled three of these state cases, in Pennsylvania, Texas and Massachusetts, with no admission of guilty or finding of fraud, while discussions in the other cases are ongoing. And he emphasized that the SEC has so far not concluded that Woodbridge or any affiliated individual has violated federal securities laws.

The SEC for the past year has been investigating whether Woodbridge, which has "raised more than $1 billion from several thousand investors nationwide," has been defrauding its investors.

What type of fraud the SEC suspects is not completely clear. But the agency has subpoenaed both Woodbridge and 235 LLCs affiliated with Woodbridge. The SEC says these companies are "interwoven into the structure of the products Woodbridge offers for investment" and the agency believes these companies are owned or otherwise controlled by Shapiro.

It's unclear whether these developments will register as a big impact locally, despite Woodbridge's outsized presence in Roaring Fork Valley real estate.

Sean de Moraes, an agent with Roaring Fork Sotheby's International Realty, said he didn't expect events surrounding Woodbridge to affect the local real estate market.

"Any immediate negative impact on a specific market segment will only be a ripple in the long-term values of estate in our valley," he said. "Simply put, in the end, there are buyers and there are sellers, property will continue to change hands just as it always has at prices that both parties agree on, and that will always be the true value of a property."

Five states claimed securities violations against Woodbridge

by Bob Ritchie - Ryan Summerlin Glenwood Springs Post

Woodbridge Group, a national investment firm with a major Roaring Fork Valley real estate presence that is under fraud investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, has in recent years also faced litigation in several states over claims of securities violations.

These states include Arizona, Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Michigan. These cases alleged that Woodbridge offered and sold unregistered securities, didn't provide investors with information required by law and in some cases alleged that Woodbridge also had defrauded investors by not providing full disclosure.

The fraud allegations, in at least some of these state cases, appear to revolve around the company failing to disclose to investors that securities agencies in other states had ordered it to stop selling unregistered securities and that Woodbridge had failed to disclose investment risks.

Several of these states issued cease-and-desist orders, requiring the firm to stop offering or selling unregistered securities or otherwise violating securities laws.

To date, Woodbridge has settled actions in Pennsylvania, Texas and Massachusetts, while it is still in settlement discussions in other states, Robert Shapiro, Woodbridge president, wrote in an email to the Post Independent.

"So far every state action that has been settled was settled with no admission of guilt nor finding of fraud," said Shapiro, who lives part time in Aspen Glen, the epicenter of the company's real estate holdings in the valley.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, the SEC has for the past year been investigating whether Woodbridge has been defrauding its investors. The SEC "is investigating the offer and sale of unregistered securities, the sale of securities by unregistered brokers and the commission of fraud in connection with the offer, purchase and sale of securities," according to a court filing.

Most recently, the SEC applied to a U.S. district court in Florida for an order forcing 235 Woodbridge-affiliated limited liability corporations to fully comply with a subpoena for documents​. ​which the agency says are critical to determining whether the company "is operating a fraud on its investors."

The SEC says the 235 LLCs are "interwoven into the structure of the products Woodbridge offers for investment." SEC investigators believe that these companies are "owned and/or controlled by Woodbridge's President, Robert Shapiro."

In his email, Shapiro said, "Woodbridge notes that the SEC expressly concedes that the agency 'has not concluded that any individual or entity has violated the federal securities laws.'" Asked if he owns or controls the 235 subpoenaed LLCs, he wrote "no comment."

"We have provided over 4 million pages of documents and continue to cooperate with their overly broad request for documents," he wrote.

After those LLCs did not respond to the subpoena, the SEC also applied for a court order forcing their compliance.

"Woodbridge has raised more than $1 billion from several thousand investors nationwide through multiple investment offerings using various forms and structures," according to the SEC.

In 2015, in Massachusetts alleged the company was selling unregistered securities. The Massachusetts securities division ordered the company to pay a $250,000 civil penalty and issued a cease-and-desist order. Later in 2015, the Texas State Securities Board also accused the company of offering unregistered securities and of failing to disclose to investors the Massachusetts order, as well as various investment risks. The Texas board issued an emergency cease and desist order.

The Arizona Corporation Commission alleged that Woodbridge had been selling unregistered securities, had conducted transactions with unregistered "dealers or salesman" and had committed fraud in connection with the sale of securities. A cease-and-desist order from the Arizona commission says that the company committed fraud by not disclosing the previous accused violations in Texas and Massachusetts. Before a couple of Arizona investors put in their money, "Woodbridge Group misrepresented to them that, 'Woodbridge and its predecessors have never been found to have violated any securities law,'" according to the commission.

Earlier this year Pennsylvania's Department of Banking and Securities alleged that a Woodbridge company used an unregistered agent to sell securities. The department fined the company $30,000 and ordered that it comply with the state's securities act.

In August, the Michigan Corporations, Securities and Commercial Licensing Bureau also issued a cease-and-desist order against the company. The bureau found evidence that Woodbridge Mortgage Investment Fund had sold "First Position Commercial Mortgages," in which about 230 investors had invested more than $14 million. However, those "notes were not federally covered, exempt from registration or registered," according to the bureau's court filing.

Investigators from Michigan also asserted that Woodbridge failed to give investors sufficient "financial information to demonstrate its ability to pay returns promised by its advertisements" or information about various cease and desist orders in Massachusetts, Texas and Arizona.

The Michigan bureau also ordered the company to cease and desist selling the unregistered securities and pay a $500,000 civil fine.

"Woodbridge continues to offer, in all the states where it operates including (Pennsylvania, Texas and Massachusetts) other investment opportunities in the form of securities that (pursuant to the filing of private placement memoranda with the SEC) are exempt from registration under federal law," Shapiro wrote.

Appeal leads to higher ranking for Aspen schools

by Robert Ritchie

The Colorado Department of Education has upgraded the Aspen School District in a standardized testing category based on information from appeal, according to a recent release from the district.


“In 2016, the Colorado Department of Education lowered Aspen School District’s accreditation to ‘Accredited’ from ‘Accredited with Distinction.’ In order to be considered ‘Accredited with Distinction,’ the state requires a 95 percent student participation rate in the standardized testing, but in 2015 many students chose not to participate, resulting in the lowered accreditation,” it continued.

The Aspen School District lacked the documentation needed to appeal that decision. But that changed in the 2016 school year, the release noted.

District test scores and performance became one of the signature campaign issues during the 2017 election season, which saw voters on Nov. 7 elect one challenger, Susan Zimet, and return two incumbents, Susan Marolt and Dwayne Romero, to the board. Candidate Jonathan Nickell, who used the district’s test performance as a campaign issue, finished fourth in a race where the top three won seats.

In a letter dated November 2 to Aspen School District Board of Education President Sandra Peirce and Superintendent John Maloy, Colorado Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes said, “The district submitted additional information to the department to correct miscoding of student assessments experienced during the PSAT/SAT state assessment administration. With these students recoded and removed from the accountability participation rate for the PSAT/SAT state assessment administration, the district would meet the 95 percent participation rate threshold.

“Thus, the district would move from ‘Accredited: Decreased due to Participation’ to ‘Accredited with Distinction: Low Participation.’ CDE appreciates the time and effort that the district put into the request to reconsider process,” Anthes’ letter concluded. 

The school district has implemented a new policy to help it from being penalized for students opting out in the future. Tom Heald, assistant superintendent, said, “This school year we implemented a simple and uniform way for parents to opt their children out of the testing. We provided that documentation and appealed to the state and they have reversed our status back to ‘Accreditation with Distinction Low-Participation,” he said.
 
The district’s release announcing the results went on say, “Of the 178 school districts in the state of Colorado, only 25 made the Accredited with Distinction level. It is difficult to achieve as a district must meet 80 percent or more on the District Performance Frameworks, that measure student performance in academic achievement, academic growth, academic growth gaps and post-secondary and workforce readiness. 

It continued: “The Aspen School District had achieved the level Accreditation with Distinction from 2010-2014 and then in 2015 the CDE paused their accountability system in order to introduce new assessment standards.”
 
No funding is tied to earning the higher level. 

“But we know how hard our students work and the high level of education they are receiving. We take pride in the ability of our seniors being able to say that they are graduating from a ‘District with Distinction’ on their college applications,” Heald said.

Aspen business scene doing its yearly offseason shuffle

by Bob Ritchie

As the snow starts to blanket the slopes around this time each year, new businesses begin trickling into empty Aspen storefronts in preparation of the winter season. "This is the time of year when we fill up the vacant spaces," longtime Aspen commercial broker Karen Setterfield said Friday. "We have a fun mix going on with some new and different stores." There is also a lot of shift and realigning with some of Aspen's established businesses.

Among them is the husband wife duo behind Bangkok Bowl purchasing the former Upper Crust space in the same plaza at Puppy Smith and Mill streets to open a casual, Hawaiian-style restaurant next month. Tiki Mana Island Grill will feature a large selection of popular island dishes such as fresh fish, chicken, specialty noodles and a build your own poke bowl bar, owner Kirk Coult said. Mai Tais and other tropical cocktails also will be on the menu. "Everything has an island twist to it. There's nothing in Aspen like this," Coult said. "We're excited because it's unique and it's different. "There's nothing better on a cold winter day than to have some nice, hot foods from the islands." He said the restaurant's aesthetic also would reflect its island vibe, with decor imported from Fiji and the Polynesian islands. As of now, Tiki Mana Island Grill will open around 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, with extended hours until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Aspen's lone Thai eatery will open a four-seat sushi bar inside its space "some time before Christmas," Coult said, around the same time they plan to open their new restaurant. He and his wife, co-owner and executive chef, Paula Rungsawang-Coult, served sushi for three weeks this fall and said it was "very popular." Bangkok Bowl's upcoming sushi bar will mirror those inside its Breckenridge and Hawaii restaurant locations, he said.

ASPEN BREW CO

Aspen Brewing Co. owner Duncan Clauss changed direction after saying in late October that he was not relocating their taproom to the Peach's cafe space at 121 S. Galena Street. "It was one of the options," Clauss said on Thursday of the ex-Peach's spot. "There's a lot to work out in a commercial lease." Clauss said he signed the lease on the brewery's new taproom, titled "Aspen Tap," late Wednesday afternoon. The goal is to open Aspen Tap, which also will serve bites, before the holiday season. "It should be a pretty quick turnaround. There's not a ton of renovation to do," Clauss said. "Mostly aesthetic just to turn the Peach's place into a bar and restaurant. And we're going to work our butts off to get it open as soon as possible." Aspen Brewing Co. vacated the upper floor of the Seguin Building (304 E. Hopkins Ave.) on Oct. 31 at the request of its new owners, the Hillstone Restaurant Group, which purchased the building for $6 million on May 10.

D'ANGELICO GUITARS

The American guitar manufacturer will open its first store next week at 240 S. Mill St.D'Angelico Guitars, which boasts showrooms in New York and Los Angeles, signed a six-month lease on the 1,500-square-foot Aspen space, CEO Brenden Cohen said Friday, adding, "hopefully everyone supports us and we stay longer." His vision is for the space to serve as a "hang out slash music store." Along with selling guitars and accessories, the shop will offer music lessons and host parties and events, he said. "It's really a place where you can come get your hands on the instruments, too" store manager Shane Allen said. The guitars will range from $400 to custom, build your own pieces for $25,000-plus. D'Angelico Guitars will open the morning of Nov. 17 and also host a grand opening party at 7:30 p.m.

SWEATY BETTY

The London-based active-wear brand Sweaty Betty will open a 760-square foot pop-up shop at 529 E. Cooper this winter. Sweaty Betty, seeking to "blur the lines between fitness and fashion," sells workout and yoga clothes, ski apparel and more. The brand operates more than 50 shops internationally, 14 of which are located in the United States. "Having skied for over 20 years, Aspen has always been a dream location of mine for Sweaty Betty," founder Tamara Hill-Norton said in a statement. She added, "It's the perfect place for our new retro ski collection and printed base layers." Sweaty Betty will be open seven days a week from Nov. 20 to April 1.

OTHER HAPPENINGS

The eclectic shop Maker and Place, which sells handmade homeware, jewelry and other goods, will reopen at 614 E. Cooper by Thanksgiving, according to commercial broker Angi Wang. Maker & Place is downsizing from its summer pop-up in the 9,549-square-foot space – about 600 of which Aspen Entrepreneurs occupied – at 315 E. Hyman Ave., otherwise known as the former Hub of Aspen. The brand's new store, sandwiched between Mezzaluna and Pierre Famille, is about 1,100-square feet, Wang said.

Marcus Lemonis, host of CNBC's "The Profit," is expanding his fashion group to Aspen. The mixed brand luxury store "Marcus" will open next week inside the former Burberry space at 501 E. Hyman Ave.

The women's wear boutique Shari's Place will open its first store outside the east coast at 208 S. Mill St. in December, according to Setterfield. A New York-born brand with six shops from Palm Beach to Nantucket, Shari's Place sells women's clothes, evening wear, handbags, shoes, accessories and more.

Real, an exotic leather handbag and accessories pop-up, is open at 315 S. Galena St. until April 30. "Everything we do is real, it's really made in the U.S., and it's real luxury," co-owner Jeremiah Kapp said of the brand's name. Jeremiah and his wife, Natalia, run the business together.

Kathryn Penn Fine Jewelry is back with a long-term lease at 431 E. Hopkins Ave., according to Setterfield.

The Hawaii-based Christopher Egan Fine Art Gallery will open an Aspen location at 406 S. Galena St. in December, Setterfield said.

Aspen Core Ventures, controlled by developers Andrew Hecht and son Nikos, applied to make a few changes inside the Aspen Core building at 535 E. Hyman. Their application includes raising a floor and adding a heating unit inside the space that's also known as "lego building," according to Aspen chief building official Stephen Kanipe. While the work is minor, it reveals some movement within a high-profile building that's remained mostly vacant since it was built. Calls to Andrew Hecht were not returned.

Asie Restaurant, despite rumors of a closure, is undergoing an extensive remodel and will reopen for the season in mid-December, owner Frank Lu confirmed.

ZEMA Lingerie relocated to 555 E. Durant Ave.

Katebaby rebranded to Ro + Fern at 205 S. Mill St.

Courage.b is now Runaway at 205 S. Mill St.

Base Village is again under construction

by Bob Ritchie

Base Village is again under construction - Click for illustration

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Robert Ritchie
Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's International Realty
300 South Spring Street
Aspen CO 81611
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