We Have Space Available [Everywhere! January thru December, 2012 & Beyond]

Below are some corporate media articles on local foreclosures, vacancies and empty lots. Apartment rentals in Portland are increasing, yeah, because more people are moving to low income apartments after their homes foreclose. Let’s kick 2012’s ass really soon. – Anonaminita.

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From The Oregonian. Dec 27.

Year in Review: Vacancies and slow commercial construction persist

Few recession-battered businesses expanded in 2011, leaving the metro area littered with commercial vacancies and little new construction planned for the immediate future.

With businesses still wary of expansion and major spending, Portland held on to a glut of empty office, warehouse, industrial and retail space in 2011.

Things are looking a little brighter for 2012 — lease rates are expected to improve — but it’s going to be a long, slow slog, industry analysts say. Little new construction is expected in 2012.

There is at least one bright spot. Investors are snapping up apartment buildings in the Portland area as vacancy drops and rent climbs.

New apartment buildings have boosted housing starts in the last months of the year, and permits for more apartment buildings have improved the outlook for next year.

In downtown Portland, some smaller buildings with high vacancy but good locations have sold to investors looking to fix them up and attract new tenants.

In November, TMT Development President Vanessa Sturgeon pledged to begin construction on the company’s long-stalled Park Avenue West Tower in 2013. The project has left a fenced-off pit in the heart of downtown since work stopped in 2009.

And the next week, heirs to TMT founder Tom Moyer said in a court filing Sturgeon, his granddaughter, had wrongly diverted money to the project and improperly steered the company at a time Moyer was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Sturgeon denied the allegations, but the familial strife could complicate any future for the project.

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Meanwhile, squatters are spun in the media as tweekers. Here is the drug-hype as with the Occupy Portland camps downtown.

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From The Sellwood Bee. Dec 20.

What do car batteries and foreclosed houses have in common? “Tweekers”!

While it was parked on a street in Woodstock, this truck’s battery was stolen, in November. Car battery thefts are not common in Inner Southeast, but they do happen. Stolen car batteries may be used for electric power by methamphetamine addicts squatting in foreclosed houses.

In mid-November, sometime in the dead of night, a thief stole the battery from a truck parked on a residential street in Woodstock.

The truck, an old model with a hood that opens from the outside, belongs to Bill Neburka and Rachel Dumont. They reported the theft in the morning, after discovering that not only was the battery missing, but the truck’s ground cable was damaged, as well.

“They really did simply rip the battery out, because they damaged the cable that the battery hooks up to,” Dumont commented to THE BEE.

It cost the couple $120 to replace both the cable and the battery. They also paid to have the new battery locked down as a future deterrent. New car batteries generally range in price from $50 to $100.

These days, the motive for car battery theft has an unusual twist — one that is linked to the crisis in the housing market. According to Portland Police Officer Kris Barber of the Neighborhood Response Team, car batteries may be found in foreclosed and vacated houses that have been broken into by methamphetamine addicts, commonly known as “tweekers”.

“I deal with a lot of tweekers who move from place to place,” Barber said.

In the foreclosed houses in which tweekers have become squatters, the utilities are usually shut off. The stolen car batteries are jury-rigged to serve as electricity sources. “They’ll do all kinds of crazy stuff with them,” Barber remarked.

In one such house, Barber once found 12 car batteries stacked in a closet. “All had wiring coming out of them for running TVs and lighting,” he said.

A house can be empty for a long time while it’s in foreclosure until the deed is transferred, observed Katherine Anderson, crime prevention coordinator for Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement. During that process, squatters sometimes move in uninvited.

“There is a concern about people moving into properties that are vacant,” Anderson said. “It’s happened in all three precinct areas.”

Often, such squatters engage in criminal activity, usually involving drugs. “They may use the house as a base of operations,” Anderson explained.

Neighbors can take measures to prevent nearby vacant houses from being taken over by squatters. When a property starts to look like it’s deteriorating, and the empty house suddenly has questionable occupants who are unknown to other residents, then neighbors should call their police precinct and make a report, advised Anderson.

It’s easier for police to deal with the issue if the property owner has signed a trespass agreement, which enables the police to remove squatters from foreclosed houses — and from business properties as well. But obtaining a trespass agreement can be tricky when the owner of the house in foreclosure has walked away from the mortgage and disappeared.

As for car battery theft, Anderson said, it happens — but in Southeast Portland, only from time to time. “Sometimes car lots have a problem,” she said.

But she emphasized that when a car battery is stolen, it’s important to report it to police.

Battery thefts are categorized as “car prowls”, and car prowls are nothing new, agreed Portland Police Officer Terry Colbert, who is assigned to the Neighborhood Response Team that includes Sellwood and Brooklyn. “But it’s not common to take car batteries. More typically, the whole car is stolen — and then they may dump the car and take the battery.”

As for keeping tweekers from stealing the battery right out of your own vehicle, police recommend securing the hood with a lock.

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Occupy Kmart!

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From The Wall Street Journal. Dec 27.

Company to close at least 100 Sears, Kmart stores

NEW YORK — After a disastrous holiday shopping season, the parent company of Sears and Kmart will close at least 100 stores to raise cash — a move that sparked speculation about whether the 125-year-old retailer can avoid a death spiral fed by declining sales and deteriorating stores.

Sears Holdings Corp., a pillar of American retailing that famously began with a mail-order catalog in the 1880s, declared Tuesday that it would no longer prop up “marginally performing” locations. The company pledged to refocus its efforts on stores that make money.

Sears’ stock quickly plunged, dropping 27 percent.

The closings are the latest and most visible move by Eddie Lampert, the hands-on chairman who has struggled to reverse the company’s fortunes.

As rivals Wal-Mart and Target Corp. spruced up stores in recent years, Sears Holdings confronted falling sales and perceptions of dowdy merchandise.

Some analysts wondered if it was already too late, questioning whether the retailer can afford to upgrade stores as it burns through its cash reserves.

The sales weakness “begins and some would argue ends with Sears’ reluctance to invest in stores and service,” Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter wrote in a note to clients.

“There’s no reason to go to Sears,” added New York-based independent retail analyst Brian Sozzi. “It offers a depressing shopping experience and uncompetitive prices.”

Spokesman Chris Brathwaite said no one had determined which stores would close or how many jobs might be cut. He disputed doubts about the company’s survival, noting it still has $2.9 billion available under its credit lines.

“While our operating performance has not met our expectations, we have significant assets,” including inventory, real estate and valuable proprietary brands such as Kenmore and Craftsman, Brathwaite said.

Sears and Kmart were both retail pioneers. Sears’ catalog and department stores were fixtures of American life stretching back to the 19th century before being hurt in recent years by competition from steep discounters and by missteps that included forays into financial services and the decision to sell off a lucrative credit card business.

Kmart helped create the discount-store format that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. came to dominate.

Some customers complained that they have a hard time connecting with the Kmart and Sears of today.

Preschool teacher Sara Kriz, picking up hair conditioner at a Kmart on Tuesday in Manhattan, said she used to shop at Kmart often but now goes there only once every few months: “Only when I have to,” she said.

“It seems easier to go to Target and Wal-Mart to get the same thing at the same price,” Kriz added. “The stores are cleaner, and they’re better stocked.”

Sears Holdings has watched its cash and short-term investments plummet by nearly half since Jan. 31, from about $1.3 billion to about $700 million.

The projected closings represent only about 3 percent of Sears Holdings’ U.S. stores. And the company has actually added stores since the Sears-Kmart merger in 2005. It has about 3,560 stores in the U.S., up from 3,500 right after the merger, thanks to the addition of more small stores.

But the company hinted that more closings could be on the horizon as it focuses on honing the better-performing stores.

The closings announced Tuesday were expected to generate $140 million to $170 million in cash as the company sells those stores’ inventory. Selling or subleasing the properties could generate more money.

In addition to the closings, the company announced that revenue at stores open at least a year fell 5.2 percent for the eight weeks ended Dec. 25, a crucial time because of the holiday shopping season.

Kmart’s layaway program, meant to help cash-strapped customers buy presents by paying for them a little at a time, faltered as Wal-Mart brought back layaway for the holiday season after getting rid of the program in 2006. Sears stores reported softer sales of home appliances, usually a strength.

The company predicted that fourth-quarter adjusted earnings will be less than half the $933 million reported for the same quarter last year. It also expects a non-cash charge of $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion in the quarter to write off the value of carried-over tax deductions it now doesn’t expect to be profitable enough to use.

Part of Sears Holdings’ problem is the weak economy that is hurting virtually all retailers that cater to low- and middle-income shoppers, who are being forced to cut back on spending.

But both Lampert and Lou D’Ambrosio, who was named CEO in February, have said the company needs to keep up with the changing retail landscape, where shoppers are going online for convenience and finding better prices on their smartphones even once they’re in the store.

Andrew Jassin, co-founder at retail management consultancy Jassin Consulting Group, said his fashion supplier clients that sell to Sears aren’t limiting orders, but they’re watching to see what steps the company will take next.

“People are generally questioning the survivability long-term,” Jassin said.

Hedge fund manager Lampert engineered the combination of Sears and Kmart in 2005, about two years after he helped bring Kmart out of bankruptcy. Skeptics criticized the combination as the marriage of two weak companies that would only hurt each other.

But both stores were once giants.

Sears, which started with a lone Minnesota watch seller in 1886, helped define the mail-order catalog industry, selling shoes, clothes, guns and even ready-to-assemble homes to farmers across the country.

Kmart, which started as a five-and-dime in Detroit in 1899, once commanded a retail empire that included Waldenbooks, Borders, OfficeMax and Sports Authority before spinning them off. A long sales decline and an ill-advised price war against Wal-Mart led to its 2003 bankruptcy filing, which let Lampert gain control of the company.

Analysts and investors were initially enthused by speculation that Lampert was combining the companies to unlock the value of their real estate. But years passed without a big move to do that — and commercial real estate values took a painful hit in the Great Recession.

Lynn Crosbie, shopping at a Sears store in Portland, Ore., said she wasn’t surprised by news of the closings.

Crosbie said she goes to Kmart for stocking stuffers and was disappointed this year by messy, understaffed stores.

“The quality has gone downhill,” she said, looking around the nearly empty store. “Even the cashiers aren’t as happy or friendly.”

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Lynn Crosbie, shopping at a Sears store in Portland, Ore., said she wasn’t surprised by news of the closings.

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