I joined Dan Gross for my monthly visit on his “The Number” segment talking about the general improvement in the US housing market, FHA’s possible pending implosion and what’s in store for the market in 2013.
Had a nice chat with Erik Schatzker and Sara Eisen on the top 5 closed Manhattan transactions to date (there may be a few more squeezed in). We got through 3 and then there was a breaking news event – the president was announcing the status of the “fiscal cliff” talks.
Imagine that! As if the “fiscal cliff” was somehow more important than learning where the super wealthy invested their money in real estate? Ok I’m kidding.
I’ll finish the list and include the top sales in a post later today when the howling snow storm hits CT.
I recently appraised a property that was well into the 8-digit value variety – not to sound cavalier but when you are in a market like Manhattan, it’s not uncommon.
What made this assignment different was that I was contacted to appraise this property because an appraisal management company (AMC) was not comfortable using their regular panel of appraisers that do nearly all of their volume (for half the market rate and 48 hours). Although I was leery to accept the request as an exception, I had history with an exec there, they were paying our quoted fee and accepting our turn time requirements so why not?
Here’s how it went:
Day 0 - I am interviewed by the AMC representative to see whether we are experienced in this property type. The AMC rep stresses they want to be “in the loop” at all times.
Day 1 – We are engaged by the AMC to provide the report – we place a call to the property rep.
Day 2 - Property rep calls back and say they want us to inspect 3 days from now. My office informs the AMC rep the appointment via email is set for Day 5. I get a call from the AMC rep asking if a I need any help and I say “no, not at this point since we haven’t seen the property yet.” They follow with “I’ll be calling you every day of this assignment to ensure you have what you need.” I politely ask why they need to call me over the next 3 days before the inspection. The AMC rep says “yes, in case you need help.” I respond that I won’t be doing anything further until I see the property. The AMC rep said something to the effect of “Ok, I’ll wait until you inspect.”
Day 3 - The AMC representative apparently emailed me (instead of calling) but I never received it (gotta love spam).
Day 4 - The AMC representative left me a voicemail on my mobile phone and office phone chiding me because I didn’t respond to the previous day’s email (technically the AMC rep didn’t call me) and they had been forthright in saying they would contact me every day to help me and they needed to speak to me every day. I got the voicemail on my mobile during a different inspection and emailed my office asking them to let the AMC rep know I am inspecting the property the next day.
Day 5 - The AMC rep called to see how we were doing with the assignment. My assistant reminded them we were inspecting the property toward the end of the day and that they had been kept up to date. Near the end of the day I inspected the property and my office let the AMC rep know via email we had inspected the property.
Day 6 - First thing in the morning and my first chance to sit down and work on the appraisal. My office sent them an email telling them I had what I needed and confirmed the delivery date. The AMC rep called my office that afternoon to see if there was anything we needed…
This is how nearly all interaction between AMC and appraisers go. The appraiser is bombarded with meaningless status requests as the AMC industry attempts to commoditize a professional occupation. I assume the AMC rep in my case had a checklist – akin to those dated checklists with initials you see on the back of doors in highway rest stop bathrooms assuring you the bathroom was cleaned each day of the week.
The result has been the crushing of appraisal quality because trained, experienced professionals are opting out of this madness because time = money. Cut the fees 50% and then waste another 30% of an appraiser’s time with this meaningless activity and you don’t end up with a more reliable valuation opinion.
In all sincerity, I take my hat off to those professional appraisers who need to work with AMCs out of necessity that are able to put up with being treated like a teenager on their first job.
It reminds me of the canned customer service interaction we are all forced to do when we interact with a company on the phone. The call ALWAYS ends with the canned “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Yet the relationship was already established and fine up until that point and the authentic nature of the conversation is suddenly over. I pause for a second and say “Yeah, I could go for a large pizza right now.”
Well the frequently maligned but most influential housing metric was published yesterday, the S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Indices and the 20 City index rose 4.3% year-over-year. The only two “regions” to see declines were Chicago and New York.
Baseball Correlation? Chicago and New York are the only 2 cities who also have 2 Major League Baseball teams. No, Los Angeles doesn’t have two MLB teams…the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are clearly trying to have it both ways.
But I digress…
With all the talk about “recovery” (aka happy housing news) these days it just dawned on me that since 2000, the Case Shiller HPI only began to show significant seasonality since mid-2009. No one has really talked about this and I’m not sure what it means, but it just jumped out at me today.
Pre-peak housing prices fueled by falling lending standards and the seasons were largely crushed by the locomotive known as the housing boom. Therefore the seasonally adjusted and non-seasonally adjusted price trends were virtually the same during the market’s ascent. I distinctly remember real estate agents commenting during this period that the seasons were going away and housing market patterns were changing permanently.
Post-peak housing prices After the plunge subsided in mid-2009, the market began to ebb and flow with peaks in the spring/summer and troughs in the fall/winter.
Note to self
The next time CSI prices begins to smooth into nothingness, perhaps it’s a housing boom, baby.
I few weeks ago I was dressed down by an analytics friend of mine who is in the business. Based on his employment and housing sales analysis in Alabama (I’ve never been) he suggested my comments about mortgage rates influencing housing prices as anecdotal and hypocritical (who says analysts have to have tact) – that only employment can be correlated. And further…since mortgage rates can not be proved to influence housing sales through multiple regression, any such claims are hearsay and anecdotal. While I agree that housing’s largest influence comes from employment, I was a bit surprised by the out-of-left-field agita I inspired.
He was focused on the predictive element of a trend versus a knee jerk reaction to a sudden change in a metric. My comment about a spike in mortgage rates at this moment (not predicting it) as ending the party – is apparently what caused him to lose faith in my analysis. Appreciative of the constructive feedback, I whipped up a couple of US macro price charts.
Yes, US employment trends correlate with US housing prices and mortgage rates correlate by showing an inverse trend against housing prices.
Predictive? Only if considered with other metrics.
Back from a short self-imposed overwhelmed-with-year-end-deadline-work-blogging-hiatus. Hope everyone had a nice holiday.
Michelle Higgins at the New York Times wrote a great piece weekend before last on the current stratification of the housing market that I call a “donut.” Strong on bottom, strong on top and weak in the middle. Mortgage rates are pulling in first time buyers at entry-level and high end is being driven high net worth and international buyers, leaving a weaker middle. The NYT editors weren’t very excited about my “donut” analogy even when I suggested a more New York City-ish bagel or bialy. However the piece correctly focused on the challenges the “trading-up” market in today’s houisng market.
I had lunch with my friend Barry Ritholtz last week and he didn’t like my donut analogy saying it should have been a “barbell” – but seriously, can you put icing or frosting on a barbell? I thought so.
This 16-room house on the far western edge of Naperville sold in November for $1.05 million. That’s 38 percent of what it cost to build. In approving the short sale—where a property is sold for less than the outstanding mortgage amount—the lender, IndyMac, accepted a loss of over $1 million.
Here’s some local feedback from someone I know in the area – remember this is an 11,000 square foot house built in a neighborhood with homes no larger than 5,000 square feet.
I’m paraphrasing here:
This area was the last big subdivision left in land-locked Naperville which has 140,000+ people. It started in 2005, and the real estate recession hit hard in 2006 and there was a high school boundary change that put this neighborhood out of the favorable high school.
In the listing “Peterson Elementary’ is a short walking distance to this home. That school was built mid-decade and the school district never opened it because the subdivision stalled. It still sits empty 6 or so years later.
When I graduated from college my first job was very close to Naperville and in fact my boss lived there. It was called the fastest growing town in America. My boss used to tell me how she would run her lawn sprinklers at night because there were watering restrictions because of the rapid growth. It was still risky because they had full time patrols looking out for illegal lawn waterers.
Those were the days.
We just released Douglas Elliman’s rental report and one of the key results (aside from rents remaining very high) was that the pace of rental price increases are slowing. For the past two months the year-overt-year rise in median rental price has been at its lowest rate in more than a year. For this post I thought I’d illustrate this easing with a couple of scattergrams but without using price trends…
Once a month a local real estate broker passes out monthly updates of our local Connecticut housing market at our commuter train station. He’s a nice affable guy and I get to hear him explain the market to people as we wait in the warm station. He said this to me after I took a look at his handout this morning,
“The statistics aren’t too shabby, eh?”
And I smiled and responded, “that’s the power of record low mortgage rates.” to which he gave me the “thumb’s up” gesture.
And he’s right, his MLS statistics show a very much improved housing market from a few years ago and nearly all of the improvement has been mortgage rate related.
His view of housing is not unlike most public economic prognosticators from Wall Street, NAR, NAHB and real estate brokerage firms, consumers and general in-the-media-all-the-time types.
However few, if any, prognosticators understand why or seem interested in understanding whether it is sustainable (aka forecasting a trend). Once a metric shows promise, it will rise forever, or something like that.
Here’s my town recap for November being presented as a report (with a wildly low 15 sale data set). All the percentages reflect November 2012 over November 2011:
Despite the low data set, the results are remarkably consistent with national trends. Now look at why these metrics actually changed:
If you pull the plug on low rates, the housing market (literally) plunges. No one is suggesting this is the scenario that will occur but the national housing market feels incredibly fragile to me.
But why should I (or anyone else) actually care whether we understand what’s actually going on? The stats show sales and price numbers are higher than last year – “bullet dodged” – that’s all we need to know – we did the math.
Where we’ve been
Knight Frank’s Global House Price Index is published quarterly and tracks the performance of mainstream national housing markets around the world. They use Case Shiller results for the US market.
Europe at bottom:
With the Eurozone now in its second recession in three years buyer confidence is at an all-time low and it is no coincidence that all the bottom 12 rankings are occupied by European countries this quarter.
The top performers:
But it’s not all bad news. Six markets recorded double-digit annual price growth in the year to September; Brazil, Hong Kong, Turkey, Russia, Colombia and Austria.
Where we’re going
I help provide their Manhattan and Miami insights and they liked the way I characterize the state of luxury housing as a “safe-haven” and the “new international currency.” Here are the top line observations in their Q4 12 Prime Global Forecast:
• In 2013, we expect prime residential prices across the 14 cities included in our
forecast to rise by 2.5% on average, with Moscow, Miami and Dubai being the
• A sharp slowdown in the global economy is the highest risk for the world’s prime residential markets closely followed by government cooling measures.
• However, the current economic uncertainty is also considered a key driver of demand in prime cities as HNWIs seek the shelter of ‘safe-haven’ investments.
• Supply, or the lack of it, will be a key determinant of price performance in cities such as New York, Moscow and Miami in 2013.
• We envisage that government-imposed regulatory measures will keep a lid on price growth in Asia in 2013 but the west-east shift in the economic balance of power suggests more promising prospects in the medium term.