Declaring A Housing Recovery Using A Threshold Based on Fraud

November 30, 2016 | 3:16 pm | Charts |

S&P CoreLogic used it’s National Non-Seasonally Adjusted Housing Price Index to declare that the housing market has recovered. Even the ironies of this public relations effort have ironies. I’ll explain.

First, look at this classic Case-Shiller chart. Notice how the arrows don’t connect to the lines they are associated? I’m being petty but it looks like the chart was updated and rushed out the door.

csiclassicchart11-2016

Incidentally, who controls the Case-Shiller Indices brand these days? It used to be “S&P/Case-Shiller Indices.” Here are a couple of variations found in the first paragraph of the press release:

  • S&P Dow Jones Indices
  • S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indices

but I digress

Since the financial crisis, I have spent a good deal of time explaining away the reliability of the Case Shiller Index.

To be clear, I greatly admire Robert Shiller, the Nobel Laureate and his pioneering work in economics. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with him on a number of occasions both publicly and privately. He and I were on stage together at Lincoln Center back during the housing bubble for a Real Deal event.

During the bubble I was the public face of a short lived Wall Street start-up that collapsed when the bubble burst. Like Case-Shiller it was built to enable the hedging of the housing market to mitigate risk using a different methodology, avoiding the repeat-sales method used in CS. The firm had annoyed Shiller by constantly citing the issues with the CS index and we got far more traction from Wall Street with our index that was (literally) built by rocket scientists. It got to the point where he mentioned me and the startup by name at a conference in frustration.

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After I disconnected with the startup before it imploded, I reached out and we made up. In fact he did my Housing Helix podcast (link broken but hope to bring it back online soon for historical reference) at my office back when I was doing a podcast series of interviews with key people in housing). Also we’ve run into each other on the street in Manhattan a number of times. In fact when he learned of my love of sea kayaking he gave me the latitude and longitude coordinates of his island vacation home in case I was nearby. You can see that I feel a little guilty criticizing the use of the index since he is one of the nicest and smartest people I’ve ever had the honor to meet.

But I don’t like the way S&P, Dow Jones and/or CoreLogic have positioned Case-Shiller as a consumer benchmark. And especially yesterday’s announcement as a marker for the recovery of the U.S. housing market. I feel this is a low brow attempt by these institutions to leverage publicity without much thought applied to what is actually being said. Here are some thoughts on why it is inappropriate to use this moment as a marker for the housing recovery.

“The new peak set by the S&P Case-Shiller CoreLogic National Index will be seen as marking a shift from the housing recovery to the hoped-for start of a new advance” says David M. Blitzer, Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Blitzer remains in the very awkward position of explain away the gap between the market 6 months ago and current condition as if there is no difference. He does this by using anecdotal commentary about metrics like supply that has nothing to do with the price index as well as making pithy remarks.

  • The Case-Shiller National Index is being touted for reaching the record set in the housing bubble a decade ago despite the record being set back then by artificial aka systemic mortgage fraud. However their 20 city index has been pushed as the key housing benchmark for more than a decade, not the national index. And they are using the non-seasonally adjusted national index to proclaim the record beaten despite their long time preference of presenting seasonally adjusted indices (the seasonally adjusted national index has not broken the housing bubble record yet).

  • The credit bubble got us to the 2006 peak, not anything fundamental.

cshpitablefrompeak11-2016

  • In my thirty years of valuation experience, I have learned that sales transactions, not prices, should be the benchmark for a housing market’s health.

  • The 0% markets that reached the 2006 peak are super frothy – created by rapidly expanding economies and an inelastic housing supply. Income growth doesn’t always justify their price growth. Click on table below for the markets shaded in turquoise.

csnsazero

Some important background points on the Case Shiller Home Price Index (CS) – that most of its users are unaware of:

  • CS was never intended for consumer use! It was built for Wall Street to trade derivatives to hedge housing market risk much like hedging risk for weather, insurance, non-fat dry milk and cheddar cheese.

  • CS never caught on because housing is a slow and lumbering asset class, unlike a stock which has much more liquidity. The flaw during this bubble period was the way Wall Street and most real estate market participants considered housing as liquid as a stock and how financial engineering had enabled that liquidity.

  • As access to public housing data has become more ubiquitous, the index has been more easily gamed by companies like Zillow, who have been able to accurately predict the index results much sooner rendering the index as useless for hedging.

  • CS lags the actual “meeting of the minds” between by buyers and sellers – when they agree on the price and general terms – by 5-7 months. The November report just released was based on the 3 month moving average of closed sales from July, August and September. If we say that contract to close period is an average of 60 days, then the contracts signed in this batch of data represent May, June and July. And the time between the “meeting of the minds” and the signed contracts can be a couple of weeks, so the results in yesterday’s lease of the Case-Shiller index represents the period around Memorial Day weekend as summer was getting started.

  • CS only represents single family homes (although they have an index for condos).

  • CS excludes new development.

  • There is little if any seasonality in the CS methodology (even though there is a seasonally adjusted version).

  • Geographic areas in the 10 and 20 city CS indices are incredibly broad. For example, the “New York” index includes New York City, Long Island, Hamptons, Fairfield County, Westchester County, a bunch of counties in northern NJ and a county in Pennsylvania. Yet this index is often represented as a proxy for the Manhattan housing market by national news outlets. Manhattan residential sales have about a 1% market share of single family homes.

In other words, the CS index is a great academic tool to trend single family home prices at a 30,000 foot view for research but not to measure the current state of your local market.

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China: A Housing Market Without Re-sales?

November 27, 2016 | 5:54 pm | trdlogo | Favorites |

I just returned from China for the second time in a little over a year and have yet been able to make sense of their domestic housing market. I am not talking about their must discussed housing bubble phenomenon or whether they have a housing bubble in the truest sense. I am talking about what seems to be a lack of a re-sale market.

After years of communist rule, the concept of home ownership in China is relatively new and appears to be in its early stages of development. Because growth in housing construction has been astronomical with all sorts of distorted metrics – their use of cement in 3 years (2011-2013) was more than the amount used in the U.S. over 100 years (1901-2000).

cementuseinchina-gates

Housing accounted for at least 15% of GDP in 2015, down from 22% in 2013. This is why we are seeing large Chinese construction companies working all over the globe these days – due to oversupply of new housing in China. The opportunities for revenue growth at the same pace seems limited.

On the bullet train we rode from Bejing to Shanghai, there were high rises under construction on both sides of the train tracks for most of the 5.5 hour trip. It’s hard to comprehend how much construction is underway without seeing it first hand, but it is massive.


Ghost Cities v. Ghost Towns
Unlike ghost towns in the U.S. which are abandoned after the economic forces are no longer in play, ghost cities have never been occupied. I think this is a pretty obvious flaw of central planning. I learned that incentives play a big role in unnecessary construction. In order for provinces to receive income from the central state, they are encouraged to generate GDP. Construction of apartment buildings is a quick way to boost GDP but there didn’t seem to be concern about their eventual occupancy (a la, build it and they will come). Also since the government owns the land, developers pay ongoing fees for using it. Our tour guide said that there were at least 40 ghost cities in China although this study says there are less. Here is a map of known ghost cities:

ghostcities

Multiple generations pooling their equity
Housing prices have been rising at about 17% annually for a decade – versus 11% disposable income growth of city dwellers. Rising prices have forced many buyers to pool the financial resources of as many as 3 generations of family. This shows how much is at stake for the Chinese government – if the housing bubble was to collapse. Yet same people I spoke with that expressed faith in the housing market showed grave concern over the integrity of their stock market. What alternative investments aside from housing does the typical domestic investor have? Especially since Chinese housing prices increased 53% in the past year?

fpchinesehousing16

However I am trying to get an answer for a much more basic point.

Is there a substantial Chinese re-sale market?
I feel way out on a limb when I say the following: few investors actually sell their apartments in the newly constructed apartment buildings.

I asked investors and real estate professionals in the Chinese housing market; four of our tour guides of the past few years; various people I met there during The Real Deal Shanghai conference: “Do investors sell their new apartments?” I consistently got a blank stare for a few moments as if the question had never come up before. A few people told me that buyers hold on to their investments for the long term and “no one sells.” On one of the real estate panels I moderated in Shanghai, a real estate professional made a comment that Chinese investors always prefer new.

The government has been trying to cool the market, requiring much larger down payments for investors, i.e. 70% and limit purchases to 1 per investor, but demand and creative work arounds, such as bogus divorces to skirt restrictions, remains high.


U.S. re-sales (existing sales) have accounted for roughly 85% of total U.S. housing sales over the long run. Granted, China is new to the concept of home ownership so the re-sale market would not dominate housing sales like it does in the U.S. But without a vibrant re-sale market, the “value” derived from Chinese housing market indices tell us Chinese housing price trends must be almost exclusively based on the newest home construction sales prices and that equity is not tangible.

Home sales seem to be a one-way transaction. Investors that buy a home feel wealthier as their investment rises in value. Theoretically that gets them to go out and consume, i.e. the wealth effect. However the market share of consumer spending in China is roughly half the 60% market share seen in the U.S. so they have a long way to go. While the Chinese investor may enjoy rental income when an active rental market exists, domestic housing purchases seem to be driven by a long term equity play.

I have found no anecdotal evidence of the widespread selling of existing properties that were recently developed. There doesn’t seemed to be a tangible moment when the recent investor expects to cash out the equity realized on their purchase of several years ago. If this is an incorrect observation and there indeed is a vibrant and active re-sale market of newly constructed housing, I was unable to see one or be told of one by consumers and real estate investors who live there.

So please clue me in.

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YIMBY: Low-Income Housing

November 25, 2016 | 2:02 pm | trulialogo | Infographics |

lowincomevvaluetrulianyt

The YIMBY (Yes-In-My-Backyard) movement is fairly new.

In the United States, early leaders of the YIMBY movement include Sonja Trauss in San Francisco and Nikolai Fedak in New York. The first ever Yes In My Backyard conference was held in Boulder, Colorado, in June 2016.

Nikolai has done an amazing job at chronicling the explosion of new development in NYC over the past several years with his must read web site New York YIMBY.

One of the misconceptions with the NIMBY movement which is largely the opposite of YIMBY is the idea/rule of thumb that low-income housing always drags down property values of nearby properties. In an era challenged by the lack of any type of affordable housing, this makes a bad situation worse.

According to this recent research by Trulia (FYI – I was part of their industry advisory board from 2006-2014), and notably in aggregate form, the impact seems to be non-existent in the majority of the markets covered. One can’t conclude there is no impact as a general rule but it does show that should not be the default assumption.

The above infographic is from this Weekend’s New York Times’ real estate section column called ‘Calculator’ – Low-Income Housing: Why Not in My Neighborhood?. The methodology used in the Trulia research was the following:

To measure this, Trulia compared the median price per square foot of nearby homes (within 2,000 feet of low-income housing) with that of homes farther away (2,001 to 4,000 feet) over 20 years, starting 10 years before the low-income housing was built and ending 10 years after.

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Market Optics Over Facts: “Greenwich, CT is Vibrant and Active”

November 19, 2016 | 8:21 am | Favorites |

I was reading the newspaper 2 weeks ago and saw that a well regarded area real estate brokerage firm had provided a listing photo magazine insert. I noticed what appeared to be a marketing inconsistency that referred to the Greenwich, CT housing market broker panic of a few months ago.

Below is the “We’re #1 in this market” type headline which is common in these photo magazines.

hldarien

But it gets more interesting…

For the uninitiated, the Greenwich housing market received the ire of master of the universe Barry Sternlicht, CEO of Starwood which is based in Greenwich. According to area brokers, he was unable to sell his Greenwich home. Apparently it was frustrating so he spoke about it at a large business conference. Bloomberg news captured the slight in “Greenwich Is the Worst U.S. Housing Market, Sternlicht Says

“You can’t give away a house in Greenwich,” Sternlicht said Tuesday at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference in New York.

The brokerage community in Greenwich was appalled and many took the insult personally, at the risk of propping up sellers to unrealistic expectations they have maintained since 2007. Some agents wanted to write responses in the local papers and have celebrities speak out on how amazing Greenwich was as a residential community. Sadly that type of response completely missed the point. Greenwich is awesome. I have relatives who live there. It is beautiful, close to the commuter trains into the city and has a terrific school system. But that isn’t what Sternlicht was criticizing.

A real estate agent’s job is to help their clients navigate a housing market, not lead their clients to believe agents can prop it up artificially (aside from the “glass is half full” orientation) because agents are not bigger than the market. The effectiveness of spinning market conditions to hide actual conditions is a myth. I believe this way of broker thinking actually damages the market by keeping the gap between buyers and sellers artificially wide.

Greenwich, which relies on Wall Street for the high end home buyer market, did not see the boom of the past five years that NYC saw. Bonuses being paid out to Wall Street are forecast to be lower this year for the third year in a row. I wrote about this agent-market disconnect in my Housing Note when the Sternlicht article came out. In addition, areas furthest away from the town center have been the hardest hit as more and more new buyers are reflecting the new urbanism call for walkability.

It appears this brokerage firm was attempting to counter Sternlicht’s insult and placate their own agents, by inserting the following awkward headline: GREENWICH REAL ESTATE IS VIBRANT AND ACTIVE in this listing photo magazine insert below.

I understand that the results of their market report were almost identical to ours – sales slipped year over year – but less than the size of the prior quarter slip. Incidentally they no longer prominently post their market reports on their web site. I assume they have been removed for a similar reason. Current market conditions are weaker than a few years ago in the areas they service so there is no need to illustrate it. Anyway, that’s only my assumption.

The following photo ad even says (you can see the top of the “5%” on the lower right of the photo that says their sales are up 5%. But that factoid does not speak to the market, rather it really speaks about the sales volume of their company. This is misdirection since it contradicts overall market direction.

hlgreenwich

I have long admired this firm and still do so I sent my thoughts about this to a senior executive I know but received no response. I can only assume that this was thought to be a good recruiting tool to attract those agents appalled by the attack on the Greenwich market by Sternlicht. Unfortunately this doesn’t do any market participant any good since real estate brokers are supposed to be trusted advisors.

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NYT Calculator: Suburban Sales Boom Measured By Houses on Monopoly Board

November 19, 2016 | 7:46 am | nytlogo | Charts |

The New York Times created another super cool graphic in their new Calculator column, based on my idea. In the fall of 2015 I observed a massive surge of sales in Westchester County (north of NYC for those not familiar with our area). However median sales price was nearly flat during this period. This was phenomenon repeated in all of the counties that surround NYC – except for NJ since I don’t cover that market yet but anecdotally I believe the same phenomenon is occurring there. I believe this moment was the point where the affordability challenge became so severe that renters and move up buyers had to move out of the city.

Specifically, Brooklyn showed a surge in median sales price from 2009 with a modest growth in sales. Westchester reflected the opposite patterns of Brooklyn. Westchester county sales boomed over the same period while the growth in median sales price was much more tepid.

westchestervbrooklyn11-2016

Below is the NYT graphic for the suburban sales boom article.

11-18-16nytcalculator

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Artelligence Podcast with Marion Moneker: Jonathan Miller, CEO Miller Samuel, Inc.

November 19, 2016 | 4:03 am | Podcasts |

Marion Moneker of Art Market Monitor reached out to me to explore the similarities and differences between the high end art and real estate markets. He captured our discussion for this episode of his Artelligence Podcast: Jonathan Miller, CEO Miller Samuel, Inc.

Here’s a brief description of his podcast:

The Artelligence Podcast unpacks the mysteries of the global art market through interviews with collectors, dealers, auction house specialists, lawyers, art advisors and the myriad individuals who make the art market a beguiling mixture of sublime beauty and commercial acumen.

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Housing and the Election Aftermath

November 9, 2016 | 9:56 pm | Milestones |

With any significant unexpected and historic event, the initial impact to housing can be seen in the form of a “pause” until buyers have enough time to process it. I first wrote about my “milestone” theory more than a decade ago. There was a New York Times cover story a month after Lehman collapsed in 2008 that used our data to mark such a milestone. A “pause” can be measured in days or months and market reaction can ultimately go against conventional wisdom.

Back in August of 2011, after S&P downgraded U.S. debt ratings, it was thought to be catastrophic to the U.S. economy yet the world’s investors flooded into U.S. treasuries for safety, pushing interest rates to the floor, ultimately giving a boost to housing.

I may not know much, but I do believe this: potential changes in government social policies should be kept separate from potential changes in economic policies, otherwise it is impossible to take action on anything in your life. This probably includes making decisions about whether to buy or sell a home. This U.S. election campaign has been brutal and at this point we don’t know how much of what was said about social policy will be enacted. This uncertainty may keep some buyers on the sidelines longer than others, but otherwise I’m not sure any of that matters to the housing market. On the margin, I am hearing that a few buyers have placed their purchases on hold. This is a normal reaction after a significant historic event but eventually many of those participants wade back into the pool when they are more comfortable.

Stock futures were down significantly overnight but the financial markets moved higher after initially falling. With a quickly rebounding stock market, I’m don’t think home buyers will take very long to decide whether to rejoin the housing market.

2016electiondjiachart

In addition, the odds of a December interest rate increase by the Federal Reserve dropped sharply despite yesterday’s view of a rate hike as nearly a sure thing. The president elect’s economic platform, which was not widely discussed during the campaign, proposes a large tax cut and investment in infrastructure which are either favorable or neutral to the housing market.

bbcmefutureselectionday

Before the election, the housing market was generally softest at the top over the 18 U.S. markets we cover. I believe inventory will continue to be more readily available at the higher end than for other segments. In New York, the slow down in sales was assumed to caused by the pull back of foreign buyers. However this decline was equally matched by domestic buyers over the same period, so the foreign buyer decline has been a false narrative. The sales share of international buyers has remained stable for for nearly 3 years. I am speaking at the The Real Deal conference in Shanghai next week and will look to understand sentiment towards further U.S. real estate investment.

3q16internationalshare

Rather than the international buyer narrative, I attribute the New York sales slow down to the visceral view of new residential towers rising from empty lots. Construction lending nearly dried up at the beginning of the year so the pipeline will slow quite a bit over the next two years.

With world economies generally falling or remaining weaker than the U.S. economy and the continuation of near record low interest rates, I don’t see much impact from the U.S. election results after the short term jitters pass.

Of course, I was wrong about the election.

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The Relationship Between Commute Time and Housing Prices

October 28, 2016 | 3:48 pm | nytlogo | Infographics |

Back in the mid 1990s after my wife and I moved to Fairfield County, Connecticut from Manhattan, I noticed the decline in housing prices further from the first express stop in Stamford, CT.

I worked on an updated version of the concept for this weekend’s New York Times Real Estate section: What’s Your Commute Time Worth? They did an amazing job on the graphic.

nytimesmetro-northcommute3q16

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[Speaking] The Fairfield/Westchester Chapter of REFA 10-25-16

October 11, 2016 | 10:49 am |

I’m moderating a great panel in Stamford, CT for the Fairfield/Westchester Chapter of the Real Estate Finance Association (REFA) on October 25, 2016 titled:

For Sale and for Rent, Trouble at the Top?

refabrocure10-25-16

Residential Real Estate has been one of the bright spots in the local economy in recent years. The single family market continues to post record sales volumes and the growth of the multi-family market in Fairfield County has been dramatic. However, there is mount- ing concern about perceived over-building at the top end of the luxury single family and multi-family markets. Where is the demand coming from? Will it continue? What prod- uct do people want? Where are we headed? We look forward to a lively and informative program.

The response so far has been heavy – click here for more information or to sign up.

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NYT Real Estate Calculator: NYC Rents Go Graphic

October 9, 2016 | 8:49 am | nytlogo | Infographics |

I’m liking the new goodies in the New York Times real estate section, especially this week, and not because the most recent market report on the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens rental market for Douglas Elliman was featured.  No, really.

See for yourself.

 

nytcalculator10-9-2016rents

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Voice of Appraisal Podcast: E123 “Solving Problems with Jonathan Miller!”

October 7, 2016 | 10:30 am |

Had a fun interview with Phil Crawford and his must listen weekly Voice of Appraisal talk show. I’ve set up a home button on my iPhone to grab each new interview. My only regret in life is not having Phil’s smooth silky radio voice. He provides a great service to the appraisal community.

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[In The Media] Bloomberg TV: October 4, 2016

October 6, 2016 | 8:00 pm | delogo | TV, Videos |

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Had a nice chat with Scarlet Fu and Matt Miller on Bloomberg TV, to discuss our 3Q2016 report on the Manhattan residential sales market that I author for Douglas Elliman. We referred to Oshrat Carmiel’s Bloomberg News story on the Manhattan housing market that went viral on the Bloomberg Terminals as the number one read story world wide and the story chart made their “Chart of the Hour” on their home page.

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