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Boom Bubble Bust

[In The Media] Newsweek/BeastTV – “The Number” with Dan Gross 12-4-12

December 4, 2012 | 3:30 pm | Public |

In our continuing monthly jousting match, Dan works hard to get me over to the “happy housing news” side whereas I prefer a more balanced long and slow view. Housing is better than it was, but a function of credit issues that are squeezing supply making the numbers look better overall. I’m not a perma bear but it’s too soon to jump up and down.

It’s a smaller universe of players in the mix and if that makes for a US recovery, then I guess it is. Still, incomes are flat, unemployment is elevated and +40% of houses with mortgages have low or negative equity. It’s tough to sign on to a full blown recovery even if prices rise next year in Manhattan.

Fun!

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[In The Media] BeastTV – The Number with Dan Gross 8-29-12

August 29, 2012 | 1:54 pm | Public |

Got to talk housing with my friend Dan Gross, the Global Business Editor at Newsweek & The Daily Beast on his BeastTV segment “The Number”:

THE NUMBER: 101.7 That’s the pending home sales index from the National Association of Realtors, up over 12% from a year ago. Dan Gross and The Matrix’s Jonathan Miller reveal why we should be cautiously optimistic.

Their offices are located in the IAC building in Manhattan which is one of my faves – looks like a meringue pie. Here’s my photo from the cab:

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CNBC Street Signs – Is Miami Forming a New Housing Bubble?

June 18, 2012 | 1:10 pm | Public |


[click to play video]

Reporter Robert Frank spoke with me and pens a good piece on the Miami phenomenon and provides an interview for Street Signs. It’s worth a look.

No, not in the same way we saw one formed in the middle of the last decade.

In other words, Miami’s boom is not a broad-based market recovery driven by local families needing a home. It’s being fueled by a tiny top slice of super-rich overseas buyer looking for the latest hot investment.

They’re not buying their first home, or even their second or third. They’re investing in a stock with an ocean view.

25% of foreign investment of US real estate in Florida, most of it is in Miami.

“Most patient” capital

“Very discretionary”


Is the Miami Mansion Boom Becoming a Bubble? [CNBC]
Is there a bubble in Miami? [CNBC Street Signs]


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Visualizing US Distressed Sales – Katrina Edition

June 7, 2012 | 2:28 pm | |

The WSJ presented a series of charts on US distressed properties based on information from the St. Louis Fed (most proficient data generators of all Fed banks) and LPS.

Here are the first and last maps of the series. To see all of them, go to the post over at Real Time Economics Blog at WSJ.

A few thoughts:

  • The distress radiates out from New Orleans 7 months after Hurricane Katrina hit. There was relatively tame distressed sales activity in the US in 2006, the peak of the US housing boom.
  • The article makes the observation that distressed activity is seeing some improvement in 2010. However the “robo-signing” scandal hit (late summer 2010) and distressed activity entering the market fell for the next 18 months as servicers restrained foreclosure activity until the servicer settlement agreement was reached in early 2012. This is likely why the distressed heat maps show some improvement.
  • The music stopped when people couldn’t make their payments en mass circa 2006, the US national housing market peak. It’s quite astounding how quickly credit-fueled conditions collapsed across the US.

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[Vortex] ‘Sustainability’ of Property Values [Part I of Trilogy]

May 21, 2012 | 12:08 pm |

A good friend of mine, Mark Stockton of Valuations Unlimited, LLC, has developed a powerful research tool to aid in valuation. Mark is a sharp unassuming guy who has sold technology to Wall Street before. Here is a simple overview. It addresses the significant elements of the technology. It’s not an AVM and better yet…it actually works! At least it worked when I tested it on my house in CT (a 200 year old 3 story Salt Box) and on a number of my friends’ and relatives’ properties in various parts of the US.

His technology develops the replacement cost, market analysis, land residual analysis, assessment analysis, sale price index and rental analysis and allows the user to weight the applicability of each approach.

He’s got several very interested parties at this point. As Mark has told me: “We certainly need to make decision makers aware that there is at least one solution available that can help them make better decisions and monitor their investments over time.”

He’s entered the vortex on Matrix (he wrote a guest post). It’s about a different kind of “sustainability”. A good read.


Sustainability of Property Values
By Mark L. Stockton
May 16, 2012

There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the need to reengineer the appraisal process. There is no denying the fact that the process as it currently exists is antiquated and inadequate. Methodology is purely subjective; there is a lack of adequate analytics.

These deficiencies can be corrected. Comprehensive analytics are available to those who would demand them. Much of the subjectivity can be replaced by objective processes that will support reasonable value conclusions. However, fixing the means by which value conclusions are developed addresses only part of the problem. Those conclusions must be examined for sustainability in order to be used to make prudent lending and investing decisions.

A friend recently lost her home. She purchased it new in May of 2002 for $234,500, and at the time the price was reasonable when compared to the other 1,000+ newly constructed homes in the immediate area. I have not seen the appraisal that was done at purchase, but I imagine the value conclusion was reasonable in light of the fact that there were so many similar homes in the subdivision that were selling at the same time. There is little doubt that the appraised value was extremely close to the contract price of $234,500.

I cannot deny that the appraised value of the property in May of 2002 was – and should have been – approximately $234,500. What I can say with authority is that the appraised value at the time of purchase was unsustainable.

There are meaningful relationships in real estate markets just as there are in other markets (stocks, commodities, etc.) that must be monitored to support prudent lending and investing decisions. For example, we know there is a relationship between rents and sale prices that should be considered. From a lender’s perspective, if a buyer should have difficulty paying the mortgage, it would be comforting to know the home would bring in enough income in the form of rents to pay its own way.

There is another important relationship that has been long overlooked, and that helps us understand the sustainability of property values. It is the relationship between the market value of a home and its depreciated replacement cost (RCNLD). There is an old (often forgotten) adage that no prudent buyer would pay substantially more for a home than the cost to rebuild it on a similar site. This concept was once recognized by the appraisal industry and acknowledged in the cost approach to value. There was a time, not long ago, when appraisers had to provide commentary to support any cost approach in which the site value represented an excessive portion of the overall value. It was recognized at the time that a large disparity between the value of the improvements (depreciated replacement value) and the value conclusion (the market estimate derived from the cost approach) could be indicative of an unsustainable market value. History has, in fact, shown us that when the gap between RCNLD and sale price in traditional housing markets grows beyond 120%, market values are approaching unsustainable levels. When that ratio reaches 130%, we can be certain that a correction in home prices is imminent.

When my friend purchased her house in 2002, the ratio between RCNLD and home prices (Market Experience Ratio©, or MER©) in the immediate area was 135%. Her home and the neighboring homes were being built and sold at the high point of what would become known as the housing bubble. For those of us who watch relationships closely and have developed a means of monitoring them on both a broad scale and granular basis, this was obvious. Each time this occurs, as it has on several occasions in the past 30 years, market prices respond by declining to a level that more closely approximates depreciated replacement cost. The current MER for homes in the area of my friend’s house is 106%. The ratio is still declining slowly, but prices have reached reasonably sustainable levels.

Here’s the bad news. My friend was able to secure a 100% loan in 2002, with payments structured to start off small and increase over time as her income and her equity grew. Ecstatic at the prospect of being able to own a brand new home with no down payment, she was unaware of danger that lay ahead. So too was her lender, apparently. She can be forgiven; she was not, and is not, what is sometimes referred to as a “sophisticated investor”. How can an average consumer be expected to understand market dynamics and complex financial dealings? Isn’t that why they rely on professionals?

The lender, however, should have known better. What happened to real estate markets nationwide a few years thereafter was not an anomaly. It has happened often in the past, and it will happen again in the future. Every time investment dollars become more abundant and credit restrictions relax, you can bet this same scenario will play out in real estate markets across the country.

About a year ago, my friend lost her job. She was forced to confront the fact that she was unemployed and would have to compete with tens of thousands of other unemployed individuals for a position that would probably pay less than her old job – if she could find employment at all. The value of her home had declined by more than 12% in the decade since she had made her purchase. Instead of building equity, she was “under-water” on her mortgage. Recently, her home was foreclosed and she found herself in a position that is all too common today. While not homeless, she is facing bankruptcy and the attendant emotional and financial difficulties that are inevitable.

If the proper tools and analytics had been available to the lender in 2002, chances are things would have turned out better for all parties. It is reasonable to assume that the lender, recognizing the instability in the housing market, would have modified its lending practices and terms offered to borrowers would have become more restrictive. In fact, there is a high probability that the instability would have never reached such extremes; lenders might have acted promptly and prudently to insure that sustainability was protected, and their subsequent losses might have been significantly reduced.

My friend might not have qualified for a loan at all, and would have perhaps been forced to continue renting until she accumulated a suitable down payment. If and when she was ready to make a purchase, she might have had to settle for a “starter home” rather than opting to buy her dream house. These, by the way, are not bad things. Until recently, this was regarded as the appropriate path to home ownership in America.

So here’s the message. Prudent lending and investing must be based on more than just accurate appraised values. Values must be scrutinized for their sustainability as well. As my friend and her lender discovered, an accurate value for a home yesterday might vary substantially from an accurate value for the same home today. That does not make either value conclusion less accurate, but it does reveal that markets fluctuate and values must be viewed within the context of current market trends and long term sustainability.

If your valuation professional cannot provide you with both a reasonably accurate value conclusion, supported by industry standard analytics, and a reasonable measure of sustainability, you need a solution that does.



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Buying Manhattan Apartments with Gold

February 7, 2012 | 11:14 am | | Charts |

[Click top expand]

Last year I got an email from a Matrix reader, Ben Tanen, a former VC now running his own investment partnership that invests in public companies, with an interesting take on the buying power of gold as it relates to Manhattan apartments.

Like many things in my life, I let this “nugget” (sorry) slip through the cracks last year. He recently updated it with our new numbers in the recent release and it’s quite compelling.

The value of gold has risen sharply in recent years during the wobbling of the global financial markets – investors see precious metals like gold as a way of preserving purchasing power over the long run. In fact, in 2011, gold had more purchasing power relative to Manhattan real estate than at anytime during the past 22 years (the limit of our publicly released data).

It would take 908 ounces of gold to purchase the average Manhattan apartment versus the 1996 low point of 1,030 ounces, a point where many think our asset bubble problems began (stocks, then housing).


[MBA] Mortgage Applications At 1997 Levels

June 17, 2010 | 9:30 am | |

Until real estate market participants stop drawing comparisons to the 2003-2007 housing boom as the standard for “normalcy” rather than seeing it for the anomaly it was, it’s going to seem very depressing.

Here’s a good article in the the New York Times – Housing Market Slows as Buyers Get Picky that accurately portrays the state of housing right now as we enter the “post-housing stimulus” market.

While we have good news about low mortgage rates, application rates have fallen to mid-1990s levels. And I have long maintained the Mortgage Banker Application index is overstated since it doesn’t consider rejected applications, a significant phenomenon during periods of weak market conditions, especially now.

Even the lowest home mortgage rates in decades are not doing much to invite deals. The Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday that applications for loans to buy houses were down by a third compared with last year. Applications are back to the level of the mid-1990s, when the country’s housing market was smaller.

In other words, sellers need to take a look around them and realize what the market is actually like and price accordingly. This outburst in activity may very well have damaged the latter half of 2010 in the form of disconnected sellers. Combine that with the tax credit expiration and it’s, well, it’s time to be reasonable.


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Trulia.com Leverages Rental Data With Rent vs. Buy Index

June 3, 2010 | 8:00 am | |

Ever since I introduced my Manhattan Rental Market Overview last year, I’ve been playing around with price/rent multipliers and concluded that something has to change. Either prices need to fall or rents need to rise in order to get out from under the credit fueled ownership premium buyers were paying during the boom. I used median sales price versus median rent (annualized).

Trulia created the Trulia.com Rent v. Buy Index that is based on the 50 largest US cities by population and divides the average listing sales price by the average listing rental price using 2-bedroom apartments, condos and townhomes.

Top 10 Cities Cheaper To Own Than Rent
[click to open full index]

At the peak of the real estate bubble, cities like Miami, Phoenix and Las Vegas were not affordable for many. Now the opposite is true,” said Pete Flint, co-founder and CEO of Trulia. “Home sellers in these hard hit areas are forced to lower their prices to compete with all the foreclosures on the market. As a result , these unattainable markets are so affordable it makes better financial sense to buy than rent.

Top 10 Cities Cheaper To Rent Than Own
[click to open full index]

That’s the theory since affordability is now so favorable to purchasers – however the problem with some of the former speculative markets which are now very affordable to buyers, is the fact that financing isn’t readily available because of shadow inventory and significant oversupply. There was so much overbuilding back in the day that there aren’t enough buyers now and the mortgage lending net is not cast nearly as wide.

If the Price-to-Rent Ratio is:

  • 1-15: cheaper to own than to rent
  • 16-20: neutral
  • 21+: cheaper to rent than own

Trulia.com Rent vs. Buy Index [Trulia]



[Bubbletheory] Lets Not Re-write History

May 10, 2010 | 12:00 am | |

I have been coming across what I believe to be somewhat weird rear view looks at the credit/housing bubble we just went through from some well respected voices. I’m thinking there is perhaps an academia disconnect from the front lines.


[click to open article]

Casey B. Mulligan is an economics professor at the University of Chicago writes “Was it really a bubble?

According to the bubble theory, for a while the market was overcome with exuberance, meaning that people were paying much more for housing than changes in incomes, demographics, technology and other basic factors would suggest.

But why would the blue line need to be where it is? Housing prices are stickier on the downside and the slope should not form a bell curve as the drawing suggests. It should be a lesser slope and drawn out over several years, shouldn’t it? And wasn’t that the whole point of the stimulus plan in reference to the first time home buyers’ and existing homeowner’s tax credit? It stimulated sales activity and as a result, artificially pushed sales price levels sideways.

Take a look at my colleague at Westwood Capital, Dan Alpert’s chart showing the exuberance of housing prices. You can slice it and dice anyway you want but THAT’s a bubble.


[click to open article]

And one of my favorite economist/writers Edward Glaeser writes “What Caused the Great Housing Maelstrom?

If the easy credit hypothesis is correct, then we can take comfort in the thought that we understand the great housing convulsion, and we can start pointing fingers at those institutions, like the Federal Reserve System, that play a role in determining interest rates.

He and his colleagues through their research seem to be saying that low interest rates and high lending approval rates don’t explain enough of the rise in housing prices.

In all due respect, I don’t know exactly how they proved their points empirically but this research seems to be a bit disconnected to what most of us observed on the ground during the boom itself.

For example, a five percent increase in loan-to-value ratios is associated with a 2.5 percent increase in prices, and loan-to-value ratios rose by less than five percent during the boom.

That seems like a very low ratio to me. As appraisers we could clearly see the pressure we were under to hit the number for the mortgage approval and that most people were placing 5%-10% down. I contend that credit was easier than anytime in modern history and that combined with interest rates kept on the floor from late 2001 to mid 2004 caused a frenzy of demand or as Professor Robert Shiller characterizes it as “Irrational Exuberance.”

This was a credit bubble and that housing was merely a way to keep score. Perhaps I am not following their logic but having lived through it and saw the lending environment first hand, its hard to imagine this whirlwind of the past 7 years was not a bubble of some kind.


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I’m Sorry But Don’t Blame Me, I’m Neutral

May 4, 2010 | 8:45 am | |


(courtesy: CS Monitor)

Admittedly I am getting annoyed about the lack of closure on this credit crunch thing. Can’t we simply point fingers, have someone apologize but indirectly deny responsibility and then we can then get back to buying stuff and building extensions on our houses?

Make no mistake, the credit crunch is one big mistake. It’s called a systemic breakdown because so many in the economy played a role in our economic demise. Moral hazard, government backstops, bailouts, stimulus, bonuses, trillions, synthetic CDOs have been placed in the forefront of our thinking.

But no clear financial reform path is being taken – in fact it took an investment bank using swear words in an email to get Washington’s attention and break the political maneuvering. Each party is planning to oversteer the solution to their agenda which was part of the problem that lead to this crisis. While we all worry about “free markets” we have forgotten how important it is to create a level playing field. Without rules, free markets degrade to chaos and lack of investor participation. We are seeing this now within the secondary mortgage market, especially jumbos.

We can never remove the human factor from the problem since regulators were clearly asleep at the switch (since Clinton) compensation had perverse incentives favoring short term profits over long term viability, regulators were neutered by the prior administration (think prior SEC under Bush) so its dumb to have some sort of czar. It’s never one factor – it a combination of people, events, institutions and politics that light the fuse.

I am looking forward to some sort of meaningful financial reform. If neutrality isn’t baked into the system, then this is all a big waste of time. Regulators need authority and can not be influenced and investment banks can’t pick the regulator they want. Rating agencies should not be paid directly by the investment banks whose products they rate. Appraisers can not be fearful of their livelihood because they don;t hit the number, etc.

Here’s what it all boils down to now: blame and being sorry.

Blame
Another Jonathon Miller (no relation, but awesome name) and his wife are suing a large builder for not preventing flipping in their housing development which brought in “irreverent transients” who party loudly, park erratically and install unauthorized satellite dishes.

I’m not doubting those conditions exist and it appears to be a creative way to get your money back.

When the housing market collapsed, some contracted buyers abandoned deals. From the outset, the project exhibited “ghost-town-like” qualities, the suit says.

Looking back, the Millers say the developer should have worked harder to prevent so-called flippers from buying units. Buyers were supposed to stick around for at least 18 months.

Saying I’m Sorry
In particularly interesting Reuters Summit Notebook piece, People make mistakes, take Alan Greenspan and Captain of Titanic

Phil Angelides, Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission chairman, says he’d rather see some taking of responsibility than hear another “I’m sorry.”

“Personally I don’t see my role as … to obtain apologies. What I don’t hear is a sense of responsibility and self-assessment about what occurred. There seems to be a disconnect between the practices that people undertook and the financial collapse,” he said at the Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit.

“I’m struck by the extent to which all fingers point away generally from the person testifying,” Angelides said.

When it gets to this point, its too late. Let’s try to be proactive with some sort of meaningful financial reform. Not more regulation, not fewer protections for neutral parties.

If we can’t do this as a country, well, don’t blame me.

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[Trulia] Going Rental About Real Estate Search

April 7, 2010 | 10:02 pm | |


[click to open]

Real estate search site Trulia has added rentals to their search capabilities with a new search engine.

“With the burst of the housing bubble, more consumers than ever are trying to decide if they should rent or buy so we’re giving them the tools to make the best decision for their lifestyle, ” said Pete Flint, Trulia co-­?founder and CEO. “We saw the opportunity to take our world-­?class interface, advanced search, rich maps and local neighborhood information and make Trulia.com available for renters, as well as home buyers.”

Its a logical progression to see real estate search move from emphasizing sales to now include rental:

  • 40%+ of US population rents. Thats a large swath of the real estate market.
  • Unemployment remains roughly double the rate of two years ago and is expected to improve very slowly = rentals will remain an important component of the real estate economy
  • Rising foreclosures in 2010 will bring more rental listings to the market
  • Rent v. buy is something buyers wrestle with every day, especially with challenging mortgage underwriting by banks



[Knight Frank Research] The Wealth Report 2010 – Global High End Housing Down 5.5%

March 23, 2010 | 6:30 pm | | Public |

[click to open report]

The Wealth Report 2010 was released today by Knight Frank Research. It is a much anticipated annual survey targeted at the high end consumer with great detail on global residential property trends. The report covers 56 high end housing markets across the globe.

Check out The Housing Helix podcast for my interview with Andrew Shirley, Editor and Liam Bailey, Head of Residential Research for the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2010.

I had provided commentary on the NYC housing market for the report.

….While the market has undoubtedly improved compared with last year, we ought not to get too excited. The recovery of late 2009 was a short-term uptick, due in large part to a release in pent-up demand. My view is that the surge in demand is not the start of a rising housing market. While sales are up sharply, prices have moved “sideways.”…

Some interesting data points:

  • Overall annual global decline was 5.5%
  • Monaco saw prices as high as $5,900 p/SF US.
  • 73% of cities saw year over year declines versus 40% last year.
  • Middle East down 27.5% – the largest decline – Dubai showed a 45% drop.
  • Asia Pacific up 17.1% – the highest increase – Shanghai showed a 52% gain.

In light of this strong growth, the Hong Kong government has threatened measures to restrict the market – notably through mortgage lending restraint, reducing, for example, the mortgage limit for luxury property from 70% to 60%. Despite these potential restrictions the market continues to grow.

This example points to an interesting development. The crippling impact of property bubbles bursting in Europe and the US has created a much more confidently interventionist approach in China, Hong Kong and Singapore (where cooling measures were introduced in September last year) among other markets.

Listen to the interview with Knight Frank [The Housing Helix Podcast]
Download The 2010 Wealth Report [Knight Frank]


[click to play clip]

Update: Just came across the Bloomberg video and my interview giving a quick take on the US luxury portion.


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