I added my chart on bidding wars below – falling as supply enters the market, causing resale prices to soften.
I added my chart on bidding wars below – falling as supply enters the market, causing resale prices to soften.
Last week a newsletter from John Burns Consulting got big SEO points by exclaiming that Wall Street Has It Wrong: Luxury Home Sales Increasing. Normally his firm is a good source of housing research, but this time they missed the mark on New York City, even when using facts.
While facts are provided and luxury sales are rising in markets like DC, there is a lack of proper context and this is a challenge that national analysts face when looking at specific market subsets. In this analysis, the luxury market was arbitrarily defined as having a $600,000 threshold. In a number of high cost housing markets on the following chart, their luxury threshold is equivalent to the entry or middle market, which I agree, is booming.
I took a look at markets I report on: Kings County (Brooklyn) and Manhattan. Their respective median sales prices of $735,000 and $1,073,750 are higher than $600,000. The John Burns definition for luxury would include more than half of these respective housing markets.
Besides the random threshold selection, their reasons seem to be weak. This list of common perceptions that would explain our underestimate of the strength of the luxury sales market are provided by them. I provide a subsequent clarification for each.
1. New disclosure laws. Foreign-buyer activity has slowed in two high-profile markets, Manhattan and Miami, due to threat of enforcement of new disclosure laws that began in 2016.
The market in both of these markets actually slowed sharply well before the new disclosure laws were in place. And foreign buyer participation in NYC has long been over-hyped.
2. High-profile Florida second-home markets. High-priced homes have indeed slowed in two of the highest-profile second home markets in the country, Naples (Collier County) and Palm Beach. These are two of the six counties where sales have declined.
Again county-wide prices set way below the actual luxury market may be the problem. Within Palm Beach County, I cover Palm Beach and the luxury market starts just below $5 million. In arguably the most expensive city in this county, the median price for all property types is just below their $600,000 luxury threshold.
3. Fortune article on Greenwich, CT. The sales slowdown in high-profile Greenwich, CT, was featured in Fortune magazine. The article included some very misleading headlines about a national luxury slowdown that were supported only by the fact that prices have appreciated 5% at the high end compared to more appreciation at lower prices.
This is an odd interpretation of the Greenwich market. I track this market in my research, live near it and have relatives that live there. This Fortune article was not misleading. Prices have not appreciated 5% at the Greenwich high end and $600,000 might not even buy you a starter home there. In fact, their luxury market has still not recovered from housing bubble.
4. Increased $1 million new-home supply. New-home sales have slowed in a few new-home markets due to a surge in competitive supply. Coupling this surge in supply, builders have pushed prices too high in comparison to the resale competition due to rising costs.
Why is this perception wrong? Excess or rising luxury supply is apparent across the 28 markets I research.
5. Improving entry-level sales. Entry-level sales are also improving at a faster rate than higher-priced home sales. Indeed, the market for lower-priced homes is stronger, but that does not mean that luxury sales are struggling.
True, but I think the disconnect is just the opposite. The luxury market is soft so many market participants assume the entry level is soft as well and yet it is seeing heavy sales volume.
Since housing across the U.S. is softer at the top, Wall Street looks like they have been correct about luxury. Placing a uniform threshold across a slew of different U.S. housing markets doesn’t tell us anything. Stick to specifics since that’s where you provide solid research.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When compared to the rest of the U.S. housing market, Aspen Colorado is a really a niche luxury market with an overall median sales price of $1,407,500 in the second quarter of 2016. This was 27% higher than Manhattan in New York City – with a current condo reportedly under contract for around $250 million – whose market-wide median sales price was $1,108,500 in the same period.
I saw a Denver Post article in my twitter feed yesterday that had an SEO friendly headline: Aspen real estate in a first-ever sustained nosedive and a subtitle: Brokers struggling to explain sudden, precipitous drop in luxury real estate market.
Some noteworthy superlatives used in the article were:
If you use the article’s June year to date residential sales volume for the entire county, it is clear that 2015 was an outlier. However because most real estate brokers on commission tend to look at the market in the short run, there was an expectation that the sales trend from 2014 to 2015 would continue into 2016. Because of the uncertainty described in the article, Aspen buyers – who are by definition “luxury” buyers – are clearly pulling back (and in many U.S. luxury markets).
I author a market report that covers Aspen for Douglas Elliman’s market report series, which I began writing in 194. The year over year drop in Aspen 2Q16 sales was 52.5%. Here is the breakdown of sales at the high end:
Based on the behavior of the luxury market in high end enclaves like Manhattan, The Hamptons, Greenwich, Miami and Los Angeles that are also covered in our report series, the prevailing pattern for housing remains “soft at the top” and it looks like Aspen is no exception. The impact of the 2012 on Aspen sales didn’t seem as pronounced as this year if you believe that is a significant cause. However my theory is that the heavy luxury volume of the prior year (2015) may have poached demand from 2016, exacerbated by the 2016 election and other items of uncertainty like Brexit, the U.S. economy and the financial markets.
Fairfield County, CT is one of the more recent editions to our Elliman Report series. Greenwich, CT as a submarket has proven to be a market still strongly linked to the heady days before the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the beginning of the financial crisis. There remain many owners of high end homes purchased a decade ago that remain value-anchored to those days of yore.
I took a look at the last 15 years of residential sales, measuring the amount of time that passed from a home’s prior renovation to sale. From the late 1990s to Lehman, there was a compression of time from renovation to eventual sale, reflective of the speculative conditions leading up to Lehman. Reno a home, then sell it. During those days, business cards passed out by doctors and lawyers at Greenwich cocktail parties were either “hedge fund manager” or “developer.” Not so much anymore.
Subsequent to Lehman, the late 1990s pattern that preceded the U.S. housing bubble returned by 2010 and has remained remarkably stable since.
During the Super Bowl advertising blitz, the most controversial advertisement seemed to be (no, not Mountain Dew’s PuppyMonkeyBaby) Quicken Loans RocketMortgage Super Bowl Ad: What We Were Thinking
David Stevens, CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association was annoyed at the public outrage.
Even the Urban Institute’s Laurie Goodman who is another voice of reason, writes a blog post on Why Rocket Mortgage won’t start another housing crisis.
I am one of those who were angry after seeing the QL commercials that aired before the Super Bowl and my disbelief continued after watching the Super Bowl ad. I lived the insanity and the QL commercial was completely tone deaf and gave me great concern about repeating mistakes in the past. In fact I was so concerned that I made the QL Super Bowl commercial the cornerstone of last week’s Housing Note: Rockets Engineered to Amaze Housing: What was Quicken Loans Thinking?
A week later my view on the ad hasn’t changed and in all due respect to Laurie and David, I think they missed the forest for the trees (there’s a digital v. paper pun somewhere). I’ll explain by going through their own points:
The real reason for the pushback on this rocket thing is not because we are anti-digital, anti-efficiency, anti-credit easing, anti-automation or anti-polyester bellbottoms. The pushback comes from the messenger being the second largest mortgage lender in the U.S. who marketed their product seemingly devoid of any understanding of the housing bubble, which after all, was really a credit bubble.
And it becomes even more clear to me as an appraiser, looking at their complete reliance on appraisal management companies and how awfully unreliable that post-financial crisis industry really is at estimating collateral, that their judgment is flawed in the long run.
The same sort of promises and expectations were made during the run up of Countrywide Mortgage. We are nearly 9 years down the road from the 2007 implosion of American Home Mortgage and those 2 Bear Stearns mortgage hedge funds and yet economically, the world is still in the hangover stage.
I don’t really believe that QL’s Rocket Mortgage product will bring down the world’s economy as we saw with financial engineering in the last cycle. But it is a concern and unbelievable that this was the messaging they chose to go with. As Mark Twain said (paraphrased) “History doesn’t repeat itself but sometimes it rhymes.”
Please watch that commercial again.
On the last day of 2015 I was invited to guest host for the 6am hour on Bloomberg TV’s Surveillance with Mike McKee, Vonnie Quinn & Erik Schatzker. I was paired with Michael Holland, Chairman at Holland & Co. I’ve never met him before but really enjoyed his insights on the stock market.
The first segment was largely stock market talk which was out of my bailiwick but in the second segment I got to articulate my views on the New York City super luxury market. Today’s Max Frankel New York Times editorial was brought up – “Make Them Pay For Views” – which I thought was a ridiculous premise – despite the legendary author.
And a second segment talking about professional services used for acquiring assets.
Gotta go. The Spartans are playing in the Cotton Bowl now.
UPDATE: The following article made the front page of the NYT today, my 13th A1 appearance (but who’s counting?).
New York Times’ Matt Chabin writes a piece about the “Super Tall” phenomenon on Manhattan’s West 57th nicknamed “Billionaires’ Row” called Developers of Manhattan Spires Look Past 1,000-Foot Neighbors.
“It’s like the Who song,” said Jonathan Miller, president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. “You can see for miles and miles and miles. Until you look into your neighbor’s building.”
The changing skyline is a well worn and controversial discussion throughout much of Manhattan’s storied (pun intended) real estate history. It’s quite amazing to appreciate how much the skyline has changed over the past century, nearly always moving taller. In the current iteration of growth, the potential benefit seems to be the financing of affordable housing.