Matrix Blog

Government, Politics, Regulations & Policy

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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Podcast: My Port Authority of NY & NJ Interview on Regional Housing Market

September 24, 2015 | 12:16 pm | Podcasts |

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A few days ago I was interviewed by Christopher Eshleman at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. He works for Alexander Heil who is the chief economist and publishes a lot of great regional economic insights. Although this is a new effort, this was their first podcast conducted outside of the institution so I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to share my views.

Christopher is a sharp guy and kept the conversation interesting (I even inserted a Jerry Seinfeld joke). It’s about a half an hour.

Check it out.

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The Big Short: The Movie Coming this December

September 23, 2015 | 11:37 am |

Coming to a theatre near you in December…

Aside from playing my favorite Led Zeppelin song “When the Levee Breaks” and being based on one of my favorite books about the housing bust/financial crisis “The Big Short” that was written by one of my favorite authors Michael Lewis (Blind Side, Flash Boys, Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, The New New Thing, etc.) that includes pretty much all my favorite actors – it’s a freakin’ incredible story.

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[Video] NYC Home Shuffle: Housing has been taken over by finance

July 6, 2015 | 12:52 pm | TV, Videos |

A few months ago I was approached by film students Clàudia Prat & Eric French to speak to the housing market as part of a larger project called “What is Home?” series.

I’m a big fan of documentaries and this is worth watching.

Their effort was called: NYC Home Shuffle (5:51 minutes):

Part of a global trend, New York City’s homes become a commodity: an investment instead of a right. Yet a global movement responds.
By Clàudia Prat & Eric French
whatishome.nyc // May 2015

NYC Home Shuffle from Studio 20 on Vimeo.

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Bloomberg View Column: Rent Control vs. Keeping Landlords Happy

June 26, 2015 | 10:00 am | BloombergViewlogoGray | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Rent Control vs. Keeping Landlords Happy.

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Here’s an excerpt…

The past few weeks have offered a window on the tensions between landlords and tenants in New York’s real estate market. Amid the political machinations in the city and the state’s capital, the New York State Assembly let rent controls lapse, temporarily placing more than 2 million tenants in housing limbo. A tentative deal has since been worked out to extend the regulations for four years but the details are not yet available…

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Bloomberg View Column: Costly City Housing Is an Economic Drag

June 3, 2015 | 6:12 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Costly City Housing Is an Economic Drag.

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Here’s an excerpt…

It’s tough living in a big city — the people, the traffic, the noise. Oh, and did we mention the cost of housing? Contrary to conventional wisdom, high and rising housing costs in the U.S.’s biggest cities are not ideal for an economic recovery. Just the opposite: When housing costs take a big bite out of incomes, it diverts money that could be spent on local goods and services or invested in new businesses that stimulate growth…

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Bloomberg View Column: Do First-Time Homebuyers Need Help?

December 31, 2014 | 5:59 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Do First-Time Homebuyers Need Help?.

Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

To bring more first-time buyers into the housing market, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently said they would offer certain mortgage programs that require down payments of as little as 3 percent, down from 5 percent. Because first-time buyers already make up a large share of the housing market, the wisdom of this policy change should be open to question…

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Bloomberg View Column: Credit Crunch Lives on in Housing

October 22, 2014 | 5:05 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Credit Crunch Lives on in Housing. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

Don’t be fooled by low mortgages rates, which once again are below 4 percent: Credit for buying a home or refinancing an existing mortgage has almost never been tougher to get.

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Bloomberg View Column: Rent Control’s Winners and Losers

October 21, 2014 | 3:31 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Rent Control’s Winners and Losers. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

Any renter in New York City has probably has felt the pain of coming up with the monthly payment. There are plenty of reasons for the city’s steep rents…

..So what would happen if rent control and its cousin, rent stabilization, disappeared overnight?

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Bad Actors: AMC Appraisal Perspective Through Rhetorical Misdirection

October 20, 2014 | 4:45 pm | Public |

I was invited to speak at the Great Lakes Chapter of the Appraisal Institute last week and met a lot of great appraisers who cover the state of Michigan.

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I spoke about the housing market and the misinterpretation of residential housing metrics, inspired by this article and the following infographic from the Detroit Free Press.

Inkster +106.4% !!!!! a largely distressed market with what I was told only has a handful of rock bottom sales ie $10K in 2009 becomes to $30k in 2014 – a perfect example. Hot? Hardly.

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As much as I think I held their attention for the entire hour allotted, my presentation fell short of getting audience adrenaline pumping like the Jordan Petkovsky, the Chief Appraiser of a TSI Appraisal, a large national AMC and affiliated with Quicken Loans. I still wonder how beneficial this public relations could be by talking to the industry like a politician – as if residential appraisers were clueless to the “incredible benefit” that AMCs provide our industry.

Here are a few of the questions (paraphrased) posed to an audience comprised of heavily experienced residential and commercial appraisers:

Q: “I realize there is friction between AMCs and appraisers. What has to happen to solve this problem?”
A: Someone in audience: “Someone has to die” followed by a burst of laughter from the entire room.

Q: “We spend millions on powerful analytics. Wouldn’t it be great for appraisers to get their hands on this technology?” (repeated 2 more times slowly for effect).”
A: Someone answered: “You have to spend millions on technology because the appraisal quality is so poor you need to analyze the markets yourself.”

Q: “How do we attract new appraisers into the business?”
A: My answer “Until appraisers are fairly compensated when banks are made to be financially incentivized to require credible reports, nothing will change.”

Q: “How do you think banks feel about the reliability of appraisals today? They don’t feel the values are reliable.”
A: My answer “Because AMCs pay ±half the market rate, they can only mostly attract form-fillers (aka “corner-cutters”). They don’t represent the good appraisers in the appraisal industry.”

Q: “We focus a tremendous amount of effort on regulatory compliance on behalf of banks and boy are they demanding! We even have a full time position that handles the compliance issues.”
A: My comment – that’s a recurring mantra from the AMC industry as a scare tactic to keep banks from returning to in-house appraisal departments. Prior to 2006 boom and bust cycle and the explosion of mortgage brokers with an inherent conflict of interest as orderers of appraisals, the profession was pretty good at providing reliable value estimates. The unusually large demands by regulators (if this is really true and I have serious doubts) is because the AMC appraisal quality is generally poor. If bank appraisal quality was excellent, I don’t believe there would be a lot of regulatory inquiries besides periodic audits.

What I found troubling with his presentation – and I have to give him credit for walking into the lion’s den – is how the conversation was framed in such an AMC-centric, self-absorbed way. I keep hearing this story pushed by the AMC industry: The destruction of the modern appraisal industry was the fault of a few “bad actors” during the boom that used appraisal trainees to crank out their reports. That’s incredibly out of context and a few “bad actors” isn’t the only reason HVCC was created – which was clearly inferred.

Back during the boom, banks closed their in-house appraisal centers because they came to view them as “cost centers” since risk was eliminated through financial engineering – plus mortgage brokers accounted for 2/3 of the mortgage volume. Mortgage brokers only got paid when the loan closed, so guess what kind of appraisers were selected? Those who were more likely to hit the number – they were usually not selected on the basis of quality unless the bank mandated their use. Banks were forced to expand their reliance on AMCs after the financial crisis because the majority of their relationships with appraisers had been removed during the bubble – the mortgage brokerage industry imploded and banks weren’t interested in re-opening appraisal departments because they don’t generate short term revenue.

The speaker spent a lot of time talking like a politician – “we all have to work together to solve this problem” “appraisers have to invest in technology.” When asked whether his firm had an “AVM”, he responded almost too quickly with “No” and then added “but you should see our analytics!”

The residential appraisers in the audience were largely seething after the presentation based on the conversations I heard or joined with afterwords.

It’s really sad that appraisers don’t have a real voice in our future. We’ve never had the money to sway policy creation and we can’t prevent the re-write of history.

But we’re clearly not the “bad actor.”

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Bloomberg View Column: Guess What’s Holding Back Housing

September 27, 2014 | 12:54 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray | Charts |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column Guess What’s Holding Back Housing. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

During the U.S. housing boom, real-estate appraisers acted like deal-enablers rather than valuation experts. Indeed, inflated appraisals were a key ingredient in the erosion of mortgage-lending standards that led to the housing bust. Now we are seeing the opposite — low appraisals — with unwelcome consequences for the housing market.

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