Matrix Blog

Language, Jargon & Quotes

WNYC Leonard Lopate Show – Paul Goldberger Interview on Tall Residential Towers

April 28, 2014 | 1:31 pm |

Here’s a great conversation with the guest Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Price winning architecture critic, former New York Times architecture critic and current Vanity Fair editor of his seminal piece on the Manhattan “Billionaires’ Row” phenomenon that is occurring around the world. His Vanity Fair piece provides a terrific visual summary and he provides a nice shout out to the “Bank Safety Deposit Box” analogy I like to use.

Tags: , , , , ,


Combinations: Creating a Larger Manhattan Co-op or Condo

April 20, 2014 | 5:58 pm |

1q14MATRIXcombos

[click to expand]

Over my career, I’ve have observed a higher frequency of combination apartments (ie co-ops or condos) when inventory is tight.  A combination apartment is simply the connecting of 2 or more adjacent apartments (to either side, above or below).  It may be easier and/or less expensive to buy the apartment next door to create a larger space (even if you have to overpay for it) than to brave the tough market searching for a larger place to live.

A few years ago I started to track this during the preparation of the Elliman Report: Manhattan Sales. I looked at the actual apartment numbers and counted those that suggested they were combined. I am clearly omitting apartment nomenclature that is not so clear ie 7AB is renamed 7A, so my results are conservative.  The above chart reflects the recent trend of more combinations being sold but doesn’t necessarily equate to more being created, so new combinations would only be considered a subset of this data.

I’ve dubbed the phenomenon “1 + 1 = 2.5” because there is a premium for larger contiguous space.

I’ve always thought co-op or condo building that allow combinations (nearly all do) as providing a potential way for shareholders to realize value upside, thereby enhancing the price structure of a building ie higher values rub off on other apartments in the same building.

Some top line ideas about combinations

  • No shares are lost and in fact, many combinations  result in the acquisition of dormant common hallway space providing additional revenue in perpetuity to the corporation and a cash infusion from the purchase price.
  • Larger units sell for more on a ppsf basis (ie my formula above) potentially influencing higher values for other units.
  • A few less apartments in the mix is a non-issue (ie risk) in a building this size, unlike, say a 4 unit brownstone.
  • I’ve always thought it wise to keep the stock certificates separate to give the buyers and co-op more flexibility, but I see this done both ways (and admittedly don’t understand any legal nuances on this point.)

Some other more granular thoughts

Some layouts don’t work
- Not all combo layouts make sense or provide value upside.
- Layouts tend to work better in pre-war and new developments than post-wars.
- 1980s condos often often the least combinable layouts – ie a side by side 1 bedrooms.
- Over the last decade, developers have kept this in mind during construction to give them more flexibility during the sales process.

Higher value per square foot
- Creating larger apartments creates value upside to existing space ie “1+1=2.5″
- Sometimes large combos can be oversized for the building and there is no ppsf premium for the larger space.
- When a an owner of a large unit buyers the adjacent unit, the mere fact that the same unit owner owns both usually results in a ppsf premium before renovations are made to connect.
- The upside in value for a smaller apartment, means that a buyer can overpay for the unit as an individual sale but the addition of the smaller unit to the large unit adds value to both units on a ppsf.
- The highest value is realized when the buyer can’t tell the layout was comprised of two different units.  Simply creating a door between two apartments would realize the least upside.

That second kitchen
- The biggest “tell” on a combo is the existence of a second kitchen.
- They are often converted to a laundry room or bathroom, taking advantage of the utility connections.
- Buildings might object to the removal of the second kitchen because it may impact the building Certificate of Occupancy – I defer to lawyers on this point.

What do lenders think?
- Some banks are scared of combinations and others are not.
- In my experience banks require financing on the whole apartment – if they have a loan using collateral of one of the apartments, they will require that it be replaced with a new mortgage to cover both apartments.
- Banks often get confused on the value of a combo asking the appraiser to provide a value for each of the separate apartments before they are combined. The problem with that position is that the combination is usually worth more as one apartment (even before considering improvements) – in other words, the sum of the parts is less than the whole and the bank will incorrectly assume the collateral is inadequate.

Maintenance fees
- Many agents tell me it is assumed that maintenance charges are skewed higher for combos. I can’t prove this, all other things being equal.  When it occurs, it’s probably for reasons other than simply combining the units.
- A combo in a small building, ie a 4-unit brownstone co-op, raises the risk to the remaining shareholders if the combo shareholder stops paying their maintenance charges. Risk exposure to a mid to large sized building should be nominal.

Common Area
- Quite often hallways are purchased and incorporated into a combo layout for a better result.
- The co-op wins by getting a cash infusion for the purchase and income in perpetuity for the additional share allocation from the common area purchase.

Tags: , , , , ,


Brooklyn Rentals: Coolness doesn’t come free

April 11, 2014 | 10:07 am | Public |

4-2014qzmanhattan-brooklyn-rentspread [Source: Quartz]

Rob Ferdman over at Quartz writes a great breakdown of the narrowing rental spread between Manhattan and Brooklyn using the data I crunch for The Elliman Report: Manhattan & Brooklyn Rentals. Here’s my version of the chart.

After I designated last week’s Bloomberg story headline “Brooklyn’s Hipster Economy Challenges Manhattan Supremacy” as my favorite new phrase, specifically:

Brooklyn’s Hipster Economy

Quartz has given me a new favorite phrase (see under original chart):

Coolness doesn’t come free

.

Tags: , , ,


Real Estate Jargon Watch: Gazumping

March 17, 2014 | 8:00 am |

Every so often I hear this particular word used in real estate and I cringe. It is both awful and heartbreaking because it instills fear in the hearts of buyers in a market devoid of adequate listing inventory but yet is equally annoying.

Gazumping:

when a seller (especially of property) accepts an oral offer of the asking price from one potential buyer, but then accepts a higher offer from someone else. It can also refer to the seller raising the asking price at the last minute, after previously orally agreeing to a lower one. In either case, the original buyer is left in the lurch, and either has to offer a higher price or lose the purchase.

It’s widely used in the UK and Australia but not that popular in the US. There is “Ghost Gazumping” in the UK and “anti-gazumping” laws in Australia.

However given NYC’s global connections, I hear it used more than I’d care to and find it absolutely annoying. We need a replacement word or phrase as soon as possible (aside from “the seller screwed us despite accepting our offer and went with a higher one.”)

Tags: , ,


Is Gentrification a Four Letter Word?

March 5, 2014 | 11:00 am | nytlogo |

dieyuppiescum

Back in mid 1980′s the front door of a new condo conversion at One Tompkins Square Park was spray painted with words “Die Yuppie Scum” and it became the battle cry for protests against gentrification of the East Village. With the eastward push of new residential development in the 1980s from the West and Central Village, residents and local businesses worried about being priced out and losing the intangibles that made the neighborhood unique – and that they would disappear along with it.

I remember appraising apartments to the east of Tompkins Square Park, seeing squatters inhabit derelict buildings, observing a burned out school bus on blocks in front of a newly converted walk-up and the self-described “Anarchists” in the park. All that is gone.

Recent discussions about gentrification have been more visible of late – and so have the discussions of the benefits of gentrification.

Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as:

the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

Philadelphia is one of the first cities to tackle the issue in an attempt to keep the long time residents there and in doing so, helping to minimize the loss of the character of the neighborhood. It is fascinating and encouraging to see city governments be proactive on the issue since it costs money in the short term.

The initiatives, planned or underway in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Pittsburgh and other cities, are centered on reducing or freezing property taxes for such homeowners in an effort to promote neighborhood stability, preserve character and provide a dividend of sorts to those who have stayed through years of high crime, population loss and declining property values, officials say.

Tags: , , , , , ,


[WSJ] Good Overview on 2014 US Housing Expectations – Jed Kolko, Trulia

February 26, 2014 | 12:32 pm | trulialogo |

Jed Kolko does a nice job summarizing what the general housing market may look like in 2014 after the new home sales report came out today.

My big takeaway was that any housing market improvement will be more affected by local job and income growth rather than the “rebound effect.” This phenomena occurred in markets that were hit hardest by the downturn, yet saw the largest price increases.

I’ve added “rebound effect” to my 2014 phrase list, right after “polar vortex.”

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Best Real Estate Lawsuit Prose EVER

February 24, 2014 | 1:20 pm |

prosetext

Here’s an excerpt from a recent lawsuit for a NYC property that struck me as high art (modified to keep parties private).

…During the same timeframe in which the Sponsor insisted it was unable to restore service to the Condominium, it was somehow possible to locate and rescue 33 trapped miners in a remote region of Chile.

Tags:


Falling Inventory Has Created a Housing “Pre-Covery,” not “Recovery”

January 28, 2013 | 9:00 am | nytlogo |

I was speaking at the New York Real Estate Bar Camp recently and asked the audience what to call the state of housing market right now, since I objected to the use of the word “recovery” and “a period of better stats without underlying fundamentals” wasn’t catchy. Philip Faranda came up (more like shouted out) a brilliant suggestion. We’re in a “Pre-Covery!” I loved it and it stuck.

I thought about the new word when I read a great Robert Shiller piece in the New York Times this weekend called: A New Housing Boom? Don’t Count on It.

Shiller questions the substance of the happy housing news we’ve all been reading about:

It’s hard to pin down, because nothing drastically different occurred in the economy from March to September. Yes, there was economic improvement: the unemployment rate, for example, dropped to 7.8 percent from 8.2 percent. But that extended a trend in place since 2009. There was also a decline in foreclosure activity, but for the most part that is also a continuing trend, as reported by RealtyTrac.

What’s missing from all the metrics being tracked and discussed is sharply falling inventory - that’s what is driving prices higher even though little else has changed.

The reason for falling inventory? Sellers, when they sell, become buyers (or renters) and with >40% of mortgage holders having low or negative equity, they don’t qualify for the trade up. We have been so focused on negative equity that we’ve paid short shrift to the impact of low equity.

Not only don’t many sellers qualify – they simply aren’t under duress i.e. they haven’t lost their job, don’t need to move, etc. so what will they do when they realize they don’t qualify?

Nothing.

They expect/hope hope the market improves eventually.

This has created yet another form of “shadow inventory.”

Although I certainly agree that the long term trend of mortgage rates doesn’t really correlate with housing prices since rates have been falling for years, weak employment and personal income are not justifying the last 6 months of housing market improvement.

I see falling mortgage rates as simply keeping demand steady (but rates can’t fall much further) and falling inventory is either pressing prices higher or to stabilization depending on the market.

Here is a simplistic generic but typical scenario in most of the markets I follow over a 2 year window:

  • The number of sales in a market rises 2%.
  • The number of listings in same market falls 30%.

In this scenario the rise in sales is NOT working off inventory – the math doesn’t work so something else is in play – low or negative equity is choking off new listings entering the market against steady demand caused by falling rates.

Since low inventory is not a local market phenomenon but is happening in nearly every housing market I can think of (sales rising modestly and listing inventory falling sharply) it makes this a credit phenomenon. I like to say “housing is local but credit is national.”

To make this discussion really crazy we could even say that tight credit conditions are actually prompting the pre-recovery something that on the surface is very counterintuitive. But in reality, tight credit is choking off supply and low rates are keeping demand constant. Then prices rise.

Tags: ,


‘Structured By Cows’ and other Candid Catchphrases

November 26, 2012 | 7:00 am |

American Banker has a great slideshow on catchphrases that evolved during the financial crisis. Check it out. Some of my favorites are:

Structured By Cows“We rate every deal. It could be structured by cows and we would rate it,” said an S&P analyst discussing a questionable securitization that a colleague called “ridiculous.”

High Speed Swim Lane, or HSSL Countrywide’s way of describing the way they stripped QC of loans going to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Friends of Angelo Named for Countrywide’s CEO Angelo Mozilo in which government officials like Chris Dodd (ie Dodd-Frank) got better mortgage terms than they should have.

Close More University Subprime lender New Century (out of business) brought together mortgage brokers to encourage them to throw away any standards to bring more volume.

Jingle Mail When borrowers mailed their keys to the bank if they were hopelessly underwater.

Liar’s Loans Standard mortgage industry practice that encouraged borrowers to exaggerate their qualifications in order to get the loan.

Incredible and hard to conceive of now but this was common practice only a mere 5 years ago.

Tags: , , ,


[In The Media] CNN’s “Your Money” With Ali Velshi 11-24-12

November 25, 2012 | 11:22 am | Public |

Ali Velshi does a great recap on various elements of the economy including what I call “happy housing news.” CNN brought in both Chris Mayer of Columbia University and me to poke holes in it and talk “what if.” Chris and I were nearly identical in views, but I was tagged as the more negative because I hate the use of the word “recovery” to describe the current state of the market. I prefer “stabilized” or “recovering” over “recovery” since we haven’t dealt with the excess distressed sales and tight credit yet which is what is perversely driving up prices.

We taped this on Wednesday and it aired yesterday at 1pm and will air again today at 3pm. Ali tackles energy, manufacturing, the economy in addition to this housing segment. My friend Dan Gross of Newsweek/Daily Beast was in the economy segment and we got to catch up in the Green Room.

The taping was a two-fer for me – I got to meet Ali, a take-no-prisoners media personality who lays things out with great clarity. Plus I got to meet Chris, one of the sharpest minds in real estate policy. All-in-all, fun!

Tags: , , ,