Matrix Blog

Migration, Psychology, Demographics

Tracking the Flock of (Ultrawealthy) Seagulls

March 6, 2016 | 10:02 am | |

There has been voluminous discussion in recent years about following and marketing to the high end of the demographic scale, especial the real estate market. It’s been the focus of much of the new housing development action of the past five years, especially in big U.S. coastal cities. The high end development market has been widely chronicled here and within my weekly Housing Notes newsletter.

For buyers in the super luxury housing market, owning multiple homes is less about a primary residence with a second home and more about owning “stops on the big circuit.”

And as the rich own a greater share of real estate, major cities like New York, Los Angeles and London are going through a kind of “resortification,” familiar to posh beach towns or ski resorts, as their populations become more seasonal.

For Manhattan, these birds are rare in February and squawking on all treetops (bad pun for super tall condo penthouses) at full capacity in June.

nytcityhopping

And no, I never liked that band.

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[Infographic] NAR gets into the Urbanization Conversation

September 1, 2015 | 10:12 am | | Infographics |

The National Association of Realtors, who is generally viewed as emphasizing suburban single family housing markets, may be plotting a new course. NAR will be sharing more releases on the topic of urbanization in the coming months. They look to be taking the same path as Realtor.com, the online entity who licenses their name from the NAR mothership. Realtor.com has cleaned up their act and has been much more focused on city life after their recent purchase by News Corp (through Realtor.com’s parent company Move), trying to become relevant again by emulating Zillow and Trulia. And of course, the consumer wins.

It’s a good thing too since urbanization is one of the most important housing trends (affordability aside) facing the housing market going forward.

Here’s an interesting infographic released by NAR today:

NARurbanismInfographic

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[Video] Why The Rich Get Richer

May 4, 2015 | 11:05 am | |

Here’s one way to look at it.

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[VIDEO] Chinese Housing Bubble Version of ‘The Truman Show’

April 29, 2015 | 9:31 am | | TV, Videos |

To keep the sales going, developers in the massively bloated Chinese housing market are getting more creative. This NY Times short documentary is fantastic and surreal. I’d chalk it up to simply bizarre, if there wasn’t such a desperate undertone to it.

It reminded me of “The Truman Show” movie where everything Jim Carrey’s character saw was fake, made for him. However in the Chinese version, everyone knows it’s fake but embraces it.

With the massive oversupply, no wonder savvy Chinese investors are extracting as much wealth as they can and investing overseas in anticipation of that day of reckoning.

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Economic Bubble Theory Using Bubbles

December 22, 2014 | 12:03 pm | TV, Videos |

MWbubbleEcon
[click on image to play video]

Ok, so I like making bubbles. Here’s a reason (or excuse) to watch some bubbles – tie it in with economic theory.

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A Century Later: Manhattan Is Less Crowded

September 27, 2014 | 12:26 pm |

manhattandensity

The density of the Five Points in 1910 was absolutely incredible.  The 2010 population density is much more balanced across the island.

NYU’s Marion Institute of Urban Management is offering a free seminar at the New York Public Library called “The Rise and Fall of Manhattan Density” to explain how this happened.

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Bloomberg View Column: The Myth of Real Estate Stigma

August 31, 2014 | 4:52 pm | | Charts |

BVlogo I gave some thought to what the long term impact of a nationally-covered local tumultuous event on a local housing market might be…

The Aug. 9th shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer has roiled Ferguson, Missouri, thrusting it into the national spotlight. But what happens to the town of 21,000 outside of St. Louis after the turmoil ends — more specifically, what happens to property values?

Read my latest Bloomberg View column
The Myth of Real Estate Stigma. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View.


My Bloomberg View Column Directory

My Bloomberg View RSS feed.

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If Choosing Suburbs: Surge in NYC High Wage Earners Choosing NY-NJ-CT

July 21, 2014 | 2:11 pm |

IBOmoversstudy2014
[click to expand]

According to New York City’s IBO, in 2012, there were actually 5 times more moves to Florida than to adjacent Connecticut.

However when breaking the movers into 2 categories: households with real income below and above $500,000, the results really change. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut enjoyed a large increase of high income movers from New York City. The California market share in this category of movers collapsed.

But it is important to recognize that the high wage earners only represent 1.8% of total movers. Florida is still the third most popular destination for movers from NYC who are mere mortals.

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…and the Home Seller will give you a Free Tesla!

July 12, 2014 | 7:26 pm | |

SodFarmtractor

Back when I was in college, a good friend of mine owned a large Michigan sod farm with his father – acres and acres of putting green quality sod. They wanted to upgrade their big tractor so I joined him on his visit to the local tractor dealership – International Harvester (my parents tell me I am a distant – really distant – relative of John Deere).

1979IHscout

[Source: Hemmings]

The tractor they were looking at included air conditioning and a surround sound stereo system. It was impressive. The salesman said that if they bought the tractor that month the dealership would throw in an International Harvester truck.

My friend’s comment to me under his breath was something along the lines of “looks like we are actually buying the truck too.”

Jhoanna Robeledo’s New York Magazine piece on the guy who throws in a Tesla if you buy his condo talks about this marketing technique.  Using a Tesla is buzz worthy as a well thought of brand – after all marketing is about getting eyeballs on the listing – but is it effective?  Does this technique actual sell properties?

In my view throwing in such a large concession is a red flag signifying the property is over priced enough to cover the seller’s cost of the “gift.”

Econ 101:  There is no such thing as a free lunch.

We’ve seen this marketing gimmick attempted with other cars such as a Prius, a Porsche, a Cadillac and Ferrari.

The funny thing is, you never read a follow-up article that shows how this marketing technique/gimmick was successful.

JohnDeereLM

A buyer for the condo in Jhoanna’s article would have the financial wherewithal to buy their own Tesla and likely isn’t thinking about buying a car during their visit to the property.

We don’t see these extreme marketing gimmicks tried with low margin properties. “If I buy this $75,000 condo I get a free Tesla!” Of course not – the condo seller in this “Tesla” story is telegraphing to a potential buyer the listing is over priced.

Yes, in a typical suburban transaction, a seller may throw in a used lawnmower to close the sale, but this is not something that is usually promoted during the actual marketing of the property.

NEWSFLASH Buyers are a lot smarter than this Tesla-giving away seller is giving them given credit for.

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Status Quo Bias: ‘Linear” Thinking in the Real Estate Industry

June 8, 2014 | 8:09 pm |

linearcharts
[source]

When we look at forecasting, planning, trending or anything that includes a look out over the future, I find the real estate industry (i.e. appraisers, real estate agents & brokers) generally thinks along linear lines.

For example:

  • When housing prices rise…they will rise forever.
  • When housing prices fall…they will fall forever.
  • When sales activity rises…they will rise for ever.
  • When inventory falls…it will fall forever.
  • When rental prices rise…they will rise forever.

…and so on.

Where does this status quo bias come from?

I don’t think this bias only specific to the real estate industry – but I describe it through the industry only because it simply happens to be my area of focus. I do find that real estate professionals can be quite disconnected from the mindset of their clients when the market is at extreme points in the trend i.e. peak and trough.

For example, in the dark days following the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, I was giving a speech to a large group of New York real estate agents in October of 2008. Roughly a dozen agents approached me before and after my presentation saying they were getting offers on their listings at roughly 30% below ask, characterizing the offers as “lowball.” It was quite amazing to hear all the agents use a similar characterization of the post-Lehman market. Of course when nearly all buyers are behaving in the same manner, that becomes the new market condition.

Towards the end of 2008, I found that New York real estate agents rapidly changed their view on the market as sales contract activity fell by 75% YoY. The real estate agent disconnect with the consumer was evident by the early spring of 2009 when it was apparent that buyers were not as negative in their outlook of the coming real estate year as the typical agent was. Needless to say that the market did see a significant rebound over the following year and the consumers were ultimately right.

My takeaway from all of this is never to get too comfortable with a trend. Although we like to say “the trend is your friend,” it is only your friend “until it ends.”

I would think this “status quo bias” behavior manifests itself more strongly in professions that are sales commission heavy, i.e. where commission incentives and generally over-the-top positive thinking are the norm and the agent tries to feel like they have some control over the impact of the market on their livelihood.

Of course the real estate market could care less what anyone thinks.


I was away last week, invited by the US Army to participate in a seminar at the US Army War College in Carlisle Pennsylvania after they heard me give a speech about the evolution of our company. Last week was a complete strategic immersion at the college and frankly I didn’t think a whole lot about the housing market or social media. I met an impressive group of accomplished military veterans who are furthering their careers. I also got to meet civilians like me from around the country that were also invited to participate. I gained invaluable strategic insights and friendships from this event that have made a real impact on me and how I interpret information that is presented to me.

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Floored: Can/Should A Governing Body Set Minimum Sales Prices?

May 6, 2014 | 2:47 pm |

woodfloored

The concept of “setting a price floor” applies to gated communities, homeowner associations, planned unit developments – in fact any situation where a central governing body has direct influence over the sales price and/or buyer of your property. I believe the idea of “setting price floors” is surprisingly common in the outer boroughs of NYC, especially Queens.

Let me back up a second to provide context.

As the Manhattan market peaked in 2007/2008, we began to observe some co-op boards setting floors to prices in their buildings to “maintain value” for their shareholders. While a fiduciary responsibility, it is steeped in contradictions to free market principles. There was a great New York Times summary piece about this practice back in June 2007: “Should Co-op Boards Set ‘Floor Prices’?

About 15 months after the NYT article was written Lehman Brothers had collapsed and AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were all bailed out. Manhattan sales prices had fallen about 30% from 2008 to 2009. During this period I observed an increase in the practice of setting price floors. A hypothetical scenario (the type I often observed first hand) for – let’s call it – “Apartment XXX” and the timeline might go something like this:

  • Sold in 8/2007 for $1,000,000
  • Listed in 8/2008 for $1,100,000
  • Zero activity until 1/2009, offered $700,000. Offer rejected by shareholder.
  • Offer made by new buyer in 2/2009, offered $705,000. Offer rejected by shareholder.
  • Offer made by new buyer in 3/2009, offered $700,000. Offer accepted by shareholder.
  • Board turndown – “price too low.”
  • Offer made by new buyer in 4/2009, offered $695,000. Offer rejected by shareholder.
  • Offer made by new buyer in 5/2009, offered $710,000. Offer accepted by shareholder.
  • Board turndown – “price too low.”
  • Taken off market by shareholder.

A co-op board CAN’T dictate sales prices
It is clear from the steady stream of new offers in my hypothetical that the market had reset to a significantly lower level during the year. If that was the case (it was), then the board was actually doing a disservice to their shareholders by making their apartments essentially unsaleable. A buyer isn’t going to pay what the seller or the board wants the price to be. Econ 101. Housing market prices change over time, hopefully rising more than falling in the long run. The brokerage community also has a fiduciary responsibility to get the highest price for their seller under market conditions at that time. Although the board is trying to protect their shareholders (and themselves as shareholders), they have in effect, temporarily nullified the market in their building. The brokerage community is less likely to bring offers to sellers because they assume the board will reject the price even though the property had been properly exposed and vetted in the marketplace.

A co-op board CAN protect their shareholder against price outliers
One of the misnomers of the “setting a price floor” discussion is the fact that appraisal quality for lenders has been decimated since the financial crisis as banks now fully rely on appraisal management company ie “AMC” appraisers and most have no “local market knowledge.” An out of market appraiser will likely be more influenced by outliers than a local appraiser because the out of market appraiser is data starved and has no experience in the nuances of that market. It is clearly prudent for a board to be vigilant about outliers as reflected in the video. I’ve consulted on transactions for boards that don’t represent market value – ie the heir or executor lives on the other side of the country, doesn’t care about the market value and simply wants to dump the unit, make some money and move on. The out of market appraiser will probably use that sale as a “comp.”

“Protecting against outliers” is very different than “controlling prices” in a market.

In the outer boroughs especially in Queens, I believe the practice of setting a price floor has remained a widespread practice for years. Here’s a co-op attorney who is providing tips on how to “maintain values” on Habitat Magazine‘s web site. Concepts like setting up “sliding scales” to sell at 95% of the average of past sales may work in a stable market but worry me because the co-op won’t be able to respond to downturns and is in danger of choking off the market, potentially depressing prices even more.

This video also talks about apartments being different in condition and boards need to consider this because real estate appraisers don’t take into consideration whether or not an apartment was renovated.

No! This is absolutely an incorrect or the appraiser is not being asked to provide an opinion of market value – appraisers are supposed to take condition into consideration if they are being requested to provide an opinion of market value.

As I mentioned earlier, with the proliferation of AMCs, appraisers working for retail banks are generally being paid 50% of the market rate and can’t or won’t confirm condition of their comps. Higher up banking executives don’t yet equate appraisal fees with appraisal quality.

“Maintaining Value” in a co-op (or multi-unit housing entity with a governing body) Here are a few (non-legal) valuation thoughts on “maintaining” values in a co-op. I’ve personally always taken this to mean that the corporation is run efficiently for the benefit of the shareholders and when that happens, property values are “maintained” relative to the market. I also believe their values will ebb and flow with the world that surrounds the building – ie supply, demand, credit, interest rates, economy, employment, etc. These are outside factors tend to be things that the board has no control over. If the board takes actions to control “market forces” they can potentially damage shareholder value and they are potentially not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities.

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Weekend Reset: How To Be Creative

March 23, 2014 | 3:48 pm |

John Cleese, Monty Python Icon, on How to Be Creative

While this 1991 video doesn’t really fit into the general theme of Matrix, it simply isn’t what you think it is – and you don’t need to be a Monty Python Fan.

Get into “open mode” from “closed mode” by getting some quiet time and watching this clip when you get a chance.

UPDATE

Barry Ritholtz over at The Big Picture shared a more recent and shorter version of the speech.

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