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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One Response to “Floored: Can/Should A Governing Body Set Minimum Sales Prices?”

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