[Video] Providing the right context for Manhattan and Miami housing markets

April 2, 2016 | 11:48 am | yahoofinance2 | Favorites |

I really enjoyed my interview over at Yahoo! Finance this week discussing the release of the Elliman Report: Manhattan Sales 1Q 2016. Love their longer interview format.

Note the “two comma” reference taken from the HBO show Silicon Valley:

Miller also rejects the thesis that Manhattan’s two-comma real estate prices were being fueled solely by foreign money and are now jeopardized by global uncertainty and a stronger dollar versus emerging market currencies.

Additional insights on the report shared on the recent edition of Housing Notes. Sign up here.

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New Yorkers Are Busy During Week So Big Snowstorms Need to Occur On Weekends

March 7, 2016 | 1:20 pm | fedny2 | Favorites |

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Source: Jackson Fine Art

Even though housing market talking heads are known for dramatizing the long term economic impact of a big snow storm, it’s basically a “snow ball’s chance in hell” that it has a lasting effect.

Given that it is early March and it is 54 degrees outside in NYC as I write this, it’s hard to think about snowstorms. However Mother Nature has a way of messing with us so I’m optimistic that we’ll get socked with at least one more big storm this month.

My friend Jason Bram, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was interviewed for his views on NYC snowstorms and their economic impact in Hey, Economist! How Well Do We Weather Snowstorms? He found that:

  • 81% of major snowstorms (over 15 inches dumped in Central Park) began on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday
  • there is no evidence that major snow storms disrupt the economy more than a few days.

In fact, the odds of repeating NYC’s snowstorm history is 0.2% or 500 to 1.

FRBsnowstorms

“The bottom line is, when you look at monthly or even weekly economic indicators, you rarely see a blip, even after the most severe blizzards.” —Jason Bram

This is why I go crazy at the beginning of every calendar year listening to housing prognosticators fret about severe winter weather having a far reaching long term impact on the housing market and the economy.

Consider this scenario by a couple looking to purchase their first home:

Tuesday
Husband: Hi honey, ready to go look for houses this weekend?
Wife: Yes, I can’t wait! We’ve been saving up for a long time and we are finally at the point where we can buy!

A big snow storm hits on Friday night…

Saturday
Husband: Ugh, this snowstorm is really bad. We’d better cancel our appointment with the real estate agent to view homes.
Wife: Yes, that’s a good idea. This is so frustrating!
Husband: I know! Now we have to wait another year!
Wife: I just can’t believe it. Just when we were ready to buy, a snowstorm hits and now we have to wait another year!

Of course you can see how ridiculous this scenario is despite my John Grisham/Stephen King – like story telling skills. These buyers will simply wait until the following weekend.

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Contrarians React to Quicken Loans Rocket Mortgage Outrage

February 16, 2016 | 2:30 pm | Favorites |

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:

  • Borrowers can give lenders easier access to bank information – this is one of those wiz bang promises we always see with new technology (assuming this product is new technology). But I don’t think anyone is arguing to keep the process arduous.
  • Approvals might be less prone to human error. – Sure, that’s entirely possible although this argument is like saying if there was less air pollution we might all feel better. We would have to assume that borrower data entry is better and it matches up to official documents like tax returns and pay stubs – something that was not a lender concern in the last cycle.
  • Automation may ease tight credit. That’s another one of those wiz bang assumptions that any technology gain – automation is better – remove humans and the process gets easier (again, we don’t understand what the details are of this wiz bang new technology). EZ Pass scanning technology on the highway is far better for toll collecting but it took a few decades to perfect. The mortgage lending process is full of judgments that need to be made and common sense has been removed from the mortgage underwriting process so it can be completed with checkboxes. I contend that automation will NOT ease credit any time soon because automation means a series of lending rules and it will take years to iron out. It may even delay credit normalization as lenders are reluctant to fully trust it. Plus lending continues to remain tight because of bad decisions made in the past and a weak outlook for the future (30 year fixed is below the level just before the December Fed rate hike), not because the process needs to be more efficient. Mortgage origination volume has fallen nearly every year since 2006 so I can’t see lack of automation as holding back the normalization of credit.
  • Digital lending is here to stay. No one is really arguing against digital lending per se. The future across most industries is digital and that transition can be good and bad. The mortgage process is much more digitized than it was a decade ago so disagreeing with the Rocket Mortgage message doesn’t make someone anti-digital.
  • Make a complex process easier for qualified buyers. Of course! If that is what is actually being delivered. It’s a black box and the consumer is getting their information from a commercial that conveys dated message. If David gave a speech in a 1970s era polyester suit with bellbottoms, would his current information leave the audience with a current market impression?

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.

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Billionaires’ Row: I Can See For Miles And Miles, Until You Can’t

December 21, 2015 | 2:12 pm | nytlogo | Favorites |

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.

billionaires row skyline

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NYT v. WSJ Smogdown: Status of Chinese Investment in U.S. Real Estate

December 1, 2015 | 11:39 am | nytlogo | Favorites |

lianyungangchinaSmogYahoo
[Source: Yahoo News]

Last weekend I read two terrific articles on Chinese real estate investment in the U.S. but they seemed seemed to conflict – check out the headlines:

New York Times Chinese Cash Floods U.S. Real Estate Market

Wall Street Journal Chinese Pull Back From U.S. Property Investments The subtitle says it all – The nation’s economic and stock-market slump puts buyers on the sidelines

Are the Chinese flooding the U.S. market now or are they pulling back? Which is it? Or is it both?

In my recent trip to Shanghai, I spoke to and interviewed many, many real estate investors at The Real Deal Forum. I got the impression that investment has pulled back a bit in 2015 but expectations were high that investment would expand again, although not to the level of the past 5 years. Of course I was doing this in a biased environment – at in investor conference. I was consistently told that government efforts to prop up the stock market spooked much of the smart money out of the market since the actions were taken to calm everyday investors.

The New York Times piece seemed prompted by a P.R. pitch from the Chinese developer for their Dallas suburb project enticed with a suburban angle. It was a refreshing angle since Chinese real estate investment in the U.S. has been an urban narrative and specifically focused on the high end. The article illustrated just how massive the investment patterns have been. To date the narrative has been focused on super luxury condos in expensive metropolitan areas, while the suburbs got limited attention.

NAR2015internationalCHINESEnyt

The WSJ article is more orientated towards the past few weeks while the NYT article is a longer term view. Both publications place emphasis on NAR’s Profile of International Home Buying Activity whose results emphasized the Chinese investment surge of the previous year. The survey results only reflect the market through last March, so it is 9 months behind the current market. The Chinese investment numbers are staggering, and they are probably understated. Since the NAR report is simply a survey of it’s members and NAR has limited exposure to New York City, especially Manhattan – a hotbed of Chinese real estate investment activity.

NAR2015internationalCHINESEwsj

Incidentally, do the above 2 charts look similar? They both relied on the NAR report.

The NYT piece set the table on the entire multi-year phenomenon using a ton of cool charts while the WSJ attempted to illustrate the change in recent weeks Both outlets were forced to rely on a lot of anecdotal to make their case. Both articles are consistent with my views as each provided a different context.

The NYT piece provided the long term historical view and the WSJ was a short term snapshot.

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Better Than a Sex Scandal: Brooklyn Housing was #3 on the Bloomberg Terminals

October 8, 2015 | 9:53 pm | bloomberg_news_logo | Favorites |

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The Bloomberg News story “Brooklyn Homes Sell at Record Pace in Outer-Borough Surge” was the 3rd most read story on the Bloomberg terminals world wide this afternoon.

Here’s the Douglas Elliman report.

The Brooklyn housing story in fact earned more reads than the Stanford Business School sex scandal, the Bill Gross $200M lawsuit against PIMCO and Deutsche Bank’s $7B loss this quarter.

After all, Brooklyn is now a global brand.

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Multi-millionaire Motivational Speaker Dean Graziosi Shares His Appraisal Wisdom

October 4, 2015 | 4:40 pm | irs2 | Favorites |

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Over the past few days I’ve been sent this blog post by a number of real estate appraisers who are upset with its derogatory reference to our profession. It was written by Dean Graziosi in the Huffington Post guest blogger section. I’ve never heard of him but perhaps that’s because I’m not a real estate agent. If you insert the word “scam” in your google search, there are a lot of additional insights that come up.

His Huffpost bio and web site indicates he is a NY Times Best Selling Author along with one of the top personal motivation and real estate trainers in the world. I also learned from his bio that he is a multi-millionaire, a guru in the personal motivation sector and cares deeply about his students. Translation: He basically teaches real estate agents how to sell.

watchgraz

Good. While it’s not my thing, I’m happy for Dean’s success (notice how his watch is strategically placed within his Facebook head shot as an indirect confirmation of his success) assuming no one was hurt. However as a public figure (as indicated on his Facebook page with 340K+ likes), Dean has a responsibility to convey information accurately to his students if he does indeed care.

While I doubt he wrote it it personally, his brand handlers managed to mischaracterize two key issues in a small blog post on HuffPost:

  1. Graziosi frames the current housing market as equal to the bubble’s peak but doesn’t accurately describe what that means.
  2. Graziosi frames the real estate appraiser as something other than a real estate professional while the real estate agent is a professional.

1. Housing Market

Graziosi cites the FHFA trend line as breaking even with the 2006 peak. Yes, based on FHFA methodology that’s certainly true and taken directly from the most recent FHFA report. I do feel the need to split hairs here since his “brushstroke style” of simplifying everything misaligns with reality. He says:

First, and most important, it requires repeat sales of homes, so if there aren’t huge numbers of sales, then we’re looking at a number derived from a small set of sales data. So, we’re not necessarily seeing an excited bunch of buyers flocking to the market. We are seeing a whole lot of homeowners who aren’t selling, waiting for rising values. So, we have a small inventory and competition for it.

The problem here is that there are a lot of sales outside of FHFA data – and FHFA only tracks mortgages that go through Fannie and Freddie. Roughly 30% of home sales are cash and another 5-10% of them are jumbo loans, too large to be purchased by the former GSEs – so they don’t get included. FHFA also excludes new construction.

fhfajuly2015

The Case Shiller index is also a repeat sales index like FHFA but shows a different price point for the current market because it includes transactions outside of the GSE world.

CSJuly2015CR

If we look at the number of sales, which is the key point he makes, sales activity is low because we’re not necessarily seeing an excited bunch of buyers flocking to the market. But in reality, home sales are not low and they have been rising for 4 years. Of course sales are not at pre-crash highs because those highs were created largely by fraudulent lending practices including the unethical behavior of consumers caught up in the systemic breakdown that included nearly all particpants in the mortgage process.

EHSAug2015CR

Graziosi is right that inventory is low, but not because buyers aren’t flocking to the market – many buyers are being held back credit access has over-corrected. Many homeowners can’t qualify for the next purchase so there is no point of listing their home for sale.

EHSInvAug2015CR

Conclusion – we are not at the pre-Lehman market peak unless you only look through the eyes off FHFA, a distorted subset of the overall housing market. I would think that real estate gurus understand this.

2. Appraisal Industry

Let’s move on to the real reason I am writing this post.

I can ignore Graziosi’s “lite” market commentary but I can’t ignore his misunderstanding of the appraiser’s role in the purchase mortgage process (buyers applying for a mortgage to purchase a home.)

Don’t call an appraiser, as their approach to market value is different than that of a real estate professional. The real estate agent is trying to get you a sold price near to the top of the market, and their CMA, Comparative Market Analysis, is going to give you a pretty good idea of its value.

There is so much to talk about within these two sentences I’m not sure where to begin. It’s mindbogglingly simplistic, misleading and uninformed. Perhaps this is how he makes his students motivated?

Lets go for the big point first:

“Don’t call an appraiser, as their approach to market value is different than that of a real estate professional.” He must be thinking along the lines of the IRS definition, which is

To meet the IRS requirements, you need two things: spend the majority of your working time spent performing qualified real estate activities (regardless of what you do), and rack up at least 750 hours. Qualified activities include “develop, redevelop, construct, reconstruct, acquire, convert, rent, operate, manage, lease or sell” real estate.

Nary an appraisal-related definition within that list.

The problem with Graziosi’s communication skills as a best selling author and nationally renowned real estate guru who gives seminars for a living to communicate to his students (agents) how to succeed is – if we (appraisers) are not “real estate professionals” then it is a hop, skip and a jump to suggest we are “unprofessional” as if appraisers are something less than a real estate agent. Ask any consumer if they hold real estate agents in higher regard than real estate appraisers? In my view both industries don’t have sterling legacies but one isn’t more professional than another. Remember that he is used to speaking to his students who are real estate agents, the kind that sign up for this type of course. Promote BPOs and help agents get more listings – has got to be his recurring mantra.

The second issue with his quote concerning an appraiser’s value opinions – “their approach to market value is different” than a real estate agent. Providing an opinion of market value is likely the intention of both. Most real estate agents are hoping to get the listing and the appraiser is not incentivized by the home’s future sale. The agent may be the most knowledgeable person in the local market but there is an inherent potential conflict. Graziosi suggests that the broker will give you a price you want to hear. However I do like his idea of getting three broker opinions – that’s a very common practice – nothing new there. Ironically both an agent and an appraiser are looking at closed sales, contracts and listings but the appraiser doesn’t have an inherent conflict. They aren’t going to get the listing no matter how accurate their value opinion proves to be.

One problem with today’s appraiser stereotype as this column brings out indirectly, is that bank appraisers now generally work for appraisal management companies (probably about 90%) and the best appraisers tend to avoid or perform minimal AMC work because they can’t work for half the market rate. As a result, good appraisers aren’t necessarily known as well by the brokerage community as in years passed unless they get in front of the brokerage community in other ways, like giving seminars, public speaking, etc. Competent brokers within a market will know who the competent appraisers are.

There are unprofessional professionals in every industry – doctors, lawyers, deepwater diving arc welders and farmers, so please don’t make sweeping pronouncements to the contrary – especially if you are in the business of communicating information to “real estate professionals”.

Conclusions

The real estate appraisal industry is not unprofessional
IRS definition aside, real estate appraisers are real estate professionals

As I’ve walked through this response, I realized that the silly advice blog post in the Huffington Post by an infomercial guy did what it intended, stir up conversations of any type to get his name out there when his actual content was devoid of useful information. There is a great post I stumbled on the industry of motivational speakers: Real Estate B.S. Artist Detection Checklist. Worth a read.

Looks like I’m never going to be a multi-millionaire wearing a huge watch strategically placed in my head shot. If you notice my own head shot in the righthand column, my watch is very small.

Sigh.


UPDATE From the I have no idea for whom the appraisal is being performed but I am a 20+ year real estate professional (see definition above) department: Here’s an article from the Santa Fe New Mexican “Be cautious of appraisals” that damns appraisers using a stunning lack of understanding of the appraiser’s role in the mortgage process given his experience. This piece was written by a mortgage broker who was also a former financial consultant and real estate agent. The author states:

Everyone in every business falls under some measure of accountability. Certainly appraisers must also be accountable to their customer. The customer is the homeowner, not the AMC.

No it isn’t.

The appraiser’s client in the mortgage appraisal situation you describe is not the homeowner. The AMC is acting as an agent for the lender in order to for the lender to make an informed decision on the collateral (of course that’s only a concept). The appraiser is working for the AMC (who works for the lender) and not for your homeowner. Your logic from the housing bubble still sits with you today.

Yes I agree that the quality of AMC appraisals for banks generally stinks, but blame the banks for that, not the appraisers. Quality issues don’t change who the appraiser is working for. AMCs do internal reviews and make ‘good’ appraiser’s lives a living hell for half the prevailing market rate loaded with silly review questions by 19 year olds chewing gum to justify their own institution’s reason for existence. No wonder you are frustrated with appraisers from AMCs. ‘Good’ appraisal firms like mine avoid working for AMCs whenever possible. Yes I would be frustrated as a mortgage broker today because your industry got used to using appraisers as “deal enablers” during the bubble and nothing more. I contend that the current mortgage process post-Dodd Frank is clearly terrible and AMCs are a big part of the problem.

ASIDE This new era of online journalism for print stalwarts like the “Santa Fe New Mexican” and new versions like the “HuffPost” rely on filler-like the above 2 articles discussed here. Very sad.

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An Honest Appraisal – Some Personal Background Including My Favorite Color and Love of Yo-Yos

July 30, 2015 | 9:59 am | Articles |

A while back, Kim Velsey at New York Observer reached out and thought it would be interesting to do a profile on me. Who wouldn’t like to talk about themselves for hours? What an opportunity! LOL. Uh, Yes?

We met and she proceeded to “drain my soul” as I am fond of saying – by the end of the interview my head was spinning and I wasn’t quite sure what I had said or if I would look foolish (the sign of a good interviewer). I was also getting a little worried when I started hearing through the grapevine who she was reaching out to – in other words this was an actual, real interview profile thing!

It turned out to be a fun, extensive and detailed read that captured a very fair and accurate picture of me for which I am very grateful (and relieved).

Jonathan Miller Is the Most Trusted (and Quoted) Man in New York Real Estate
An Honest Appraisal by Kim Velsey July 29, 2015

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Photo credit: New York Observer

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Aspirational Marketing: Best Hamptons Magazine Cover Ever

July 8, 2015 | 10:49 am | Favorites |

As I was exiting Grand Central Terminal on my way to work, and Timeout New York was being passed out to commuters. Their now-free magazine cover caught my eye:

In this week’s issue of Time Out New York, we prove the Hamptons don’t have to be douchey.

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[click to expand]

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NYT Mag: Love That ‘Old New York” Neighborhood

May 26, 2015 | 1:38 pm | nytlogo | Favorites |

Saw this is in the most recent edition of New York Times Magazine. Brilliant

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Adventures in Branding: NY Yankees Style

April 28, 2015 | 2:16 pm | Favorites |

Love this email our company just received to our general mailbox…no, we’re not going to take advantage of this opportunity – as much as I love the Yanks.

 

nyyankeesmillerad

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Good and Bad Super-Luxury Condo Buyers Love the LLC

February 9, 2015 | 9:46 am | nytlogo | Favorites |

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One of the great ironies of modern residential real estate has been the expansion in transparency of information, along with greater secrecy of ownership. I think the latter coincides with the much greater wealth that is being put into hard assets like real estate. Privacy and security are indeed very important to many, including the wealthy and especially those near the top of the financial pyramid. There is nothing sinister or unseemly about the desire for privacy. The use of limited liability corporations (LLCs) has been a legal vehicle (and a gift) from lawmakers who created it that allows people to keep certain transactions hidden from view. However the LLC also provides an opportunity for bad actors to shelter their often ill-gotten assets too.

Louise Story and Stephanie Saul of The New York Times have explored this in “Towers of Secrecy: Stream of Foreign Wealth Flows to Elite New York Real Estate,” an epic data visualization along the lines of “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” This article is a must read covering the hypersensitive subject of high end real estate and privacy.

The ongoing debate about the dying middle class versus the booming fortunes of the wealthy, the lack of affordable housing versus the super-luxury residential tower boom and municipal governments grappling to keep construction and development moving forward to keep tax revenue flows coming in, have made this effort long overdue.

Towers of Secrecy” is careful not to stereotype users of LLCs in high end real estate transactions as exclusively foreign buyers. Within the Manhattan market, foreign buyers are not the majority of overall high-end real estate purchasers. However they tend to be concentrated around the Midtown central business district (aka ‘Billionaires’ Row’) whereas domestic purchasers tend to favor markets found to the north and south of Midtown.

UPDATE There’s a great recap over on Curbed NY too:
Scandal-Plagued Foreigners Park Millions in Midtown Condos

Here are a few screenshots of the embedded videos within the “Towers of Secrecy” piece.

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