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.
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.
This infographic was part of an epic must-read Andrew Rice piece for New York Magazine called: The Red Hot Rubble of East New York which explores the gentrification frontier where investors and New York City’s efforts to create affordable housing are running headlong into each other.
As much as 10% of the property sales are flips and prices are up 150% over the past 2 years.
With the closing and recording of the record $100.47 million penthouse sale at One57, I thought it was time to dust-off the tall chart I created in 2012 when the prior record price of $88M at 15 Central Park West was set.
This week I ended up writing a piece about tall towers in my Bloomberg View column called Living the High Life, another one on Curbed NY for my Three Cents Worth called Proving New York’s Blockbuster $100M Sale Is An Outlier which provided some needed context for the new record sale in the following scattergraph. Note the $100.47M record sale in the upper right hand corner and then scroll down…a lot.
[click to expand]
Wlliam Black, a former bank regulator, made a TED Talk last fall that I wish I had made (but I couldn’t be as eloquent although I have a cooler tie). It should be required viewing by anyone who is connected with the housing industry.
Black’s presentation lays out the financial crisis in the proper context. He provides the recipe for disaster for all to see and it is NOT complicated to understand. Change the perverse incentives and a lot of this goes away. So many opportunities to avoid this crisis were missed.
And this is the first time I’ve heard someone talk about the unrelenting pressure that banks (and mortgage brokers) placed on appraisers, essentially forcing our industry to either make the number of get out of town. By 2007, 90% of appraisers said they were coerced by banks to make the number. That seems low to me. It had to be 100% or else those 10% of appraisers were living in a cave.
I’ll be returning to this video periodically for the foreseeable future as a reminder.
Actually, overall Manhattan Home Sales are 45% All-Cash. I want to make sure that the 80% number doesn’t become embedded in our housing market mindset.
Recently a friend passed along a post in the Washington Post titled: 8 in 10 Manhattan home sales are all-cash and my jaw dropped. The author, who I am a fan of, got this information from Realtytrac, who I am also a fan of, but I knew it was either wrong or misinterpreted.
Over the years I’ve played around with NYC mortgage data, usually incomplete and very dirty, from various sources and have combined that with frontline feedback from our own experience as appraisers, as well as from real estate brokers and lenders. I had come to the conclusion that roughly half of Manhattan home sales (co-op, condo & single family) were probably all-cash and condos are definitely well over 50%. I used the logic that foreign and high-end buyers are a large part of the all-cash market, especially within the new development space. And it makes sense – while condo end loan financing is tight, new development condo end loan financing is beyond tight.
The reason the Realtytrac 80% figure jumped out at me was the fact that co-ops account for about 60% of sales and have the highest concentration of entry level and middle class demographics in Manhattan. I was very skeptical that virtually all the market-majority co-op buyers were paying all-cash, especially in the tepid economy we are stuck with.
So I reached out to Daren Blomquist, Vice President at RealtyTrac who is often the point person on their data releases. I indicated that the 80% figure seemed off and wondered if it excluded the co-op market. It didn’t. However even an 80% all-cash share for only single family and condo sales seemed like a stretch. He said he would look into it and within an hour they could see an issue with their co-op data feed. They were already working on the issue (and why I like Realtytrac). He shared their 1Q14 Manhattan information (I omitted the suspect co-op data) and here are the key numbers:
All-Cash Condo Sales 60.78%
All-Cash Single Family Sales 73.08%
I came up with a new methodology, which looked at the ratios seen in Douglas Elliman sales – the largest real estate brokerage company in Manhattan – with a sales mix is generally consistent with the overall market mix and applied their results to the overall market, and I saw this:
All-Cash Co-ops 36% (no revised Realtytrac results yet)
All-Cash Condos 58% (similar to Realtytrac’s 60.78%)
I didn’t have the single family (fee simple) results compiled so I went with Realtytrac’s 73% because: their fee simple (condo) data was consistent with ours, the single family market is skewed much higher price-wise than the condo market (i.e. skewing towards cash buyers) and the single family market share is very small. In fact the market share is so small that the overall 45% all-cash ratio wouldn’t change unless I dropped the single family market share down to 6% from 73% but even then the overall cash ratio would only drop to 44% from 45% – so you get my point (my apologies for the excessive wonkiness on this but it was necessary).
As a result and represented in the table at the top of this post, it is reasonable to say that the overall Manhattan all-cash home sale market in 1Q 2014 was 45% of all residential sales. Got it?
My friend Nathan Pyle has penned a book: NYC Basic Tips and Etiquette that should be required reading, well at least required viewing for:
You get what I mean. This book is clearly for everyone.
He’s come a long way from making selfie-videos of his basketball dunking prowess. I’ve long been a fan of his art. Nathan combines nice Midwestern sensibilities (he’s from Ohio) with street smarts, artistic talent and a dab of humor.
In fact Nathan’s only shortcoming is his siding with the “GIF” (Graphics Interchange Format) pronunciation camp while I am squarely in the “Sounds like “Jif” as in the peanut butter AND confirmed by the inventor of the “GIF” camp who said, and I quote:
“It’s pronounced JIF, not GIF.”
Here are a few samples, I plan to revisit his artwork over the next few weeks. The book even provides instructions on where to eat pizza on a busy sidewalk!!! C’mon people, the value add for that alone is worth well above the very modest price! Here are a few samples…
In the spring of 2012 my floor level valuation methodology was illustrated in a great piece in New York Magazine by Jhoanna Robledo called “What Price Height and Light?. The graphic and accompanying descriptions provide incredible clarity to a fairly convoluted subject.
In the flurry of transitioning content to our new site over the past few months, I remember the actual moment when I deleted the original post for this topic by mistake and thought, “wow this is annoying but I can always go the Wayback Machine.” However, today someone asked me about the graphic and I couldn’t find my prior post on the Wayback Machine (but I found a bunch of cool stuff) so I am reposting this piece. I really LOVE the graphic that New York Magazine came up with.
The graphic is fairly self-explanatory.
I saw an opinion piece written about appraisal management companies over at HousingWire that made me just about fall out of my chair – and my office chair is a sturdy Herman Miller Aeron so it was quite an unsettling piece. I’ve written about AMCs quite a bit since HVCC came into effect on May 1, 2009 and my last big piece: “Appraising for AMCs Can Be Like Delivering Pizza” prompted a senior executive at one of the largest US AMCs – who we don’t work for – to call me after he read it and say, “all of what you wrote is true – how do we change it?” He sounded very reasonable and earnest and got his Chief Appraiser to reach out to me to explore what to do. That person ended up providing me with robotic and defensive feedback before I even asked any questions – making it clear it was all about keeping his job, not improving the industry. Sad.
Make no mistake – I am not against the concept of AMCs and there are some reasonable ones to deal with – but the majority of them are poorly managed and therefore can only attract appraisers with the “form-filler” mentality.
This HousingWire editorial was called “It’s time to debunk the 3 biggest myths about your AMC” by the CEO of an appraisal management company. We don’t work with them and I don’t know of them or the author. It’s a corporate sounding piece so I’m guessing that it was pitched and written by their PR firm as a way to sell the virtues of a good appraisal management company.
What threw me for a loop was the omission of any discussion about the actual providers of valuation expertise. AMCs do not provide value opinions to banks. AMCs manage appraisers who provide value opinions to banks. My guess is they or the AMC industry in general are receiving more pressure from banks for the rising cost of the appraisal process – not because the appraisal fees are rising – but because the AMC appraisal quality is so poor that relative to the cost, the value-add of an AMC really isn’t really there.
We have started to observe national lenders push back against the poor quality of AMC appraisals and some lender personnel are now bypassing AMCs on complex or luxury properties because they don’t trust the expertise coming out of the AMC. Amazing.
Here are the 3 “myths” presented in this AMC PR piece. I restate each point being made to reflect the reality of the appraisal process:
THEIR Myth 1: Appraisal Management Companies add costs to the lender’s business.
So, yes, the costs of putting a solid value on a piece of real estate have gone up. But this is not due to the fact that an AMC has been added to the equation. It’s due to the fact that it costs more to do it right, to employ the technology, to manage the fee panels, to quality-check the results. Like most myths, this one has at its core the ugly truth that the price of an appraisal has gone up between $80 and $200, depending upon the circumstances.
MY Opinion of Myth 1: The rise in costs is NOT because appraisers are arbitrarily raising their fees. It is because the appraisal management industry takes half of the appraisers fee paid by the borrower at application to cover their costs and ended up driving most good appraisers out of retail bank appraisal work – now dominated by AMCs. The rising costs are being born by the AMCs who try to checklist away the poor quality. Here’s how: Imagine making a modest salary for a job well done and then one day (May 1, 2009) you get your pay cut in half. The middleman between the bank and the appraisers (the AMCs) got to keep the other half of the appraiser’s fee/salary. In reality, this 50% pay cut was the appraiser paying for bank compliance with HVCC by hiring the AMC. Would you quit your job if you got a 50% pay cut? Most would say yes. Who would replace you at 50% of an already modest wage? A lower caliber, lesser experienced person who was able to cut corners – like eliminate research – and essentially be willing to be a form filler rather than a valuation expert – quality evaporates not matter how much “review” is put in place. AMCs have been grappling with poor quality and probably have had to increase oversight as more banks push back against the poor quality. I think the additional compliance issues being touted throughout this opinion piece in this “Myth” are probably more of a scare or fogging tactic than a real reason for higher costs. The higher cost that is being represented by the AMC is more likely from the fact that AMCs are being forced to find better appraisers in certain markets and those appraisers are less willing to subsidize bank compliance with HVCC out of their own hide. We doing more and more AMC work now and we are paid a full fee and are given a fairly reasonable turnaround time. Why? Because that AMC’s panel quality was poor and their bank clients basically told the AMC to use firms like mine or the bank will go to another AMC who will use a higher caliber of appraiser.
THEIR Myth 2: AMCs deliver poor turnaround times that can’t compare to internal teams
Anyone who buys into this myth must live in a world without Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that spell out exactly what a vendor will provide to a lender. It sets the terms of the engagement and specifies penalties that the vendor will suffer should it fail to live up to the promises the document holds. Turnaround times are always part of the SLA between an AMC and a lender…Now, here’s the grain of truth at the center of this ridiculous myth: lenders are working to incorporate so many new compliance rules into their processes that the collateral valuation process is simply taking longer for many of them than it has in the past. Part of this comes from the fact that compliance checking takes time. Part of this comes from unnecessary processes within the lender’s shop that exist out of some executive’s fear of possible compliance problems. The appraisal process is taking longer in many cases, but it’s not due to the AMC. It’s just part of the new business environment we’re working in.
MY Opinion of Myth 2: This is simply a reframing of the conversation between lenders and AMCs. The biggest problem with most AMCs today is they demand an unreasonable turn around time – some require 48 hours (more with complex properties), about 1/3 the minimum average time needed to do a reasonably competent job. Because the AMC bank appraisal quality is generally poor, AMCs have to insert more and more checklists into the QC process to appease their lender clients. The lender clients require more service level agreements BECAUSE THEY DON’T TRUST THE QUALITY OF THE PRODUCT, NOT BECAUSE OF MORE FEDERAL COMPLIANCE ISSUES. In turn, the appraiser gets a gum chewing 19 year old who calls them every day to fill out a checklist. Banks were fine, pre-HVCC, with the turn times of their in-house and outside fee panel staff and it NEVER was as fast as the typical AMC requires today. Today, most AMCs have to differentiate themselves from other AMCs by cost and turn around standards. With the poor quality of the typical AMC bank appraisal, the AMC gets squeezed financially as banks and appraisers are beginning to push back with more requirements and costs. An appraisal is NOT a commodity – it is a professional service. If the AMC doesn’t respect the bank appraisal industry and pays them poorly, all the AMC can ever hope to receive in return is a poor quality product that can’t be check listed away.
THEIR Myth 3: The lender relinquishes control when they outsource to an AMC
The lender is in complete control at all times and federal regulators have made it crystal clear that the lender is the responsible party anytime they outsource to a third-party vendor. No lender will relinquish control to a third party when it knows the CFPB will come back to its front door in the event of a problem. There are some aspects of the collateral valuation process that the government has said must be removed from the control of the loan officers originating the loan and the managers who oversee them. Federal regulators do not want the lender to control the outcome of the appraisal process and so they have made it clear in the regulations that it must be moved away from the origination department. The uncomfortable truth is that the federal government wants the lending institution to lose a bit of control here, for the good of the consumer and the financial institution. But handing responsibility for a few aspects of one process to a third-party outsourcer is not the same thing as giving away control. No lender we know and no good AMC executive would equate these two.
MY Opinion of Myth 3: One of the biggest myths furthered by many AMCs is to fog lenders with the idea that HVCC requires banks to use them to be compliant. The statement “The uncomfortable truth is that the federal government wants the lending institution to lose a bit of control here” is very misleading. All the government wants is a separation between the sales function and the quality function of a bank – a firewall – which is an AMCs major selling point. The irony here is that large AMCs are just as susceptible to lender pressure as the individual appraisers, but on a much larger scale.
I am not anti-AMC. However I am against bank appraisers paying for a bank’s compliance with HVCC and being marginalized as a result. The appraiser is the expert developing the value opinion for the bank, not the AMC.
In my experience to date, the majority of AMC bank appraisals that I have seen are very poor. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If the lender paid the market rate for an appraisal and an additional fee for the AMC to administer the process, the quality would improve. Borrowers today generally don’t realize that the bank appraisers is paid a fraction of the “appraisal fee.” Today’s bank appraiser is paying for the bank’s compliance with HVCC and this has largely destroyed many of the quality firms in the appraisal industry. It doesn’t help that the residential appraisal industry has no real representation in Washington.
But I do like my chair.
I recently appraised a property that was well into the 8-digit value variety – not to sound cavalier but when you are in a market like Manhattan, it’s not uncommon.
What made this assignment different was that I was contacted to appraise this property because an appraisal management company (AMC) was not comfortable using their regular panel of appraisers that do nearly all of their volume (for half the market rate and 48 hours). Although I was leery to accept the request as an exception, I had history with an exec there, they were paying our quoted fee and accepting our turn time requirements so why not?
Here’s how it went:
Day 0 - I am interviewed by the AMC representative to see whether we are experienced in this property type. The AMC rep stresses they want to be “in the loop” at all times.
Day 1 – We are engaged by the AMC to provide the report – we place a call to the property rep.
Day 2 - Property rep calls back and say they want us to inspect 3 days from now. My office informs the AMC rep the appointment via email is set for Day 5. I get a call from the AMC rep asking if a I need any help and I say “no, not at this point since we haven’t seen the property yet.” They follow with “I’ll be calling you every day of this assignment to ensure you have what you need.” I politely ask why they need to call me over the next 3 days before the inspection. The AMC rep says “yes, in case you need help.” I respond that I won’t be doing anything further until I see the property. The AMC rep said something to the effect of “Ok, I’ll wait until you inspect.”
Day 3 - The AMC representative apparently emailed me (instead of calling) but I never received it (gotta love spam).
Day 4 - The AMC representative left me a voicemail on my mobile phone and office phone chiding me because I didn’t respond to the previous day’s email (technically the AMC rep didn’t call me) and they had been forthright in saying they would contact me every day to help me and they needed to speak to me every day. I got the voicemail on my mobile during a different inspection and emailed my office asking them to let the AMC rep know I am inspecting the property the next day.
Day 5 - The AMC rep called to see how we were doing with the assignment. My assistant reminded them we were inspecting the property toward the end of the day and that they had been kept up to date. Near the end of the day I inspected the property and my office let the AMC rep know via email we had inspected the property.
Day 6 - First thing in the morning and my first chance to sit down and work on the appraisal. My office sent them an email telling them I had what I needed and confirmed the delivery date. The AMC rep called my office that afternoon to see if there was anything we needed…
This is how nearly all interaction between AMC and appraisers go. The appraiser is bombarded with meaningless status requests as the AMC industry attempts to commoditize a professional occupation. I assume the AMC rep in my case had a checklist – akin to those dated checklists with initials you see on the back of doors in highway rest stop bathrooms assuring you the bathroom was cleaned each day of the week.
The result has been the crushing of appraisal quality because trained, experienced professionals are opting out of this madness because time = money. Cut the fees 50% and then waste another 30% of an appraiser’s time with this meaningless activity and you don’t end up with a more reliable valuation opinion.
In all sincerity, I take my hat off to those professional appraisers who need to work with AMCs out of necessity that are able to put up with being treated like a teenager on their first job.
It reminds me of the canned customer service interaction we are all forced to do when we interact with a company on the phone. The call ALWAYS ends with the canned “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Yet the relationship was already established and fine up until that point and the authentic nature of the conversation is suddenly over. I pause for a second and say “Yeah, I could go for a large pizza right now.”
Jhoanna Robledo over at New York Magazine squeezes light from my proverbial turnip and the result is a very cool graphic on one way to value light in an apartment in her piece “What’s the Price of Light?” The topic of view have been recently explored and floor level.
Light is perhaps the most subjective of the view-floor level-light trio but this is the logic our firm has used for years (based on the “paired sales” theory that isn’t very practical in an appraiser’s daily life) but I feel it’s a good starting point, and of course it depends on the nuances of each situation.
Floor pricing has been the stumbling block for credibility with automated valuation models (appraisal replacement tools) used by banks and for services like Zillow. StreetEasy gets it right, in the way they display information – grouped by building so the patterns are apparent.
Matthew Strozier over at The Real Deal Magazine asked me to crunch apartment prices to show some sort of floor level relationship to value. I took the down and dirty approach (because SPSS is way over my head) and looked at all closed co-op and condo sales in 2009. I broke those sales down by floor level and crunched the metrics for each floor. The results are seen in this very cool chart. Click on the graphic to the right that TRD created to open the big version.
In addition, the erratic price per square foot patterns on the higher floors reflect the differences in views. In our appraisals were make adjustments for floor level and view separately.
I ended the presentation at the 25th floor only because the data set gets so thin that it was more difficult to extract or infer a pattern.