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Stories on Chinese Overtaking Russian Home Buyers in Manhattan is Purely Anecdotal

May 4, 2014 | 4:21 pm |

russiavschina

I’m not saying the US isn’t seeing an uptick in buyers from China, especially housing markets such as Manhattan. After all, there is a global trend where money is chasing stability and safety. US real estate has been a key beneficiary of this trend.

However it is important to realize that there is no US data from independent sources that links overseas nationalities with residential real estate purchases. Why?…because of long time concerns in the US about fair housing laws and by extension, the gray area of tracking nationalities to housing purchases although it is the norm outside the US.

When any housing trend is discussed, it is important to understand where the source of the trend came from. I’d really like housing market followers to appreciate that the trend analysis on the foreign buyer subject bantered in the media as of late is literally based on nothing. There has been an outpouring of coverage of the topic over the past few months, but the sourcing is only from real estate brokerage anecdotes because that is all there is for reporters to work with. I was interviewed for some of the following articles but disagreed with the general story premise, and I assume that is why my view wasn’t inserted.

Whichever stance you take on this particular trend – that Russians used to dominate the Manhattan housing market and how the Chinese have taken their place at the top – there really is no wrong answer, because there are no facts. All sourcing on the topic to make that point are from real estate agents referring to their opinion, often based on their past few transactions.

Russia
I first noticed this new new storyline when Russia invaded Crimea. Would the Russian position as the number 1 foreign buyer of real estate in Manhattan now go away? The brokerage community, or at least a couple of real estate agents claimed this to be the case.

I have no evidence to the contrary even though there are huge capital outflows from Russia that began with the Russian invasion of Crimea. In my view, the real estate agents were confused by the high profile sales by Russian buyers (think of Russian Oligarch buying 15 Central Park west for $88M) and perhaps has some direct feedback in some of their own transactions. However I don’t think Russians were ever the top homebuyers in Manhattan, just the highest profile.

If we have learned anything from the current Manhattan new development boom, it is the fact that high profile, high end transactions are not a proxy for the balance of the market much like a handful of high profile Russian purchases are not a proxy for some sort of Russian real estate dominance.

Manhattan Real Estate Feels a Russian Chill [NYTimes]

China
Now that the Russians are “out” (see previous) of the top spot, that must mean that the Chinese are “in.” Check out the headlines to this storyline although much of these articles build on the Reuters piece (linked below) which is based on real estate agent anecdotes. A slew of brokerage PR driven stories on the Chinese are now dominating the real estate headlines in New York City.

Perhaps this uptick as something to do with recent closings at well published Chinese buyer favorites like One57 and perhaps the fact that China is poised to become the world’s number 1 economy.

NY real estate firms woo Chinese buyers [China Daily] The Chinese take Manhattan: replace Russians as top apartment buyers [Reuters]

U.S.CHINA’S RICH BECOME BIGGEST FOREIGN APARTMENT-BUYERS IN MANHATTAN [Al Jazeera]

Who are the dominating the foreign buyers of Manhattan real estate?
Anecdotally I think it remains Canadians but is dominated by Europe (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ireland, etc combined) because they are still the largest tourism group. Brazil doesn’t get enough respect since they are the 3rd highest source of tourism to NYC. This list is 2 years old but I doubt China has passed Europe or even come close but this is, shall I say, “anecdotal.”

From NYC & CO., here are New York City’s top international sources (2012 figures):

  1. Canada 1,063,000
  2. United Kingdom 1,033,000
  3. Brazil 806,000
  4. France 667,000
  5. Germany 605,000
  6. Australia 595,000
  7. PR China (excl. Hong Kong) 541,000
  8. All Middle East (incl. Israel) 478,000
  9. Italy 449,000
  10. Mexico 387,000
  11. Eastern Europe 384,0000
  12. Spain 380,000
  13. Japan 328,000
  14. South Korea 281,000
  15. Argentina 272,000
  16. Ireland 224,000
  17. India 215,000
  18. Israel 203,000
  19. Netherlands 203,000
  20. Sweden 190,000

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Canadian Housing Prices Now Pushed Up Same Way as US

May 4, 2014 | 1:28 pm |

gandmUSvCanadaprices

I was reading Tara Perkin’s piece in The Globe and Mail about the record price spread between the US and Canadian housing markets and saw one of the most startling housing charts of late (above). To be clear, this chart doesn’t adjust for the exchange rate but the article says the Canadian/US existing home price spread would be large – closer to 50% than 66% – still huge.

The article cites Bank of Montreal’s chief economist Doug Porter as saying:

“The main takeaway is that, contrary to all expectations, the Canadian housing market has just kept on rolling in 2014 even as the U.S. housing market has paused for breath (after a steep climb out of the dungeon),” he writes in a research note. “Put it this way, how many pundits a year ago were calling for Canadian home prices to rise faster than their U.S. counterparts in any single measure?”

Yes, true, but this is probably another good reason not to rely on anything published by a lender’s “chief economist” title due to their inherent bias toward the interests of their employer. What I find fascinating about the Canadian housing market is the proliferation of the false rationale that prices are being used as a measure of housing health. For the US counterpart, think Miami and Las Vegas circa 2005 when prices were skyrocketing and sales were falling.

The Canadian government tightened credit conditions a year ago and sales fell sharply:

This time last year it was far from clear when and if the Canadian housing market would emerge from the sales slump that ensued after former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tightened the country’s mortgage insurance rules.

Focus on March 2014 v. March 2012 in the following chart:
canadahomesales3-2014

With Canadian home buyer’s access to credit now reigned in, sales fell sharply yet housing prices continued to rise. But Canadian housing prices are rising now much like they are in the US, based on restricted access to credit that keeps inventory off the market. And we’re not talking about household debt.

New housing inventory entering the market in Canada is now falling which is continuing to goose (sorry, Canadian geese pun) prices higher.

canadahomelistings3-2014

The Greater Fool Theory Applies to the Canadian Housing Market

A theory that states it is possible to make money by buying securities, whether overvalued or not, and later selling them at a profit because there will always be someone (a bigger or greater fool) who is willing to pay the higher price.

Of course from our past experience in the US, it’s not surprising to see every outpouring of Canadian housing market bubble concern met with an equal outpouring of Canadian housing bubble denial.

Please stop using housing prices as a measure of housing health. It was obviously flawed logic when applied in the US during 2003-2006 and now it has become apparent it was flawed during the 2012 to 2013 US run up.

Housing price growth doesn’t reflect good housing market health in Canada either.

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Housing Bubble – Canada Is Following US Lead

December 5, 2012 | 7:00 am | wsjlogo | Videos |

A friend of mine shared this video with me, a speech by Pierre Poilievre, MP for Nepean-Carleton, on April 4, 2012, spoke on behalf of the Government on Budget 2012. He is incredibly eloquent, insisting that Canada is not going down the path that the US took. Yet here’s a sobering headline.

Of course, he’s wrong. Even back well before April of this year you could see the froth in cities like Toronto. In Vancouver, sales have now fallen sharply.

Earlier this year I was quoted in the Toronto Star as some sort of bubble veteran that broached the subject of a bubble and I was not surprised to hear the same rationale we heard in the US. Toronto new development was focused on small units to be purchased by investors to rent or flip although defenders rationalized that was how workers would move to the city to expand the economy. Deja vu.

Many believe that Canada is different because prices will only fall for the next few years unlike the US where it was a 6 year fall (2006-2012).

Well, that is still a correction or bubble for nearly the same reasons as the US: government policy, speculation and cheap credit.

My eureka moment

I have long thought that all the housing shows on HGTV ie “Property Brothers”, “Holmes on Homes” etc. were filmed in Canada instead of the US because production costs were cheaper – no! My theory: After the US market tanked in 2006, production was much easier in a housing market where prices were rising, marketing times were fast and credit was readily available. That’s why these shows have continued where “flip this house” in California left off….for now.

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Luxury Real Estate as the New Global Currency

November 18, 2012 | 5:46 pm | delogo | Articles |


[click to read article]

Over the summer Camilla Papale, Douglas Elliman’s CMO asked me if I would present something about the state of luxury real estate for their Elliman Magazine (and iPad app!). The finished result contained 3 parts:

  • I wrote a brief piece about the influx of international demand as high end consumers were seeking a safe haven from the world’s economic problems. I called the piece: “LUXURY REAL ESTATE AS THE WORLD’S NEW CURRENCY” This post’s title was my working title which I also liked.
  • Plus I did a little research on housing prices across the globe using Knight Frank’s resources and
  • I moderated a discussion on the subject with Dottie Herman, President & CEO of Douglas Elliman, Patrick Dring, Head of International Residential at Knight Frank, and Liam Bailey, Head of Residential Research at Knight Frank. They all provided great insights to the subject.

Here’s the full piece in Elliman Magazine . I’ve inserted a portion of the presentation below in 2 parts:

LUXURY REAL ESTATE AS THE WORLD’S NEW CURRENCY

Since the beginning of the global credit crunch in 2008, luxury real estate has morphed into a new world currency that provides investors with both a tangible asset and a cachet that cannot be found within the financial markets. It’s as if these emboldened investors zoomed out of their local Google Earth view to discover the wider global perspective on luxury real estate.

HOW DID WE GET HERE? The US dollar has weakened in the years following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the onset of the global credit crisis. The S&P downgrade of US debt in August 2011 from its benchmark AAA rating brought a flood of investors into US financial securities. That meant that our currency allowed us to buy less abroad, and the strength of other currencies provided international buyers with large discounts when purchasing property in US dollars. But it went further than that.

THE RISE OF LUXURY REAL ESTATE AS A “SAFE HAVEN.” The volatility of global financial markets and the resulting political fallout shook investor confidence, which in turn spurred a rise in foreign buyers seeking a safe haven to protect their assets. A wave of international buyers from Europe, South America, and Asia entered the US housing market, helping set record prices and revive luxury markets including New York, The Hamptons, and Miami.

SUPPLY-DRIVEN DEMAND. The luxury real estate market has become defined by the supply of available properties. While demand has remained constant and elevated, inventory has become a critical variable, particularly at the very top of the market, where surging international demand for one-of-a-kind properties has surpassed the limited supply. The resultant record-breaking sales of “trophy” properties have enticed more owners of luxury homes to make them available for sale.

THE RISE OF THE “TROPHY PROPERTY.” The trophy property has become a new market category that does not follow the rules and dynamics of the overall marketplace. One stratospheric price record is being set after another, and it is not only the list prices that are defining these record sales; the rarity of location, expanse of the views, quality of amenities, and the sheer size of these unique homes have all played an important part in attracting the interest of foreign buyers.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Driven by the global credit crunch and political instability, the two factors that are expected to remain unchanged for the next several years, the US luxury housing market is expected to remain a “safe haven” for foreign investors for quite some time.

A CONVERSATION ABOUT THE COMMERCE OF GLOBAL LUXURY REAL ESTATE

I sat down with Dottie Herman and our friends across the pond, Patrick Dring, Head of International Residential, and Liam Bailey, Head of Residential Research at Knight Frank, to chat about the state of real estate in the prime markets across the globe and the rise of a foreign investment phenomenon.

JONATHAN MILLER: Douglas Elliman has a broad coverage area that includes some of the most affluent housing markets in the US. Are you seeing any short-term issues that may influence luxury investor decisions over the coming year?

DOTTIE HERMAN: At the end of this year, we may see a repeat of the consumer behavior we saw at the end of 2010 when US capital gains tax rates were expected to rise. Ultimately, the rates did not increase, but many consumers in the luxury market took preventative action before the potential tax increase and raced to close their sales by the end of 2010. Despite the ups and downs in the quarters that followed, the luxury housing market was not adversely impacted in the long-term.

JM: Paddy, according to Knight Frank’s Global Briefing blog, housing prices in central London are up sharply, but the pace of growth appears to be slowing, perhaps because of the new stamp duty (a tax on properties priced at £2M–the equivalent of $3.15M–or more). What does this mean for the luxury market?

PADDY DRING: In short, the £5M ($7.85M) market is up year-on-year. The new stamp duty on property sales above £2M seems to be having an impact only on the band just above the new £2M threshold. Foreign demand remains high and, notably, we have sold to over 62 different nationalities within the last 12 months. They are less affected by the changes in stamp duty, since the rates in London are still in line with many other European countries.

JM: Dottie, your firm has sold a large number of luxury properties this year, despite a lukewarm economy and tight credit conditions. Record sales and listing prices are becoming nearly commonplace and a significant portion of this demand for luxury real estate is coming from abroad. Do you see this developing into a long-term trend?

DH: It’s certainly been a year of records and I do think we are embarking on a period where luxury real estate has the potential to outperform the rest of the housing market. Several of the markets that we cover, Manhattan and Miami in particular, have been firmly established as highly sought-after international destinations. As much as we fret about how slowly our economy is recovering, the US has proven itself as a “safe haven” for many international investors who are concerned about the turmoil of the world economy and political stability. Luxury investors from much of Europe, Russia, Asia and South America have been buying here at the highest pace we have seen since the credit crunch began.

JM: Liam, the US is seeing a higher-than-normal influx of real estate demand from foreign investors who seem to be focusing on the upper end of the housing market. These investors are well represented from Europe, Asia and South America. Are you seeing the same phenomenon when it comes to luxury properties in the UK? What are the primary regions where this demand is coming from?

LIAM BAILEY: The focus of demand continues on London and its easily accessible suburbs. London is facing even higher global demand than New York, with the top end strongly led by Russia, Europe, Canada, and the Middle East, and demand in the new development investment market very much led by Asia.

JM: In the US, access to financing is a key challenge to domestic purchasers, including luxury investors. What are some of the key challenges facing your clients who are looking to purchase real estate outside of their own countries?

PD & LB: Financing remains a consideration for many, although mortgages are more available in many of the markets than people are led to believe. Of course, the property needs to be quality and in a core location and have a more conservative loan-to-value ratio, however, many of our clients purchase in cash, so they are more affected by market sentiment and, of course, liquidity if they need to sell unexpectedly in the future. Factors affecting market sentiment include the usual considerations, such as exchange rate, a stable political base, as well as a sound legal system that guarantees clarity of title and tax considerations. The latter of course is affecting not only the cost of acquisition (stamp duty), but also, in some countries, the cost of holding (wealth tax) and ultimately selling (capital gains tax). Access, infrastructure, and climate (if lifestyle-driven) all remain key, as do low crime rates as people become more aware of their privacy and personal safety.

JM: Since the beginning of the credit crunch, you’ve constantly stressed to your clients that the terms of a sale are just as important as the price of a sale, given the challenges of obtaining financing. How do international buyers fi t into this new world defined by tough lending standards?

DH: Despite mortgage lending in the US remaining tight, luxury markets in the areas we cover have improved quickly. I can only imagine how much stronger the US housing market would be if we saw credit ease to historically normal levels. International buyers tend to pay cash or obtain financing from their native countries, which has given them an advantage over many domestic purchasers. Combine the ability to pay in cash with both the weakness of the US dollar against many of their native currencies and a volatile global economy, and you can begin to understand why we are seeing a strong presence of international buyers in our markets. Like our friends at Knight Frank, these luxury investors are interested in our proven core markets that already have a large concentration of luxury properties. Overall, we continue to be excited about our market’s expanding presence in the global luxury housing market—there are many opportunities out there for this new international investor to explore.



Luxury Real Estate as the World’s New Currency [Miller Samuel (pdf)]
Luxury Real Estate as the World’s New Currency [Douglas Elliman]
Elliman iPad App [iTunes]

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[Knight Frank] Q1 2012 Global House Price Index: Europe Is A Problem

June 5, 2012 | 12:37 pm | kflogo |

Here’s a great research piece from Knight Frank on the state of housing in many of the world’s cities.

South America is dominating other regions in market performance right now. Canada shows strength (all the HGTV shows seem to be filmed there) and why isn’t Greece falling harder?

Knight Frank published their The Global House Price Index recorded its weakest annual performance since the depths of the recession in 2009, recording only 0.9% growth in the year to March 2012. Doubts over the Eurozone’s future, along with the Asian governments’ staunch efforts to cool their markets and deter speculative investment, have taken their toll.

Here’s in the index table:



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Housing Fantasy Is The New Reality Television

March 12, 2008 | 11:56 pm | nytlogo |

Housing has long been viewed as an emotional investment. Along with the housing boom of the past 5 years, there has a been a boom in reality television shows. My first obsession was This Old House when Bob Vila was host.

Housing has morphed into a national obsession. No surprise there.

Take a look at this week’s television schedule for HGTV.

If we aren’t watching people decorate, we are watching them, sell, buy and flip houses.

This AP story I came across in the Washington Post called Real Estate Cold, Real Estate TV Hot seems to defy reality. Ratings are very high.

Given the downturn in many real estate markets across the country, I am struck by the dated nature of the reality show title “Flip This House”.

  • Are people still flipping?
  • Will buys consider a flip with so much excess inventory?
  • What banks are providing investors financing these days…reality shows???

The irony here is that housing reality shows have become housing fantasy shows.

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With The Credit Market Upheaval, I Am Seeing Red

August 23, 2007 | 3:40 pm | nytlogo |

With the credit market turmoil, I have begun to wonder whether I am seeing red and gravitating towards all things red. In real estate parlance, this could mean the real estate market is HOT or the real estate market represents DANGER.

Red is a color that represents an extreme.

The other day, I got the second issue of Portfolio magazine, which is a terrific new Conde Nast publication and has a great interactive web site. The covers alone are worth the purchase price. There have been a few articles that cover real estate topics. The one I really enjoyed was called Little House on the Red Prairie by John Cassidy.

The US is the largest debtor in the world with $10.7 trillion on $13.6 trillion economy (hey that’s 79% financing, sort of). Once the Fed started raising rates in June 2004, in the first of 17 consecutive increases, there was an expectation that housing would cool. But some of the highest appreciation rates for appreciation rates occured after this point.

Since the middle of 2004, the Fed has taken the federal funds rate—what it charges banks on overnight lending—from 1 percent to 5.25 percent. Nor mally, such a dramatic shift would prompt a sell-off in long-dated Treasury bonds and a rise in long-term interest rates. This time, that didn’t happen. Thanks to all those central banks stocking up on paper issued by Uncle Sam, the interest rate on 10-year and 30-year Treasurys, rather than jumping to 7 percent—which might have been predicted based on past experience—stayed closer to 5 percent.

The author suggests that China’s investment in low-yield treasuries helps keep access to US markets and technology. Low mortgage rates fueled the burst in home price appreciation of 2003-2005.

And then of course, there is the little red paper clip…

In today’s New York Times, there was a very entertaining article about how Kyle MacDonald was able to trade a red paper clip for a house in: Trading Up From Red Paper Clip to White Picket Fence. This lead to a book deal along the way.

Of course that’s a simplistic version of the story. Basically he posts an announcement on Craigslist and the trades keep growing in scale. Public relations followed and a town in Canada opted to give him a house. Not a full proof way to get into real estate, but its certainly different and creative.

It was a dull day in Montreal, two summers past. The young MacDonald, his fair girlfriend toiling at her labors, was Lying About the House in their minuscule apartment, thinking about What a Drag It Is to Pay Rent and how nice it would be to Own Your Own Place and Stuff Like That when a thought occurred. What if he could trade a red paper clip for a house? Not in one swap but in a bunch of swaps, as in the game Bigger and Better, which he did play when he was but a youth.

Here’s an ABC News segment…

This story should probably be a staple (sorry) of everyone’s news reading today.


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Expert Witness: Fade To Black, A Second City Day In Court

May 31, 2007 | 10:19 am | nytlogo | Public |

This week has been a whirlwind for me personally so my quantity of posts has been less than stellar.

I had been retained as a real estate expert for the prosecution (US Government) in media baron Conrad Black‘s federal trial, going on now in Chicago. I testified in Chicago on Tuesday.

I had the pleasure of intereacting with really sharp and energetic DOJ attorneys and FBI agents.

Obviously, I can provide no specific comments about the case, but it was a terrific experience (not even factoring in the US Department of Justice cafeteria food). I have performed court testimony in many different matters over the years but this trial was one of the highlights of my professional career. My testimony was widely covered in the media (see links below).

Normally I wouldn’t even bring this sort of event up, but I was struck by the fact that there has been so little coverage of the trial in New York, that I was surprised by the amount of media presence in the courtroom.

Here’s an excerpt from the Chicago Tribune:

Miller’s testimony bolstered the government’s charge that Black, Hollinger International’s former chairman and chief executive, received a sweetheart deal for the apartment, defrauding shareholders of millions of dollars. The apartment sale, prosecutors allege, was part of a scheme involving Black and four former executives to steal $84 million from Hollinger International, now called Sun-Times Media Group Inc.

Summary of some of the coverage:

Expert says New York apartment worth $8.5 million [Chicago Tribune]
Jury sees Black taking boxes [Chicago Sun-Times]
Prosecution drops one charge against Black [Globe and Mail - Canada]
Lord Black breaks a habit and stays silent in defence [The Times - UK]
Price for apartment low [The Province - Canada]

Ok, back to work.

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Links: International HOusing Prices [IHOP], Not Flat As A Pancake

May 15, 2006 | 12:01 am |

It looks like there has been extra butter and syrup applied to the international housing market this year (ok, this was the last pancake reference, I promise). It is amazing how much the housing markets outside the US have seen significant appreciation over the past year.

When considering the impetus for the recent US housing boom and the current slow down, this certainly makes for a strong argument that the cause and effect was not just about the US economy since the US has behaved as much as many other countries has. So perhaps we don’t need to be quite so zeroed in on Bernanke and the Fed and perhaps look toward other factors such as the trade deficit and the weakness of the dollar.

Here’s a sample of recent news links:

Have I left any countries out that have seen significant growth?


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Investor Path: Stock Markets -> Housing -> Commodities -> Gold?

May 15, 2006 | 12:01 am |

With the housing market not seeing the returns of the past few years, investors have been looking at alternatives for a while now. Wall Street is seeing green with the DJIA moving close to a record high. However, some investors are seeing gold in the red-hot commodities market or just plain gold [WaPo], which acts both as a safe-haven asset [theStreet.com] against geopolitical uncertainty and as an inflation hedge against rising energy prices.

Upbeat bulls are clearly in the majority on Wall Street right now [WaPo], and truly negative bears are hard to find. But many stock traders and market analysts can identify reasons to be worried about the current state of affairs, and some are actively predicting at least a short downturn by the end of the year.

Gold futures, often a haven for “gold bugs” — investors concerned about inflation and geopolitical or stock market turmoil — rose above $700 in New York this week for the first time since 1980. Silver is at a 25-year high, and copper and platinum both set records in the week, though copper pulled back a bit by week’s end.

Perhaps we will start seeing Gold Bubble Blogs fairly soon as the price continues to rise rapidly.


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