Economically Speaking, Its Beige

August 9, 2005 | 1:01 pm | |

What is the Beige Book and why is it Beige? Prior to 1970 it was red and not intended for public reporting. Perhaps the color was not considered neutral enough for economic reporting – beige seems to be about as neutral as you can get. In 1983, the Beige Book became a public report.

More digging to do on the latter, but here’s the latest…well, not exactly hot off the presses¦Federal Reserve: Beige Book–New York–July 27, 2005

Basically, economic expansion is now more moderate than earlier this year, including retail sales and labor costs and productivity. It is interesting that one of the items that has kept mortgage rates (long term rates) in check for so long has been the fact that productivity has outpaced economic growth. As a result, large corporations have been more likely to refrain from hiring new employees. The limited growth in employment has kept long term rates in check as investors are less concerned about the threat of inflation.

Construction and real estate were robust across the region, but the rate of price increases has slowed. This doesn’t mean prices are falling, it means that the rate of appreciation is slowing.


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Media Coverage Of The Words “Real Estate Bubble”

August 8, 2005 | 12:09 pm | |

Media coverage of the words “real estate bubble” was analyzed by our public relations firm, Publitas. The results were very interesting.

Admit it. Many of us now groan when we read another story of the housing bubble or crash (whether its true or not). The story cycle has run its course.

This is a very similar methodology employed by Robert Shiller of Yale as covered in the New York Times.

However, the Shiller analysis uses a multi-year Lexis-Nexis news search seems biased toward the later years. Major news organizations have a much greater presence on the web now than they did, say 8 or 9 years ago. The absolute number of hits should be far less in earlier years. His analysis should have been done as a percentage of total news stories.

Here’s the problem…

People are now using the logic that since information on the housing bubble has been pumped out into the mainstream ad nauseam, the odds of a market correction is now somehow less since more people are informed. Matrix thinks this is very misguided and relies on “mob mentality” too much. Safety in numbers is more of a distraction. Now that the market has made it through the hailstorm of coverage, we can start really looking at what is going on in real estate.


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eBay: Bid On Your Real Estate Appraiser Apprenticeship Anywhere in USA

August 8, 2005 | 11:30 am | |

The following eBay post for an appraiser apprentice position [Note: PDF] was found on Ann O’Rourke’s Appraisal Today‘s email blast.

Can the standards of the appraisal profession drop any lower? The inference here is that you become a form-filler with minimal effort. Amazing!

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Mortgage fraud huge in Florida, FBI report says

August 8, 2005 | 10:41 am | |

Florida’s red-hot real estate market may have a serious downside.

“Research shows that one-third to one-half of appraisals are overpriced, and the problem is endemic in Florida,” says John Taylor, president and chief executive of the Washington, D.C. based National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

“It’s like a time bomb,” says Alan Hummel, government relations chairman for the Appraisal Institute and an appraiser in Des Moines, Iowa. “There is so much out there, but we don’t find out about it until down the road when property owners start having problems.”

Lack of structure and accountability in the valuation process promotes fraud.

When you have a lending system where the appraisal process is not treated as a “sacred activity,” where the results are respected, believed and followed, then money talks and lenders find appraisers who will play the game.

It’s just that simple.

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Addition Of New Housing Units Described As Evidence Of Population Growth

August 8, 2005 | 10:26 am | |

According to Crain’s New York Business, the city is filing suit against the Census Bureau [Note: Subscription] arguing that the addition of housing units was evidence that the population expanded since 2000, rather than contracted.

Its an interesting argument since the demand for housing has been particularly robust which can not solely be driven by low mortgage rates and changing demographics.

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Yuan Inflation?

August 8, 2005 | 10:06 am |

Inflation seen as key to Fed policy.

Tomorrow marks the likely 10th 1/4 point increase in the Federal Funds rate since June 2004 and with the jobs report showing growth, an increase seems almost certain.

The Chinese currency [Yuan] was recently strengthened by 2%, which could reek havoc with the housing market if allowed to float as much as 40% to which would be needed to benefit the manufacturing sector. The US would see a competitive advantage in manufacturing, allowing prices to increase, placing upward pressure on rates, tempering activity in the housing sector.

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Some Sellers Cut Prices On Their Luxury Homes

August 8, 2005 | 9:39 am | |

According to a WSJ.com article, some sellers are cutting prices on their luxury homes. Since this sector has been the target of new development for several years, it follows that the luxury market would see less of a “froth” than the balance. Unfortunately for developers, the luxury sector sees the highest margins.

Anecdotally, I think that media coverage of high end sales has probably induced sellers to out price the market. In other words, list prices saw greater appreciation than sales prices. I would expect to see an increase in negotiability and an expansion in marketing times in this sector until supply is absorbed.

However, I don’t hold out much hope for that as mortgage rates saw steady gains over the past 6 weeks.


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Making Sense of Manhattan – Panel Discussion at the 92nd St Y

August 7, 2005 | 10:05 pm | | Public |

Making Sense of Manhattan @ the 92nd Street Y

After the positive feedback received for last year’s panel discussion of the same name, Braddock & Purcell (Kathy Braddock and Paul Purcell) are again hosting the same panel members at the 92nd Street Y this fall.

Last year Paul Purcell asked tough questions of all three panelists: Pamela Liebman, Alan Rogers [former Chairman of Douglas Elliman] and yours truly. I have learned a lot from Pam, Alan and Paul over the years and anticipate that this second edition of the panel will be equally, if not more informative.

Apparently the 92nd Street Y did as well because they booked a larger auditorium!

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Lending standards continue to slide

August 2, 2005 | 6:11 pm | |

Mortgage financing standards continue to ease in order for lenders to stay competitive. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal the lending risk has been rising along with the rapid escalation in prices.

What is interesting to note, is that standards are easing for investors as well. The NAR reported 23% of all home sales were by investors in March 2005 while First American tracked 9.86% for the first 4 months of 2005. The First American figures are likely to be low because they don’t include second homes. The spread between these two figures suggests that the secondary home market is significant.

Easier access to financing, keeps the churn going. However, the danger is that the combination of leverage and easy access to funds, combined with rapid price escalation, adds potential volatility to the market.

Live by the sword [financing],
Die by the sword [financing].



Can It Be A Bubble If Many Recognize It As Such?

August 2, 2005 | 9:16 am |

An article by By Mark Hulbert of MarketWatch titled Can it be a bubble if many recognize it as such? wrote a great article titled “Are bubbles only seen in retrospect?” based on research by

Professor Robert Schiller, the author of Irrational Exuberance which predicted the NASDAQ market correction and his recent book Irrational Exuberance: Second Edition which discusses the housing boom.

Professor Robert Schiller, who I admire greatly for his insight on the housing market and for whom I got to meet in the green room at the taping of CNBC Town Hall: The Real Estate Boom [Note: WM Clip] basically says that we are not protected from a housing bubble simply because people are worried we are in one.

He defines a bubble as “a market situation in which news of price increases spurs investor enthusiasm which spreads by psychological contagion from person to person, bringing in a larger and larger class of investors, who, despite doubts about fundamental value, are drawn to the investment partly through envy of others’ successes and partly through a gambler’s excitement.”


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Liability of Appraisers Who Help Understate Tax Liability

August 2, 2005 | 8:24 am | |

On the Tax and Legal update section on ERC’s web site, there is reference to an IRS memorandum that discusses applying penalties to appraisers who knowingly manipulate appraisals to help an individual pay less tax. Examples of appraisals done for tax purposes include estate tax, gift tax, facade easements and charitable contributions.

the IRS Office of Chief Counsel [note: pdf] discussed the possible application of section 6701 of the Internal Revenue Code to appraisers. Section 6701 imposes a penalty on anyone who aids or participates in the preparation of any return or document and has reason to believe it will result in the understatement of someone else’s tax liability.

What’s wrong with being held accountable for the value estimate? Nothing, except…

…and here’s the caveat, the person requesting the appraisal should be on the hook as well. The tax attorney or accountant is often the person trying to influence the appraiser. My problem with this IRS memo, is that the appraiser is left twisting in the wind.

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The Real Deal – The Real Deal Weekly Interview

August 1, 2005 | 10:09 pm | | Podcasts |

The Real Deal – The Real Deal Weekly Interview

I suggested to Amir Korangy of the Real Deal that he begin Podcasting since his publication would be a perfect candidate for it. The Real Deal has access to many interesting people and their content is always changing.

Not only did he look into this technology right away, but he asked me to be the guninea pig…errr…the first interviewee. 😉

From The Real Deal’s Web Site…

Jonathan Miller at The Real Deal Magazine’s first Podcast on July 15, 2005

In The Real Deal’s inaugural interview in its new weekly audiocast series, we sat down with appraiser Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants. Miller’s reports on the Manhattan apartment market are the most widely cited in the industry, and he has been featured in The New York Times, the New York Post and countless other publications including The Real Deal.

With reports showing apartment prices hitting new peaks each quarter but often differing significantly in their findings we asked Miller how he collects his data, and his thoughts on the existence of a real estate bubble. To listen to the entire interview, click one of the links below.

MP3 Version

Podcast (RSS) Version

excerpt…

THE REAL DEAL: Is there a housing bubble in New York?

MILLER: It’s interesting about the whole bubble psychology the boom and bust orientation in the real estate discussions that have been going on for the last three or four months. Especially because Manhattan is closely tied with the financial markets.

A lot of us remember what happened in ’87 with the stock market crash and subsequent real estate correction that we saw from about the end of ’89 to early ’95. So it is something that is fresh in everybody’s minds, and everybody is trying to relate that to the current experience that we are having now.

When I look at what happened then versus now, it’s apples and oranges, a very different experience. Back then we had a tax incentive-based supply-creation syndrome I made that up, but the idea is that housing came on in large quantities in the mid ’80s because of tax incentives. The 421a abatements gave the incentives to developers to throw foundations in the ground without even plans for what they were going to build just to get the tax credits.

Then all of a sudden in ’86 we had the change in the federal tax laws that eliminated the whole incentive for investors to buy individual units that created a lot of supply. And then we had the co-op conversion frenzy, in which seemingly every rental building that could have been converted was converted. I think the conversion pace today not including 2005, but up through the end of 2004 is something like 10 percent of what it was back then, but that’s largely inclusive of, say, lofts being gut renovated to condo as opposed to existing rental buildings.

As far as today, the situation is we have record low mortgage rates, which are really fueling a lot of the demand and we have an improving but very tepid economy. And we now have supply that is gaining momentum. Your magazine did a great study on the condo inventory that is coming online [in July 2005 issue].

TRD: Thank you.

MILLER: And it’s gaining speed. But it’s still about 3,000 units, give or take, and we have a condo universe of somewhere in the neighborhood of 65,000 to 85,000, depending on who you talk to. So it’s still relatively small. In prior years we were talking about 1,500 units coming online. So the pace is increasing but it’s another 1,500 units a year.

I think the two variables on whether we are going to go into a bubble real estate environment is going to be supply or mortgage rates. There are a lot of other things to look at, but those are two main things. Mortgage rates have been forecasted to increase since the end of 2003, and, generally speaking, they’ve been falling. So, in the equation of supply and demand, it has become a constant.

TRD: Brooklyn has become such a great place for developers to go to because there are so many available lots.

MILLER: For those new developments to come in and be viable they are getting $700 a foot. In Manhattan now, the threshold seems to be you have to be at least at 1,000, and more likely on the new developments you’re talking $1,500.

TRD: If you saw a new development at $1,000 per square foot, would you jump on that and say, “Hey, that’s a bargain?”

MILLER: I guess it’s personal preference. You have to decide whether you like the neighborhood. I’ve always felt the reason why [a neighborhood is] cheaper than a Soho and Tribeca is because it’s not proven as yet for that price structure. So you are going to see more price volatility if you have some sort of market downturn meaning that there is a lot of upside and there’s potential downside.

However, the thing about housing which is very different than stocks, is that, for example, the FDIC defines a housing boom as three years and 30 percent appreciation, and a bust is five years and 15 percent depreciation.

TRD: And how does that compare to our market now?

MILLER: On the upside, we’re about double what their boom figure is. But it’s sort of that idea that on a down cycle, prices tend to be sticky on the downside, that it’s still an asset that’s useable. Real estate is a cyclical thing.

We’ve just seen a lot of the upside over the last five to seven years.

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