Matrix Blog

Analysis & Research

Status Quo Bias: ‘Linear” Thinking in the Real Estate Industry

June 8, 2014 | 8:09 pm |

linearcharts
[source]

When we look at forecasting, planning, trending or anything that includes a look out over the future, I find the real estate industry (i.e. appraisers, real estate agents & brokers) generally thinks along linear lines.

For example:

  • When housing prices rise…they will rise forever.
  • When housing prices fall…they will fall forever.
  • When sales activity rises…they will rise for ever.
  • When inventory falls…it will fall forever.
  • When rental prices rise…they will rise forever.

…and so on.

Where does this status quo bias come from?

I don’t think this bias only specific to the real estate industry – but I describe it through the industry only because it simply happens to be my area of focus. I do find that real estate professionals can be quite disconnected from the mindset of their clients when the market is at extreme points in the trend i.e. peak and trough.

For example, in the dark days following the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, I was giving a speech to a large group of New York real estate agents in October of 2008. Roughly a dozen agents approached me before and after my presentation saying they were getting offers on their listings at roughly 30% below ask, characterizing the offers as “lowball.” It was quite amazing to hear all the agents use a similar characterization of the post-Lehman market. Of course when nearly all buyers are behaving in the same manner, that becomes the new market condition.

Towards the end of 2008, I found that New York real estate agents rapidly changed their view on the market as sales contract activity fell by 75% YoY. The real estate agent disconnect with the consumer was evident by the early spring of 2009 when it was apparent that buyers were not as negative in their outlook of the coming real estate year as the typical agent was. Needless to say that the market did see a significant rebound over the following year and the consumers were ultimately right.

My takeaway from all of this is never to get too comfortable with a trend. Although we like to say “the trend is your friend,” it is only your friend “until it ends.”

I would think this “status quo bias” behavior manifests itself more strongly in professions that are sales commission heavy, i.e. where commission incentives and generally over-the-top positive thinking are the norm and the agent tries to feel like they have some control over the impact of the market on their livelihood.

Of course the real estate market could care less what anyone thinks.


I was away last week, invited by the US Army to participate in a seminar at the US Army War College in Carlisle Pennsylvania after they heard me give a speech about the evolution of our company. Last week was a complete strategic immersion at the college and frankly I didn’t think a whole lot about the housing market or social media. I met an impressive group of accomplished military veterans who are furthering their careers. I also got to meet civilians like me from around the country that were also invited to participate. I gained invaluable strategic insights and friendships from this event that have made a real impact on me and how I interpret information that is presented to me.

Tags: , ,


Manhattan Home Sales Are NOT 80% All-Cash (They Are 45%)

May 17, 2014 | 11:04 am | | Favorites |

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.

1q14manhattanCASH
[click to expand]


I’ll explain.

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:

Their Results
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:

Our Results
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?

Tags: , , , ,


Q1 2014 Lower Manhattan Real Estate Market: “Vigorous,” “Expand,” “Bullish”

May 5, 2014 | 12:00 pm | | Reports |

These are some of the words used in the Downtown Alliance 1Q 2014 report: Lower Manhattan Real Estate Market Overview

LM-Real-Estate-4Q2014-12

Our appraisal firm Miller Samuel and real estate firm Douglas Elliman provide information and insights for the residential market section of the quarterly report.

LM-Real-Estate-4Q2014-13

Download the Downtown Alliance report: Lower Manhattan Real Estate Market Overview Q1 2014

Tags: ,


PBS Newshour – Making Sense of Weak US Housing Reports

April 28, 2014 | 5:10 pm |

Michelle Conlin of Reuters gives a nice overview of the state of the US housing on PBS, talking through the national reports that hit us recently. Check it out. This month’s weak NAR Existing Home Sales report has unleashed a surge of housing self-loathing (although today’s PHSI seems to take some of the drama/edge off).

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Pending Home Sales Down 10.2% YOY And That’s Not A Bad Thing

March 27, 2014 | 11:55 am | Charts |

NARphsi3-27-14
[click to expand]

NAR released their pending home sale index today and the news was not unexpected. US home sales volume has slowed since last spring’s taper miscue by the fed which caused mortgage rates to jump. If you look at the May surge in pending sales, sales volume, seasonally speaking (comparing year over year) has fallen 10.2% (unadjusted).

The introduction of QM earlier in the year probably doesn’t help volume levels, but I’m not really convinced that the housing recovery is actually stalling. It seems more like sales levels are settling to more sustainable levels. And as sales go, so goes the insane price gains seen in the national reports.

Tags: , , , , ,


Manhattan’s Decade of Incredible Shrinking Apartment Sizes

March 19, 2014 | 12:30 pm | Charts |

I took a look at the last decade of Manhattan sales activity and broke out a bunch of neighborhoods and property types to compare their changes in average square footage from 2004 to 2013. I looked at the annual sales activity for both years and presented the percent change in the table below.

Takeaway

Rising costs over the decade have prompted small apartment sales at higher prices. New development activity that dominated the market in the middle of the last decade influenced sizes to shrink. This is distinctly different than the discussion about the shift in the mix towards larger apartments – ie more bedrooms.

matrix14manhattansqft
[click to expand]

Tags: ,


Bonus for NYC Housing: Wall Street Comp Up 15.1%, Most Cash Paid Out Since ’08 Crash

March 17, 2014 | 7:00 am | Charts |

The annual release by the New York State Office of Comptroller brought upbeat news to the real estate economy in NYC. Wall Street compensation has long accounted for roughly a quarter of personal income but only 5% of employment so the industry remains very important to NYC’s tax revenues. Here are some of the key points:

  • The overall bonus pool and bonus per person increased 15.1%.
  • The total bonus pool was
  • Bonus pool is up 44% in past 2 years.
  • Securities employment is down 12.6% from before the 2008 market crash.
  • Wall Street accounts for 8.5% of NYC tax revenue and 16% of NYS tax revenue
  • Part of the rise was due to payouts of deferred compensation from prior years.

Here are a few charts that layout the bonus trends in NYC. Wall Street is a key economic driver of NYC and therefore important to the health of the NYC housing market.

Wall Street compensation is 5x that of mere mortals (other private employment compensation) and that ratio has stabilized after a modest correction following the 2008 stock market crash.
2013nycsecuritiesbonus
[click to expand]

Wall Street bonuses rose steadily as a portion of total compensation but after the 2008 stock market correction and financial reform, the market share fell – but not as much as perceived.
2013nycsecuritiescompasperc
[click to expand]

Wall Street employment has fallen since 2008, but not nearly as much as expected. The market share of Wall Street NYC employment has slipped as a result.
2013nycwallstreetemployment
[click to expand]

Tags: , , ,


[Manhattan Absorption] February 2014 – “Tight Supply” as a Market Rant

March 4, 2014 | 10:41 am | Charts |

2-2014Manhattan [click to expand]

Thoughts
For the overall inventory in the Manhattan market, the operative phrase remains “tight supply” with no real relief in sight. While we are seeing a nominal improvement year to date in 2014, the operative word remains “nominal.” $10M+ has long had bloated supply with lots of “I’ll sell if you pay that” listings. $5M and up continues to see the most supply relative to demand. Supply is chronically low below the $3M threshold and most acute between $1M and $2M.

Side by side Manhattan regional comparison:

February 2014 v 2013
2-201402-2013
[click images to expand]

I started this analysis in August 2009 so I am able to show side-by side year-over-year comparisons. The blue line showing the 10-year quarterly average travels up and down because of the change in scale caused by some of the significant volatility seen at the upper end of the market. The pink line represents the overall average rate of the most recently completed month for that market area.

Definition
Absorption defined for the purposes of this chart is: Number of months to sell all listing inventory at the annual pace of sales activity. (The definition of absorption in our market report series reflects the quarterly pace – nearly the same)


Manhattan Market Absorption Charts 2014 [Miller Samuel]
Manhattan Market Absorption Charts 2013 [Miller Samuel]
Manhattan Market Absorption Charts 2012 [Miller Samuel]

Tags:


Price per Square Inch for Pizza, Slices for Real Estate Market

March 3, 2014 | 5:58 pm |

sausagepizzabox

Now that the Oscars are behind us and the “next big snowstorm” just missed NYC, I thought I would finally talk about pizza. But because of why you are here – I’ll make price per inch and price per square foot interchangeable.

One of my favorite podcasts, NPR Planet Money had a great segment called “74,476 Reasons You Should Always Get The Bigger Pizza

The math of why bigger pizzas are such a good deal is simple: A pizza is a circle, and the area of a circle increases with the square of the radius. So, for example, a 16-inch pizza is actually four times as big as an 8-inch pizza. And when you look at thousands of pizza prices from around the U.S., you see that you almost always get a much, much better deal when you buy a bigger pizza.

Explanation of above math: 200.1 inches of pizza surface versus 50.2 inches of pizza surface (pi*r squared=surface area of a circle) And here’s an easy way to calculate the volume of a pizza if you can’t help get enough pizza geometry.

priceperinchpizzachart

Here’s the (pizza) logic
The premise of the piece is that it is much cheaper to buy a large pie than a small pie on a price per inch basis. Pricing for a large pie doesn’t expand as much as the surface area does so the price per inch drops precipitously. In the example above, the 16″ pizza wouldn’t be priced 4x as much as the 8″ pizza – probably more like 2x. Apparently pizza makers don’t take geometry seriously.

Buy the large and throw the unused portion in the fridge. Perhaps that is why people buy homes somewhat larger than what they actually need – they will grow into it.

Suburbs
In suburban real estate, after a certain point, larger the home is, generally the lower the price per square foot. There is a point of diminishing return on excess square footage. The total dollar price is higher, obviously, but the cost of additional space is usually less on a per square foot basis. Hence the pizza analogy applies.

Queen of Versailles, Florida
A well known example of diminishing return is the home featured in the documentary, Queen of Versailles. The 90,000 square foot home is so oversized for the Windmere, South Florida housing market that the vast majority of the living area likely has no value as a single family – other than to the current owners, of course.

Manhattan
In a market with one of the highest per capita population density for a US city, there is a premium for larger contiguous space so perhaps that is why we have so many pizza joints. Here is an price per square foot table by apartment size – you can see how ppsf expands with apartment size consistently over the decade (actually it has shown this pattern for the past 25 years). It’s expensive to get more living area in Manhattan.

manhattanppsftable

Tags: , ,


[Manhattan Absorption] January 2014 – “Bottom 99%” of Market Is Tight

February 5, 2014 | 7:00 am | Charts |

1-2014Manhattan [click to expand]

Thoughts
For the overall Manhattan Market, in fact for the “Bottom 99%” (I love saying that) of the market, the absorption rate is well below the year ago period. Record high sales and record low inventory has pressed the absorption rate to the floor. For the $10M+ market (top 1%) the absorption rate has slow sharply from a year ago. While this segment has always been a LOT slower than the market overall (see archives below), it has slowed considerably. The next highest segment $5M-$10M has essentially remained the same with the remainder of the submarkets seeing much more rapid absorption rates over the same period. All regions saw similar changes from the year ago period.

Side by side Manhattan regional comparison:

January 2014 v. January 2013
1-201401-2013
[click images to expand]

I started this analysis in August 2009 so I am able to show side-by side year-over-year comparisons. The blue line showing the 10-year quarterly average travels up and down because of the change in scale caused by some of the significant volatility seen at the upper end of the market. The pink line represents the overall average rate of the most recently completed month for that market area.

Definition
Absorption defined for the purposes of this chart is: Number of months to sell all listing inventory at the annual pace of sales activity. (The definition of absorption in our market report series reflects the quarterly pace – nearly the same)


Manhattan Market Absorption Charts 2013 [Miller Samuel]
Manhattan Market Absorption Charts 2012 [Miller Samuel]

Tags:


[Manhattan Absorption] August 2013 – Don’t Blink or It’s Gone (Except Trophies)

September 9, 2013 | 3:42 pm | Charts |

[click to expand]

Absorption defined for the purposes of this chart is: Number of months to sell all listing inventory at the annual pace of sales activity. (The definition of absorption in my market report series reflects the quarterly pace – nearly the same)

I started this analysis in August 2009 so I am able to show side-by side year-over-year comparisons. The blue line showing the 10-year quarterly average travels up and down because of the change in scale caused by some of the significant volatility seen at the upper end of the market. The pink line represents the overall average rate of the most recently completed month for that market area.

Side by side Manhattan regional comparison:

August 2013 v. August 2012

[click images to expand]

Compared to last year, everything below $5M (all but a few % of the market) is flying off the shelves as evidenced by very fast absorption rates. The $1M to $1.49M Manhattan co-op market is seeing absorption rates as low as 2.4 months, an incredibly fast pace. The weakest segment appears to be $5M and $10M+ condos, which are seeing absorption rates of about 12 months and 28 months respectively. High end co-ops, especially those above $10M (<1% of the market) are also absorbing slowing, averaging about 16 months. The balance of the co-op market (nearly all of it) is being absorbed faster than the 10 year average absorption rate.


Manhattan Market Absorption Charts 2013 [Miller Samuel]
Manhattan Market Absorption Charts 2012 [Miller Samuel]

Tags:


[Manhattan Absorption] July 2013 – Most of Market At Breakneck Pace, But North of $5M Slows

August 22, 2013 | 10:54 am | Charts |

[click to expand]

Absorption defined for the purposes of this chart is: Number of months to sell all listing inventory at the annual pace of sales activity. (The definition of absorption in my market report series reflects the quarterly pace – nearly the same)

I started this analysis in August 2009 so I am able to show side-by side year-over-year comparisons. The blue line showing the 10-year quarterly average travels up and down because of the change in scale caused by some of the significant volatility seen at the upper end of the market. The pink line represents the overall average rate of the most recently completed month.

Side by side Manhattan regional comparison:

July 2013 v. July 2012

[click images to expand]

This month I began to make the Y-Axis fixed in height so better side-by-side comparisons can be made in the future. The disparity in pace of the market between the $5M+ (slowing) and the remainder of the market (brisk) widens. An exception to this seems to be the co-op market from $5M to $10M which is absorbing at an average pace while the condo market in the same price range is moving much more slowly. This is likely because re-sale units are competing with the surge in new condo units entering the market (most won’t start closing until next year) and are often over listed, influenced by the new dev pricing even though buyers view new development with a premium value.


Manhattan Market Absorption Charts 2013 [Miller Samuel]
Manhattan Market Absorption Charts 2012 [Miller Samuel]

Tags:

Get Weekly Insights and Research

Housing Notes by Jonathan Miller

Receive Jonathan Miller's 'Housing Notes' and get regular market insights, the market report series for Douglas Elliman Real Estate as well as interviews, columns, blog posts and other content.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter

#Housing analyst, #realestate, #appraiser, podcaster/blogger, non-economist, Miller Samuel CEO, family man, maker of snow and lobster fisherman (order varies)
NYC CT Hamptons DC Miami LA Aspen
millersamuel.com/housing-notes
Joined October 2007