Matrix Blog

Brokers, Agents, MLS, NAR

On Bloomberg TV’s ‘Bottom Line’ 2-12-14 Talking US Housing Slowdown

February 14, 2014 | 5:24 pm | | TV, Videos |

Had a great discussion with Mark Crumpton on his show “Bottom Line” about the slowing US housing market. You can see this in the quarterly results:

The median existing single-family home price increased in 73 percent of measured markets, with 119 out of 164 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) showing gains based on closings in the fourth quarter compared with the fourth quarter of 2012. Forty-two areas, 26 percent, had double-digit increases, two were unchanged and 43 recorded lower median prices.

The storyline of the last 2 years has been “Housing is Back!” yet prices were rising based on fed policy, not due to fundamentals like income, employment and access to credit. I have been labeled as a bit bearish on the “recovery” but I’m really not. I look at this slow down as a good thing for the long view on housing. We need to have sustainable housing growth (ie sales and prices) and 13.7% YoY price gains are in start contrast to economic fundamentals.

During our interview we were interrupted by the signing ceremony with President Obama for the new minimum wage act, so Bloomberg TV spliced the two parts together quite nicely. This is the second or third time one of my interviews has been interrupted by the President of the United States. Yes, I’m ok with that. 😉

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NAR Pending Home Sale Index Sort of Goes Negative

October 28, 2013 | 7:31 pm | | Charts |


[click to expand]

According the National Association of Realtors, their Pending Home Sales Index fell 5.6% from August to September 2013 (seasonally adjusted), the largest monthly drop since May 2010 after the artificial prop of the 2009-2010 federal homebuyers tax credit expiration caused contracts to drop by nearly 1/3 from bloated levels.

Removing seasonality from the results makes the year-over-year adjustment show nominally 1.1% higher contract volume from September 2013 than in 2012 rather than a 1.2% decline. Still, the results were weak.

Why did pending sales post weaker results?

  • Don’t blame the partial government shutdown – that came later.
  • After the May 2013 Fed surprise announcement, fence sitters surged to the market to lock in before mortgage rates rose further, bloating contract volume over the summer (and why month-over-month seasonal adjustments to this data are so very misleading).
  • The surge in summer sales “poached” from future organic volume that we would have seen in September so we were already expecting a slow down in volume. Didn’t we learn in 2010 what happens when unusual circumstances press volume sharply higher only to see volume fall sharply when that circumstance disappears?

Weaker conditions prevail, but its really not as bad a report result as being discussed – namely because the seasonal adjustments paint a weaker picture than what actually happened, and we expected a decline in activity because the prior several months were artificially pushed higher with so many more buyers rushing to the market to beat rising rates (or the perception of rising rates).

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NAR July 2013 US Existing Home Sales Unexpectedly Rise 6.5% M-O-M

August 21, 2013 | 12:08 pm | |


Source: NAR

After slipping in June, NAR’s Existing Home Sales for July jumped 6.5% unexpectedly from the prior month. Last month the results showed an slight decline (and were adjusted downward for this release) and the thinking was that the market is starting to cool off with the introduction of rising rates to the market in May. The bulk of May contracts probably closed in July, the likely basis of this most recent release. However it looks like the market continued to see a rise in demand in June, following the May bump in rates as people looked to get in the market before rates rose further.

Still, this month over month stuff is pretty ridiculous to place a lot of faith in. The year over year surge of 20.7% (non-seasonally adjusted) and 17.2% jump (seasonally adjusted) is much more telling of the long term market change.

Here are a few other charts to review. Inventory is much lower than a year ago while showing some gains in excess of seasonal trends. Median sales price growth is off the hook. 13.7% YoY growth is not sustainable with flat income, tight credit and high unemployment and underemployment. Thanks goodness for rising rates.


Source: NAR


Source: NAR

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NAR: “The Home Price Growth Is Too Fast”

July 1, 2013 | 11:30 am | |

When I saw this quote by Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist two weeks ago in the Existing Home Sale Press Release, I was surprised. I didn’t write about it but ran into someone a few days ago who pointed out the same thing so I was inspired.

The home price growth is too fast, and only additional supply from new homebuilding can moderate future price growth.

My reaction:

  1. I agree that price growth is too fast. Incomes are stagnant.
  2. This partially makes up for him classifying the housing slowdown as temporary back in 2007.
  3. When someone who is generally biased towards the positive, goes negative, that’s a red flag.

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Speaking 3-14-13 REBNY – A Year of Recovery and Product Scarcity

March 14, 2013 | 3:10 pm | | Public |

Should be fun.

They tell me it is sold out and there is a waiting list, but just in case

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Broken Appraisal: Lack of Market Knowledge Overpowers Lack of Data

January 27, 2013 | 6:06 pm | |

There was a really good appraisal story in the Sunday Real Estate Section this weekend by Lisa Prevost focusing on appraising high end properties whose theme is well-captured in the opening sentence:

As home sales pick up in the million-dollar-plus market, deals are being complicated by unexpectedly low appraisal values.

The higher the price strata of the market, the smaller the data set is to work with so the conventional wisdom seems to be that less data = more unreliable appraisals. However I believe the real problem is lack of market knowledge by more appraisers today as a result of May 2009’s Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) – the lack of data at the top of the market merely exposes a pervasive problem throughout the housing market.

To the New York Times’ credit, they are the only national media outlet that has been consistently covering the appraisal topic since the credit crunch began and I appreciate it since so few really understand our challenges as well as our our roles and relationship to the parties in the home buying and selling process. Appraising gets limited coverage in the national media aside from NAR’s constantly blaming of the appraisers as preventing a housing recovery (in their clumsy way of articulating the problem, they are more right than wrong).

Here’s the recent NYT coverage:

January 27, 2013 Appraising High-End Homes
January 11, 2013 Understanding the Home Appraisal Process
October 12, 2012 Scrutiny for Home Appraisers as the Market Struggles
June 14, 2012 When the Appraisal Sinks the Deal
May 8, 2012 Accuracy of Appraisals Is Spotty, Study Says
September 16, 2011 Decoding the Wide Variations in House Appraisals

The general theme and style of coverage comes about when Realtors start seeing an increase in deals blowing up that involve the appraisal. The Prevost article indicates that higher end sales are more at risk because the market at the top (think pyramid, not as in ponzi) is smaller and therefore the data set is smaller.

This may be true but I don’t think that is the cause of the problem but rather it exposes the problem for what it really is. I contend that the problem starts with the appraisal management company (AMC) industry and how it has driven the best appraisers out of business or pushed them into different valuation emphasis besides bank appraisals by splitting the appraisal fee with the appraiser (the mortgage applicant doesn’t realize that half their appraisal fee is going to a bureaucracy).

My firm does a much smaller share of bank appraisals than our historical norm these days but it is NIRVANA and we’re not likeley to return to our old model anytime soon.

Since the bank-hired AMC relies on appraisers who will work for half the market rate and therefore need to cut corners and do little analysis to survive, they generally don’t have local market knowledge often driving from 2 to 3 hours away.

Throw very little data into the equation as well as a very non-homogonous housing stock at the luxury end of the market and voila! there is an increased frequency of blown appraisal assignments.

There is always less data at the top of the market – the general lack of expertise in bank appraisals today via the AMC process is simply exposed for its lack of reliability. Unfortunately the appraisal disfunction affects many people’s financial lives unnecessarily such as buyers, sellers and real estate agents (and good appraisers not able to work for half the market rate and cut corners on quality).

The appraisal simply is not a commodity as it is treated by the banking industry. The appraisal is a professional service so by dumbing it down through the AMC process, they have succeeded in nearly destroying the ability to create a reliable valuation benchmark on the collateral for each mortgage in order to be able to make informed decisions on their risk exposure.

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[Housing Recovery Update] Proclamations Over Reasons, Statistics Over Logic

December 13, 2012 | 10:20 am | |

Once a month a local real estate broker passes out monthly updates of our local Connecticut housing market at our commuter train station. He’s a nice affable guy and I get to hear him explain the market to people as we wait in the warm station. He said this to me after I took a look at his handout this morning,

“The statistics aren’t too shabby, eh?”

And I smiled and responded, “that’s the power of record low mortgage rates.” to which he gave me the “thumb’s up” gesture.

And he’s right, his MLS statistics show a very much improved housing market from a few years ago and nearly all of the improvement has been mortgage rate related.

His view of housing is not unlike most public economic prognosticators from Wall Street, NAR, NAHB and real estate brokerage firms, consumers and general in-the-media-all-the-time types.

However few, if any, prognosticators understand why or seem interested in understanding whether it is sustainable (aka forecasting a trend). Once a metric shows promise, it will rise forever, or something like that.

Here’s my town recap for November being presented as a report (with a wildly low 15 sale data set). All the percentages reflect November 2012 over November 2011:

  • New Listings -40%
  • Pending Sales +36.4%
  • Homes sold +15.4%
  • DOM +53%
  • Average Sales Price +29.4%
  • Average Dollar Volume +49.3%

Despite the low data set, the results are remarkably consistent with national trends. Now look at why these metrics actually changed:

  • New Listings -40% [tight credit pressing inventory down because sellers can’t buy]
  • Pending Sales +36.4% [record low (and continuing to fall) mortgage rates + high rents]
  • Homes sold +15.4% [behind pendings because pace of sales accelerating as rates fall]
  • DOM +53% [older stagnant inventory is getting sold off from lack of supply]
  • Average Sales Price +29.4% [more high end sales are moving this year]
  • Average Dollar Volume +49.3% [same as above]

If you pull the plug on low rates, the housing market (literally) plunges. No one is suggesting this is the scenario that will occur but the national housing market feels incredibly fragile to me.

But why should I (or anyone else) actually care whether we understand what’s actually going on? The stats show sales and price numbers are higher than last year – “bullet dodged” – that’s all we need to know – we did the math.

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NAR Membership Flows With Housing Market

December 6, 2012 | 11:07 am | | Charts |


[click to expand]

Membership is very close to falling below the 1M threshold (1,005,838) for the first time since 2003.

The rise and fall of NAR membership with the S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Index is a logical trend in a commission driven profession with a low barrier to entry – although one would think membership would correlate better with number of sales rather than prices (Case Shiller or CSI is a price index i.e., not based on sales).

The public strongly and incorrectly relates the health of housing with prices rather than sales. Sales activity leads price direction by about a year and membership lags prices so the membership correlation to price probably reflects the time it takes people to jump into the profession when things seem to improve – the chart suggests 1-2 years. You can see the membership lag prices during the boom, at peak and when the market crashed.

In the period like now where the market is transitioning from bad to good, the sharp agents have the opportunity to do very well with less competition from those who were only in it for the quick buck.

The appraisal profession likely shows a similar pattern but perhaps would be more closely aligned with refi applications. On my “to do” list.

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Get Down With It: Falling Mortgage Rates Are Not Creating Housing Sales

November 27, 2012 | 11:16 am | | Charts |

Inspired by my analysis of yesterday’s WSJ article, I thought I’d explore the effectiveness of low mortgage rates in getting the housing market going. I matched year-to-date sales volume where a mortgage was used and mortgage rates broken out by conforming and jumbo mortgage volume.

Mortgage volume has been falling (off an artificial high I might add) since 2005, while rates have continued to fall to new record lows, yet transaction volume has not recovered. I contend that low rates can now do no more to help housing than they already have.

Even the NAR has run out of reasons and is now focusing on bad appraisals as holding the market back (I agree appraisal quality post Dodd-Frank is terrible and is impacting the market to a limited extent – and I secretly wish appraiser held that much sway over the market).

I’m no bear, but the uptick Case Shiller’s report today (remembering that Case Shiller reflects the housing market 5-7 months ago) still shows slowing momentum and all 2012 year-over-year comparisons in the various national reports are skewed higher from an anemic 2011.

Five years of falling mortgage rates have only served to provide stability in volume. The monetary and fiscal conversation ought to be on ways to incentivize banks to ease credit – falling rates only makes them more risk averse.

Of course a significant drop in unemployment would likely solve the tight credit problem fairly quickly.

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Luxury Real Estate as the New Global Currency

November 18, 2012 | 5:46 pm | | 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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Why Doesn’t NAR Lobby Against Standard Time?

November 4, 2012 | 1:30 pm | |


[click to read about Daylight Savings Time]

We got an extra hour of sleep last night (in theory) as we left Daylight Savings Time.

I came across this post yesterday that got me thinking (more like chuckling), why doesn’t the National Association of Realtors rally public support for shifting the US from using Standard Time to go all Daylight Savings Time in order to promote more housing activity?

Afterall, who wants to get up early and view a purchase or rental property and isn’t housing significant part of the economy? Daylight in early hours benefits farming while daylight in later hours benefits housing activity. Agriculture is about 1% of GDP and housing is 17% to 18% of GDP.

From Wikipedia:

As modern societies operate on the basis of “standard time” rather than solar time, most people’s schedules are not governed by the movements of the earth in relation to the sun. For example, work, school and transport schedules will generally begin at exactly the same time at all times of the year regardless of the position of the sun…if “standard time” is applied year round, a significant portion of the longer sunlight hours will fall in the early morning while there may still be a significant period of darkness in the evening.

Admittedly this idea is way out there, and NAR would be unlikely to lobby this point anytime soon because they would look foolish.

I guess I just don’t like it getting dark at 5pm and I don’t even sell real estate.

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Housing Trends & Talk Like A Pirate Day 2012 (10th Anniversary)

September 19, 2012 | 1:42 pm | |

Well, NAR released the August 2012 existing home sale numbers today. Yawn.

More importantly, it’s International Talk Like A Pirate Day and I’ve marked this day on my calendar for nearly as long as the 10-year run it’s had. Just mentioning the annual event to my kids makes them worry about me and yet be embarrassed for me at the the same time.

For more about this important holiday, you can get the story and go right to the founder’s web site.

And yes, home sales are up. [Pirate talk translator]



August Existing-Home Sales and Prices Rise [NAR]
On Talk Like A Pirate Day Jonathan Miller Tells It Like It Is [Curbed DC]
International Talk Like a Pirate Day [Wikipedia]
International Talk Like A Pirate Day [Original Site]
Google’s Pirate Themed Home Page [Google]

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