Matrix Blog

Development, Construction, Architecture & Land

[Estate Tax] 2010: Throw Momma From the Train?

June 14, 2010 | 12:01 am | |

The New York Times had a trifecta of estate-related coverage this weekend.

In What an Estate Looks Like to the Taxman explores the lack of estate tax for 2011. The threshold could be dropped from $3.5M in 2009 to $1M in 2011 if its reinstated. The coffers are pretty empty with all the spending post-credit crunch so I would find it hard to believe that it won’t be re-instated.

When Congress passed a law that eliminated the estate tax for people who die this calendar year — with plans to bring it back with a vengeance in 2011 — the joke among estate planners was that 2010 might go down as the year of “Throw Momma From the Train.”

The Confusion Over the Dormant Estate Tax Keeps Advisers Busy talks about the scramble for estate planning this year. Since housing tends to be the biggest asset in a typical estate, and the level of property values in the region, I’m anticipating a lot of estate tax appraisals next year.

The real problem comes for the merely rich — individuals worth more than $1 million and less than $3.5 million and couples with net worths of $2 million to $7 million who previously did not have to worry about the estate tax. If Congress fails to act again this year, the estate tax laws next year will revert to their levels before 2001, and that could snare a host of people who set up the estate plans on the assumption that there would be no tax when they died.

The real estate section cover story this weekend was Loved. Lived In. Listed as an Estate Sale. The article covers a fact of life (no pun intended) in real estate. In NYC, “estate condition” is a common term that suggests the property needs significant updating.

That is when the property entered the realm of the estate sale, a segment of the market often inhabited by one-of-a-kind apartments that haven’t been touched in decades. These places tend not to be bargains, especially after factoring in the often necessary and sometimes costly renovation. But they attract a certain species of intrepid buyer, satisfying an appetite for an ambitious redo, architectural distinction or an aura of prestige.


Tags:


[NYT] Developers Need Blind Optimism

May 26, 2010 | 10:28 am | |

[click to expand]

I don’t think I am cut out to be a developer.

While I get the hard work and analysis part, I’m missing the blind optimism part.

And no, I’m not blindly pessimistic either – during the boom years blog commenters periodically accused me of being a shill for the real estate industrial complex (I liked the phrase so much I bought the domain).

Blind optimism is what makes developers successful because everyone tells them they can’t do it. But it is also their downfall because builders build until they can’t build anymore.

Today’s New York Times article by Charles Bagli “Building a Tower of Luxury Apartments in Midtown as Brokers Cross Their Fingers” which announces Barnett’s 1,005 foot condo with a hotel at the base. The site is due south of the Essex House between West 57th Street, a retail corridor and West 58th Street, a service road for Central Park South (West 59th). I’ve got a “let’s consider reality” quote and graphic in the piece.

The project is the first major construction start in New York since the fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, and it is an ambitious, even risky undertaking. Unemployment still hovers at 10 percent in the city, which has only just begun to gain back some of the 150,000 jobs lost during the recession. Not so long ago, the real estate industry was right behind Wall Street and the nation’s automakers in crying for a federal bailout.

Access to financing determines when and how something gets built – in this case it was Abu Dhabi since US banks are not interested new luxury condo development given the excess inventory that needs to be absorbed first.

Barnett said “We think it’ll be the nicest project ever built in New York.” Given the proximity and the success of nearby 15 Central Park West – my vote for the best Manhattan condo ever built, I’m guessing that’s the comparison being made. Although recent sales there have topped $6,000 per square foot, the building fronts Central Park and straddles Midtown and the Upper West Side, I’m not so sure its a reasonable comparison to make but I do wish them well.

Remember I’m not cut out to be a developer.

Tags: , , ,


[Knight Frank Research] The Wealth Report 2010 – Global High End Housing Down 5.5%

March 23, 2010 | 6:30 pm | | Public |

[click to open report]

The Wealth Report 2010 was released today by Knight Frank Research. It is a much anticipated annual survey targeted at the high end consumer with great detail on global residential property trends. The report covers 56 high end housing markets across the globe.

Check out The Housing Helix podcast for my interview with Andrew Shirley, Editor and Liam Bailey, Head of Residential Research for the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2010.

I had provided commentary on the NYC housing market for the report.

….While the market has undoubtedly improved compared with last year, we ought not to get too excited. The recovery of late 2009 was a short-term uptick, due in large part to a release in pent-up demand. My view is that the surge in demand is not the start of a rising housing market. While sales are up sharply, prices have moved “sideways.”…

Some interesting data points:

  • Overall annual global decline was 5.5%
  • Monaco saw prices as high as $5,900 p/SF US.
  • 73% of cities saw year over year declines versus 40% last year.
  • Middle East down 27.5% – the largest decline – Dubai showed a 45% drop.
  • Asia Pacific up 17.1% – the highest increase – Shanghai showed a 52% gain.

In light of this strong growth, the Hong Kong government has threatened measures to restrict the market – notably through mortgage lending restraint, reducing, for example, the mortgage limit for luxury property from 70% to 60%. Despite these potential restrictions the market continues to grow.

This example points to an interesting development. The crippling impact of property bubbles bursting in Europe and the US has created a much more confidently interventionist approach in China, Hong Kong and Singapore (where cooling measures were introduced in September last year) among other markets.

Listen to the interview with Knight Frank [The Housing Helix Podcast]
Download The 2010 Wealth Report [Knight Frank]


[click to play clip]

Update: Just came across the Bloomberg video and my interview giving a quick take on the US luxury portion.


Tags: ,


[Interview] Dave Perry, Director of Sales and Leasing, The Clarett Group, Developers

March 19, 2010 | 5:19 pm | Podcasts |

Dave

Read More


[New Home Sales] Inventory Falls As Sales Flatten

September 26, 2009 | 12:37 pm |

Here’s a take on the Commerce Department’s New Residential Sales Report released on Friday.

Sales of new one-family houses in August 2009 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 429,000, according to estimates released jointly today by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This is 0.7 percent (±16.2%) above the revised July rate of 426,000, but is 3.4 percent (±13.3%) below the August 2008 estimate of 444,000.

(gotta love the +/- percentages)

The LA Times provides some additional perspective:

August’s sales pace was 4.3% below the same month a year earlier. Last year ended with 485,000 new homes sold, the worst year for new-home sales since 1982 and the third-worst year since the federal government began tracking the data in 1963. New-home sales peaked in 2005 at 1.23 million units.

Builders also have scaled back construction dramatically, cutting the inventory of new homes to a 7.3-month supply, down 34% from 11.1 months a year earlier. The reduction marks a return to a more normal market: a roughly six-month supply is the historical norm.

As does MarketWatch:

Despite a record drop in prices, sales of new homes flattened out in August after four months of strong increases, the Commerce Department estimated Friday. Sales of new homes rose a statistically insignificant 0.7% in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 429,000 from a downwardly revised 426,000 in July, which was previously reported as 433,000. Sales were down 3.4% from a year earlier, but were up 30% from the low in January. Through the first eight months of 2009, sales were down 28% compared with the same period a year ago.

Bottom line is that new construction is competing with rising foreclosures and faces significant challenges with financing availability. New home sales data doesn’t include contract rescissions either so I have always felt it is very inconsistent (a lot more positive) than national home builders actual numbers.


Tags: ,


[This Place Matters] National Trust for Historic Preservation

August 25, 2009 | 11:19 am |

National Trust for Historic Preservation does a lot of good work slowing the disappearance of US landmarks.

One might incorrectly assume their job might be a tad easier (thereby diminishing the urgency of their cause) without the massive quantity of essentially free mortgage money that was available for some crazy stupid development during the recent credit boom. The tear it down mantra seems a bit dated now.

The Trust created a Flickr photo pool for their new campaign.

No biggie but it’s fun to peruse. Of course, remember who is writing the blog and how boring he is. After being out of the loop for vacation, I feel the need to clear my desk so forgive the larger than usual volume of posts coming at you this week.



[NAHB] 26% Of Appraisals Faulty While AMC’s Talk Parrots

July 14, 2009 | 12:53 am |

NAHB regroup on the HVCC/Appraisal issue from after a very silly press release a few weeks ago to a more coherent message in the to the current press release [FAULTY APPRAISAL PROCESS HARMING HOUSING AND THE ECONOMY} which has more stats.

Twenty-six percent of builders are seeing signed sales contracts fall through the cracks because appraisals on their homes are coming in below the contract sales price, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

“Home builders are increasingly concerned that inappropriate appraisal practices are needlessly driving down home values. This, in turn, is slowing new home sales, causing more workers to lose their jobs and putting a drag on the economic recovery,” said NAHB Chairman Joe Robson, a home builder from Tulsa, Okla.

Ok, I can relate to this but the 26% figure is much higher than I would have thought, and I see myself as an appraisal pessimist these days. NAHB essentially defines faulty as “killing the deal” which is a very thin standard, but still their argument has merit.

This press release comes on the heels of the NAR press release in the form of research that said that 37% of all realtors have had 1 or more deals blow up because of the appraiser.

Lost sales were reported by 37 percent of Realtors® attempting to complete home sales, with 17 percent reporting one lost sale and 20 percent reporting more than one lost sale.

Approximately 85 percent of NAR Appraiser members reported a perceived reduction in appraisal quality.

Although these are trade groups and are known for spinning on behalf of their members, in this case, I do believe they are right. Appraisal quality has fallen sharply and the fact that Appraisal Management Companies (AMC) being enabled by HVCC has a lot to do with that.

Here’s how the AMC trade group responds to appraisal criticism from real estate agent and mortgage broker trade groups.

Realtors and mortgage brokers say the new procedures tend to produce below-market valuations that can delay or kill pending deals. Consumers are paying for the changes in higher fees and subsequent appraisals when the property doesn’t price right initially, they claim.

Such complaints are a “gross mischaracterization” that merely parrot talking points circulated by industry trade groups, said Jeff Schurman, executive director of the Title Appraisal Vendor Management Association, itself a professional organization representing AMCs.

“The way they tell the story, it sounds like we’re a bunch of cowboys who have come on the scene to take advantage of the situation,” he said. “We’ve been around since the 1960s.”

Yes that’s true Jeff, but it became an issue on May 1 when HVCC was implemented. The 1960’s cowboy analogy is like saying the Internet has been around since the 1960s.

Technically a true statement but a wildly misleading reference (much like many AMC appraisals).


Tags: , , , , , , ,


[The Housing Helix Podcast] Scott Spector, AIA, Principal of Architecture and Design Firm, Spector Group

July 13, 2009 | 11:30 pm | Podcasts |


In this podcast I speak with Scott Spector, AIA, a principal of the Spector Group, a leading architecture and design firm that was founded in 1965. Scott is a very energetic and engaging person and I really appreciated the opportunity to have him join me on the podcast.

Check out the podcast.

You can subscribe on iTunes or simply listen to the podcast on my other blog The Housing Helix.



[Interview] Scott Spector, AIA, Principal of Architecture and Design Firm, Spector Group

July 13, 2009 | 10:00 pm | Podcasts |

Read More

Tags: ,


[NAHB] New Guidelines For Appraisers: Break Into Houses?

June 24, 2009 | 9:55 am |

Ok, so I’m kidding. But read further.

In my previous post, I address the swirl of interest in the appraisal part of the home sale process brought about by NAR’s Existing Home Sale press release yesterday where they blame appraisers for preventing the housing recovery.

On the same day, the National Association of Home Builders issue a press release specifically addressing the need for new appraisal guidelines. Betting money says the two organizations (NAHB & NAR) coordinated release to get more bang for the press buck, so to speak.

Did you ever think something was terribly wrong, but you didn’t understand why? If you haven’t, then you should definitely read NAHB’s press release.

I’ll lay it out here commenting on each paragraph. It you find it to be too much (most sane people), skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Using foreclosed and distressed sales as comparables with appraisals on single-family homes without adequately reflecting the differences in the condition of the respective properties is needlessly driving down home values, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

If foreclosures are competing with the open market sales in the neighborhood – guess what? That’s the market at that point in time. I strongly agree with their point that appraisers need to confirm condition of foreclosure sales if they use them as comps. It’s not that hard. AN APPRAISER SHOULD NEVER USE A COMP UNLESS THEY KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Otherwise, it can’t be comparable, by definition. Of course, the caliber of appraisers performing mortgage lending appraisals is falling rapidly with the proliferation of AMCs. That’s the real issue here.

“Any home buyer can recognize the difference between a well-kept home and a distressed property that is damaged or not properly maintained. So it only makes sense that an appraiser should be required to consider the overall condition of a property and the specific factors related to a foreclosure or distressed property sale when selecting and adjusting the value of comparables,” said NAHB Chairman Joe Robson, a home builder from Tulsa, Okla.

We already are required to verify the sales to be able to make adjustments but the Cuomo/Fannie Mae deal called Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) has enable a whole army of inexperienced or incompetent appraisers at the expense of competent experienced appraisers who can’t afford to work for half price and turn around assignments in 20% of the time without verifying the data.

I was told by a senior risk officer at a national lender that the bank uses several hundred appraisers in Manhattan. There are less than a half dozen long-time Manhattan-based firms here (with more than 1 employee). Where do all these companies come from? Out of state and up state New York. These appraisers will drive 3-4 hours to come to bang out a dozen reports in a day working for half the market rate.

Appraisers are often only required to conduct exterior inspections of properties that are being used as comparables because they are normally unable to enter these homes and examine their interiors. Too often, properties that have been subject to foreclosure or distressed sales have issues related to deferred maintenance or internal damage that an external inspection simply cannot reveal.

Think about what NAHB is saying here in the first sentence. We are not required to inspect the interior of the comps nor can we be made to. Do we have the right to go in all the comps? Simply walk up to the house across the street and say: “I am doing an appraisal of that house over there and the bank requires me to go inside your house and see what you have.” Good grief. A very poorly worded press release.

The actual point they are making here is that they want the appraisers to consider the condition of the houses being sold at foreclosure and adjust for their inferior condition. NAHB is absolutely correct.

However, the alternative bigger picture, between the lines, inference being delivered in the release is: ALL foreclosure sales are INFERIOR in condition to the house being appraised – that’s why they sell for less. That’s simply not true. Are they more likely to be inferior in condition than houses sold that are not foreclosures? Yes. The seller of a foreclosure is often a large institution not as close to the property as an owner occupant would be and may have a different objective/time frame than a typical seller might.

“While most appraisers do a fine job, there needs to be proper regulatory guidelines for those who use distressed or foreclosed properties as comparables when determining home values,” said Robson. “It is essential that appraisers have the proper experience and guidance to accurately assess values in distressed markets.”

You can’t mandate what comps to use, if they are “comps.” I don’t want the FDIC mandating what wattage of light bulbs I can use in my upstairs hallway either. However, I agree completely with the second point. NOTHING has changed to improve the quality of appraisals since the financial meltdown began. HVCC was intended to remove the high bias in valuation caused by the mortgage brokerage industry’s 60%+ market share of origination controlling and ordering the appraisals. That was removed with HVCC. The growth in mortgage broker market share of bringing business to the banks allowed lender relations with local appraisers and the existence of inhouse appraisal review departments to whither and die. The bank solution appears to be to use AMCs to order appraisals, a process which was enabled by HVCC, which is an accident waiting to happen. While mortgage broker ordered appraisals were biased high, AMC ordered appraisals are biased low.

What about a neutral middle ground? Good grief.

In neighborhoods where comps include a large number of short sales or foreclosures, appraisers should have the option of expanding the geographic area or extending the time frame for eligible sales to get a more representative basket of the value of homes sold in the area, Robson added.

They basically want appraisers to ignore all foreclosure sales because they are “low” and be allowed to expand search guidelines to find higher sales. Property values in a neighborhood that are hurt by rising foreclosure activity isn’t caused by appraisers. They are competition to the non-foreclosure homes (and should be properly adjusted for condition). If the appraiser is determining market value of a property, he/she can’t cherry-pick the high sales. Their logic is a fall-back to credit boom reasoning which was all about finding the highest sales to make the deal happen.

Currently, improper or insufficient adjustments to the comparable values of foreclosed and/or distressed homes often results in the undervaluation of new sales transactions.

The best message in this release and it is absolutely true. Condition of the comps should be discovered and adjusted for. Otherwise they aren’t comps – they are merely sales.

“This practice must be corrected because it contributes to the continuing downward spiral in home prices, forestalling the economic recovery,” said Robson.

Overstated but not entirely incorrect, due to the growing AMC issue. The legion of incompetent appraisers being enabled through HVCC and AMCs are resulting in less accurate valuations. This problem sticks like a sore thumb in a declining market with low sales activity, compromising the public trust.

Conclusion

Foreclosure comps are like the new breed of appraisal management appraisers proliferating in a down market. * The quality of appraisals should be much higher than it currently is, whether or not the housing market is rising falling or flat.
* Nothing has been done to address the poor quality of appraisals performed for lending institutions. * National retail banks have all gone the AMC route to get their appraisers.

If the user of an appraisal report (bank, Fannie/Freddie, secondary market investor) doesn’t care about the quality and reliability of the valuation process, then the use of AMCs are enabled and becomes the new market for appraisal services, damaging the livelihoods of competent and diligent appraisers.

The use of AMC appraisers is beginning to sound a lot like the way foreclosure comps are being used in an appraisal.


Tags: , , , ,


[Snowball Pile] NAR Says Sales Higher, Blame Appraisers For Stalling Housing Recovery

June 24, 2009 | 12:38 am | |

The National Association of Realtors released their May Existing Home Sales Report today and reported:

The Realtors said that home sales rose 2.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.77 million last month, from a downwardly revised pace of 4.66 million in April. Prices, meanwhile, were 16.8 percent lower than a year ago.

That’s all well and good, but there was a new wrinkle this month. Someone to new blame for continued weakness in the housing market.

You guessed it: The Appraiser.

“We have just been flooded with e-mails, telephone calls on the appraisal problems,” said Lawrence Yun, the Realtors’ chief economist.

“Poor appraisals are stalling transactions. Pending home sales indicated much stronger activity, but some contracts are falling through from faulty valuations that keep buyers from getting a loan.”

This unleashed a flood of appraisal coverage today.

The NYT’s Floyd Norris writes a great blog post on this topic called Realtors: Blame the Appraisers

ACRONYM Alert!!! AMC = Appraisal Management Company.

I was on Fox Business last night with Neil Cavuto. Don’t have the clip yet but the topic was..you guessed it…appraisers and whether we are killing the recovery.

Most of the good appraisers I know don’t work for Appraisal Management Companies nor are they getting much work from the national retail banks. Why? Because they don’t agree to work for half the market rate, crank out work in 24 hours that doesn’t allow enough time to research and cut corners because of their low fee structure.

But they likely got most of the appraisal volume during the spring mortgage boom with record low mortgage rates.

AMC’s are the unregulated byproduct of the Cuomo/Fannie Mae deal called HVCC or Home Valuation Code of Conduct. Generally, the lowest common appraisal denominator work for AMCs and you get what you pay for – usually garbage.

The likelihood of fragile deals blowing up because some out of area yahoo comes to bang out a dozen reports in one day and has no idea what is going on in the local market is likely to come in low on the value because they think that’s what the bank wants. And guess what? AMCs and the appraisers they use got most of the work during the spring.

NAR doesn’t seem to understand this – they seem to be inferring appraisers are singlehandedly stalling the housing market. Appraisers don’t all get together and say “Gee, lets all do a really bad job on our appraisals these days. It systemic. Banking wants to use AMCs. AMCs want to make a profit so they hire cut rate appraisers.

The NAHB press release today was even more silly. More on that in the next post. Like anything associated with appraisals, many know something is wrong, but they have no idea what it is.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,


Appraiser: Senator Dodd’s Cottage Cold, Windy, Draughty And Worth Double

June 14, 2009 | 11:58 pm | |

The Irish economy has ground to a halt, yet:

A new appraisal more than doubles the value of U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd’s Irish cottage, a vacation home that is the subject of an ethics complaint by a conservative group that questions if it was really a gift.

An AP wire story lays out the situation concerning Senator Dodd’s property and the circumstances that put him in this position.

It’s not been a good year for Senator Dodd as Senate Banking Committee Chairman with a number of lapses of judgment, yet he is one of key Senators in the repair of the banking/credit system. I’ve never met him and I am sure he means well…but one of the issues in the current crisis is the lack of trust by consumers/taxpayers in our institutions and the lack of effective regulation.

If the financial crisis has proven one thing, it is that protecting the financial well-being of American consumers should be our first priority as we work to bring our financial regulatory structure into the 21st Century,” Dodd said. “I am committed to making this agency the centerpiece of my efforts as I work with President Obama and my colleagues to rebuild our financial architecture from the bottom up.


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