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THE CON Episode 1 Debuted This Week And It Was Compelling Because Good Appraisers Lived That Hell Too

August 8, 2020 | 6:15 pm | TV, Videos |

Although I’ve shared the following CNBC clip before, it’s worth showing again given my 15-year ago hairstyle. In 2005, I was interviewed by CNBC in the midst of the Housing Bubble and said that 75% of the appraisals being done then weren’t worth the paper they were written on (hey it was 2005 and they were done on paper, not pdf). They found me because I had just started my Matrix Blog because no one seemed to be listening to appraisers. Incidentally as of this week, Matrix is 15 years old!!!

And the October Research stats presented indicating that 55% of appraisers felt pressure to hit the value rose to 90% in the next year! The outlook was dire.

When I was interviewed, I was trying to keep it together because I assumed my business and my livelihood would be gone by 2008 if things continued. Thoughts about supporting my family of 4 sons and making my mortgage payments loomed large, but I couldn’t be morally flexible unlike many of my local peers who thrived as a result. Most lenders and mortgage brokers didn’t care about valuation quality, just hitting the numbers to make the deal. The appraisal profession became seen as one of “deal enablers” instead of neutral valuation benchmark setters. My big competitors at the time (who were part of the 75%), told me essentially: “Aw Miller, You Don’t Get It.” No, I didn’t. All my “75% competitors” during that era lost their licenses and/or went out of business after Lehman collapsed in 2008.


This is why this new documentary “THE CON” means so much to me. It tells the story that “good appraisers” like me and my firm have never been able to tell. Instead, good appraisers have been lumped in with the bad appraisers who are long gone.

Watch for my appearance along with several of my colleagues around the country in this week’s episode 2!

Think too much risk was the reason for the 2008 financial crisis? Nope. Unmitigated greed and systematic fraud are the real issues — and no one’s discussing them…. Until now. @theconseries is now available on virtual cinema: thecon.tv/watch #TheCon

Beginning now, you can watch entire THE CON series, episodes 1-5 through a network of independent cinema outlets.

Watch Last week’s Episode 1


My Forbes Column: Keeping Housing Market Results From The Public Is Never Justified: An Expansive View

June 28, 2020 | 5:00 pm | Explainer |

This piece was taken from my new Forbes column. I’m testing the platform to spread the word and you can help me by going here and then clicking “follow.”


Keeping Housing Market Results From The Public Is Never Justified: An Expansive View

Transparency is always the right strategy

When the Covid-19 crisis began halfway through March, the Manhattan housing market was placed on “pause,” as were many housing markets around the country. New York State “Shelter in Place” rules prevented the in-person showing of a property by a real estate broker. That was the beginning of the problem this crisis posed for the industry that lives and dies on sales and rental transactions. Then a startup agent trade group (NYRAC), made up of some of the most productive agents in the market and includes many of my long-time industry friends, pushed to hide the days on market metric from the public for what turned out to be a self-serving reason. I love what they stand for, but this was a strategic error that I could not support.

While I have been a real estate appraiser and market analyst for 35 years, I dipped my toe into real estate as a sales agent in Chicagoland for six months in the mid-1980s.

Lesson learned

From my experience there it was clear to me that the accuracy of the information our office possessed was critical to all parties for the market to function. I still have my old monthly MLS books and remember logging on to the MLS from one ancient (even then) terminal in the office – talk about delayed market information!

Days on market during Covid-19

The days on market (DOM) metric is significant to sellers because they don’t want their home to be perceived as overpriced if it sits unsold too long. DOM can be measured in several ways, but the one I see used the most is the average number of days between the last price change, if any, and the contract date (or today’s date if it has not sold.) When a potential home buyer looks at a listing on a public-facing web site, they look at DOM as one way to determine whether the listing price is reasonable. The longer a listing sits on the market as compared to other listings, the more likely it is over-priced. Sellers look at DOM too and become concerned when their listing sits too long relative to the competition, typically blaming the agent for not marketing the property enough. However, the asking price is usually set by the seller who is slow to recalibrate their asking price if the market is weakening. I’ve found it takes one to two years for a typical seller to capitulate on price in a downturn and not feel like they left money on the table.

Hiding DOM as a marketing strategy

When the government ordered lockdown hit New York City, and real estate agents were not allowed to provide in-person showings, market activity immediately stalled. NYRAC pressured various platforms to hide DOM information from listings. They still wanted users to be able to drill down and uncover the details, but at first glance, the DOM information was to be hidden.

Streeteasy (owned by Zillow), the de-facto Manhattan multiple listing system in the eyes of the consumer, and the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the leading real estate trade group with their own platform known as RLS, initially balked at the manipulation but eventually caved to NYRAC pressure. NYRAC made a strategic error that further damaged the long-term credibility of the real estate brokerage industry with the consumer. Not all brokers agreed with this strategy either, but this group placed enough pressure on these platforms to make the change happen.

Only sellers matter?

The incentive to “partially” hide DOM comes down to this:

1) Give the sellers a “break” after two years of softening price trends.

2) Address the sellers’ concerns about extended marketing times during the pandemic.

3) But the primary reason is that real estate brokers didn’t want to lose their listings if the sellers removed them from the market and returned to the market later with a new agent.

Why this effort was wrong

NYRAC and several real estate agents said to the effect, “the buyer or seller can still look at the listing history to know how long a listing has been on the market. That data was never removed.”

I always respond with “Then why hide it in the first place?” To brokers in favor of this temporary rule who wonder why I appear to be obsessing about a nuance I say, it is never appropriate to manipulate data, made even worse by the primary motivation behind this action.

Ignoring the buyers

This “solution” ignores the buyer’s position in a sales transaction and yet last time I checked, buyers are on the other side of every sale. Any effort to partially or fully hide DOM results or any other market metric conveys the wrong message and smacks of the old “information gatekeeper” mentality, no matter the state of the market.

Recently, the official word came down that all days between the shutdown and the reopening will count as “one day” for the DOM calculation presented to the public.

Going forward I have the following questions:

  • Are we to anticipate a suspension of DOM anytime there is an unexpected external event that impacts the housing market (9/11, The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, Super Storm Sandy)?

  • Who makes the call to do this? A trade group, a regulatory body, a for-profit platform?

-Do we think that buyers and sellers of real estate are unaware of the 90+ day COVID-19 market shut down? Will a new listing added today as the market opens with 1 DOM will sell differently than an identical property with a 91 DOM listing that sat through the 90+ day COVID-19 lockdown?

The market doesn’t care what the brokerage community thinks (or what I think). The act of intentionally hiding or partially hiding data from the consumer is never justified in any scenario.

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Median sales price can be subject to skew by consumer behavior more than math

May 12, 2020 | 11:19 am | Explainer |

Here’s an updated excerpt from my Housing Note newsletter dated October 28, 2016, digging into the median sales price. You can subscribe to Housing Notes and other housing resources for free.


I wrote about the median sales price a decade ago, and the message still holds. A couple of years ago, I whipped up a table that shows how median sales price can perform in a changing housing market. The median sales price is the default price trend indicator of real estate because it eliminates the extreme highs and lows of a data and merely represents the middle number. However, it is also subject to skew by consumer behavior that can overpower the math. So I always provide two to three price trend indicators depending on the quality of available information (average sales price, median sales price, median sales price) for all of the reports in my Elliman Report Series. The relationship between median and average sales price can also tell a story.

Click on the graphic below to expand.

medianexplained

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Contract Data Is Pending Data Is Lagging Data

April 29, 2020 | 11:50 am | Explainer |

In our post-Coronavirus world, it is clear that market conditions and our understanding of the future are subject to change every day. In my prior post Establishing the COVID-19 Demarcation Line: From ‘Hanks To Banks’, data that falls after the line represents a different market.

So how do we determine what data falls in after the demarcation line? It’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

Throughout my career, I have seen brokerage firms publish pending/contract reports, touting pending trends as more reliable than reports based on closings. I don’t look at them as better or worse, just a different way to look at the market. The simplistic, uninformed argument for pending sales is that contract dates occur before closing dates, so they are more current. Incidentally, contract prices are not readily shared. I get all of this. Yet I have seen the failure rate of contracts be as high as 40% – in other words, many contracts might not close whereas closing reports are solely based on successful transactions. Still, pending sale trends are useful as long as the reader understands their shortcomings. I plan to develop one someday.

Closing data and contract/pending data lags the “meeting of the minds.

Meeting of the minds (also referred to as mutual agreement, mutual assent, or consensus ad idem) is a phrase in contract law used to describe the intentions of the parties forming the contract. In particular, it refers to the situation where there is a common understanding in the formation of the contract.

While we know that closing dates lag the “meeting of the minds,” we also need to understand that signed contract dates are lagging indicators, often by 2-4 weeks. During this crisis, I’m speculating the failure rate will be high initially, and the time lag will be on the longer end rather than, the shorter end of this 2-4 week range.

Here’s why contract dates are a lagging indicator and not necessarily more insightful than closing data:

1) The “meeting of the minds” occurs when buyers and sellers negotiate price and terms, usually facilitated by a real estate agent or broker.

2) The price and terms are handed off to transaction attorneys who work together to craft language agreeable to both parties.

3) The contract is signed by both parties and often indicated as such in an MLS-type system.

4) In some markets or marketing periods, especially when a market is cooling, many contracts never close, so their initial inclusion makes pending trends reports suspect.

If there is a four week signed contract lag from the meeting of the minds, and considering the March 15 demarcation line for post-Coronavirus, that means that with us being six weeks into the crisis, we are only able to see two weeks worth of post-Coronavirus data. And even with that reality and current shelter in place rules, many current contracts might have been older deals that were facilitated by the buyer who had already inspected the home in January/February – we are seeing some of that now.

In other words, relevant data on the new market remains extremely limited.

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Some Financial Institutions Care About The Safety Of Appraisers, While Most Do Not

March 18, 2020 | 10:08 pm | Investigative |


[Johns Hopkins University]

As co-owner of an appraisal firm for 34 years, while based in Manhattan, we generally don’t drive to appraisal inspections. Our staff relies on public transportation to get around including buses, subways, and commuter rail. I’d been following the coronavirus in the news since early this year, and became quite alarmed by mid-February and soon suggested my staff work remotely. By the time the first Fed rate cut was made in response to the coronavirus on March 3, we adopted a screening process for appraisal inspections. When our team made an appointment for the inspection, we inquired about the health of the occupant, and then on the day of the inspection, the appraiser called again to confirm that conditions had not changed.

Soon after we learned that we could be carriers of the virus without knowing and infect someone vulnerable, we stop performing interior inspections.

My appraiser colleagues around the country have become very concerned, if not plain scared.

Here are two scenarios shared by appraiser colleagues in another part of the country. Imagine if the appraiser was a carrier?

Scenario 1 Conversation
Sounds good 10 am is better
Kids are home
With no school
If your sic with a cold or similar please reset appointment

Scenario 2 Recap
Borrower is elderly and on a respirator
Says the appraiser can walk through the house by himself
And reminds the appraiser to keep their distance

Appraisers should not be placed in harm’s way or be in a position to be forced to unintentionally harm another.

So let’s look at some industry actions of the past few days:

HEROES

These lenders have shown how much they respect the appraiser’s role in the mortgage process and their concern for the appraiser’s health and welfare as well as the borrower.

First Republic Bank
I submitted a temporary driveby appraisal solution to First Republic Bank, a large CA/NYC+ lender we have worked with since 1999. I feared for the safety of our appraisal staff and didn’t want to risk infecting others. Plus we were starting to get pushback from homeowners who are getting uncomfortable. They embedded this solution within days. I challenge any appraiser to name any other bank that is more professional, more appraiser-centric than they are. Here is the note they sent out to their panel.


Citibank
We’ve been working for Citibank since 1986 and have enjoyed a great relationship. This policy treats appraisers as human beings. I’m not sure how closely this policy will be observed by the AMCs they engage to manage their appraisals orders (read-on).


ZEROES (AMCS, etc.)


To combat the COVID-19 outbreak in the appraisal industry, Appraisal Management Companies (third-party institutional middlemen that account for as much as 90% of residential assignments) have essentially provided a lethal magnanimous gesture by simply telling appraisers to wash their hands often and stay away from people that are sick and that they must go inside the property. While I anticipate that many AMCs would defend their position of placing appraisers in harm’s way because their bank clients require it, I say that indicates selective morality or incredible ignorance. They could push back and make a strong case for public safety.

We are in the early stages of a global pandemic that may infect 100 million Americans (1 out of 3, conservatively) with a 3% death rate (that’s 1 million people if you do the math). The appraiser population has an average age in the high-50s, and we have been told that the older populous is the most vulnerable.

In reality, these AMC policies show disdain not only to appraisers but to their own (bank client’s) borrowers by letting a fee appraiser, who is paid only for the assignments they accept, determine whether or not the appraisers themselves are carriers of this pandemic and whether they can assess the safety of the property they inspect. Here’s a key point.

NO ONE CAN TELL IF SOMEONE IS A CARRIER IF THEY HAVE NO SYMPTOMS.

The following AMCs opted to treat appraisers as a widget instead of a human being requiring them to physically inspect a property when they now know that it is not safe to do so. Today I was told that one federal agency lost 20% of their appraisers because they have refused to continue doing interior inspections. Different cities and states have different rates of infection. Because we don’t have full testing in place as a country, the number of infections might be significantly higher than we might anticipate. My particular location in Manhattan is highly problematic because of the reliance on public transportation – buses, subways, commuter rail, and just walking down a crowded street – no social-distancing here. And based on the comments the NYC Mayor made yesterday, it is possible that tomorrow could see NYC restricted to “shelter in place” like San Francisco.

If you’ll note in this pattern of negligent behavior, great efforts were made to plan for the safety of order staff, but no regard for the safety of the appraiser, who is providing the service – telling appraisers to wash their hands and practice social-distancing when they know that it is not enough. When you get right down to it, these companies sent similar silly instructions so they can check off a box to be compliant. Yet they must know that appraisers could be carriers, and occupants in the property could be carriers. This is not business as usual.

When we pushed back the appointment on a few of our AMC clients for safety concerns, they simply took away the assignment and rescheduled with another appraiser. No human contact to assess the risk. In good conscience, even if the new appraiser doesn’t have symptoms or doesn;t think the occupant does, that AMC or lender is placing the public at risk, going directly against CDC guidelines. This is what robots would do.


Here is a sampling of AMCs that provided COVID-19 instructions in the past few days shared by my appraisal colleagues – this is clear evidence that they see appraisers as widgets instead of human beings. To save you the trouble of reading all of these INSTRUCTIONS, here’s the translation: WASH YOUR HANDS A LOT

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Flattening The Curve And Seeing The Shift From Greed To Fear

March 18, 2020 | 5:45 pm | Milestones |


[NPR]

Well, it has been an odd couple of weeks brought to you by the global pandemic known as COVID-19 or the Coronavirus. We’ve been self-quarantined in our house for 1.5 weeks with many more weeks to go. I might have to refer to this pandemic as “Cabin Fever” although there are many people that don’t have the benefit of working at home, including one of my sons, who is a police officer.

With falling mortgage rates of the past year or so, many in the real estate community thought:

“oh my goodness, refi’s and housing sales are going to boom with these low rates, and any Fed rate cuts will offset the damage of a plunging stock market and the economic damage of a pandemic.”

But please remember this:

Falling mortgage rates are not a gift.

Rates are cut to stimulate the economy, to offset something terrible that has happened.

Rates have been falling for the past year as the Federal Reserve likely increased rates in the recent past to be able to have something to cut when the inevitable recession arrives. Because of the damage to the U.S. economy from the trade war, the Fed has been forced to act earlier to keep the economy from dropping into a recession.

Since March began, the Federal Reserve brought the federal funds rate down to zero in the first half of March with two massive cuts. With the first cut of 0.5% on March 3, consumers became fully aware that something significant was wrong, and it was associated with the Coronavirus (and oil prices). And surprising to many, national 30-year mortgage rates rose.

Mortgage lenders continue to enjoy the large spread instead of lowering mortgage rates substantially because of layoff decisions made over the past year as refi volume cooled. Most banks cannot take full advantage of the rate cut opportunity because they do not have the capacity.

Since the 2020 DJIA peak of February 12, 2020, of 29,551.42, the market has fallen 28.13% to 21,237.88 as of the late afternoon, an insanely large decline.

However, all of these housing-related workers such as appraisers and agents, are starting to see that market conditions do not include the gift that it will be “business as usual.” They and their colleagues are becoming fearful of their own personal safety and the safety of their families.

In light of this slowdown, some real estate agents have suggested that market times be modified to cast a better light on listings that will languish due to the virus. This type of action is precisely what should not be done. In a global pandemic or worldwide catastrophic event, housing market stats will be internally adjusted by consumers to factor the event into the equation. Cherry-picking stat solutions will breed distrust between agents and consumers.

Open houses as a marketing tool fell 38% in Manhattan which is quite astounding but shows how quickly “personal safety” is becoming front and center with both agents and market participants. The outbreak is clearly expanding.


But now, those real estate agents are seeing home sellers and home buyers change their minds about letting strangers walk through their homes all day, and the “nexus between fear and greed” has shifted to fear.

Therefore the spring market will likely be underwhelming in NYC if downright bad and pushed forward into the future with a possible release of pent-up demand at some unknown future date. Perhaps the same will apply to many regions across the U.S. this spring.

Now wash your hands.

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Bloomberg TV 2-14-19 & 2-15-19: Amazon Pulls Plug on Queens’ HQ2 (Amazon Gone)

February 18, 2019 | 2:36 pm | | TV, Videos |

On Thursday I was climbing up a ladder in an old Brownstone to access to roof area (hey, I’m an appraiser too) when my iPhone blew up. I got about 20 press calls in the subsequent two hours concerning the impact to the LIC and NYC residential market (see “Amazon HQ2” links at the bottom of these Housing Notes.

Here are two call-ins I did (with my high school graduation-like photo) on Bloomberg (lol) – file photo was taken around 2003:

Thursday afternoon 3:10pm:

Friday morning 6:05am:


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[Media] Brick Underground Podcast January 2, 2018 – Jonathan Miller

January 2, 2018 | 3:36 pm | | Podcasts |

Just before the holidays, I got to join Alanna Schubach and Nathan Tomey on their Brick Underground podcast to talk about 2018.

This podcast will always have a special meaning to me as our late friend Jhoanna Robledo‘s passion project.

The Brick Underground Podcast: Talking 2018 with NYC real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller.

Click on the graphic below to listen to 30 minutes of Brick talk.

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Bloomberg TV – Housing Related Issues in Final Version of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017

December 27, 2017 | 9:07 pm | | Investigative |

Today I joined Joe Weisenthal and Julie Hyman on Bloomberg TV’s “Bloomberg Markets” for a discussion on the impact to the U.S. Housing Market in the aftermath of the new Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 that was signed into law by the president on December 22, 2017.

Here are about 2 minutes of the 5-minute interview:

Back on December 14, 2017, I provided a summary of the proposed tax bill comparing the House and Senate versions. The bills were merged into committee and signed by the president into law on December 22, 2017, effective January 1, 2018.

You can download my housing summary regarding the final version of the new tax law [pdf].

Fun side note: Here’s the stock photo of me that Bloomberg uses whenever I appear on television or radio. In this case, its projected about 15′ tall for TV. It’s a picture Bloomberg took of me about 14 years ago – circa 2003. I look like I’m in high school. I guess that shows how long I’ve been a regular contributor.

UPDATE to fun side note Someone just shared my current bio photo on the Bloomberg Terminals taken about 20 years ago.

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How the GOP Tax Bill Might Impact U.S. Residential Real Estate

December 14, 2017 | 5:49 pm | Investigative |

[UPDATE: The impact of the tax bill changed after it came out of committee and became law on December 22nd, 2017. See an updated tax law impact summary here.]

Both houses of Congress have passed far-reaching tax bills with a lot of common ground between them. The U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives are in the process of merging their versions into a single bill that will be voted on, and if it gets out of committee, it will be submitted to the president for signing.

Unlike the 1986 tax reform bill, which took six months of public hearings and discussion on both sides of the aisle, this tax bill was worked on for a year by the GOP and was passed very quickly without most of the signers knowing what was actually in it. Therefore I anticipate an ongoing procession of additional insights that impact the housing market as more people read the bills or the eventual law.

This lack of transparency and vetting alone is not great news for housing, which is very dependant on an “uncertainty-free” environment. In addition, there is a “get it done before Christmas” deadline.

Here is what I mapped out but this is only what we think we know by reading many interpretations with source links presented at the bottom of the table below. Here’s the pdf version of the table.

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Explainer: Overall Median Sales Price Submarket Changes May Not Fall In Range

October 29, 2017 | 8:39 pm | Infographics |

This title is way too wonky but I found it hard to pare down. It’s easier to explain visually.

When I complete my research for Douglas Elliman in a particular housing market and the percent change in the overall median sales price doesn’t fall within the individual submarkets like averages do, I periodically receive inquiries from media outlets or real estate professionals to clarify. Many people see median sales price much like they see average sales price: proportional.

In this case, the median sales price change for resale to new development ranged from -23% to +1.9% yet the overall median increased 9.3…clearly outside of the range both submarkets established.


So I whipped up the following infographic with sample sales transactions and applied median and average sales price to illustrate how median sales price percent change for the overall market might not always fall within the individual submarket percent price changes. However, in an “average” analysis, the overall result will always fall within the range of the submarkets.

I hope the following color-coded breakdown below helps illustrate this clearly – be sure to click on the image once to expand or a second time for the extra large version.


[click to expand]

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#Housing analyst, #realestate, #appraiser, podcaster/blogger, non-economist, Miller Samuel CEO, family man, maker of snow and lobster fisherman (order varies)
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