Matrix Blog

New York City

My July 3, 2019 Cheddar Interview on the NYSE Floor

July 6, 2019 | 1:23 pm | TV, Videos |

After the publication of the Elliman Report for Q2-2019 Manhattan Sales, I was asked to join Cheddar anchors Kristen Scholer and Tim Stenovec on the floor of the exchange on Wednesday morning.

When I came through security, the guard at NYSE asked me “when was the last time you visited the NYSE?” and I said, “about 10-12 years ago.” He looked it up to confirm and deadpanned, “I’ll bet you remember that I was the guy that took your picture in 2007, right?!?! He and his colleague and I all had a good hard chuckle over that. Moments like this are what I love so much about my job.

Back in 2007, I was interviewed by Erin Burnett (now CNN) and Mark Haines (sadly passed away in 2011) at CNBC on the balcony overlooking the exchange floor. It was a tight fit on the balcony so I got to sit near the president of the Russian natural gas conglomerate Gazprom and his dozen very large bodyguards. It was very crowded. While he was being interviewed I thought to myself, there is no amount of money in the world I would take to live with that kind of personal risk every single day.

No such worries today. Kristen and Tim were terrific to speak with and I appreciated the invite.


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The Nelson Report Podcast: What’s the deal with the residential market in New York City?

June 12, 2019 | 11:16 am | Podcasts |

I was recently interviewed by James Nelson, one of New York commercial real estate’s star brokers at Avison Young whom I’ve known since his Massey Knakal days. I’ve been on his podcast several times over the years and always enjoy the conversation. This time he did the interview at CUNY studios in Manhattan. In addition, he brought in Vince Rocco, a residential real estate agent at Halstead who has a broker-centric podcast known as “Good Morning New York Real Estate with Vince Rocco.” I had never met Vince before so it was nice to get his perspective on the market.

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My Brick Underground Podcast Interview: The Market Doesn’t Care What You Think

June 9, 2019 | 3:23 pm | | Podcasts |

That was the theme but my interview episode was called “the state of the market.

The indispensable NYC web site Brick Underground has been doubling down on its podcast as of late and I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak about the state of the market.

It was fun and hopefully, I conveyed some helpful insights to their listeners. You can subscribe to the Brick Underground Podcast feed here.

And specifically my interview here.


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[Inside Edition TV] The Fifth Avenue Retail Apocolypse?

May 16, 2019 | 1:47 pm | TV, Videos |

Real estate brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield wrote a research piece on the prime Fifth Avenue retail corridor from 49th Street to 60th Street that was covered in a widely read Wall Street Journal article called Fifth Avenue Losing Luster as Vacancies Climb, Rents Fall. The following chart was in the WSJ article. Luxury real estate here peaked at about the same time.


Inside Edition reached out and asked me to take a stroll with reporter Les Trent on Fifth Avenue to talk about the state of luxury retail. Les was great to speak with and like a true pro, he had access to sidewalk chalk (see video). I think I am in a lot of tourist pictures as they were snapping my picture as we strolled up and down Fifth Avenue.

If you’ll notice in the video and article, all the vacancies were related to the fashion/clothing industries. The 1 out of 4 storefront vacancies – essentially 1 empty storefront on every block – is not reflective of NYC retail employment patterns, but simply the pullback of clothing/fashion industries from high-end retail locations as they place more resources toward their online presence.


[click to play]

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Billionaires Row Continues to be Challenged

May 4, 2019 | 11:09 am | Infographics |

It’s been no secret that super luxury Manhattan sales have been the hardest hit segment of the market since 2014. The slowdown is related to the oversupply of new development created from the vast amounts of capital looking for a home since the financial crisis. Perhaps the most famous representation of the super-luxury market has been “Billionaires Row” centered on 57th Street in the heart of Manhattan’s central business district in Midtown Manhattan. The introduction of supertalls to the skyline has provided never before expansive views to the buyers.

I was asked by the New York Post to provide a snapshot of this submarket. Since contract data is not public record and is easily manipulated, I estimated the state of the key buildings as best I could, using ACRIS for closed sales, Streeteasy contract tags, and feedback from market experts in and around the brokerage community. The result was really no surprise to anyone in the real estate business but because it was concentrated in one place, the story went viral. Curbed wrote a good follow-up as well.

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NYT Infographic: Manhattan Real Estate Shift To High End, Illustrated

May 4, 2019 | 11:03 am | | Infographics |

There is a cool graphic from the New York Times Calculator column by Michael Kolomatsky in this Sunday’s print edition of the Real Estate section that illustrates Manhattan’s dependence on high-end real estate. Using the data from a chart I began right after 9/11 and we continue to update, he illustrates this point:

Almost half the money spent by New York City home buyers in the first quarter of 2019 went toward the most expensive properties. That wasn’t always the case.


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Bloomberg TV 4-2-19: Manhattan Housing Conditions

April 3, 2019 | 5:51 pm | |

This week’s Bloomberg Trifecta…

After the publication of our Q1-2019 Manhattan Sales Report for Douglas Elliman, there was a coverage by Bloomberg (and others): Bloomberg reporter Sydney Maki, anchor Vonnie Quinn on Bloomberg TV and a subsequent drive-time Bloomberg Radio interview with Denise Pellegrini.

(For a more detailed analysis with charts, commentary and reports, subscribe to my weekly Housing Notes, published on Fridays.)


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The Proposed NYC “Pied-A-Terre Tax” Looks Catastrophic to NYC Real Estate

March 19, 2019 | 11:48 pm | | Investigative |

An earlier version of this post appeared in my weekly Housing Notes, March 15, 2019 edition. I’ve since added more information and insights as the situation unfolds.

This proposed “pied-a-terre” tax law has a name that infers it concerns “pied-a-terres” when in fact that property type is but one part of the property types that are impacted. I’m sorry about the length of this piece but please read on.

The New York political zeitgeist was recently and suddenly tilted against luxury development in New York City. If this latest turn of events plays out as written, we’ll be able to look back at this era as a milestone where the supertanker began to turn in the wrong direction for the new development industry.

The White Paper That Started It All

The Fiscal Policy Institute proposed the tax in 2014, and it has been floating around Albany ever since. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the fiscally conservative Citizens Budget Commission described the tax as appealing but problematic:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office suggested last week that such a levy might reap $9 billion for the moribund Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the next decade and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie reiterated his chamber’s support proposal at a Crain’s breakfast forum days later. Mayor Bill de Blasio gave it his blessing as well.

In the original 2014 proposal by the Fiscal Policy Institute, the first item in the proposal is off to a bad start as they describe what happened in the market:

These owners bid up the price of NYC residential real estate, and since they don’t spend much time in these units, contribute little to the local economy compared to full-time residents.

Wrong. A large swath of high-end condo market activity of the past five years are non-primary residences which include pied-a-terres but most are investor purchases that are subsequently rented after the unit closes when construction was completed. The majority of new development units purchased as non-primary were rented out which is why the high-end rental market was crushed by all the new development condo sales by investors. Renters in these units do spend and help drive the local economy. Manhattan is about 75% rental by unit and New York City is about 2/3 rental by unit. It is therefore clear that renters drive a large swath of the NYC economy. Why would renters of high-end apartments be any different than all renters? They eat, sleep, work, and consume. FPI’s apparent belief that most of the high-end development sold ended up as empty pied-a-terres while wealthy buyers bid up the prices is incorrect. This position seems to be derived from one of only two references cited in the FPI white paper, a fun New York Magazine cover story by Andrew Rice. That article came out in 2014 right as the housing market was peaking. The strengthening dollar was cooling demand via international currency plays and the sight of cranes rising everywhere told buyers that an oversupply was here (that still exists today with over 6 years of excess new development product. I was one of the resources for Andrew Rice’s piece and here I explain what happened leading up to the 2014 condition which I later dubbed “Peak Luxury” and “Peak New Development”.

Much of this speculation is being driven by two factors: sparse supply, due to the absorption of the inventory left over from the last boom, and fast-rising prices. Manhattan saw a 30 percent price increase over the past year, on average, which market analyst Jonathan Miller attributes primarily to sales closing in ultraluxury buildings. The highest end of the market has seen stunning inflation.

In other words, the 30 percent price rise wasn’t a “bid up” by wealthy buyers; it was a massive shift in the type of housing stock that was being created and sold. New building materials and engineering enabled 100 story buildings instead of 50 story buildings. Landowners factored this into land prices since many buildings above the 50th floor had expansive open views and (not enough) buyers were willing to pay for it. Prices rose significantly in lower-priced segments (below $5 million) because supply was static and no match for a rising population and the city’s record job growth.

Developers are in the business of developing, and land prices remained high after the housing bubble burst a decade ago because of the large amount of money that was flooding into development. Central banks worldwide pressed rates to zero, creating an army of global investors chasing higher returns. To keep developing despite all this new capital, developers had to build what land prices required, high-end real estate. Developers would create affordable housing if it realized a higher return on the risk they take on. While it has always been difficult and expensive to build in New York City, the post-financial crisis was especially challenging with heavy competition for labor, materials, and land, exacerbated by free-flowing global capital in a low-interest-rate world.

Now the buyers of this real estate, who committed to New York City, are being punished by this new tax, the result of which will damage the city’s global brand that took 25 years to evolve. Why? Because a white paper with only two reference citations, one of which was a magazine article on a small niche of super-tall buildings, was the basis. I am also concerned that the paper did not address the change in consumer behavior when such taxes would be implemented. Why would they push to implement a new tax when it raises the probability that existing tax revenues will fall? To get specific here’s what happened after this article was written. The building known as One57 on the cover of the cited New York Magazine story – 5 years later and after 8 years on the market is 25% unsold and resale activity (the same unit purchased from the sponsor and then sold again) shows as much as a 30% drop in prices since this article was written.

This drop is why I think that the implementation of this new tax as written will be catastrophic to the market, potentially causing it to seize up. As a result, the city would see a significant drop in transfer tax and other associated revenues before considering the new tax. Hit a declining market with more than 6 years of excess supply with a new high tax out of the blue and watch what happens.

The Political Timeline

The shift in New York State and New York City government sentiment against real estate development began with the following recent events:

The proposed law is in each New York State Albany chamber right now and although they have different introduction dates of January 9, 2019 (Senate) and February 4, 2019 (Assembly) they look the same.

The New York State Assembly version: Assembly Bill A4540 or in this format.

The New York State Senate version: Senate Bill S44 or in this format.

The bills are short on details and are currently in committee, wide open for interpretation. As written, the bill is both sweeping and ominous to the real estate industry in New York City, and I expect it will result in less overall tax revenue to the city than currently enjoyed. I’ll get into that further on.

How this proposed S44/A4540 tax seems to work

I am not a tax advisor, and anything I say here should not be relied on, and you should seek appropriate counsel. Seriously. I am merely interpreting what I think are the critical issues established this proposed tax.

  • This tax directed is specifically at New York City because it is designated for cities in the state with populations of more than 1 million. As evidenced by the 2010 census data in Wikipedia, there is a significant population difference between New York City and Buffalo.

You probably think of the market value of your co-op or condo as the price you could sell it for on the open market. However, State law requires us to value residential cooperative and condominium buildings as if they were rental apartment buildings. This means that we look at the income and expense statements of rental buildings that have similar characteristics to determine your condo or co-op buildings market value.

  • It taxes residential properties valued at $5 million and above in NYC, most of which are in Manhattan.
    • And it is a marginal rate tax – only the amount above each threshold is taxed.


    • And it is a property tax which means it will be paid annually, not just upon sale like the Mansion tax. Here is how consumer behavior is impacted by the $1 million threshold of the New York State “Mansion” tax. I did this a while ago, and the pattern still exists. As an annual property tax, the dollar thresholds will be more firm.

  • The tax is not really about pied-a-terres. It is a tax on non-primary residences as written.

Therefore it should apply to investor units and LLCs.

I don’t think it is unreasonable to assume that the language of the bill infers that LLCs could be interpreted as “non-primary residences” even if they are used for primary residences since New York State defines LLCs: An LLC is an unincorporated business organization made up of one or more persons. That definition does not sound like a primary residence to me.

Although the working title of the proposed tax is “pied-a-terre” there is no mention of this particular use in the Senate or Assembly tax bills. They specifically refer to “non-primary residences” so that would include other uses like investor units and possibly LLCs (possibly even those used as primary residences). It’s all still up in the air at this point.

From the New York Times article of March 11, 2019: Lawmakers Support ‘Pied-à-Terre’ Tax on Multimillion-Dollar Second Homes

In 2017, New York City had 75,000 pieds-à-terre, up from 55,000 such units since 2014, according to the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey. The share of vacant apartments that are classified as pieds-à-terre has held steady during that time at about 30 percent.

From the New York Times article of October 26, 2014: Pied-à-Neighborhood

“If you said you are going to impose a special surcharge on apartments that are worth more than $20 million, that would be perfectly legal,” said Peter L. Faber, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery. “But the problem comes when you start imposing a special tax on nonresidents. That is unconstitutional under the interstate commerce clause.”
The current revenue estimation appears overstated by nearly a third

The bill’s sponsor, New York State Senator Brad Hoylman said:

There are only 5,400 units in New York above $5 million that are owned by non-residents.

For the year 2018 my ACRIS search yielded 952 residential single units sales (1-3 family, co-ops, condos) above the $5 million threshold (1,188 in 2016 and 1,173 in 2017).


I will assume that the Senator included all the apparent nuances within the 5,400 count for the entire NYC housing stock (pied-a-terres, investor units, LLC-owned primary and non-primary residences).

I projected this mix of sales as proportional to the 5,400 units impacted by the new law to break out the tax revenue calculations, understanding the 2018 sales included both primary and non-primary residential uses.


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From the New York Times article of March 11, 2019: Lawmakers Support ‘Pied-à-Terre’ Tax on Multimillion-Dollar Second Homes

It was not immediately clear how much money the tax would raise; the office of the city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, estimated that a pied-à-terre tax would bring in a minimum of $650 million annually if enacted today. And based on the expected revenue stream, Mr. Cuomo estimated that the state could then raise $9 billion in bonds, backed by the expected taxes paid by pied-à-terre owners.

Based on my calculations, the tax-impacted housing stock would yield tax revenue of roughly $455,000,000 which is about 30% below the $650,000,000 estimate assuming this new tax would not impact any current consumer behavior of the wealthy who would be affected by the tax… which is a GIANT assumption that is patently not true.

Impact to Housing Prices

Using the median sales price of each price traunche set up in the bill, and assuming a 5% discount rate and the median tax for each traunche and a 10 year holding period, the adverse impact to value rises in each higher traunche.

I’ve added 20-year and 30-year holding period versions using the same variables. I started out using the 10-year as a placeholder for the brokerage industry’s default assumption of 7 years for homeownership but then added 3 more years to account for the current market slide. The 20 and 30-year holding periods assumptions might be more realistic given the long term view of investors after the decline in prices of the past several years and the phenomenon of capital preservation in this latest development frenzy since 2012. If that’s the case, properties valued at $25 million or higher might lose 30% of their value overnight…not factoring in a market pause or even collapse in sales until the terms are ironed out. That period of uncertainty starts now through July 1, 2020.


[click to expand]

More New Yorkers Will Leave The City

From the New York Times article of March 11, 2019: Lawmakers Support ‘Pied-à-Terre’ Tax on Multimillion-Dollar Second Homes

Moses Gates, a vice president at the Regional Plan Association, disputed the notion that New Yorkers would leave the city. The association believes that most wealthy pied-à-terre owners would pay the tax. If they chose to sell, then the property has the chance of being purchased by a full-time city resident, who would then be subject to income and sales tax.

It is already happening. His assumption does not take into consideration the new federal tax law enacted on January 1, 2018, that was especially punishing the wealthy real estate property owners that were already considering moving their domicile to a low tax state like Florida. The wealthy who already were on the fence before the new law are now beginning to make their moves. You can see this happening in Florida right now. New Yorkers are the new foreign buyer there. This proposed pied-a-terre tax piles on to the fresh new federal taxes just served to wealthy property owners in NYC metro last year, and sales were already slowing.

Taxing Wealthy Property Owners Around the World

The trend of raising tax revenue on real estate of the wealthy is gaining momentum worldwide. New York City had the distinction of being one of the few major global cities that have not implemented taxes that are openly hostile to foreign buyers or investors. Here is what some countries are doing to tax these buyers and it is slowing sales.

From the New York Times article of February 9, 2019:

Large cities around the world have been grappling with how to make wealthy absentee property owners pay for the privilege of owning secondary residences, a recent report from the Real Estate Institute of British Columbia shows. Sydney, Paris, and London have all recently added or increased taxes on the purchase of secondary homes.

In Hong Kong, nonpermanent residents pay a 15 percent fee on the value of the home, and foreigners pay an additional 15 percent fee. Singapore has restrictions on the purchase of residential property by foreigners and a 15 percent tax. In Denmark, foreigners are required to obtain permission from the government to purchase secondary homes.

In Vancouver, where the greatest concentration of vacant properties is downtown, owners of empty residential properties are charged a 1 percent tax based on the assessed value.
Why Senate Bill S44/Assembly Bill A4540 Will Not Achieve Its Intended Goal As Found Money for MTA Improvements
  • This bill may obliterate future transfer tax revenue from real estate activity and could result in lower net receipts from the real estate sector in the aftermath. The 2014 whitepaper doesn’t consider this but instead presents the tax in a vacuum as if market forces don’t respond.
  • New York City is one of the last “international cities” that is not hostile to foreign buyers and real estate investors
  • The new tax is targeted to condo development since there are few co-op and townhouse non-primary units over $5M
  • The new tax will crush new development activity because land prices will take years, maybe even more than a decade to reset to levels that will support new affordable housing because landowners take long-term buy and hold positions
  • This tax could destroy any progress made with inclusionary zoning to create more affordable housing
  • This tax will not create more affordable housing
  • The idea of the building of “bank safety deposit boxes in the sky” and saying pied-a-terre owners don’t spend money in the city is misleading. Most of the taxed units have occupants that do just that. Many non-primary residences are occupied with renters and those occupants spend money on a daily basis. The actual pied-a-terre segment is a subset of non-primary residences
  • Aspects of this bill might be illegal such as the disconnect in valuation methods to calculate property taxes versus this new tax – state law requires co-op/condos to be valued as income properties and this new law wants the sales comparison approach
  • Luxury real estate buyers do not ignore new taxes as is commonly pontificated. That never happens and I’m not sure where that form of conventional wisdom came from. As such there will be substantial damage to high-end property values going forward, perhaps as much as 30% if not more than that. With the news of this new tax, we expose the market to a panic selloff as existing owners look to take their lumps and get out as new sales pause.
  • The damage to the housing market above the $5 million threshold will not be contained and will likely melt into the layers below it as market stigma expands.
  • The suburban markets, as key competitors to NYC in the immediate area, may actually benefit within their respective high-end markets as NYCs brand damage and new tax may incentivize city buyers to look closer at alternatives in NYC suburban metro as well low-cost areas such as Florida.
Pausing the Market While Politicking

At a bare minimum, the guaranteed uncertainty of the bill’s final form from April 1, 2019 when it is enacted and July 1, 2020 when it is implemented, will help “pause” sales starting now. Sales at the top of the market will slow further than they already have. This uncertainty will have a significant impact on market participants as they wait for Albany to sort this out and will play a significant roll in impacting transfer tax revenue as the market cools further.

There is a strong political appetite for this to be part of the budget. I can only imagine the heavy volume of lobbying and litigation activity to occur between now and July 1, 2020. There is a need/hunger for more revenue by the governor and the mayor for the MTA – which will include a lot of lobbying and litigation since everyone wants a piece of this. Unfortunately, the Real Estate Board of New York does not have clout in Albany political circles but they appear to be working hard to reduce the damage this bill will cause to new development (with a by-product of reducing the loss of existing tax revenues). Whatever happens to this bill, it will probably damage the credibility of the bill’s author, the Fiscal Policy Institute who will learn that market forces do matter and policy should never be considered in a vacuum.

On a positive note, present circumstances included, the impact of this tax bill is so over the top and disconnected from market forces that I would expect the lawsuits and negotiation to be significant and improve the odds this bill will be converted into something less catastrophic. The Senator who is sponsoring this has seemed to suggest this in interviews.

History Fades and so do Lessons Learned

Remember the 1970s version of New York City? The success the city is enjoying now was the result of 25 years of proactive management of city spending and branding efforts. Besides record tourism, real estate activity has been revitalized and that has brought billions of dollars to the city coffers. The introduction of this new tax law ignores human behavior and assumes the tax revenues will rise as if market forces don’t exist. The wealthy will not shrug off these heavy new costs. They will simply go elsewhere. New real estate taxes, especially significant ones, change consumer behavior almost immediately.

If the objective is to punish the high-end housing market and the development community, then this bill will do that. If the objective is to generate new tax revenue for MTA, it won’t. In fact, I believe it will cannibalize existing related tax revenue streams after all the mayhem it causes to the new development industry.

Let’s hope economically informed voices are able to make themselves heard during this process.

I’ll be providing additional insights on this important and developing issue in my weekly Housing Notes. You can sign up for free right here.

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Bloomberg TV 3-11-19: The Malling of Hudson Yards

March 11, 2019 | 3:52 pm | | TV, Videos |

For the record, this is the first time I recall using the word “cognizant” on national television. A personal lexicon triumph.

There has been a lot of fanfare about the new Related Companies ‘Hudson Yards‘ mixed-use development being created over the West Side Yard in Manhattan and is connected to ‘The Highline.‘ The centerpiece or “hook” is a $2 billion mall in the middle of the complex. While ‘malls’ are generally a non-starter in Manhattan, there is a successful precedent. The same developer built Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle (southwest corner of Central Park) nearly twenty years ago and it was considered a significant success. I used to live two blocks to the west of Time Warner Center and it was a pretty rough area at the time but that submarket has been significantly upgraded.

Related has pushed out a media blitz on the mall opening this week. It is important to note that NYC gave Hudson Yards more tax breaks than were proposed for Amazon in Long Island City. However, as Barry Ritholtz writes in his excellent comparison between the two deals (LIC v. Hudson Yards) offered by the city. Related seemed to do this deal right and Amazon came across as greedy in the end.

The $3.4 billion dollars committed to parks, subways, etc. in the Hudson Yard project is exactly what the government is supposed to do. You can create incentives for companies to relocate in a way that directly benefits every taxpayer in the region. The incoming company could have burnished their reputation as a good corporate citizen, instead of being perceived as rapacious and greedy.

Here is a rendering of the completed Hudson Yards. I think it looks spectacular. And don’t forget ‘The Vessel.


[Source: DeZeen]

Teachable moment for condo development naming strategies that include a company: Don’t do it.

The Time Warner precedent-setting mall scenario included a condo offering plan circa 2000 named “AOL Time Warner Center” and then the project was renamed “Time Warner Center” after they sold off AOL (Someone named Jonathan Miller took over AOL strangely enough). Deutsche Bank is replacing Warner Media as the anchor tenant in 2021 so the project will be renamed for the new tenant. However, Deutsche Bank has been having its share of financial problems and is considering a merger with Commerzbank. Uh-oh.

Perhaps that’s why Related went with ‘Hudson Yards.’ 😉

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CGTN America TV 2-22-19 Manhattan’s Luxury Market (and that $238M sale)

February 23, 2019 | 3:07 pm | TV, Videos |

I was interviewed for the U.S. version of one of China’s largest TV networks – CGTN America (formerly CCTV) on the state of the Manhattan luxury housing market and that $238 million condo sale that set the U.S. price record at 220 Central Park South.

Yes, it’s the real estate topic that won’t die.



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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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The Apple Peeled – Ask the Experts: Market Dynamics with Jonathan Miller

February 12, 2019 | 11:54 am | | Articles |

Over the years, I have bantered with the Espinal Adler Team (Marie Espinal and Jeff Adler) at Douglas Elliman Real Estate about the market which has been invaluable for on the ground intel. And we’ve become friends. When Jeff and Marie asked me to be formally interviewed for their blog “The Apple Peeled” I was happy to do so, especially because I could veer off the road into issues about the current mortgage and appraisal process. This “The Apple Peeled” blog post: Ask the Experts: Market Dynamics with Jonathan Miller was distilled from the 90-minute conversation (I could have gone on for 5 hours) I had with their team.

I hope you find that this apple was fully peeled:


Jonathan Miller’s Market Outlook

The number of units sold in Manhattan in 2018 was down by more than 14 percent compared to the previous year. The brokerage industry tends to be very linear in its perception of the market, so many believe when the market is rising, it will rise forever. And, in-turn, when the market falls, it will fall forever. That approach can lead to overreaction.

The 10-year Challenge (2009 vs. 2019)

Some analysts are even comparing the current cycle to the last downturn and the housing bubble in 2009, but Miller outlined quite a few differences between then and now.

In 2009, the average discount from listing was 10.2%. In 2018 the discount was 5.2%. In ’09, Miller said sellers were anchored to the “pre-Lehman, pre-financial crisis asking prices” and had to travel farther on price to meet a buyer. (Miller measures listing discount by the percent difference between the contract price and the price that the property was listed for sale at the time of contract – not when it was first listed). The most recent asking price is “really the moment the property entered the market,” he said.

Miller said there are more buyers today compared to 2009, but those buyers are “very jaded about what value is.” Meanwhile, sellers are anchored to another market completely, he said.

The change in tax laws in 2018 and a several-month stretch that saw mortgage rates rise before recently dropping close to previous levels had both buyers and sellers re-calibrating what value is. That process can take time.

“If a seller overprices a listing, it takes them up to 2 years to de-anchor from what their price was without thinking that they left money on the table,” Miller said. “The disconnect between buyers and sellers is measured by lower sales volume.”

Starter Segment vs. High-End Luxury

For the last two years, Miller has said that the NYC market is softer at the top and tighter as you move lower in price.

Overall inventory is up by about 17%, with a significant amount of supply coming from the studio and 1-bedroom market. Studio inventory is up 21% percent.

“The pace of the starter market is still the fastest of all segments,” Miller said. “It’s just not as detached as it was because now you have more supply.”

Interest Rates and Their Impact

Typically, rates rise when the economy is strong. The low rates we’re seeing today understate the strength of the current economy, according to Miller. “That’s the disconnect.” In the long run, interest rates do not impact price trends. Mortgage rates have trended lower for three decades, Miller said, but housing prices have fluctuated up and down during that same lengthy stretch.

Mortgage rates weren’t wildly different in ’09 compared to today. In a recent report, Miller stated that an adjustable rate mortgage rate averaged 4.38% in 2009 and was at 3.98% using the same metrics in 2018.

Miller said that real estate investors should stop trying to perfectly time the market (both with rate and supply vs. demand). Perfect timing is a concept that was born out of the housing bubble, he said, when investors viewed housing as a highly liquid stock, instead of in its proper context. “(Real estate) is more of a long-term asset.”

In-Depth Look at the State of Appraisals

“There was nothing learned from the bad behavior of a decade ago,” Miller said, reminding himself of a Mark Twain quote. “History doesn’t repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes,” Jonathan Miller recited. Miller, President and CEO of real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel Inc., said federal regulators are acting irresponsibly in their effort to reduce and perhaps even eliminate the need for an appraisal as part of an overall effort to erase “friction points” that slow-down the mortgage application process.

Miller said the regulators were more concerned with collecting fees than they were with protecting the American consumer. He likened the subtle de-regulation to the housing bubble of a decade ago, pointing out that regulators were getting paid by the failing investment banks they were rating back then. Now, he said, regulators and both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are getting paid whenever loan volume passes through those agencies. (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are Government sponsored enterprises that purchase mortgages from banks and mortgage companies in an effort to create liquidity so that lenders have the capacity to lend to more homebuyers).

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), The Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve System, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) proposed a rule to amend the agencies regulations requiring appraisals for certain real estate related transactions. The proposed rule would increase the threshold level at, or below which appraisals would not be required for residential real estate-related transactions from $250,000 to $400,000.

In response to our request for comment, spokespeople for the FDIC, the OCC, and The Federal Reserve said they do not comment on proposed rules during the rulemaking process.

Mortgage volume has trended lower despite rates falling steadily since the housing bubble, because lenders don’t want to take on risk, Miller said. “They’re in the fetal position. Banks are afraid of their own shadow.”

The tremendous amount of regulation implemented since Dodd Frank has led to mortgage lenders filling Fannie and Freddie’s portfolios with low-risk “pristine” mortgage bundles. But with rates so low, margins are so compressed, regulators need to stimulate volume to make money, according to Miller. “I think (Fannie and Freddie) are emboldened to take more risk.”

The push for fewer mandatory appraisals isn’t the only thing that has hurt the appraisal industry since the Dodd Frank Act was passed in 2010. The evolution of the mortgage industry’s use of the Appraisal Management Company (AMC) has led to a collapse in quality of appraisals ordered by banks, Miller said. He described the AMC as an institutional middle man that takes more than 50 cents on the dollar away from the professional appraisers who do the actual work.

“It’s like a Hollywood actor paying their agent 60% instead of 10%,” Miller said. “The mortgage industry is trying to widgetize the appraiser.”

The AMC is supposed to act as a communication barrier between the appraiser and the loan officer or mortgage broker, to thwart undue pressure to bring appraised values in at specific numbers. But according to Miller, the AMCs are under the same types of pressure that an individual appraiser might face. Some AMCs receive hundreds of thousands of dollars every month by way of appraisal orders placed by big banks. At least at the sales level, the banks apply pressure to the AMC to not “kill deals,” said Miller, who has testified in several class action lawsuits against AMCs.

In many instances, Miller and his firm were hired to do sample reviews of appraisals that came through AMCs. Often, the AMC would utilize appraisers in the market that would always “hit the number,” Miller said. A lot of those appraisers were ignoring valid comps, sometimes from directly across the street that were virtually the same as the subject property. “The AMC encouraged it because they were getting the work,” he said.

Appraisers are pushing back and there are already signs that AMCs were beginning to crumble, Miller said. Quality appraisers are turning away bank work when they know the order is coming in through an AMC because they’re not happy working for less than they deserve and because they’ve been reduced to “form-fillers,” Miller said.


The Apple Peeled Blog, February 12, 2019

Espinal Adler Team at Douglas Elliman Real Estate

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