Lisa mentioned the topic of “inventory loans” that developers are relying heavily on to limp to the next upcycle with lots of unsold inventory. Hedge funds have dived headfirst into this space, even developers who are in good financial state are lending money on unsold condo inventory. These loans are another way that financial engineering prevents the market from healing in the long run. This loan product reminds me of the actions of the Fed and FDIC a decade ago whose policy changes allowed banks to avoid “mark to market” so they wouldn’t be insolvent on their balance sheet. The goal is to sit and pretend everything is alright until enough time passes when everything becomes okay again.
While the interview was occurring, a real estate agent I know was walking down the street and saw me being interviewed via television sitting in a bank window. He emailed me a picture of it with a chuckle. The agent said he couldn’t hear what I had to say but hoped the news was good. Well, it is good news for South Florida property sellers.
I had a nice chat with Vonnie Quinn of Bloomberg Television on Monday concerning the state of the Manhattan housing market, following a highly read Bloomberg article on the terminal covering our Elliman Report results for Q3-2019 as well as a followup on Bloomberg Radio here and here.
I was just interviewed by Noah Rosenblatt and John Walkup of Urban Digs for their “Talking Manhattan” Podcast. I’ve known Noah for well over a decade and always enjoy geeking out on the market with him. He’s a data nerd with a real estate agent and day trader background. I’m proclaiming that John Walkup has the best real estate-related last name in the business and is clearly able to “elevate” any real estate conversation.
They weren’t kidding yesterday when they said they were going to get this podcast out right away, placing the interview online this morning. I was speaking to a group of real estate agents on the roof deck of a new building this morning, and four of them told me they had already listened to the podcast and one confirmed that he heard it in the shower and noted that was high praise. Love it.
One of the topics we focused on covered the adjustment for outdoor space in valuation. Throughout my career – when I get a lot of similar inquiries on a particular valuation topic, I turn it into a blog post – here is a collection of value-related posts in one place. One of the most read “value” resources in the collection covers outdoor space in a blog post I wrote in 2010. Admittedly I’m a bit relieved my written methodology still holds up nine years later!
Their interview of me is below. I hope you enjoy it and subscribe to their podcast as I do.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 NYC “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 state 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 multi-family industry.
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 pieds-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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.‘
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.’ 😉