Visual Capitalist created a terrific infographic of 41 cities around the globe comparing the outbreak trend against the commuter activity trend. Incredible
I hope all my readers (and everyone else) are staying safe and healthy during this crisis – now let’s get to business.
With New York State on lockdown, real estate brokers/agents can’t sell real estate right now because they are not considered an essential business (yet they are in nearby Connecticut!) This declaration determines whether you can or cannot remain in business during a crisis like this.
Are real estate appraisers considered an essential business in New York? Yes. They are in New York State and they are stated as such in the federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. But the fact that real estate appraisers are an “essential business” is not consistent in the federal language, especially now when many states are, or will be going on lockdown.
My good friend and appraiser/regulator Pete Fontana and I wrote a letter nicknamed: Fontana/Miller Essential Letter of March 24, 2020. This letter combines the scattered references to address this issue in very specific terms using key language in the public record that illustrates the fact that appraisers are an “essential business” now and going forward.
This letter is the first to address this important issue. It was just sent to Congress, state officials, trade groups, agencies, and other groups related to our industry today and went viral industrywide. The feedback from these groups has been immediate and overwhelmingly encouraging and positive.
Please share the Fontana/Miller Essential Letter of March 24, 2020 with your colleagues in the industry, trade groups, state governments, on forums, and with anyone or in any place you think is relevant to our industry.
Real estate appraisers are an essential business in our country, always have been.
Tags: The Appraisal Foundation, TAF, Andrew Cuomo, Coronavirus, Maxine Waters, Sherrod Brown, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Secretary Mnuchin, Peter J. Fontana, Essential Business, Public Trust, Fontana/Miller Essential Letter of March 24, 2020
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.
Source: Jackson Fine Art
Even though housing market talking heads are known for dramatizing the long term economic impact of a big snow storm, it’s basically a “snow ball’s chance in hell” that it has a lasting effect.
Given that it is early March and it is 54 degrees outside in NYC as I write this, it’s hard to think about snowstorms. However Mother Nature has a way of messing with us so I’m optimistic that we’ll get socked with at least one more big storm this month.
My friend Jason Bram, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was interviewed for his views on NYC snowstorms and their economic impact in Hey, Economist! How Well Do We Weather Snowstorms? He found that:
In fact, the odds of repeating NYC’s snowstorm history is 0.2% or 500 to 1.
“The bottom line is, when you look at monthly or even weekly economic indicators, you rarely see a blip, even after the most severe blizzards.” —Jason Bram
This is why I go crazy at the beginning of every calendar year listening to housing prognosticators fret about severe winter weather having a far reaching long term impact on the housing market and the economy.
Consider this scenario by a couple looking to purchase their first home:
Husband: Hi honey, ready to go look for houses this weekend?
Wife: Yes, I can’t wait! We’ve been saving up for a long time and we are finally at the point where we can buy!
A big snow storm hits on Friday night…
Husband: Ugh, this snowstorm is really bad. We’d better cancel our appointment with the real estate agent to view homes.
Wife: Yes, that’s a good idea. This is so frustrating!
Husband: I know! Now we have to wait another year!
Wife: I just can’t believe it. Just when we were ready to buy, a snowstorm hits and now we have to wait another year!
Of course you can see how ridiculous this scenario is despite my John Grisham/Stephen King – like story telling skills. These buyers will simply wait until the following weekend.
Read my latest Bloomberg View column Housing Market Blows Hot and Cold.
Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…
The northern third of the U.S. is locked in a straitjacket of snow, ice and bleak weather better suited to staying at home than going out and hunting for a new one. I can almost hear it now: Remember how awful last year’s polar vortex was for the fledgling housing-market recovery?…
My Bloomberg View Column Directory
My Bloomberg View RSS feed.
The Aug. 9th shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer has roiled Ferguson, Missouri, thrusting it into the national spotlight. But what happens to the town of 21,000 outside of St. Louis after the turmoil ends — more specifically, what happens to property values?
Read my latest Bloomberg View column
The Myth of Real Estate Stigma. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View.
My Bloomberg View Column Directory
My Bloomberg View RSS feed.
Tags: Superstorm Sandy, Zillow, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Ferguson MO, Michael Brown, Stigma, Tuscon AZ, Gabrielle Giffords, Sanford FL, Trayvon Martin, Aurora CO, Newtown CT, New Orleans, fundamentals
Nearly a year ago, my wife and I went for a drive in the next town over from where we live in Connecticut and stumbled across a slew of houses being modified to the FEMA Base Flood Elevation (BFE). It was eye opening for me since I never envisioned a house – especially houses built 30-50 years ago – as so readily moveable. As a kid I had observed my dad have his real estate office moved 2 doors down so he could sell his lot to an adjacent condo developer….and 40-years later both of those buildings are standing.
Note all the”tall” garages.
It also raises valuation issues. How will an appraiser handle the valuation of the house next to the house that was raised? We may see the market apply a penalty to the house not on stilts in a flood zone.
This was a home being lifted last spring…
and with the work complete…
NAR released their Existing Home Sales Report on Thursday with a headline that read: February Existing-Home Sales Remain Subdued that blamed the severe winter weather and low inventory for lower sales.
Of course inventory has been near historic lows for a few years so that’s not a new reason. I’m left with the weather and as someone who hates to use the weather as a crutch, it seems to be a pragmatic – it’s difficult to show or be in the mood to view properties when it is zero degrees outside. The weather explanation was also used in the prior report but those contracts were signed in December for the January report, before the “polar vortex.”
I see the recent fretting about the cooling of housing as an indication of how improving conditions were based largely on Fed policy and not fundamentals. The combination of rising mortgage rates and declines from the year ago release of pent-up demand post-“fiscal cliff” likely gets price gains and sales levels in sync with fundamental economic conditions.
I’ve charted NAR EHS stats from the past 4 years without seasonal adjustments. Price gains have been insane so the combination of slowing sales and rising inventory will take the froth out of the market and hopefully get us on a more sustainable path.
Since we have another cold snap in our midst, I thought I talk about cold weather and housing trends.
Back in early January, the US experienced what has now become a household phrase – “The Polar Vortex” and extreme weather has morphed its way into recent housing reports as plausible explanations for a slow down in some of the results.
Buyer perspective: Imagine a couple looking to buy their first home and decide they will begin looking right after the New Year. The dreaded Polar Vortex hits and it is too uncomfortable to run around looking at houses in freezing temperatures, so they postpone until the weather warms up in a month or 2.
Seller perspective: Imagine a homeowner who decides to put their home on the market and they experience searing pain from the cold by simply going to the grocery store. They can’t imagine a buyer coming to look at their home in the severe weather and don’t want their home to sit, so they postpone until the weather warms up in a month or 2.
In both scenarios, I would venture to guess that no one would say:
WOW, this weather is severe. I’ve rethought my (buying or selling) decision and will cancel the idea for a few years because the weather is too cold right now.
WOW, this weather is severe. Staying warm in my home right now made me realize that I rushed to make my decision and will no longer (buy or sell) for a long time.
Consumers can better relate to the weather than macro economic theory so throw it into the title of a news article:
NBC News: Spring Thaw May Not Heat up This Housing Market
Bloomberg News: Cooling U.S. Home Sales Only Partly Due to Weather: Economy
Fox Business: Housing Freeze: It’s Not Just The Weather
If we isolate the housing market to new construction (which represent about 15% of sales historically) then it gets a lot more plausible – ie permits, starts etc. can be more affected by the weather on a pragmatic basis.
But that has little or no impact to the vast majority of housing consumers.
Here’s one way to visualize the potential impact of weather to retail sales activity (translation: slow down, spring back) in Business Insider.
Context, people, context.
Yesterday I did a quick interview for CNBC at 30 Rock (right next to the new Tonight Show/Jimmy Fallon set which was all abuzz). We were talking about housing starts before they were released. While predicting this stuff is a fool’s errand, I think the bigger question was whether the recent weakening of housing metrics was a new trend or a pause caused by the harsh weather creating havoc across the US.
The NAHB homebuilder sentiment index (1 family) posted its largest one month drop in history – severe weather, cost of labor, materials and land with given as reasons but those really aren’t new issues other than the severe weather.
While weather played a role and probably amounts to more of a short term blip, I think the larger concern is the outlook over the next 6 months with reduced affordability (higher rates but still historically low) and the bottoming of existing home inventory in 2013 providing additional listing competition in some markets.
December housing starts
• 999k annualized and seasonally adjusted rate in December, declining 9.8% but exceeding forecasts. More weakness in multi-family starts than 1-family • +18.3% 2013 over 2012
Why I thought January Housing Starts would fall (luckily I was right with the announcement of a record 16% drop) • Same factors in place as last month: Weather, Labor and Material Costs and Land Costs. • Record m-o-m drop in NAFB confidence – looking out over the coming months – suggests a larger impact by weather. • Mortgage rates slipped from last month but still nearly a point higher than a year ago, expectation of flat or edging higher in 2014. • Implementation of Dodd-Frank Qualified Mortgage (QM) may also drag viewing traffic. • Permits already fell over last 2 months which suggests lower starts (contracts versus closed sales analogy).
Actual January housing starts release after my interview
• 880K annualized rate in January, dropping 16% from December 2013. • January 2014 y-o-y dropped 2%. • Permits fell for 3rd consecutive month, down 5.4% from prior month (seasonally adjusted).
STILL – the question REALLY is whether the recent construction slowdown is the beginning of a trend or a temporary set back that will clear over the next few months as the weather improves and the economy shows some improvement. Right now it feels more like the market is losing momentum and the weather is only making it worse.
Check out my 3CW column on @CurbedNY:
I get the feeling that many businesses (and the local economy) have been on some sort of “pause” during the past month, perhaps partially brought about by the weather. (Full disclosure: I’m the first to admit – I LOVE snow. I’ve even got a snowmaker at home.) Since the market is experiencing the tightest inventory levels in 14 years, I thought I’d compare seasonal inventory trends to seasonal snowfall trends…
My latest Three Cents Worth column on Curbed:
Snowy Weather Keeps The Listings Away [Curbed]
There was a terrific Bloomberg News story by Oshrat Carmiel: Manhattan Trophy Home Sellers Test Buyer Limits on Price that delved into the disconnect between reality and perception of the luxury housing market in Manhattan. I talk about this phenomenon on Bloomberg Radio’s ‘Taking Stock’ with Pimm Fox and Carol Masser.
It all began with Sandy Weill’s $88M sale of 15 Central Park West PH20 to a Russian Oligarch back in late 2011 that closed in early 2012. He was reportedly purchasing the unit for his 20-something daughter to crash when she wasn’t at her home in Monaco but it was more likely a divorce strategy. The home sold for $13k per square foot, 30% more than the recent $10k ppsf record previously set within the building (ie definition of an outlier).
Combine this outlier with the dearth of high end new development until recently and this 13k ppsf threshold became a new pricing tool for hopeful sellers and real estate brokers of large properties. The $100M resale penthouse listing at CitySpire was the new symbol of “outlier pricing” phenomenon. Other examples of aggressive pricing are cited in the Bloomberg story.
Despite the fact that this nearly $100M subset represents a tiny sliver – a handful of listings and sales – in the overall Manhattan market, consumer (buyers and sellers) have been subjected to a buzz saw of news reports about trophy properties giving the impression that properties like this comprise most of the housing market.
In reality there have only been a handful of contracts signed near the $100M threshold at buildings like One57 and 432 Park Avenue (the near $100M townhouse contract doesn’t count because it’s roughly 1/2 the ppsf of those apt sales)..and otherwise the overall Manhattan market seeing very modest price growth.
Yet none of the trophy apartment resales are selling at this new price point. Sellers have been testing the waters to see if someone across the globe will be willing to pay for something here, that in relative dollars to their home market is a good deal or they hope they will get lucky and these buyers will over pay.
Apparently these trophy sellers haven’t used the Internet.
Just got this feedback emailed from a real estate agent: In every neighborhood and property class “testing the waters” is an age-old technique that has enough utility to go on forever. As an agent, I prefer the price that results in a quick sell but I never turned down a client who insists on an absurd Ask. In most such cases, I have picked up a few customers and sold them something else they could afford before the “outlier” ran out of inquiries and the seller dropped its price or took it off the market. I like it when journalists report activity at the extremes of price and value because it helps me to identify the evolving dimensions of the market.