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Weather & Natural Disasters

The Overstated COVID-19 Blame on Urban Density in Favor of Suburban Living

May 20, 2020 | 1:06 pm | Explainer |


[NYC.gov]

One of the pieces of conventional wisdom we have picked up during the COVID-19 crisis is that high-density residential living will be less favored. The city to suburban migration pattern is already beginning in New York City and could last several years. The rising number of suburban single-family rental inquiries from the city has provided the initial evidence of a trend. City residents seem to be looking to test drive the suburbs and commute to their city job when “shelter in place rules begin to ease.”

Unfair Reputation?

New York City has developed a national reputation as a hotbed of Coronavirus infection because of our higher density. We live a lot closer together than a sprawling suburb in Dallas and have a greater dependency on public transportation such as the subway and buses instead of driving cars. I live in Fairfield County, Connecticut, a bedroom suburb of New York City with a county-wide COVID-19 ratio of 1068 deaths per its 943,332 population. Dallas County, Texas, had 153 deaths per its 2.636 million people. My county has a wildly higher death rate than a county that contains an urban core like Dallas.

Is the city to suburban trend sustainable?

New Yorkers buy into the urban to the suburban narrative, so I believe the push to the outlying NYC metro suburbs could be quite significant in the near term. While the outbound migration began a few years ago, it is not clear whether the trend can continue for more than a few years. The pattern could ultimately be different from what is currently expected including:

  • A boost for second-home markets: There might be an influx of demand to areas the Hudson Valley, Northern Connecticut The Hamptons, and the North Fork, to name a few. Consumers made begin to view a second home as an equal asset to the primary home to have similar quality options. This potential trend would be contrarian to other significant economic downturns as second-homes are not considered “second-priority.”

  • And because the implications of the SALT tax will remain in place on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis, Florida and Texas can make a compelling pitch to New York City couples with small children cooped up in 1,000 square foot 2-bedroom apartments right now. They are realizing they aren’t as tethered to their work location as they once thought – and schooling via Zoom is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I think that the high-density lifestyle of New York City is what makes living there so great. I’ve lived in or around New York City since the mid-80s. Before we moved to the city, my dad used to proclaim:

Where else can you buy strawberries at 3 am in the morning?!?!?

Placing strawberries aside, I remain skeptical that the urban to suburban outbound migration can be sustained long term. We saw the same outbound pattern after 9/11 and then an inbound return only a few years later.

Density is not the only reason

Urban density is just one reason for the high COVID-19 infection rate that is driving outbound migration. It is not the reason. Other factors influencing the disparity in the infection rate include neighborhood characteristics such as wealth, commute time, and the concentration of multi-generational households.

The map above confirms the argument that it’s not all about density – the highest infection rates are in the “suburban-like” areas of the city including Staten Island and the outer reaches of Brooklyn and Queens. Manhattan, home for many of the tall commercial and residential towers the city is famous for, has the lowest infection rate.

These Manhattan results might help maintain the enthusiasm for that occasional 3 am strawberry run to the corner market.

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Manhattan Crisis: What Does Our Housing Past Tell Us About Our Housing Future?

May 7, 2020 | 1:02 pm | |

In this Sunday’s New York Times Real Estate Section (online now), the Calculator column featured some data trends I’ve gathered during two significant prior housing market events: What Can 9/11 and the Great Recession Tell Us About Coronavirus Recovery?

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ABC World News Report 5-2-20 ‘Urban to Suburban’

May 3, 2020 | 9:08 pm | TV, Videos |

If you can indulge me, I was included in the ABC World News Tonight broadcast on Saturday night to talk about the potential urban to suburban housing shift, particularly in NYC. It was cool to be interviewed by Deirdre Bolton for her first World News Tonight segment since just joining ABC via Fox Business and previously from Bloomberg where I had spoken with her before. Great move ABC!


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Establishing the COVID-19 Demarcation Line: From ‘Hanks To Banks’

April 28, 2020 | 5:26 pm | Milestones |

This topic was explored in last Friday’s Housing Notes.

In order to understand what is happening now, we need to ween ourselves off of what happened before this crisis and focus on finding data exclusive to the post-COVID-19 era. In Manhattan, that data set is not yet apparent because we are in nearly a total market shut down but it is evident elsewhere to a limited degree. From my perspective, the demarcation line for the onset of the crisis is where market participants would have to be living in a cave on a desert island to be unaware of the sharp pivot in market sentiment.

March 15, 2020

I believe that date is March 15th which is the date of the Federal Reserve federal funds rate cut to zero and was their second cut in less than two weeks.

March 11, 2020

My friend and California appraiser Ryan Lundquist proclaimed March 11th which was the date Tom Hanks announced he and his wife had contracted COVID-19. Phil Crawford of Voice of Appraisal said the demarcation line was March 5, 2020 dubbing it “data point zero” and I had originally said the demarcation line was March 3, 2020, on the day of the 0.5% rate cut in March.

I was talking about this difference in these dates with a friend, Chicagoan, and RAC appraiser Michael Hobbs who brilliantly dubbed this four-day window from March 11 to March 15 as: “From Hanks To Banks.”

And if you do the math, the median and average date of March 11 and March 15 is literally Friday the 13th so what more confirmation of a demarcation line do you need?

Whatever your specific local demarcation line is, use it to keep the data for these two market periods separate.

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Do We Hope This Listing Goes Viral?…No We Don’t.

April 7, 2020 | 2:08 pm | | Favorites |

I am reading a lot more about everything right now, including real estate. Yesterday’s Bloomberg article caught my eye: Greenwich Homeowner Bets on Virus Getaway Pitch to Win a Sale. Desperation to sell can take many forms. Please read on.

The article featured a listing in Greenwich, CT that came on 68 days ago that wasn’t moving (I assume this based on what was done later). Here is the text for the original listing displayed at the bottom the screenshot:

Like new light-filled house with a modern design by Donald Breismeister including 9 ft ceilings on the first floor. High-tech amenities throughout with e-thermostat, lighting and security cameras all hardwifred CAT-5 wiring throughout. Bathrooms are beautiful and modern with separate steamshower and large whirlpool tub. Nice front yard and backyard has large entertainment deck. All these amenities are just two blocks from the Post Road on a quiet road within walking distance to GreenwichHS, Greenwich Country Day and Central MS.


[click to expand]

With the sales market slowing down despite entering peak selling season, many homeowners are reluctant to add their homes to the rental market. The owner in the article said:

“I rented property in the past. It’s too much hassle. My trust level is pretty low with renters.”

About ten days ago the listing was modified by raising the price to $100,000 and throwing in a 2011 Subaru, linens, televisions, etc. and rebranding the sales effort as a Coronavirus Special (bold emphasis mine).

CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL – Some houses are move-in ready. This house is live-in ready. It comes with all furniture, kitchen appliances, washer & dryer, dishes, silverware, TVs, pool table, beds, linens, lawn equipment and even a car. Everything you need to enjoy living in your own house in Greenwich. The house was designed by an award winning architect with lots of custom features. The first floor has high ceilings and two fireplaces. You have a Costco closet just off the 2-car garages and 5 BRs upstairs.You have town water, gas and sewer and are close to both public and private schools. Tomney is a quiet side street, but near downtown, the train and I-95.If you don’t want the time and hassle of arranging movers and buying lots of new items, this house is ready for you now.

While I very much appreciate how hard it is right now to market a home for sale during a global pandemic, the marketing of a home as a CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL is a bit tone-deaf especially when raising the price to include a bunch of the seller’s personal stuff. “Throwing in” used furniture, appliances, linens and an old car by raising the listing price by $100,000 is not, by definition, “throwing it in.”

When I first saw the listing in the Bloomberg piece I thought about all the snarky headlines during other pandemics/tragedies and using brutal sarcasm I found myself chuckling from the absurdity of all of it. Now, as I was writing this post a day later, the initial LMAO title ideas felt icky and were not worth repeating.

Q: Can you imagine associating the word “SPECIAL” with these?

  • AIDS
  • SARS
  • H1N1
  • 9/11

A: I didn’t think so.

Times like this call for creative marketing and perhaps the Bloomberg story and even this blog post may bring new eyeballs to the listing to help it sell. I suspect that won’t happen because the appearance of the home and what comes with it for the price isn’t the problem. The agent is definitely not the problem. The seller is definitely not the problem. The problem is the sudden change in the world we live in and the understanding that it will take time to adapt. Our initial impulses to take action, such as this situation, are often wrong.

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Staying Put Locally = Saving Lives Globally

March 28, 2020 | 9:05 am |

Visual Capitalist created a terrific infographic of 41 cities around the globe comparing the outbreak trend against the commuter activity trend. Incredible

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Real estate appraisers are an essential business and here to protect the public trust

March 24, 2020 | 8:00 pm | Milestones |

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.

Stay safe!

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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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New Yorkers Are Busy During Week So Big Snowstorms Need to Occur On Weekends

March 7, 2016 | 1:20 pm | | Favorites |

snowstormCP
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:

  • 81% of major snowstorms (over 15 inches dumped in Central Park) began on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday
  • there is no evidence that major snow storms disrupt the economy more than a few days.

In fact, the odds of repeating NYC’s snowstorm history is 0.2% or 500 to 1.

FRBsnowstorms

“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:

Tuesday
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…

Saturday
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.

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Bloomberg View Column: Housing Market Blows Hot and Cold

February 8, 2015 | 5:32 pm | | Charts |

BVlogo

Read my latest Bloomberg View column Housing Market Blows Hot and Cold.

2015-05BVchart

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?…

[read more]


My Bloomberg View Column Directory

My Bloomberg View RSS feed.

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Bloomberg View Column: The Myth of Real Estate Stigma

August 31, 2014 | 4:52 pm | | Charts |

BVlogo I gave some thought to what the long term impact of a nationally-covered local tumultuous event on a local housing market might be…

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.

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Incentivized by FEMA, ‘Houses on Stilts’

March 31, 2014 | 6:00 am |

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.

IMG_3703
IMG_3707
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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…

IMG_3715

and with the work complete…

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What would a potential buyer of the house next door (in a flood zone) think?
IMG_4560 2

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