The Chill in US Real Estate

You know things are starting to get dicey out there when even a multimillion-dollar penthouse in Manhattan can’t sell.

It seems a developer in SoHo, having just recently finished primary construction for his high-rise condo tower, realized the project’s focal point – a $45 million, 8,400-square-foot penthouse – was just a bit too much.

“The air is very thin up there in that buyer pool,” was the way the builder, Kevin Maloney, put it to Bloomberg.

You’ll love the Solomon-esque solution Maloney came up with.

The penthouse has a wonderfully grandiose name: the Summit of SoHo.

Sure, it has its own indoor pool. And yes, it has 23-foot living room ceilings. Plus, it has not one but two private elevators. One goes to the lobby; the other is so you don’t have to take the stairs to the penthouse’s upper levels (for entertaining, a spa and a rooftop kitchen and grill).

But the stock market cracked hard at the start of the year, with the S&P 500 down 11% at its lowest point in 2016, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped roughly 17%. In recent months, Chinese real estate buyers pulled a disappearing act from realtor offices all around the U.S. And after years of ultra low interest rates and easy lending policies, there’s now an excess of iconic luxury living quarters on the island of Manhattan.

The developer’s solution? Chop his project’s expansive space into two smaller penthouses – an $11 million, 3,000-square-foot unit (though at that size, it hardly seems big enough for one’s collection of bespoke suits), and a second, 5,400-square-foot unit for a comparatively cheap $29.5 million.

I’ll keep an eye on it and let you know if either gets a sale or not.

Red Hot Real Estate No More

These days, even the bond rating agencies, ever late to calling the turns in any market, are jumping on board…

Fitch Ratings noted last month that home prices in San Francisco have “risen to a level unsupportable by area income.” According to Fitch, that makes the local market overvalued by around 16% – which probably means that you’d need to double that figure to estimate a true “fair value” for this once white-hot luxury market.

Just in the last few days, the National Association of Realtors noted weakening demand among foreign buyers, blaming a strong dollar and rising U.S. home prices for pushing U.S. real estate beyond the bounds of affordability even for rich foreigners.

The crash of China’s Shanghai Composite stock index (down nearly 22% just since the start of 2016 with nary a bounce) forced many of the country’s wealthy elites to pull back on their property purchases. You can see the impact in regional news headlines around the country:

In San Francisco: “At High End, SF’s Housing Market Finally Cooling Off.”

From The Boston Globe: “High-end housing market cooling off.”

In Fort Lauderdale: “South Florida condo market cooling off.”

Will it get worse for premium real estate? I think we’re still in the early innings.

Uncle Sam’s War on Cash (Property Buyers)

The story didn’t get much media play back in January, but that’s when the U.S. Treasury Department and its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced the issuance of “Geographic Targeting Orders” for New York City and Miami.

The “GTOs,” according to FinCEN’s press release, require “certain U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind companies used to pay ‘all cash’ for high-end residential real estate.”

Basically, the folks at the Treasury are worried whether corrupt foreign officials or “transnational criminals” might be laundering piles of dirty money through these multimillion-dollar property purchases.

Or is Uncle Sam just worried about the flood of Chinese cash into the American real estate market? “All cash” is practically a synonym for rich Chinese property buyers.

At least, that used to be the case. As we’ve seen in the “cooling off” headlines around the country, the absence of this class of real estate purchaser is starting to be felt in markets around the country.

An article in The New York Times late last year really brings the impact of Chinese property buyers into focus. When it comes to purchasing a home in America, they pay an average price of $831,000 – nearly double what international buyers from India ($460,000), Britain ($455,000) and Canada ($380,000) pay for their homes in the U.S.

In coming quarters, I believe the FinCEN “targeting orders” will likely spell the end of the property-speculation craze among Chinese buyers. The government action may only be limited to New York City and Miami, but it will have a deep chilling effect everywhere. After all, it only takes another press release from FinCEN to announce an expansion into other American cities of its inquiry into the identities of those big-money, anonymous all-cash property buyers.

The trend will take time, with the data trickling onto economists’ spreadsheets. But as Chinese elites continue to pull back from American real estate, well, get ready for a “Wile E. Coyote” moment in high-end luxury home prices – and more pressure on the Federal Reserve to reverse its stance on interest rates.

Real Estate Statistics Explained

Basic Real Estate Statistics Explained

We are going to define some of the basic real estate statistics that get thrown around on a regular basis. To do that, we will use one real estate market, located in Hood County Texas. Even more granular, we will use the single family numbers for homes in Granbury Tx, a small town of approximately 8,000 residents which has seen substantial real estate growth in the past 12 months. It is important when reviewing real estate statistics to use a group of numbers large enough for consistency, but granular enough to tell your story.

The statistics that we will be referencing are true and accurate for the year discussed but are being used to define the real estate statistic itself.

We have chosen Granbury Tx as our example because the growth of the local real estate market there make the statics stand out.

Anytime you are evaluating statistics, especially in real estate, the source of the numbers are extremely important. In most instances, the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) provides the most accurate numbers when referring to real estate. This is because they have all listings by all local real estate brokers in their database. For the sake of explanation of the data, we will be looking at the numbers for home sales in Granbury Tx, directly from the MLS. These numbers are meant to give an example of how to read the statistics themselves. Anytime you evaluate real estate numbers, its important to pay close attention to how the numbers are gathered. In this instance, we will be using ONLY single family properties in the city of Granbury.

Basic Real Estate Statistics

Number of Sales – This one is pretty self explanatory. It is simply the number of single family homes sold in a particular month. In January of 2015, they had 51 single family homes sold. One thing to pay attention to when looking at this statistic is are they using the Under Contract date or the day the property actually went to closing. These two dates are usually between 30 and 60 days apart, so its critical that you know which one is being referenced. In addition, many of the homes that get calculated, if you are using the “under contract” number may not actually close! In our example, we are using the number of homes that actually closed. In January of 2016 they had an increase of over 49% which brought the total to 77 from 51. Growth of that level is very seldom ever seen.

Sales Volume – Sales Volume is simply the total amount of dollars spent on single family housing within that month. Once again, when reviewing this statistic, its important to keep the property types consistent. If you are comparing two areas to see which one has grown more and you include vacant land in the number for one area, you must include it in the other too. As previously mentioned, our examples only include single family properties. With Number of Sales looking at the units, you would expect the Sales Volume to go up appropriately, but in this instance, it went up even more than the units (by percentage). The total Sales Volume of single family homes in Granbury in January of 2016 was $15,191,500 as opposed to the January of 2015 number of $9,281,915. That is an increase of over 63%. Because the Sales Volume went up at a larger rate than the number of units, this reflects the average home sale being much larger in 2016 than 2015.

Months of Inventory – This is a commonly referred to statistic when examining a real estate market. This statistic refers to at the current rate of sales, how long will it take to sell through the existing level of inventory. This reflects the supply and demand for the market. In our example, in January of 2015 the level of inventory was 9 months and in January of 2016 it had dropped to 6 months. That is a 33% drop in available inventory! This means if you are looking to buy a home in Granbury Tx, it will be a little tougher in 2016 as there is less inventory available to buy.

Median Days To Sell – This stat simply refers to how long it takes for single family properties to be put under contract. Don’t let the “to sell” confuse you. To accurately show the demand for active homes, you really want to track how long it takes to go “under contract”. The process of acquiring final lender approval, insurance and getting to a closing can vary on a variety of factors. In January of 2015, the Median Days to Sell was 88. That number dropped by over 30% to 61. Once again, this tells you if you are looking for homes in Granbury TX, you better get your offers in quickly as the most desirable homes are going fast!

Average Price – This statistic can be derived in a variety of ways. We are going to use it in its most raw form and simply be the Average Price of Homes Sold within that month. Be careful when looking at this statistic printed anywhere as how the user defines the date sold can vary. Needless to say, Average Price can be used for active homes for sale or for the homes that sold. The Average Price of ACTIVE homes for sale is generally a pretty useless number as you can list a home for any price, without any possibility of it ever selling. Many homes listed for sale are at unrealistic prices thus the Average Price of Active homes for sale can fluctuate dramatically and give little insight into the market. You will want to look at the Average Price of SOLD homes. In January of 2015, the Average Home Sale was $181,998 and it jumped to $199,888 in the same month in 2016. This is an increase of almost 10%. This is not a number that truly tells the increase in home values across the board, but simply of the homes sold in that month, what the average was.

Median Price – The Average Home Sales Price can be skewed by a variety of factors. All it takes is one 5 million dollar home sale to throw those numbers off. To get a better view of the overall increase in value, it can be better to look at the Median Sales Price. Median Sales Price takes the number that is perfectly in the middle. For instance, if you have 11 homes that you are using in your statistic, you would take the sales price of the 6th one. This leaves 5 homes sold higher and 5 homes sold lower. In this instance, they are pretty close as the Median Sales Price increase from January 2015 to 2016 was 9.69%. This shows that we didn’t have the Average Price skewed too much because of an extremely large or extremely small sale.
There are hundreds of ways to look at the same numbers, when referencing to real estate, so be very careful to read the fine print on exactly what numbers they are using. When making comparisons, you will want to make absolutely sure that both are referencing the same property types, dates etc. It like the old saying says… there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

In an effort to describe some of the most basic real estate statistics, we are using the market statistics from Granbury Tx as they have seen some extraordinary growth.

Columbia, MO Offers Great Real Estate Opportunities

The real estate market in Columbia, MO is ever-changing. Columbia has now became the fourth largest city in the state of Missouri. The city gained about 10,600 residents between 2010 and 2015. This is great for real estate in the area. It has been the fastest growing city in Missouri over the past five years. Every Boone County community has seen growth since 2010 by about 3 to 4 percent, except the smallest towns. This city has a wide range of real estate from condos and apartments to single family homes. There is plenty to choose from and a great time to buy or sell.

Columbia, MO is the perfect place to live in Missouri. It is practically right in the middle of the state with St. Louis and Kansas City being less than 2 hours away in each direction. There are many outdoor activities to participate in with nearby state parks and the MKT and Katy Trail to hike and bike on. Columbia also has amazing festivals! There is one or more every month ranging from the True/False Film Festival and Citizen Jane Film Festival to Art in the Park and the Roots ‘n Blues n’ Barbecue Festival. If you are a sports fan, you can’t go wrong with the Mizzou Tigers, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Cardinals or Kansas City Royals. If you like music, there are many great venues like Mizzou Arena and the Blue Note that draw in big-time artists. In the summer, there are outdoor concerts downtown during Ninth Street Summerfest. Columbia also has its own airport to provide easy access for your business trips or family vacations.

Columbia is the perfect place to live for anyone. If you are a student coming to one of our 3 great colleges, there is plenty of student housing and apartments. If you are a young professional not quite ready to live in the suburbs, there are great downtown lofts to choose from. For those of you with families, there are so many great subdivisions with amenities including pools, playgrounds, fitness centers, golf, fruit trees and more! Are you ready to retire? Columbia, MO is the perfect place! There are plenty of areas to live that are 55 and older communities. If you need some everyday help, there are also assisted living communities.

In May 2016, the average days on market for a home in Columbia was 69 days and the average sales price was $204,791. The number of active listings was down quite a bit from last year. Last May, the number of active listings was 1,208 and this May there are only 931 homes for sale. The active median list price has increased since last year from $170,000 to $194,900. Year-to-date, there have been 91 more homes sold this year than last. The most active listings currently are in the $300,000 to $399,999 range and the most new listings are in the $200,000 to $249,999 range. Currently, there is only enough inventory to support the market for the next 3 months. In April 2016, there were 930 active listings, 482 new listings and 292 sold listings.

If you have been thinking about listing your home for sale in Columbia, MO or the surrounding areas, now is the time to do it. With inventory being low, it is more of a seller’s market. Some homes are currently seeing multiple offers on them, especially those priced under $300,000.

Time to Get Out of Real Estate

Talk about exquisite timing.

Even today, a decade after the fact, the leveraged buyout of Equity Office Properties Trust remains one of the largest of all time: $36 billion for nearly 600 office buildings in New York, Washington D.C. and dozens of the nation’s largest cities.

But in late 2006, some wondered if the billionaire who sold the REIT was being a little rash. After all, the real estate boom was in full swing, and the S&P 500 was primed to hit new all-time highs. “Is he cashing out too early?” asked a Bloomberg headline when the deal was announced.

We all know the answer, of course.

Billionaire Sam Zell deftly sidestepped the coming real estate carnage. Then, with prices at generational lows a few years later, Zell bought hundreds of apartment complexes at dirt-cheap prices.

And today? Well, that’s the ominous part…

Once again, Zell is selling his real estate holdings. Last fall, he unloaded a quarter of his portfolio, buildings totaling about 23,000 rental apartments, to Starwood Capital Group for more than $5 billion.

Zell next sold off apartment buildings in South Florida and Denver, with complexes in Phoenix, Boston and other metro areas expected to be sold before the year is out.

“No one has ever accused me of not being a realist,” Zell told CNBC’s talking heads recently.

Reality Bites

Few things are more real than the threat of rising interest rates. Concerned about the Fed’s late-to-the-party threats and distorted capital markets drunk on years of zero-interest-rate policy, Zell is getting out while the getting is still good.

In the past few months, new-home sales hit their highest level in eight years. Pending home sales rose by the largest percentage gain in a decade.

Even home flipping is back in vogue again. RealtyTrac, measuring 2015 data, estimated a 75% increase in active home flippers – the highest since 2007.

Nationally, the average gross profit on a flipped home was $55,000 – the largest since 2006.

But for the realists like Zell, the widening cracks in the facade are plain to see.

For instance, apartment rent is starting to come down in New York and San Francisco – two of the hottest markets in the country. There is simply too much supply and not enough demand.

A few weeks ago, the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston warned about overheated speculation in the commercial real estate market. “We care about potentially inflated commercial real estate prices,” said the bank’s president, Eric Rosengren, “because they might risk a bout of financial instability.”

Translated from “Fedspeak,” Rosengren was saying: Get out now.

Even those ultra ultraluxury homes in the $100 million and up range aren’t selling. It’s a rarefied market, for sure, but The New York Times recently noted that a record 27 properties, each with a nine-figure price tag, are languishing unsold on the market. According to figures kept by Christie’s International Real Estate, 19 such homes were on the market in 2015 and 12 in 2014.

Late last year, I wrote about one of those massive palazzos here in Florida – the beachside $159 million, 60,000 square foot Le Palais Royal. It’s still for sale.

Perhaps the extra gold leaf they painted on the front security gate will help.

Beware the Peak

I can’t see Sam Zell taking up residence in Le Palais Royal. But then again, he sold his office properties in 2006, and watched the market crack wide open a year later. Now he’s unloading his real estate portfolio again, so, who knows?

If history repeats, Zell just might find his next great distressed real estate bargains in the palatial homes of the (once) superrich – dazzling jewels of the “new” gilded age now past its prime.

To Buy or to Build

When families, or individuals, first begin to think about purchasing a home, the question often arises as to whether they should buy a previously owned house, and then add a few personal touches, or whether they should hire a custom home building company to help them design their own. There are benefits and downfalls to both, making it a tough choice.

Buying

Buying a new home has certain conveniences that many people appreciate, like the fact that everything is already done. For example, the washer hook up is already in place, the walls are already insulated and the bathroom is all ready to be used. This saves the hassle, and possible conflict of making major decisions, which can be a huge relief for individuals that are a bit indecisive. Buying a home means that buyers can move in sooner, and they may save money in the long run, depending on the house.

The same things that are positives have the potential to turn into negatives. It may be nice that the washer hook up is already in its designated spot, but what if it is in the kitchen and buyers would prefer it in the bathroom. This is a small adjustment, but when a buyer is not satisfied with the minor things, it can all build up over time. Also, the bathroom may already be ready to be used, but how old are the pipes?

The pipes, furnace, central air system and the very foundation of all previously owned homes have been in use for several years when the building is purchased, and they may need replaced sooner than buyers are prepared for. A used furnace is more likely to need repaired than a brand new one, and the same rule applies to everything in the house.

Building

Working with a professional home builder can be fun and exciting. Every room will be the exact size that the buyer wants or needs, buyers will be able to have an energy-efficient home, and the ability to personalize every space guarantees that custom homes will have more personality. Even the floors will be perfect, whether they are hardwood, tile or carpet.

Vital components of new homes, such as the furnace, will have less wear and tear, costing first time buyers less money in the long run, and less hassle. Last, a professional home builder will make sure that everything is exactly how the buyer wants it, eliminating the need for renovations, and the stress that can come with each new project.

Building a house can be stressful for buyers that are unsure of what they want. Are open spaces better or closed off rooms? Where should the washer hook up go? Qualified home builders with enough experience can help make some of these decisions a little bit easier.

The only other downside to custom-built homes is that it may be more expensive when looking at the short-term cost. Brand new furnaces are not cheap. On the other hand, most buyers will wind up with a brand new furnace if they purchase an older (cheaper) house in the long run anyway.

All in all, it boils down to whether buyers would like to spend a little bit more money when first buying a home for a brand new home that has been designed to meet their needs, or whether home owners would like to spend more money in the long run as renovations take place and things, like the furnace, need replaced. Taking the time and money to hire an experienced home builder can save families years’ worth of stress and hassle.

Mike Blake Homes is a well-known custom home builder with plenty of experience to guide you on your home building journey. Expect a collaborative spirit and attention to detail that will allow them to build your home in Tyler, Sulphur Springs, Rockwall, Allen Keller and anywhere in between. You’re choosing a home building industry expert with the knowledge and connections to build a dream home. Be advised of green options, security, spectacular finishes and more through every step of the process. Choose your plans and get a free home estimate to see how incredibly affordable having the exact house you desire can be.