Time to Get Out of Real Estate

r8Talk 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.

How to Assess Any Real Estate With the Approaches to Value

r7The valuation steps applied to create a supported conclusion of a defined value based on an analysis of applicable general and specific data. Assessment in creating an opinion of real estate value follows specific sets of processes that reflect 3 different methods. These include:

– Cost Method
– Direct Comparison Method
– Income Approach Method

One or more of these methods can be used in the assessment of real estate valuation. The methods to be used will rely almost entirely on the type of property being assessed or appraised; however may also factor in the use of the appraisal, the scope of work involved, and the data availability for the analysis.

Cost Method

The cost approach to assessment and appraisal is established by understanding the construction methodologies and property attributes related to cost. The cost approach is estimated by adding the cost of land to the current cost of construction related to all improvement on land, and subtracting depreciation in all improvements on the land. The construction costs of buildings would include a reproduction cost or a replacement cost of the same or similar like materials or systems. This approach works best when it used for the assessment of new or newer properties that are not frequently exchanged in the market. The actual costs are usually derived from cost estimator software, cost manuals, builders, and contractors. Note: The land would remain a separate value when using the cost approach.

Direct Comparison Approach

The direct comparison method to assessment of real estate is most useful when there is a large number of similar like properties that have recently transacted on the market or are currently listed on the market. Using this method, the assessment would come from identifying the subject with similar properties, called comparables (or comps). The sale prices that most identify with the subject would have a heavier weight on the value, oppose to one that is further from the subject characteristics. Most of the time the comparables would create a range of value, upon which; opinion must be used to find an exact value. Several elements or factors are used to qualify the degree of similarity between comparables and the subject. This would include: real property rights, financial terms, property conditions of the sale, post sale expenditures, location, market factors, physical characteristics, economic characteristics, use/zoning, non-real estate components of sale (chattels, fixtures). After the best comparables are set, a dollar figure or percentage is applied to the sale price of each property to estimate the hypothetical value of the subject. For instance comparable A has 1 more bathroom than the subject; therefore subtract $9000 from the comparable to hypothetically get the sale to reflect the same characteristic as the subject.

Income Approach

The income method to the assessment of real estate would be from an analysis of present value of the future benefits of property ownership. A property’s income and resale worth upon return may be capitalized into a current, lump-sum amount. There are two methods of the income approach; one is direct capitalization and the other yield capitalization. Direct capitalization is the relation between one year’s income and worth indicated by either a capitalization rate or an income multiplier. Yield capitalization is the relationship between several years of stabilized income and worth at the end of a specified period reflected in a yield rate. The most commonly used yield capitalization method would be the discounted cash flow analysis.

Why Sky High SoCal Housing Costs Just Keep Rising

r6Any SoCal Resident Can Tell You Rent is High,

But did you know the average cost of a home in Los Angeles ($658,000) is more than double the national average for houses of the same size? Real estate experts say that the gap between the cost of living in LA and the rest of the country will continue to get larger, all the way through 2018. When gainfully employed, educated people with salaries hovering around $250,000 a year are looking to move to nearby cities due to the inability to find a home within their budget that meets their standard of living, it is clear that California is pricing out its own residents. And the truth is – there isn’t really much anyone can do about it.

The Cause

While no single problem is exclusively to blame for the incredibly inflamed housing cost in Los Angeles, the generalized answer is that there are not enough houses to meet the demand, and in addition to that, the cost to build more housing keeps developers away. It is a vicious cycle of economics – people want housing, construction companies can’t fill that demand because the cost to them is too high, this takes money and jobs out of the metropolitan area as builders, investors, and developers look to the suburbs to build, so the demand grows, and the cost grows alongside it.

What is even more unexpected, is that the positive growth in jobs and the rest of the economy is actually putting more of a strain on housing cost. Los Angeles has added tens of thousands of jobs in almost all sectors of the market, from the lower level entry jobs, all the way to opening space for new executives and CEOs, and as you can expect, that means more people look to move to the city to fill the openings which the jobs have created; thus adding to the demand for housing that seems insatiable in Los Angeles.

The Proposed Solutions…

The answer seems simple, right? Just build more houses. Unfortunately, nothing is ever that easy. Up until recently there was a push among lawmakers to, at the very least, keep the cost of housing under control through litigation.

The solution seemed concentrated on reducing the cost for contractors to build homes and new developments. Prior to this year, litigation seemed to offer great tax incentives to builders willing and able to quickly build new multi-family units, especially in urban areas. Especially to those builders who made such new developments more eco-friendly and energy-efficient.

Many state law makers have focused energy and attention on low-income housing subsidies. The legislative analyst’s report estimated that building affordable homes for the 1.7 million low-income households in California that now spend half their salaries on housing would cost as much to finance each year as the state’s spending on Medi-Cal.

… And why they have failed

As much as state litigators may want to deal with the overwhelming housing shortage in LA, there is a huge problem – namely, that most decisions regarding new developments and building fall into the laps of city and local government. The state governments’ hands are tied. Unfortunately, the smaller governments tend to have a much more narrow view of the situation, seeking to raise gains and find solutions for /their/ city, without much consideration for the surrounding areas.

Additionally, the main tool that state legislators could use to quickly build homes, is in direct opposition to a myriad of business and environmental interests. The C.E.Q.A (California’s governing environmental law), in many ways, prevents the building of new housing developments at any rate which would make an impact on the housing shortage.

So the question becomes… what can we do? Should we sacrifice environmental protection laws to lower housing costs? It is a question that has to be addressed, but with so many political influences and issues, most lawmakers won’t touch it.

And SoCal residents and home owners associations aren’t making it any easier. Many of these local governing bodies are in stark opposition of rapid development of housing- because that means that their neighborhoods would have to face the dreaded “D” word… Density.

Push-back from neighborhoods and suburban areas is obvious- no one wants to be crowded in, especially in the areas which are the most affected by the housing shortage (affluent coastal communities). So it seems as though lawmakers are blocked on all fronts.

Have Lawmakers given up?

This year, it seems as if state lawmakers have given up on dealing with the increasing housing cost. Little to no new solutions have been proposed, and those that have are not being passed through and put into place. The state is at a stand-still and lawmakers seem to take the “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens” approach.

As litigation passes to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, many people believe that this increase will ease the burden on low and middle-income families and low for economic growth and eventually lead to a reduction in the housing shortage.

“Economists worry that if lawmakers don’t fix the housing supply problems, many of the state’s efforts to improve the lives of low-income residents will falter. Many legislators cited high housing costs as a reason to boost California’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next six years, but “‘unless something’s done to stem housing costs, much of that pay increase could be eaten up by higher rents, ‘Thornberg said.” (LA Times)

The Verdict?

SoCal is in a pickle, and with legislators openly admitting that the housing problem is not a priority for this year, the residents will have to pay the price. Housing costs in Los Angeles will continue to rise, unchecked, until newer, bigger ideas come into place which can put a stop to the vicious cycle of demand, lack of supply, and the overwhelming influence of special interests.

Real Estate Statistics Explained

r5Basic 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.