Taking a Loss on Real Estate it Happens

With the run-up in real estate prices in Metro Denver since The Great Recession we are finally witnessing the cooling of the market memorialized in the New York Times a few weeks ago in an article titled: Housing Market Slows, as Rising Prices outpace Wages.

While those sellers who have owned their residences for over 3 years are probably fine with selling and gaining  a small profit; over the past few months I have written about a few residential sales which has actually taken a loss via actual recorded sales price and additional losses when factoring in commission and of course inflation which seems to rarely be factored into the transaction.

In the present environment of housing prices adjusting downward, interest rates continuing to increase and signs of instability in the equities markets those taking losses on their residences may become more commonplace depending when they purchased and how motivated they are to sell.

Of note in general a loss on the sale of a home is NOT deductible on one’s income tax. In general a loss concerning real estate is only deductible when the property has been used for business or investment purposes. One tip if a loss may be forthcoming consider turning the residence into a rental and then sell; the property is now considered related to investment. Of course one would need to consult with their professional tax advisor or financial planner to ascertain the legality and proper filing but this is an option.

I predict we will start seeing some losses on homes in the Denver Metro area that had been purchased within the last 12-36 months when the market seems unstoppable concerning price appreciation coupled with historically low interest rates. While it may seem counterintuitive when the employment market is at its zenith that housing should be lagging yet that is generally how the market behaves. This is partially due to interest rate impacts, inflation eroding the value of money and other factors. This is not a new phenomenon; happens with every business cycle. This is why longer-term holds on housing usually generates a hedge against inflation but the key is long-term i.e. 7,10, 20 years out. A few examples if I may including my personal residence.

Two years ago (April 2016) I sold my personal residence for $535,000. The net after commission and closing costs was $520,000 (and no I did not pay myself a commission).

I purchased the house in October 1989 for $140,000 or $266,692 in inflation dollars. Thus my actual net gain was $253,308….no I am not complaining. On a monthly basis I made about $800 +/- and when factoring in taxes, maintenance, upkeep…..lets just say I had a house over my head.

Now when I bought the house in 1989 the Denver housing market was in a deep regional recession two years post Wall Street Crash of 1987. The seller of the house actually bought the residence in 1984 for $200,000 from the developer, another high-point of real estate in Denver that decade, here are the inflation adjusted #’s:

  • 1984: $200,000 (or $238,566 in 1989 Dollars)
  • 1989: $140,000

Thus not including commissions in real dollars the seller not only took a $60,000 loss from his purchase to the sale in 5 years, when factoring in inflation i.e. $38,566 and commission (6% at $140,000 = $8,400) the seller lost $45,000+ or almost a quarter of the value of his home in that 5 year period and the loss was not deductible.

As mentioned I sold the house in April 2016 for $535,000.

The buyers actually resold the house in June 2017 for $560,000 due to a relocation thus even after commissions and closing costs they did OK. From what I understand the new owners plan to reside long-term and thus are somewhat insulated from the pending adjustments in housing prices I believe will be headwinds in the near future.

Denver is not unique in this situation. In New York where I also hold a license there was a major loss on a truly trophy condominium apartment as follows:

The single biggest sale last month (September 2018), at $42 million, was a penthouse covering the entire 77th floor of One57, the vitreous skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan’s Billionaires’ Row, at 157 West 57th Street. Monthly carrying charges are $15,214. The unnamed European seller took a loss, however, having paid nearly $47.8 million for the unit in May 2015. The 6,240-square-foot apartment has four bedrooms and five and a half baths, not to mention breathtaking views.

While a $6M loss is painful when you consider the apartments were delivered with interiors unfinished, at that price-point you bring in your own designers and architects which can easily add $500,000 to $1M+ in finishes AND the monthly carrying charges i.e. HOA fees ranging increasing from $12,500/month to $15,214 at the time of sale that is over $150,000 annually just in common charges or another $500,000 paid during ownership. Thus all losses are relative; as we say on Wall Street you will never sell at the high and buy on the bottom.

A house is a home and should not necessarily be considered an investment or a hedge against inflation, it is shelter first and foremost.

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Charting the Market in One Property over the Past 5 years the Trend says Caution

Per my past blogs I am not providing the address of the following (I can advise within 1 block of King Soopers and adjacent neighborhood retail) I am using this listing as an indicator of the market and possible predictor of the near future. The residence is a historic 1/2 duplex, part of a grouping of townhomes dating to c. 1908 located in a desirable central Denver neighborhood yet addressed and fronting on a busier one-way Avenue.

With 3 bedrooms, multiple levels, approximately 1,800 SF finished square feet, reserved parking and low HOA/taxes an attractive listing and opportunity for the correct buyer. Personally as a prospective buyer and real estate broker I see challenges from being semi-detached i.e. sharing a common wall to the frontage on a busier roadway to reserved yet uncovered parking but this is the logical side of me.

I decided to look at the history of this listing as I pass it almost daily on my commute from Cherry Creek North to Downtown Denver.

The residence first came on the market as follows listed with a full-service brokerage offering a 2.8% co-op:

  • 7/9/13:          Initial Price:               $360,000
  • 7/9/13:          Price Increase:           $375,000
  • 7/11/13:        Goes Under Contract
  • 8/2/13:          Sold and Closed:        $375,000

The same unit enters the market again with a full-service brokerage offering a 2.8% co-op as follows:

  • 7/13/16:       Initial Price:               $585,000
  • 7/21/16:       Price Reduction:        $574,900
  • 9/11/16:       Listing Expires

Five (5) days later the listing reappears with a different full-service broker and brokerage firm offering a 2.8% co-op yet $35,000 lower asking.

  • 9/16/16:       Initial Price:               $535,000
  • 9/26/16:       Goes Under Contract
  • 11/21/16:     Sold and Closed:        $536,000

Thus the seller who purchased in 8/13 for $375,000 has sold 3 years later for $536,000 or $161,000 gross profit in excess of 40% before commissions, fees and closing costs. Over three (3) years an attractive return coupled with being a nice abode.

Now fast forward to June 2018 or just shy of 18 months after the last purchase. The unit is placed on the market with a fixed fee brokerage and offering a co-op of 2.5%

  • 6/7/18:         Initial Price:               $590,000
  • 6/23/18:       Price Reduction:        $585,000
  • 8/11/18:       Price Reduction:        $575,000
  • 8/30/18:       Listing Expired

If the seller above did sell for $575,000; their gross profit would be $39,000. After the fixed fee commission and the 2.5% co-op to the selling broker AKA the buyer broker their net profit would be approximately $22,000 before closing costs and Title Insurance. Not to shabby for 18 months, basically generating $1,200/month in profit HOWEVER, the unit did not sell.

The unit has been placed back on the market as follows with a full service broker (a firm/broker/team that is quite well-respected and knowledgeable) and a co-op of 2.5%.

  • 9/14/18:       Initial Price:               $575,000

Now let’s assume with the new broker/brokerage and the co-op, let’s assume 5% of the closing purchase price. My gut says the unit will close between $545,000 and $555,000. Let’s see what the net is after commission of 5% sans closing costs and Title Insurance:

  • At $575,000 – 5%($28,750) = $546,250
  • At $567,500 – 5%($28,375) = $539,125
  • At $560,000 – 5%($28,000) = $532,000
  • At $553,500 – 5%($27,675) = $525,825
  • At $545,000 – 5%($27,250) = $517,750

Thus not even considering inflation which is now evident or the Time Value of Money, unless this sellers assuming a 5% commission structure transacts at $565,000 or above a strong possibility of actual net loss over the last 18 months.

I understand the initial listing with a fixed rate brokerage as in a strong sellers market there is this assumption that all full-service brokers due it place in MLS and other distribution channels and wait for the phone to ring. I with 3 decades as a broker can attest this is far from reality, however the perception continues.

Yet consider this, while listed with the fixed price brokerage for three months the seller  I assume was paying on a mortgage, thus those 3 months of payments are not coming back and doubtful much impact towards principal. With the new listing I would not be surprised to see reductions before the end of September.

Granted there may be new prospective buyers who have not seen the listing prior. Yet with continued forecasted interest rate hikes and a general slowing of demand, whether seasonal or I assume more indicative due to a lack of demand I would be surprised if the unit sells at the asking of $575,000.

Again my gut advises the unit will sell for between $545,000 and $555,000 assuming no Fall Surprise in the equity markets; not much more than when sold two years prior and if factoring in closing costs and inflation, an actual monetary loss. Will keep all posted.

 

A Broker Makes a Rational Offer for his Future Residence the Results

My wife and I have been looking for a home (for followers of my blog we sold our primary residence of just shy of 30 years back in April 2017). We have kept our eye on a listing in one of Denver’s most desirable and stable (concerning values over the long-term) neighborhoods. The home we expressed interest in is small (similar houses have been expanded), requires updating to present code including electrical, no garage and the basement shows evidence of past and more recent water damage.  Coupled with all the above information the most recent index by Beracha, Hardin & Johnson Buy vs. Rent Index suggests we would be better of renting than purchasing at present yet as brokers we too sometimes operate on emotion and we are looking longer-term.

While the index does somewhat influence my decision; being a logical broker I conducted my due diligence concerning comparable properties in the same block on the same side of the street. I went back a few years and extrapolated the comparable’s using an inflation calculator to justify our offer.

While I will not disclose the address, the asking based on above grade SF is approximately $625 Per Square Foot (PSF). The comparable properties all have similar lot size and as mentioned on the same side of the street on the same block:

  • Comp 1: Sold – 3/2018:

Sold for $459/PSF Above Grade

Inflation Factor: N/A

-This home is in meticulous shape including the architecturally designed addition on the rear with the expanded kitchen, family room with fireplace, 2-car garage and professionally landscaped front, rear and side.

  • Comp 2: Sold -10/2017

Sold for $417/PSF Above Grade

Inflation Factor: $429 PSF Above Grade

-While I have not seen the inside except from the exterior new lighting, new windows, architect-designed extensions on the rear, garage parking to match. It is a duplex and both sides sold together as one structure. Each 1/2 of the duplex has 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms, larger than the subject property.

  • Comp 3: Sold – 6/2017

Sold for $532/PSF Above Grade

Inflation Factor: $546 PSF Above Grade

-While used as a pied-a-terre the interior condition is similar. The kitchen was outdated however larger space, has a garage and deep south setback with a lot that is 1,000+ SF larger than subject property.

  • Comp 4: Sold – 7/2015

Sold for $395 PSF

Inflation Factor: $420 PSF Above Grade

The house is very similar to Comp 1 (next door) yet narrower lot and smaller size overall. Excellent design and layout. The rear and upper extension were beautifully designed and executed with functionality i.e. den w/ fireplace, expanded kitchen with breakfast area, 2 car garage made of brick to match the historic urban fabric coupled with a professionally landscaped yard.

Thus concerning the comparable properties using 2018 dollars the prices per square foot above grade range from $420 to $546. While 4 homes do not make a proper statistical average would be $463.50 PSF based on inflation with the $546/PSF sale skewing the average upward do to limited sample size. Of note the Median is $444/PSF.

Many of my peer brokers believe the peak of the market was 6-12 months prior as prices are beginning to slip, inventory is increasing coupled with rising mortgage interest rates.

Based on the $463 PSF average noted the house we made the offer upon should be priced at approximately $625,000 which may even be somewhat aggressive as the comparables are homes that have been extensively renovated or updated and all include alley access garages.

We offered $560 PSF or 20% above the comparable properties identified on a PSF basis.

Our offer was promptly rejected as the seller is asking $625 PSF.

While no fault of the out-of-state seller if /when the residence goes under contract and assuming there is an appraisal there may be a rude awakening. We could have offered full price and use the appraisal and inspection contingencies to eventually close at a lower market oriented price; however that is not our method of operation.

We made a viable offer, provided statistical pricing guidance and was subsequently rejected based on I assume emotion and/or irrational exuberance concerning valuation. I have been incorrect before and the residence may actually sell for asking (of note at present on the market almost two months and one price reduction to date); on this one we like it (we do not love it) however we willing to wait it out or pass altogether as inventory increases and pricing pressures are forecast to be in our (buyers) favor.

 

The Whipsawing of the Real Estate Market, an example in Cherry Creek North

The 200 block of Harrison Street in Cherry Creek North is an interesting block and one I have some familiarity with as I resided on it for 27.5 years. The east side abuts Colorado Blvd, the west side somewhat sheltered from the traffic. Yet old-time brokers know Jackson St and Harrison St. were always more challenging due to their proximity to Colorado Blvd. Yet in recent years developers have found opportunities on these blocks for redevelopment and advantages with the higher natural topography allowing for unobstructed mountain views.

With interest I have been watching 235 Harrison St, the south side of a duplex. Constructed during the tail end of the boom in the mid 2000’s I always appreciated the contemporary design. While most of the block is of traditional design including a bungalow, the expansive glass and landscaping truly set this duplex apart.

The unit is presently on the market and seems to have been struggling to find a buyer thus I decided to look at the history (please see inflation adjusted to 2018 dollars as noted by the *):

  • The unit came on the market on 4/26/18 for $1,100,000
  • The most recent price adjustment happened on 6/8/18 down to $950,000

Thus I decided to look back at the history a little further:

4/30/08:Comes on the market as new construction for $899,000.

*In 2018 Dollars: $1,050,500

-Of note the beginning of The Great Recession is happening.

1/13/09:Sells for $750,000

*In 2018 Dollars: $879,526

-Basically 6 months later and a $149,000 price reduction from initial asking.

2/09/12: Comes onto market at $799,900

*In 2018 Dollars: $875,540

-$49,000 above last resale 3 years earlier does not sell!

After multiple iterations on the market and price adjustments:

2/24/14: The unit sells for $764,276

*In 2018 Dollars: $812,224

Thus from January 2009 to February 2014 the unit in real dollars increased $14,000 and based on inflation has lost $60,000+.

  • 4/28/18: The unit comes on the market at $1,100,000
  • 5/16/18: Asking reduced to $1,050,000
  • 5/23/18: Asking reduced to $1,000,000
  • 6/08/18: Asking reduced to $950,000

As mentioned this is a lovely residence perfect for the buyer who wishes to own a contemporary residence with mountain views and a roof deck. However as astute buyers, sellers and investors we usually desire our real estate holdings at minimum keep up with inflation and even better exceed inflation coupled with various tax advantages (which are usually negated by maintenance and upkeep).

Thus for 235 Harrison Street the past decade has not been a wise investment. Historically buyers and sellers have come close to breaking even yet when factoring in inflation, which has been historically low over the past decade the ownership, has in fact lost money.

Most economists believe inflation will be making a comeback as we witness low unemployment, increased pricing for basic goods and services from gasoline to commodities coupled with potential trade disputes all coupled with rising mortgage interest rates and a possible recession.

What is interesting I have been watching similar designed row houses going up on Harrison Street south of First Avenue; units with a more pronounced impact from Colorado Boulevard and south of 1st Avenue. Will be interesting to see how the market reacts to those units. Granted new construction does have a premium.

Concerning 235 Harrison as a broker, unless one can get a better price on the purchase consider renting or if making an offer present the information from this blog. Good luck out there.

Is Your For Sale Residence Instagram Influencer and Hashtag Ready

I just finished an article in The New York Times titled Hashtag Open House concerning brokers hiring influencers to promote their listings. While the trend seems to at present be relegated to Los Angeles and New York City is this a marketing program a seller of a residence or their broker consider?

With a marketing and public relations background; honestly I rolled my eyes while reading the article. While I understand the concept and the desire to secure eyeballs onto a listing; will such a program and the costs associated truly sell one’s residence?

Thus I decided for fun to distill my thoughts and I welcome comments:

  • Influencers: My first question is the influencer presenting and/or penetrating the audience for the listing? Honestly when I see a multi-million dollar listing being splashed across Instagram and other channels, promoted by an Influencer I question the Return on Investment (ROI). Granted if someone can present me with an influencer that is truly targeting the prospective buyers of one of my listings I would entertain the idea. However when marketing a larger, top 2% of the market price point I have to question if the influencer is capturing the demographic I wish to target including high-net-worth, liquidity, professional educational attainment and employment and so on. My personal view is if I am not attracting qualified prospective buyers all I am attracting is voyeurs.

 

  • Voyeurs: Hey I have nothing against voyeurs. Actually I like them as A) I hope I have captured their interest, B) at some time in the future they may be a client either on the buy or sell side and C) more eyeballs mean potential sharing and potentially attracting a buyer. Now for my concern: more eyeballs may also invite nefarious activity. Granted this is nothing new; as brokers we post pictures distributed among various channels i.e. Multilist, the Internet, Social Media and  open houses have been used by those up to no-good to preview a potential opportunity for future theft, squatting, vandalism and so forth.

 

  • Is One Selling a Residence or Selling their Broker: Yes I may be old-school (it happens with 25+ years in the business) yet do such activities sell a residence or sell the broker? In general from discussions with experienced peers it seems very few open houses actually sell the home to a visitor to the open house. Please do not misunderstand; I believe open houses can be a valuable tool for both sellers and brokers including assessment of comments/responses concerning presentation, pricing, interest and so forth. Of course for brokers hosting an open house an opportunity to meet prospective clients, both sellers and buyers.

The whole concept of being Instagram ready is not new. I always suggest a prospective seller consider professionally photographed images as a picture is truly worth 1000 words. In addition for certain listings, staging and related activity may enhance the marketing program. Personally I view staging, as a 3-D advertisement coupled with presenting a fantasy that can becomes one’s reality.

And while the article mentions events and immersive marketing this is nothing new in California! A Builder Hires Model Family to Sell Homes. However even California builders were late to the party as live mannequins have been used in retail (Selfridges c. 1920’s) as well as entertainment i.e. Area in NYC in the 1990’s.

BTW if you wish to see truly challenged listings: http://terriblerealestateagentphotos.com

I will be curious how the Instagram and Influencer marketed listings work out. I comprehend the opportunity concerning new developments, a multi-unit building, rentals, a market with competition within the price-point and so forth. However for exclusive listings, the one’s that are truly unique, bespoke, rarified well……sometimes discretion can be most attractive.

Why I believe the Housing Market is Overheated An Example with Statistics

This morning a listing alert came on my MLS advising 549 Lafayette St is on the market asking $800K. This is the exact type of home my wife and I have been looking for. Well actually a renovated version; let me explain.

In the 400 block there are three similar homes 434, 440 and 446 Lafayette all Victorian design on smaller lots i.e. 37.5’ frontage. All have been renovated with similar design criteria including enlarging the rear on the ground and upper levels including master suites with en sure bathroom and an additional 2nd bathroom. 440 Lafayette Street sold in 2015 for $825,000 and was truly turnkey condition. 446 Lafayette Street was last asking $1,150,000 (adjusted downward from $1,200,000) and is now under contract, also truly turnkey.

Thus I was intrigued with the 549 Lafayette Street listing. In my professional broker opinion; not as strong a block as the 400 Block of Lafayette Street as it is denser and is impacted by 6th Avenue traffic noise. Also the house has been a rental thus has not been updated or expanded recently. From the pictures a total renovation is needed and assuming an expansion would run $250,000 to $300,000 to replicate the design of the homes in the 400 block mentioned above.

Now let me compare sizes and condition:

549 Lafayette: 1,587 SF Above Grade / 846 SF Basement – Condition – Good (Asking $504.10 PSF Above Grade)

440 Lafayette: 2,084 SF Above Grade/ 329 SF Basement – Condition – Excellent (Sold for $395.87 PSF Above Grade)

446 Lafayette: 2,306 SF Above Grade/ 380 SF Basement – Condition Excellent (Asking $498.70 PSF Above Grade)

Thus as per my usual research I decided to look at the sales history of 549 Lafayette Street as follows:

In January 2011 the home seems to have been inherited, as the conveyance was a Personal Representative Deed, usually associated with an estate.

In February 2015 the home sells I believe through an arms length transaction for $225,000

Two months later in April 2015 the home sells again to an LLC for $456,000. Almost double in two months, which usually suggests either, not an arms length transaction OR someone just hit the market just at the right time.

Now 3 years later almost to the date, the home is asking $800,000 or a gain of $344,000 or basically a $10,000/month increase in valuation since the last sale.

Now back to 440 and 446 Lafayette St. Both of these homes are on a stronger block, have been gut renovated, expanded, offer 25% – 40% additional above grade square footage when compared to 549 Lafayette and are in excellent condition.

The following is their sales history:

440 Lafayette, which I believe mirrors market conditions:

  • 11/98:           Sold for $425,000
  • 5/04:              Sold for $665,000 (close to the pinnacle of the market cycle)
  • 12/11:            Sold for $675,000 (just coming out of the Great Recession)
  • 9/15:              Sold for $825,000 (Just as the market started to its ascent)
  • -Of note, between 2004 and 2011 the house gained just $10,000 in value or based on inflation the house actually lost $130,000 in value.

446 Lafayette:

  • 9/98:              Sold for $287,500
  • 10/05:            Sold for $530,000 (a few months shy of the pinnacle of the cycle)
  • 7/13:              Sold for $875,000 (market starting to begin to overheat)
  • 2/18:              Asking $1,150,000 under contract

Now granted someone may purchase 549 Lafayette for the asking at $800K. And in this market such a price may look attractive (yet on the 400 Block of Lafayette St a superior home and renovation asking $5 PSF less) .

However while I am not suggestion history repeats itself I would be remiss if they were my client not to mention one block south, larger homes in excellent renovated/upgraded condition sold for similar pricing just a few years back yet offering more above grade square feet and overall condition. Even in the present when comparing 446 Lafayette Street and 549 Lafayette Street within $5 PSF above grade, serious differences.

Personally I would take a pass. At $600K I am a cautious buyer, maybe even $625K knowing I am in it for another $200K and 6 months of construction to convert from its existing condition to my primary home. However at $800K I will pass and I hope the purchaser at that price does not see this blog posting.

Happy House Hunting.

Another Luxury Listing Shows Stress on the Upper End of Market

OK, I am the first to admit on occasion I drive down 7th Avenue from Cherry Creek to Corona Street so I can access the Safeway at 6th Avenue and Corona Street easily (yes I am still mourning the loss of my neighborhood Safeway). I drive at a leisurely pace taking in the majesty and prestige of one of Denver’s finest parkways. West of Williams Street when the Avenue becomes a standard width roadway the houses still continue to impress.

That is why I have been intrigued with 1433 East 7th Avenue. A home, which exudes gravitas. A nice corner lot, raised from the sidewalk coupled with mature landscaping can easily be at home in a many pre-war cities in the Northeast of for those who have relocated from the Bay Area, think Pacific Heights lite or if from Los Angeles, Beverly Grove.

With just shy of 6,000 SF finished including the basement and a manageable 7,250 SF lot (honestly I have mixed opinions concerning corners) larger than what I was and continue to search for but as mentioned from the exterior, gravitas. The stately yet manageable interior is perfect for many prospective buyers in this broker’s opinion from the center-hall plan to the upscale kitchen to the preservation of design details including wood beams and so forth. Updated yet respectful of its history.

I have kept my eye on this house since I first watched it come on the market in April 2011 as the Denver market was finally awakening from the reckoning of the Great Recession. At the time up-market listings continued to struggle to find a buyer however if priced correctly, they sold and some very astute buyers have probably done quite well on paper to date.

  • In April 2011 the home sold for $1,655,450 off an asking of $1,750,000.
  • In 2018 Dollars: $1,824,189

 

  • In August 2015 the home sold for $2,195,000, its asking price after being on the market for approximately two weeks and no seller concession! Many would argue that summer was the beginning of the major ascent of the market from realistic pricing to exuberant listing prices.
  • In 2018 Dollars: $2,295,481

Thus in a span of 4 years the sellers pre-commission made $539,550 not accounting for inflation. Even considering broker commissions (assume $130,000 at 6%), the sellers most likely netted approximately $400,000 of $100,000/yr concerning their residence.

I do not know if the sellers renovated or did other improvements, as I have not toured the home in years. However based on images and broker comments I am assuming any updates made were minimal.

Let’s fast forward to May 2017, just shy of 2 years later the home reappears on the market asking $2,500,000. Of note the home was purchased for $2,195,000 two years prior or asking for a $300,000 gain in 2 years of $150,000/year. In August the home is re-priced at $2,395,000 and the listing eventually expired.

As of January 2018 the house is back on the market with a revised asking price of $2,299,000, $96,000 less than the previous ask.

Let’s assume the seller does indeed get $2,299,000 for the sale price. When factoring a 6% commission ($137,940), their net is approximately $2,161,060.

 In my analysis a few issues arise as follows:

Seller paid $2,195,000 in August 2015. Assuming it sells for asking (doubtful as already 52 days on market), after commission their net is below their purchase price 2.5 years prior; a recap:

  • August 2015: Paid $2,195,000
  • January 2018: Asking $2,299,000
  • Commission 6% ($137,940)
  • Net at Asking: $2,161,060
  • Thus seller would walk away with a $34,000 Gain!

 Yet the gain of $34,000 assumes an at asking closing price. Again after almost two months on the market, doubtful but it could happen.

Now two additional issues:

Inflation: When purchased on 2015 for $2,195,000 based on 2018 Dollars that would translate to $2,295,481, thus based on inflation, already a real-dollar value loss even if sold at asking.

Real Estate Taxes: When the home first came on the market in 2011 the taxes on the house were listed at $8,127 or $677/month. At present the taxes in the house are listed at $13,779 or $1,148.25/month, a difference of $471.25/month. Granted at this price-point should not be an issue for the buyer (except the issue concerning tax deductibility of real estate taxes but will not go there in this blog post).

One of my friends from the East Coast is a stock trader and refuses to purchase a home in his suburban New York City community. His rationale; he can earn more money in the market versus his primary residence which he views as a money-losing proposition or at best matching inflation over the long-term and coupled with exorbant real estates taxes,he prefers to rent. So I asked him the following:

If one bought $2,195,000 of the Dow Jones ETF (basically a vehicle that tracks the DOW which I understand is not the best gauge of the stock market but is one of the most recognized) in August 2015 what would it be worth today?

  • In August 2015 the DJ ETF was trading at $166.35 / 13,195 Shares
  • On February 27th, 2018 the DJ ETF was trading at $255.33
  • The 13,195 Shares today would be worth $3,369,097
  • Total Gain: $1,174,097 or close to $42,000/average per month increase. Yes we are all aware of the gains over the past 12 months skewing the valuations.

My analysis tells me the follows:

  • The upper-end of the market is showing weakness and fatigue and thus slowing.
  • The belief that housing values can only increase is a fallacy as the upper-end is usually the first market segment to show signs of impending weakness.
  • The pinnacle of housing market values is behind us.

Now for my peer brokers who will advise but one needs a residence to live in; I cannot agree more both as a broker and one who is actively looking for a residence to purchase HOWEVER, let’s do the math:

The gain of $42,000 month is commendable yet most likely an anomaly as many argue the market is overheated and a respected wealth manager I know advises: “Trees do not grow in the sky” thus such oversized gains should be viewed within context.

However, that $42,000/monthly gain if generating 4.5% would equate to approximately $1,900 month. While one could not rent 1433 East 7th Avenue for $1,900/month. Yet when generating $42,000/month in gains, I assume one could dip into the monthly for a similar home in the $5,000-$7,500/month range and still have a nice return on investment.

Please know I am NOT a pessimist. However I have personally been through three (3) business cycles during my time in Denver and have watched real estate values rise and fall. While I do not except an across the board dramatic downtown of valuations; with the potential for rising interest rates for both mortgages and bonds, realignment of equity valuations to more traditional patterns, potential inflation and out-migration of population from Colorado, a 10%-20% downward valuation concerning housing valuations may not be out of the norm, it has happened before and history can repeat itself. Again, just one humble brokers opinion.

 

 

 

 

What a Hole in the Ground May Indicate About the Health of the Real Estate Market

I have lived in the Cherry Creek North neighborhood long enough to watch our neighbors to the south i.e. Cherry Creek East blossom into a diverse neighborhood from rental and condo high-rises to townhomes, mid-height rentals, an assisted living facility and oh so many townhomes built usually as rows versus the duplexes you see north of 1t Avenue (as most of Cherry Creek East is zoned Planned Unit Development).

On my walk this afternoon I was stopped in my tracks at The Cassidy (basically S. Harrison Street between Cedar and Bayaud Avenues). I had watched over the past weeks as the earthmovers excavated for the foundation with the assumption of full ceiling height basements. The units directly to the south seem to have sold and thus now a larger lot with plans for 37 units and a well-known broker who represents many new developments in the area as listing broker and sales point person.

What stopped me in my tracks was not the glossy marketing sign; it was what someone attached to it. Someone had cut out and highlighted the foreclosure notice on the property dated 9/28/17 from The Denver Post. Yes, the foreclosure notice.

The Cassidy Foreclosure Notice
Someone posted the foreclosure notice as published in The Denver Post (9/28/17) on the marketing sign.

While foreclosures were front and center during the Great Recession of a few years back, lately all we see are cranes on the horizon and continue talk about growth and the desire for Amazon to locate HQ2 to Denver.

Yet maybe it is irrational exuberance rearing its ugly head or our desire not to confront reality. I have been forecasting a downturn documented in this blog for months. Even the Wall Street Journal mentions rent-concessions and other activities, which may suggest not only is the boom loosing steam but also we may be moving into an overbuilt scenario.

Yes record prices were recently paid for the Steele Creek Apartments in Cherry Creek (of note the original developer Eric H. Bush who assembled the land on which Steele Creek was developed recently committed suicide). While I am not suggesting any nexus, I would just be concerned when we have record sale prices and 7 blocks east a foreclosure on massive lot on which 37 for-sale units were proposed.

Just food for thought.

Does the Record Sale of Steele Creek Apartments Cherry Creek Signal a Top

I remember when Steele Creek Apartments were proposed for the Southeast corner of Steele Street and 1st Avenue, at the time occupied by a few Class C buildings and a discount dry cleaner.

With the news hitting that the building set a new record on a per-unit basis for the sale of an apartment building of $570,000 per unit does the valuation make sense even considering future equity appreciation?

Working in both New York and Denver such numbers are not surprising as in NYC such a deal would be a steal especially for a newer construction building minus any rental controls, statutory affordable housing or long-term leases. Yet Denver is not New York.

Granted we have seen other close to blockbuster deals in Central Denver concerning rental properties as excerpted below from my morning daily read BusinessDen including but not limited to:

However are these deals good money-chasing returns, which are far from guaranteed? One could argue Denver at present is in an up cycle with record high rents (even though some buildings are offering rental incentives). Yet I am concerned as follows:

The New Rental buildings are oriented to deluxe and luxury tenants offering studio to 2-bedroom configurations limiting marketability to affluent singles and couples. In New York and San Fracisco the highest prices on bith a per-unit and PSF basis are “family-oriented” apartments considering of usually 2-4 bedrooms and minimum 2 bathrooms where a family can be reside comfortably.

Is there a glut on the horizon in the marketplace? Between Lower Downtown and Cherry Creek along the Speer Boulevard/1st Ave. corridor we are witnessing new buildings sprouting up like weeds with the assumption that demand for luxury rental apartments will continue unabated.

The Millennial Generation Will Age: I am witnessing it in my real estate practice; millennial’s are pairing up, starting families and due to price pressure are looking at homes to purchase in outlying Denver and suburban neighborhoods; not much different how Brooklyn became chic when Manhattan rents became unaffordable (with some help from Michelle Williams and Maggie Gyllenhaal and for us old timers, Patty Duke lived in Brooklyn Heights).

If the Influx Slows Who Will Rent these Apartments? While certain buildings have a reputation for attracting empty nesters (25 Downing Street) and those whose change in lifestyle may necessitate move to an apartment from a home (The Seasons at Cherry Creek), while renting is an option, many opt to purchase. Again anecdotally I know two empty-nest couples who moved from Country Club to condos, one in downtown, one in Cherry Creek.

What is Trendy Today is a Maintenance Headache Tomorrow: We see this in buildings throughout Capitol Hill, the party rooms with the naugahyde chairs on brass wheels and the pool table that has seen better days or the pool which requires constant expensive maintenance and upkeep.

While I understand the attractiveness of the cost on a per unit basis when compared to other in-demand cities including San Francisco, The Northeast Corridor (from Boston to Washington DC), Los Angeles and so forth those cities have physical geographic constraints and draconian rent-control laws which circumvents true market supply and demand laws thus raising rents on the free-market inventory.

Thus I do not see how the numbers work based on existing rental rates even when factoring in equity appreciation and nominal inflation. Granted there is always the option of conversion from rental to condo. The process includes upgrading the common areas and interiors of unitsoriented to the for-sale market AND developing a legal condominium, HOA and so forth. Not unheard of in Denver i.e. The Barclay (which when first converted were offered with developer backed below-market financing), Brooks Towers and other buildings have experienced such conversion.

However at present transaction cost per unit, is there really the demand for the $600K one bedroom condominium? We have seen such sales in smaller boutique developments including 250 Columbine (which does have a Starbucks on the retail level), but it is rare and definitely a niche market.

From experience such condos sell to those looking for a pied-a-terre in which their primary residence is NOT Denver or potential investment however for a decent cash-on-cash return the rents do not justify the selling price.

In New York City developers take the opposite approach developing condos and if the plan if sales do not meet the pro-forma then re-branded as a rental with the option to sell individual units when the market strengthens.

At present looking at prices coupled with construction activity I would be “short-selling” the apartment market if such a vehicle existed. Long-term I may be proven wrong, however within the three-five year time horizon and even in the present as leasing entities/developers are offering rent concessions, I would be more concerned versus excited at the blockbuster record prices being recorded.

 

 

 

 

Why Continued Positive Comments About the Housing Market Scare Me

As a broker I make my living assisting clients purchasing and divesting of their real estate holdings. In this market of ever seemingly positive news I should be thrilled. Yet as a 20+-year broker licensed in two states I have some serious concerns on the macro level, which truly reverberates beyond home sale statistics.

At present the Denver market as well as the US market looks very healthy. Demand is high, employment and wages are growing, and mortgage rates are low.

However based on reports out this past week, if one reads between the numbers and taking into account history and growth trends, the market is quite challenged. Not at present but longer term we may be setting ourselves up for a dramatic shift in the economy and wealth accumulation.

There is continued strength in the overall national housing market with prices 6% higher than the same period one year ago. Some local markets continue to show double-digit growth in prices. Metro Denver’s year over year was 7.9%. Such numbers are driven by the simple law of supply and demand and specifically the limited supply at the lower end of the market. Thus lower end homes are witnessing significant price appreciation due to more competition while higher end listings are languishing or having price reductions (see my last blog).

While I have mixed feelings on Zillow and similar sites, their insights and digesting of data is always an interesting read: “It sets up a situation in which the housing market looks largely healthy from a 50,000-foot view, but on the ground, the situation is much different, especially for younger, first-time buyers and/or buyers of more modest means,” wrote Svenja Gudell, chief economist at Zillow in a response to the latest home-price data. “Supply is low in general, but half of what is available to buy is priced in the top one-third of the market.”

So why is the inventory and supply on the lower end of the market so challenged? A few reasons and many can be seen in your local neighborhood:

Conversion of Inventory from Home Ownership to Rental: During the Great Recession which many of us brokers also call “a housing crash”, investors from large hedge funds to Ma and Pa purchased 100’s of thousands of foreclosed properties. While some were fix and flips, the vast majority became income-producing rentals. At present according to the U.S. Census there are 8 million more renter-occupied homes than there were in 2007.

Granted some renters may be scared off from purchasing and while the investors could cash out and after paying simple capital gains have a nice windfall, at present the cash-flow on rentals is one of the most attractive investments in the market coupled with the underlying equity appreciation of the real estate; thus the motivation to sell is limited. In turn lower end and moderate homes are not coming on the market in meaningful volume.

New Home Sales are Down: In August 2017 there was a 3.4% monthly drop concerning new home sales. If demand is so strong shouldn’t new home sales be booming? Well, it is again simple economics and in this case pricing.

In August just 2 percent of newly built homes sold were priced under $150,000, and just 14 percent priced under $200,000.

Builders advise they desire to build more affordable homes yet profit margins or the lack of is causing constraints. Builders blame the higher costs of land (exurbs with lower cost land is falling out of favor with 1st time home buyers who desire to be closer to urban centers), labor, materials and regulatory compliance i.e. building and zoning codes (and this is before the hurricanes decimated Houston, southern Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands which will demand laborers and materials to rebuild leading to eventual inflation in those industries and supply chains.

One could argue that market forces will eventually realign the housing market. Yet when this will happen is anyone’s guess. Considering we are still in a “Goldilocks economy for housing i.e. jobs and income continue to grow, interest rates remain at historically low levels, financing rules have become more flexible and inflation remains tame at below 2% annually. So what is the problem?

At present our inventory of new and existing homes is static with numbers similar to those found in the mid 1990’s a full 20+ years ago HOWEVER during those 20+ years the country’s population has expanded by 60M. Couple this with a mismatched market as home prices will not come down as long as there are buyers out there willing and able to spend more and more money for less and less house as we have witnessed in hot markets i.e. San Francisco Bay Area, The Northeast and other markets.

Longer term is my concern. We have witnessed locally in Denver our market moving from purchasers to renters. Good for investors not so good for individuals concerning personal wealth. Homeowners are known for making big-ticket purchases i.e. appliances and upkeep and maintenance sustains the construction sector i.e. additions, roofing and so forth.

If we move towards a renter oriented housing market fewer Americas will be able to save and grow their money associated with the ownership and upkeep of a personal owner-occupied residence. Due to demand rents may continue to rise (as less inventory on the market) and thus renters will have less disposable income to spend which will ripple through the economy beyond housing.

Yet Denver may be the litmus test for the national economy as follows:

Upper-End of the Market: is slowing dramatically as prices rose to fast and thus not sustainable. Upper-end buyers are usually market savvy and thus will be more cautious entering the market. Even in the Country Club neighborhood I have witnessed price-drops and re-listings at lower prices all in an effort to generate activity; would have been rare one year ago

Lower-End of the Market: Supply is outstripping demand with the average home in Metro Denver over $410K; yet incomes/wages have not kept up as the average worker is slowly being shut out of the market and thus will be a perpetual renter,

Rentals: The vast majority of new rental buildings are priced at luxury levels (just look at the cranes in Cherry Creek North). Yet that market is slowing and many of the existing buildings are struggling to attract tenants and now offering rental incentives. Yet additional buildings continue to come out of the ground.

Zoning and Entitlements: In Denver while zoning has allowed additional density and not without controversy i.e. slot homes in Cherry Creek, while beneficial to rental development, most rentals are oriented to single and couple households, with few exceptions most new multi-family buildings are not designed for families or larger households.

The above is just some food for thought. Add an existential crisis and this housing “House of Cards” may come to an ugly resolution. While I am not predicting another housing crash, the off-balance market is not sustainable and the overall repercussions to the overall economy have not been considered, quite dangerous.