I had a nice conversation with Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on WCBS Newsradio 880 on the state of the NYC commercial office market. It was a macro-level conversation that I thought you might find helpful.
I had a nice conversation with Joe Connolly and Neil A. Carousso on WCBS Newsradio 880 on the state of the NYC commercial office market. It was a macro-level conversation that I thought you might find helpful.
Yes, big data usually infers ‘quantitative’ analysis, as in “relying on numbers.” The Zestimate legacy of profound inaccuracy finally reached a devastating conclusion with the collapse of Zillow Offers this week and the loss of hundreds of millions in shareholder equity. Zillow never figured out the qualitative part that enables the actual precision in the pricing of a home sale.
There is a lot of talk right now about how other iBuyers are continuing to buy and sell properties so the space is still viable – business as usual. But step back for a moment and think about this:
I feel pretty confident there will be further fallout over time, but the iBuyer space will settle into a small segment of the overall transaction universe. It has been wildly overhyped (at real estate brokers and real estate appraiser’s expense) as investors, burdened with high volumes of capital, desperate for upside in housing in this fintech boom.
The news came quickly and brutally (especially if you were a ZG investor):
I jumped on the bandwagon with this:
This just in: The “A” in “Zillow” stands for “Accuracy.” https://t.co/j5ukW1zzA9— Jonathan Miller (@jonathanmiller) November 3, 2021
And this was a perfect post:
so zillow let a robot buy up thousands of properties, outbidding real buyers and artificially inflating the market, and now will be laying off a full quarter of its workforce and selling off the properties to rental corps like BlackRock at vastly discounted prices. that right?— Insert Clever Name (@BethLynch2020) November 2, 2021
Now let’s digest this in the context of price accuracy:
While Zillow’s CEO Rich Barton essentially said early on that he didn’t want their iBuying efforts (Zillow Offers) to be seen as gaming the Zestimate like that dumb viral Tik Tok video inferred a month ago.
Yet it would seem unlikely that Zillow Offers used something completely separate and conceptually very different from their ‘Zestimate’ because it would be quite expensive and extremely difficult to keep a radical new valuation concept a complete secret. All we know at this point is whatever valuation methodology they used was a complete fail. And to go a step further their Zestimate valuation methodology has long been a complete failure in the accuracy department. But it hasn’t been a complete failure in the consumer credibility department at all. In fact, it’s been quite successful – after all, Zillow weened control of the U.S. consumer away from the real estate brokerage industry who had enjoyed 100 years of gatekeeper status.
This is why the real estate brokerage industry pays Zillow substantial fees to be featured on a search page in their “Pro” offering, using the source data provided to Zillow by them. Its quite diabolical.
So if we consider the Zestimate to be a proxy for the Zillow Offers valuation tool that failed, it gets worse….
The national median accuracy rate of the Zestimate is 2%.
Because they are using “median” and that term is largely ignored by consumers in the phrase “median accuracy rate” that 2% sounds pretty darn accurate. Yet there is no fine print here. The phrase literally means that 50% of the time the Zestimate is within 2% of actual value and 50% of the time it’s not.
And it gets worse…
The median accuracy rate is only within about 2% if the property being Zestimated is currently listed for sale. But if the property is not currently listed for sale, the median accuracy weakens to 7%.
For the Zestimate to move from 7% to 2%, they are reliant on the broker expertise involved to price the property and get it on the market.
Said another way, in order to get the median accuracy rate from 7% to 2%, they need the brokerage community to price the property to get that touted accuracy rate.
To summarize this point:
The brokerage industry gives all their data to Zillow because Zillow marketed to and won the consumer.
The brokerage industry pays Zillow to market them on the Zillow platform because they gave Zillow all their data.
Zillow became a brokerage firm and therefore a direct competitor to the brokerage industry, something they promised early on would never happen.
Zillow uses the brokerage industry to inaccurately price properties, placing them in an adversarial position with the consumer who wants to sell their home.
Yeah, I get it.
As I’ve chronicled in the Appraiserville section of my Housing Notes newsletter since 2016, the scale of Appraisal Institute bureaucratic self-dealing of the executive committee and some members of the AI Board of Directors is breathtaking. Over the past decade or more, AI National has been able to keep a lid on the membership backlash by threatening to remove a member’s credentials for speaking out. Membership has been reluctant to risk losing something they worked hard for in both time and money that they have remained quiet – until the past few years. With the significant devaluation of the SRA designation and growing signs of the MAI designation’s devaluation, more are coming forward.
The FOJs (Friends of Jim Amorin) have been using that freedom from oversight to act with impunity. They are more openly corrupt now than ever because that’s the only institutional memory they possess. However, we are seeing some signs that more AI Board of Directors aren’t interested in rubber stamping FOJ efforts, as illustrated in the previous board meeting results.
The next board meeting is coming up tomorrow and Friday, and it is a seminal moment for the Appraisal Institute. It is where the BOD gets to vote on Jim Amorin’s new contract that the entire board has not seen. As a reminder to board members: your job is to represent your membership, not the executive committee. You can’t vote in favor in good conscience, if you haven’t seen it or been exposed to the key terms. Your role as a member of the AI Board of Directors is critical to the Appraisal Institute’s future and your responsibility is real.
The Appraisal Institute has an IRS nonprofit tax code designation: 501(c)(6) “Defined as Business leagues, chambers of commerce, real estate boards, etc., created for the improvement of business conditions.”
At this point, it is hard to see this organization as “created for the improvement of business conditions.” Given the long-time failure of organizational leadership as measured by the empirical data extracted from the 990s tax filings in public record shared below, this organization needs a complete makeover immediately. It starts with the current CEO.
I hope some in AI membership will use the information shared below to bring an inquiry to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois.
Over the past few days, a detailed analysis of the Appraisal Institute’s performance from 2006-2019 has gone viral within the industry. The anonymous author(s) analyzed AI National’s 990 tax filings in a series of charts and tables by “Concerned Members,” and you can download it here: The Appraisal Institute as Told by the 990s [click on each to expand].
The results should send an alarm to membership and the AI Board of Directors on the organization’s future. The FOJs have poisoned the leadership culture, which has damaged the value of the designation brands and the organization’s credibility to the business world. None of this would have been possible if designated members weren’t vulnerable to the threat of losing their designations if they chose to speak out. But with the perceived value of membership declining, the fear of the threats by the organization has been diminished.
Here is my favorite chart of the 990s presentation. Current CEO Jim Amorin was made president (for the second time) in 2017. Now, look at the chart.
The following pages are the same found in the full pdf document.
Here are what the numbers tell me, as an outsider to the organization:
There has not been a publicly shared strategy to stem the decline in membership. Announcements of committees (like residential appraisers) were faked to quell the discord among residential members, and FOJs had no intention of taking action.
Marketing and branding have been the same old, same old, every year blah, blah, blah, which means that the organizational leadership has filtered out nearly everyone that is not a like-minded FOJ. Look at the last election debacle where the sham petition process was overtly used again by Jim Amorin to get his FOJ “Tank” installed instead of the duly nominated candidate Craig Steinley. Yet, membership pressure on the board stopped it. There is great danger to membership who are here for their designations within an organization with everyone in power being subservient to one person – a monarchy. Any new and creative thinking is not just discouraged; it is impossible.
I hope that ALL on the AI Board of Directors remember that their responsibility is to the membership and to sustain the organization’s future, not the FOJs. I can only assume there may be future legal action on this overt institutional taking, and each current and past board member is exposed. If you want the Appraisal Institute to pivot in the right direction and stop the executive committee’s self-dealing, please do the right thing and DO NOT extend Jim Amorin’s contract. It’s time to hire a CEO to lead the organization in the right direction, responsibly, ethically, and properly. If you do nothing as a board member, this will be your professional legacy as viewed your peers.
Here is a snapshot to memorialize the 2021 Appraisal Institute Board of Directors:
These are the individual pages of the full pdf document.
Although I’ve shared the following CNBC clip before, it’s worth showing again given my 15-year ago hairstyle. In 2005, I was interviewed by CNBC in the midst of the Housing Bubble and said that 75% of the appraisals being done then weren’t worth the paper they were written on (hey it was 2005 and they were done on paper, not pdf). They found me because I had just started my Matrix Blog because no one seemed to be listening to appraisers. Incidentally as of this week, Matrix is 15 years old!!!
And the October Research stats presented indicating that 55% of appraisers felt pressure to hit the value rose to 90% in the next year! The outlook was dire.
When I was interviewed, I was trying to keep it together because I assumed my business and my livelihood would be gone by 2008 if things continued. Thoughts about supporting my family of 4 sons and making my mortgage payments loomed large, but I couldn’t be morally flexible unlike many of my local peers who thrived as a result. Most lenders and mortgage brokers didn’t care about valuation quality, just hitting the numbers to make the deal. The appraisal profession became seen as one of “deal enablers” instead of neutral valuation benchmark setters. My big competitors at the time (who were part of the 75%), told me essentially: “Aw Miller, You Don’t Get It.” No, I didn’t. All my “75% competitors” during that era lost their licenses and/or went out of business after Lehman collapsed in 2008.
This is why this new documentary “THE CON” means so much to me. It tells the story that “good appraisers” like me and my firm have never been able to tell. Instead, good appraisers have been lumped in with the bad appraisers who are long gone.
Watch for my appearance along with several of my colleagues around the country in this week’s episode 2!
Think too much risk was the reason for the 2008 financial crisis? Nope. Unmitigated greed and systematic fraud are the real issues — and no one’s discussing them…. Until now. @theconseries is now available on virtual cinema: thecon.tv/watch #TheCon
Beginning now, you can watch entire THE CON series, episodes 1-5 through a network of independent cinema outlets.
Watch Last week’s Episode 1
This piece was taken from my new Forbes column. I’m testing the platform to spread the word and you can help me by going here and then clicking “follow.”
Keeping Housing Market Results From The Public Is Never Justified: An Expansive View
Transparency is always the right strategy
When the Covid-19 crisis began halfway through March, the Manhattan housing market was placed on “pause,” as were many housing markets around the country. New York State “Shelter in Place” rules prevented the in-person showing of a property by a real estate broker. That was the beginning of the problem this crisis posed for the industry that lives and dies on sales and rental transactions. Then a startup agent trade group (NYRAC), made up of some of the most productive agents in the market and includes many of my long-time industry friends, pushed to hide the days on market metric from the public for what turned out to be a self-serving reason. I love what they stand for, but this was a strategic error that I could not support.
While I have been a real estate appraiser and market analyst for 35 years, I dipped my toe into real estate as a sales agent in Chicagoland for six months in the mid-1980s.
From my experience there it was clear to me that the accuracy of the information our office possessed was critical to all parties for the market to function. I still have my old monthly MLS books and remember logging on to the MLS from one ancient (even then) terminal in the office – talk about delayed market information!
Days on market during Covid-19
The days on market (DOM) metric is significant to sellers because they don’t want their home to be perceived as overpriced if it sits unsold too long. DOM can be measured in several ways, but the one I see used the most is the average number of days between the last price change, if any, and the contract date (or today’s date if it has not sold.) When a potential home buyer looks at a listing on a public-facing web site, they look at DOM as one way to determine whether the listing price is reasonable. The longer a listing sits on the market as compared to other listings, the more likely it is over-priced. Sellers look at DOM too and become concerned when their listing sits too long relative to the competition, typically blaming the agent for not marketing the property enough. However, the asking price is usually set by the seller who is slow to recalibrate their asking price if the market is weakening. I’ve found it takes one to two years for a typical seller to capitulate on price in a downturn and not feel like they left money on the table.
Hiding DOM as a marketing strategy
When the government ordered lockdown hit New York City, and real estate agents were not allowed to provide in-person showings, market activity immediately stalled. NYRAC pressured various platforms to hide DOM information from listings. They still wanted users to be able to drill down and uncover the details, but at first glance, the DOM information was to be hidden.
Streeteasy (owned by Zillow), the de-facto Manhattan multiple listing system in the eyes of the consumer, and the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the leading real estate trade group with their own platform known as RLS, initially balked at the manipulation but eventually caved to NYRAC pressure. NYRAC made a strategic error that further damaged the long-term credibility of the real estate brokerage industry with the consumer. Not all brokers agreed with this strategy either, but this group placed enough pressure on these platforms to make the change happen.
Only sellers matter?
The incentive to “partially” hide DOM comes down to this:
1) Give the sellers a “break” after two years of softening price trends.
2) Address the sellers’ concerns about extended marketing times during the pandemic.
3) But the primary reason is that real estate brokers didn’t want to lose their listings if the sellers removed them from the market and returned to the market later with a new agent.
Why this effort was wrong
NYRAC and several real estate agents said to the effect, “the buyer or seller can still look at the listing history to know how long a listing has been on the market. That data was never removed.”
I always respond with “Then why hide it in the first place?” To brokers in favor of this temporary rule who wonder why I appear to be obsessing about a nuance I say, it is never appropriate to manipulate data, made even worse by the primary motivation behind this action.
Ignoring the buyers
This “solution” ignores the buyer’s position in a sales transaction and yet last time I checked, buyers are on the other side of every sale. Any effort to partially or fully hide DOM results or any other market metric conveys the wrong message and smacks of the old “information gatekeeper” mentality, no matter the state of the market.
Recently, the official word came down that all days between the shutdown and the reopening will count as “one day” for the DOM calculation presented to the public.
Going forward I have the following questions:
Are we to anticipate a suspension of DOM anytime there is an unexpected external event that impacts the housing market (9/11, The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, Super Storm Sandy)?
Who makes the call to do this? A trade group, a regulatory body, a for-profit platform?
-Do we think that buyers and sellers of real estate are unaware of the 90+ day COVID-19 market shut down? Will a new listing added today as the market opens with 1 DOM will sell differently than an identical property with a 91 DOM listing that sat through the 90+ day COVID-19 lockdown?
The market doesn’t care what the brokerage community thinks (or what I think). The act of intentionally hiding or partially hiding data from the consumer is never justified in any scenario.
Here’s an updated excerpt from my Housing Note newsletter dated October 28, 2016, digging into the median sales price. You can subscribe to Housing Notes and other housing resources for free.
I wrote about the median sales price a decade ago, and the message still holds. A couple of years ago, I whipped up a table that shows how median sales price can perform in a changing housing market. The median sales price is the default price trend indicator of real estate because it eliminates the extreme highs and lows of a data and merely represents the middle number. However, it is also subject to skew by consumer behavior that can overpower the math. So I always provide two to three price trend indicators depending on the quality of available information (average sales price, median sales price, median sales price) for all of the reports in my Elliman Report Series. The relationship between median and average sales price can also tell a story.
Click on the graphic below to expand.
In our post-Coronavirus world, it is clear that market conditions and our understanding of the future are subject to change every day. In my prior post Establishing the COVID-19 Demarcation Line: From ‘Hanks To Banks’, data that falls after the line represents a different market.
So how do we determine what data falls in after the demarcation line? It’s not as straightforward as it sounds.
Throughout my career, I have seen brokerage firms publish pending/contract reports, touting pending trends as more reliable than reports based on closings. I don’t look at them as better or worse, just a different way to look at the market. The simplistic, uninformed argument for pending sales is that contract dates occur before closing dates, so they are more current. Incidentally, contract prices are not readily shared. I get all of this. Yet I have seen the failure rate of contracts be as high as 40% – in other words, many contracts might not close whereas closing reports are solely based on successful transactions. Still, pending sale trends are useful as long as the reader understands their shortcomings. I plan to develop one someday.
Closing data and contract/pending data lags the “meeting of the minds.“
Meeting of the minds (also referred to as mutual agreement, mutual assent, or consensus ad idem) is a phrase in contract law used to describe the intentions of the parties forming the contract. In particular, it refers to the situation where there is a common understanding in the formation of the contract.
While we know that closing dates lag the “meeting of the minds,” we also need to understand that signed contract dates are lagging indicators, often by 2-4 weeks. During this crisis, I’m speculating the failure rate will be high initially, and the time lag will be on the longer end rather than, the shorter end of this 2-4 week range.
Here’s why contract dates are a lagging indicator and not necessarily more insightful than closing data:
1) The “meeting of the minds” occurs when buyers and sellers negotiate price and terms, usually facilitated by a real estate agent or broker.
2) The price and terms are handed off to transaction attorneys who work together to craft language agreeable to both parties.
3) The contract is signed by both parties and often indicated as such in an MLS-type system.
4) In some markets or marketing periods, especially when a market is cooling, many contracts never close, so their initial inclusion makes pending trends reports suspect.
If there is a four week signed contract lag from the meeting of the minds, and considering the March 15 demarcation line for post-Coronavirus, that means that with us being six weeks into the crisis, we are only able to see two weeks worth of post-Coronavirus data. And even with that reality and current shelter in place rules, many current contracts might have been older deals that were facilitated by the buyer who had already inspected the home in January/February – we are seeing some of that now.
In other words, relevant data on the new market remains extremely limited.
As co-owner of an appraisal firm for 34 years, while based in Manhattan, we generally don’t drive to appraisal inspections. Our staff relies on public transportation to get around including buses, subways, and commuter rail. I’d been following the coronavirus in the news since early this year, and became quite alarmed by mid-February and soon suggested my staff work remotely. By the time the first Fed rate cut was made in response to the coronavirus on March 3, we adopted a screening process for appraisal inspections. When our team made an appointment for the inspection, we inquired about the health of the occupant, and then on the day of the inspection, the appraiser called again to confirm that conditions had not changed.
Soon after we learned that we could be carriers of the virus without knowing and infect someone vulnerable, we stop performing interior inspections.
My appraiser colleagues around the country have become very concerned, if not plain scared.
Here are two scenarios shared by appraiser colleagues in another part of the country. Imagine if the appraiser was a carrier?
Scenario 1 Conversation
Sounds good 10 am is better
Kids are home
With no school
If your sic with a cold or similar please reset appointment
Scenario 2 Recap
Borrower is elderly and on a respirator
Says the appraiser can walk through the house by himself
And reminds the appraiser to keep their distance
So let’s look at some industry actions of the past few days:
First Republic Bank
I submitted a temporary driveby appraisal solution to First Republic Bank, a large CA/NYC+ lender we have worked with since 1999. I feared for the safety of our appraisal staff and didn’t want to risk infecting others. Plus we were starting to get pushback from homeowners who are getting uncomfortable. They embedded this solution within days. I challenge any appraiser to name any other bank that is more professional, more appraiser-centric than they are. Here is the note they sent out to their panel.
We’ve been working for Citibank since 1986 and have enjoyed a great relationship. This policy treats appraisers as human beings. I’m not sure how closely this policy will be observed by the AMCs they engage to manage their appraisals orders (read-on).
We are in the early stages of a global pandemic that may infect 100 million Americans (1 out of 3, conservatively) with a 3% death rate (that’s 1 million people if you do the math). The appraiser population has an average age in the high-50s, and we have been told that the older populous is the most vulnerable.
In reality, these AMC policies show disdain not only to appraisers but to their own (bank client’s) borrowers by letting a fee appraiser, who is paid only for the assignments they accept, determine whether or not the appraisers themselves are carriers of this pandemic and whether they can assess the safety of the property they inspect. Here’s a key point.
NO ONE CAN TELL IF SOMEONE IS A CARRIER IF THEY HAVE NO SYMPTOMS.
The following AMCs opted to treat appraisers as a widget instead of a human being requiring them to physically inspect a property when they now know that it is not safe to do so. Today I was told that one federal agency lost 20% of their appraisers because they have refused to continue doing interior inspections. Different cities and states have different rates of infection. Because we don’t have full testing in place as a country, the number of infections might be significantly higher than we might anticipate. My particular location in Manhattan is highly problematic because of the reliance on public transportation – buses, subways, commuter rail, and just walking down a crowded street – no social-distancing here. And based on the comments the NYC Mayor made yesterday, it is possible that tomorrow could see NYC restricted to “shelter in place” like San Francisco.
If you’ll note in this pattern of negligent behavior, great efforts were made to plan for the safety of order staff, but no regard for the safety of the appraiser, who is providing the service – telling appraisers to wash their hands and practice social-distancing when they know that it is not enough. When you get right down to it, these companies sent similar silly instructions so they can check off a box to be compliant. Yet they must know that appraisers could be carriers, and occupants in the property could be carriers. This is not business as usual.
When we pushed back the appointment on a few of our AMC clients for safety concerns, they simply took away the assignment and rescheduled with another appraiser. No human contact to assess the risk. In good conscience, even if the new appraiser doesn’t have symptoms or doesn;t think the occupant does, that AMC or lender is placing the public at risk, going directly against CDC guidelines. This is what robots would do.
Here is a sampling of AMCs that provided COVID-19 instructions in the past few days shared by my appraisal colleagues – this is clear evidence that they see appraisers as widgets instead of human beings. To save you the trouble of reading all of these INSTRUCTIONS, here’s the translation: WASH YOUR HANDS A LOT
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.
On Thursday I was climbing up a ladder in an old Brownstone to access to roof area (hey, I’m an appraiser too) when my iPhone blew up. I got about 20 press calls in the subsequent two hours concerning the impact to the LIC and NYC residential market (see “Amazon HQ2” links at the bottom of these Housing Notes.
Here are two call-ins I did (with my high school graduation-like photo) on Bloomberg (lol) – file photo was taken around 2003:
Thursday afternoon 3:10pm:
Friday morning 6:05am:
Just before the holidays, I got to join Alanna Schubach and Nathan Tomey on their Brick Underground podcast to talk about 2018.
This podcast will always have a special meaning to me as our late friend Jhoanna Robledo‘s passion project.
The Brick Underground Podcast: Talking 2018 with NYC real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller.
Click on the graphic below to listen to 30 minutes of Brick talk.