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Language, Jargon & Quotes

[In The Media] CNN’s “Your Money” With Ali Velshi 11-24-12

November 25, 2012 | 11:22 am | Public |

Ali Velshi does a great recap on various elements of the economy including what I call “happy housing news.” CNN brought in both Chris Mayer of Columbia University and me to poke holes in it and talk “what if.” Chris and I were nearly identical in views, but I was tagged as the more negative because I hate the use of the word “recovery” to describe the current state of the market. I prefer “stabilized” or “recovering” over “recovery” since we haven’t dealt with the excess distressed sales and tight credit yet which is what is perversely driving up prices.

We taped this on Wednesday and it aired yesterday at 1pm and will air again today at 3pm. Ali tackles energy, manufacturing, the economy in addition to this housing segment. My friend Dan Gross of Newsweek/Daily Beast was in the economy segment and we got to catch up in the Green Room.

The taping was a two-fer for me – I got to meet Ali, a take-no-prisoners media personality who lays things out with great clarity. Plus I got to meet Chris, one of the sharpest minds in real estate policy. All-in-all, fun!

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[Sandy] SNL’s Comic Relief in Sign

November 4, 2012 | 8:00 pm |

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[Sandy] The SoPo New York Magazine Cover

November 4, 2012 | 6:47 pm | |

Since my company is located in neighborhood formerly known as “SoPo” (South of Power) I thought I’d post the amazing New York Magazine cover.

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Sandy Update, Social Media Helped Us Understand, But Patience Wearing Thin

November 4, 2012 | 12:33 pm |


[click to read post (h/t gizmodo, laughingsquid)]

People who don’t see the coolness of Foursquare are clearly missing out (see above). My twitter feed @jonathanmiller was my primary source of information all through the storm. Amazingly helpful.

Yesterday afternoon, the superintendent in our office building called to let us know the power was back on. “SoPo” was no more and Miller Samuel could function again.

However, there was still no power at home so my wife and I camped out in our town library on Saturday afternoon. Work crews had been seen on our street so it felt like we were close to getting power back. We left the library (incidentally I took then my future wife to the library on our first date – hey, I had a paper to write. Coming up on our 29th anniversary so…) and lights were on when we pulled into the driveway as it was getting dark. YES!!!! Thoughts of a long hot shower and a house warmer than 51 degrees immediately passed through my mind and so did the nagging guilt of people in the region that had it much worse than us. Still, joy prevailed.

This morning I was really surprised at the poll results by our hyperlocal news service of town residents about how they felt the utility company performed during the storm and aftermath. Perhaps because I now have power I am biased? Given the scope of the storm and power outage caused by flooding and falling tree damage, I would have thought town residents would given the utility (CL&P) high marks. Crews from as far away as Ontario, CN were working on our downed lines. Only 14% agreed with my assessment that they performed well (at time of this post). Be sure to click link “View Results”.

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Sandy’s SoPo Nabe Is No More, But T-Shirts Live On

November 3, 2012 | 4:03 pm | |

Late last night the utility crews came through our street and made quick work of the series of large trees blocking the road. They left in the evening and this morning the crews returned to clean up the wiring. No power at home yet. This morning the indoor temperature was 51 degrees and outside it was 50 degrees, so technically our home still provides shelter.

One important development – “SoPo” became “NoPo” – and our office power came back sometime last night and we’ll be catching up all weekend.

Of course, there is a t-shirt for every occasion and SoPo lives on… (h/t Dan Alpert)

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Sandy Language Summary: Snor’eastercane, SoPo and a Sturdy Mailbox

November 2, 2012 | 5:36 pm | |

Remember this mailbox? It’s been through a lot. The photo is of my street in my CT home town, one of many downed trees and wires on my street. It’s been a long work week, especially since I haven’t been able to work much without power at home or work and it’s not nearly been a week since Sandy wreaked havoc on the Northeast US. My family and friends are safe and I feel very fortunate.

I’ve expanded or refreshed my vocabulary since Super-Storm Sandy – here’s my slow wifi, town library recap:

%$$%%!!! Your one word profanity-laden scream (insert word of your preference) when one of your favorite healthy 6-story shade trees falls down next to your house during the storm and you realize the storm is no longer an adventure (incidentally a tree falls really fast, not like in the movies).

OMG – The word you utter when your fireman son tells you about all the near misses with falling trees while they were out on the truck responding to emergency calls while your other adult child is taking pictures of the storm and submitting them to the local paper’s web site.

Boom of Doom – What my friend Michael Gross called the collapsed crane on West 57th Street, which forced the evacuation of his apartment nearby.

Zone A – A FEMA designation that few were familiar with (as appraisers we are) that now smoothly rolls off everyone’s tongue in everyday conversation.

Waterfront – That highly sought after real estate amenity that has everyone wondering if living away from the water would be better. Nah.

Flood – See “Waterfront”

“Coned” – The way a long-time Weather Channel anchor was pronouncing the NYC’s electric utility “Con-ed”

SoPo – (h/t to my friend Dan Alpert) was an overheard description for “South of Power” – Manhattan below 39th Street is without power. Of course, my office is located on 38th and remains dark.

NoPo – My alternative to “SoPo” and it is not location specific – it refers to anywhere that has power.

Electricity – It’s that crazy magical force that makes pretty much everything we rely on actually work and we only notice it when we don’t have it.

Primary (Service) Wire – The name my fireman son gave a large thick black wire – if you touch it while electricity is coursing through it – you catch on fire – incidentally one of these wires is still laying on my front lawn.

Snor’eastercane – The nickname given to the storm coming to our area next week bringing cold weather, snow and rain. Has it’s own twitter handle.

Sandy – A hurricane we won’t forget. Replaces “Back in ’38” with “Back in ’12”

Frankenstorm – See “Sandy”

Super-Storm – aka Mega-Storm. See “Sandy”

Puzzles – Those arcane cardboard pieces of art cut into odd shapes that you try to reconnect when you have no power and have to actually speak to your significant other and your kids.

YES!!!! – The near-expletive yelled with joy when we discovered our boat dock came within 6 inches of lifting over the piling and floating away with our boat. Always have a “YES!!!” “chambered” and ready to use it when your power turns back on.

UPDATE

Treemaggedon – What it felt like to see huge trees down all over our street and yard.

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Recovering From The Use Of “Recovery” In Housingspeak

September 4, 2012 | 2:38 pm | | Public |

Last week I was quoted in a few articles pontificating about the use of the word recovery that I felt was a misleading characterization of the state of housing:

Business Insider (Jill Krasny): JONATHAN MILLER: Don’t Buy The Hype About A Housing Recovery

“We keep throwing the ‘recovery’ word around, but the big numbers are coming from sources being created from the tight market,” he told Business Insider. “Tight credit is causing rents to rise; falling mortgage rates are pushing people to buy.

International Business Times (Roland Li): Good News On The US Housing Market? Not Quite

“The use of the word ‘recovery’ is really inappropriate,” said Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of New York-based appraisal firm Miller Samuel. Inc. “We’re just stabilizing.”

In retrospect, I think some reading this may have interpreted me as being bearish on housing. Well I’m not, I just don’t think use of the word “recovery” is being used properly. Housing will likely slip a bit before it truly improves and I think “improvement” means real stability. “Recovery” means:

an improvement in the economy marking the end of a recession or decline.

In other words, I interpret the word “recovery” as getting better or at least not getting worse. While housing is showing gains in sales and price, it’s too soon for all the hyperbole.

Perhaps many view the word “recovery” as a process such as this great post by Diana Olick at CNBC that covers all the housing bases. I can agree with it being some sort of “process.” However I think the word when used by people in the business of real estate is different than when used by the consumer. I feel strongly that the use of the word implies to the consumer that the housing market will soon return to the heady days of yore (my recent fave saying) and that’s not what is happening.

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Translating Miami Real Estate Into Spanish & Portuguese, 2Q 2012 Edition

July 27, 2012 | 8:45 am | | Reports |

South Florida-based Douglas Elliman has translated the Miami market report I prepare to Spanish and Portuguese versions in order to better serve their clients, all in the name of increased market transparency. Love it.

Elliman Report: Miami Sales (Spanish) | Elliman Report: Miami Sales (Portuguese)

[click to open reports]


Elliman Report: Miami Sales (Spanish) 2Q 2012 [Douglas Elliman]
Elliman Report: Miami Sales (Portuguese) 2Q 2012 [Douglas Elliman]
Elliman Report: Miami Sales (English) 2Q 2012 [Douglas Elliman]


Luxury Housing: Does Anyone Really Wear White Gloves?

June 4, 2012 | 3:05 pm | |

This weekend’s New York Times Real Estate article by Vivian Toy about a “white glove” co-op listing got me wondering…do doorman actually wear them? Seems like an incredibly dated uniform requirement that speaks to a prestige symbol of another era.

While I recall seeing whited gloved doorman somewhere during my appraisal travels, it was clearly rare and most importantly, didn’t stand out as a “tell-tale” sign that a building was prestigious. More about coincidence I suppose.

I used Google Street View to get a closer look to verify if the doorman actually wears white gloves, and sure enough, the doorman is wearing white gloves.

Next subject of obsolete descriptions: the “silk stocking” district.

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Sweet! “Making The Donuts” (A Housing Market Theory)

May 30, 2012 | 9:43 am | |

Years ago, there was a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial with the catch phrase “got time to make the donuts” which has remained one of my regular phrases.

For the past few months I’ve talked a lot about housing markets with “a hole in the middle” in my speaking engagements. I’ve been surprised at the volume of in-person feedback on “Donuts” just from my Bloomberg TV appearance with Deirde Bolton a few weeks ago including a senior bank executive at a board meeting I was presenting, a WSJ editor and reporter and others.

For lack of a better description, many housing markets, especially along the coastal US, are like a donut (NYC’s version is more of a bagel than a donut – thicker but not as sweet). Incidentally, I made donuts at the bakery in college so I’m obviously more than qualified to use this weak analogy.

The “hole in the middle” pattern is something I’ve been observing in the various housing markets I follow or dabble in – i.e. Manhattan, Westchester, Hamptons, Brooklyn, Miami, SF, DC, to name a few. I’m not defining it by a specific price but the middle is more like the segment just above the middle in these markets. It’s placement is specific to the price structure of each market.

It goes like this:

  • Strength at the entry-level – due to record low mortgage rates and pricey rental market;
  • Strength at the upper end – less dependent on irrational lending standards with limited places to invest, foreign buyers, wealthy domestic buyers; but
  • Weakness (a hole) in the middle – relative to the top and the bottom.

The “donut housing economy” is holding back consumers from trading up in an orderly fashion. i.e. from the low to middle of the market, from middle to high (or the reverse).

By describing the middle as a “hole” I don’t see the middle as a stark barren wasteland (i.e. w/o sprinkles). I’m simply observing that it’s weaker relative to the top and bottom…for now.


I’m Sorry But Don’t Blame Me, I’m Neutral

May 4, 2010 | 8:45 am | |


(courtesy: CS Monitor)

Admittedly I am getting annoyed about the lack of closure on this credit crunch thing. Can’t we simply point fingers, have someone apologize but indirectly deny responsibility and then we can then get back to buying stuff and building extensions on our houses?

Make no mistake, the credit crunch is one big mistake. It’s called a systemic breakdown because so many in the economy played a role in our economic demise. Moral hazard, government backstops, bailouts, stimulus, bonuses, trillions, synthetic CDOs have been placed in the forefront of our thinking.

But no clear financial reform path is being taken – in fact it took an investment bank using swear words in an email to get Washington’s attention and break the political maneuvering. Each party is planning to oversteer the solution to their agenda which was part of the problem that lead to this crisis. While we all worry about “free markets” we have forgotten how important it is to create a level playing field. Without rules, free markets degrade to chaos and lack of investor participation. We are seeing this now within the secondary mortgage market, especially jumbos.

We can never remove the human factor from the problem since regulators were clearly asleep at the switch (since Clinton) compensation had perverse incentives favoring short term profits over long term viability, regulators were neutered by the prior administration (think prior SEC under Bush) so its dumb to have some sort of czar. It’s never one factor – it a combination of people, events, institutions and politics that light the fuse.

I am looking forward to some sort of meaningful financial reform. If neutrality isn’t baked into the system, then this is all a big waste of time. Regulators need authority and can not be influenced and investment banks can’t pick the regulator they want. Rating agencies should not be paid directly by the investment banks whose products they rate. Appraisers can not be fearful of their livelihood because they don;t hit the number, etc.

Here’s what it all boils down to now: blame and being sorry.

Blame
Another Jonathon Miller (no relation, but awesome name) and his wife are suing a large builder for not preventing flipping in their housing development which brought in “irreverent transients” who party loudly, park erratically and install unauthorized satellite dishes.

I’m not doubting those conditions exist and it appears to be a creative way to get your money back.

When the housing market collapsed, some contracted buyers abandoned deals. From the outset, the project exhibited “ghost-town-like” qualities, the suit says.

Looking back, the Millers say the developer should have worked harder to prevent so-called flippers from buying units. Buyers were supposed to stick around for at least 18 months.

Saying I’m Sorry
In particularly interesting Reuters Summit Notebook piece, People make mistakes, take Alan Greenspan and Captain of Titanic

Phil Angelides, Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission chairman, says he’d rather see some taking of responsibility than hear another “I’m sorry.”

“Personally I don’t see my role as … to obtain apologies. What I don’t hear is a sense of responsibility and self-assessment about what occurred. There seems to be a disconnect between the practices that people undertook and the financial collapse,” he said at the Reuters Global Financial Regulation Summit.

“I’m struck by the extent to which all fingers point away generally from the person testifying,” Angelides said.

When it gets to this point, its too late. Let’s try to be proactive with some sort of meaningful financial reform. Not more regulation, not fewer protections for neutral parties.

If we can’t do this as a country, well, don’t blame me.

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[Over Coffee, (Tea)] Quote: …that doesn’t mean the units are for sale in the market

January 3, 2010 | 10:45 pm | |

After a bout of the flu this morning, I’ve been nursing tea all day and was unable to use my Jets tickets tonight (game time 8:20pm, 17 degrees, 30mph gusts).

I read about the $1.1B Burj Dubai tower, the world’s tallest, that was opened today. It is primarily residential but has 37 floors of commercial occupancy. It is supposedly 75% occupied, its an interesting announcement given Dubai’s credit woes and the fact that prices have fallen 52%.

But the disconnect with how a real estate market functions is best captured with this quote when referring to investors:

“They are people who can hold on to it comfortably for the next five to 10 years,” Downs said. “So even if apartments remain empty and lights switched off at night, that doesn’t mean the units are for sale in the market.”

I think they need to give international investors more credit than that (literally), shouldn’t they?


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