I’ve been asked to participate in Thursday’s New York Times Event New York Real Estate: How Low Will Prices Go?”.
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I’ve been asked to participate in Thursday’s New York Times Event New York Real Estate: How Low Will Prices Go?”.
Click on the image below to RSVP!
One of the pieces of conventional wisdom we have picked up during the COVID-19 crisis is that high-density residential living will be less favored. The city to suburban migration pattern is already beginning in New York City and could last several years. The rising number of suburban single-family rental inquiries from the city has provided the initial evidence of a trend. City residents seem to be looking to test drive the suburbs and commute to their city job when “shelter in place rules begin to ease.”
New York City has developed a national reputation as a hotbed of Coronavirus infection because of our higher density. We live a lot closer together than a sprawling suburb in Dallas and have a greater dependency on public transportation such as the subway and buses instead of driving cars. I live in Fairfield County, Connecticut, a bedroom suburb of New York City with a county-wide COVID-19 ratio of 1068 deaths per its 943,332 population. Dallas County, Texas, had 153 deaths per its 2.636 million people. My county has a wildly higher death rate than a county that contains an urban core like Dallas.
Is the city to suburban trend sustainable?
New Yorkers buy into the urban to the suburban narrative, so I believe the push to the outlying NYC metro suburbs could be quite significant in the near term. While the outbound migration began a few years ago, it is not clear whether the trend can continue for more than a few years. The pattern could ultimately be different from what is currently expected including:
A boost for second-home markets: There might be an influx of demand to areas the Hudson Valley, Northern Connecticut The Hamptons, and the North Fork, to name a few. Consumers made begin to view a second home as an equal asset to the primary home to have similar quality options. This potential trend would be contrarian to other significant economic downturns as second-homes are not considered “second-priority.”
And because the implications of the SALT tax will remain in place on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis, Florida and Texas can make a compelling pitch to New York City couples with small children cooped up in 1,000 square foot 2-bedroom apartments right now. They are realizing they aren’t as tethered to their work location as they once thought – and schooling via Zoom is not all it’s cracked up to be.
I think that the high-density lifestyle of New York City is what makes living there so great. I’ve lived in or around New York City since the mid-80s. Before we moved to the city, my dad used to proclaim:
Where else can you buy strawberries at 3 am in the morning?!?!?
Placing strawberries aside, I remain skeptical that the urban to suburban outbound migration can be sustained long term. We saw the same outbound pattern after 9/11 and then an inbound return only a few years later.
Density is not the only reason
Urban density is just one reason for the high COVID-19 infection rate that is driving outbound migration. It is not the reason. Other factors influencing the disparity in the infection rate include neighborhood characteristics such as wealth, commute time, and the concentration of multi-generational households.
The map above confirms the argument that it’s not all about density – the highest infection rates are in the “suburban-like” areas of the city including Staten Island and the outer reaches of Brooklyn and Queens. Manhattan, home for many of the tall commercial and residential towers the city is famous for, has the lowest infection rate.
These Manhattan results might help maintain the enthusiasm for that occasional 3 am strawberry run to the corner market.
If you can indulge me, I was included in the ABC World News Tonight broadcast on Saturday night to talk about the potential urban to suburban housing shift, particularly in NYC. It was cool to be interviewed by Deirdre Bolton for her first World News Tonight segment since just joining ABC via Fox Business and previously from Bloomberg where I had spoken with her before. Great move ABC!
This topic was explored in last Friday’s Housing Notes.
In order to understand what is happening now, we need to ween ourselves off of what happened before this crisis and focus on finding data exclusive to the post-COVID-19 era. In Manhattan, that data set is not yet apparent because we are in nearly a total market shut down but it is evident elsewhere to a limited degree. From my perspective, the demarcation line for the onset of the crisis is where market participants would have to be living in a cave on a desert island to be unaware of the sharp pivot in market sentiment.
March 15, 2020
I believe that date is March 15th which is the date of the Federal Reserve federal funds rate cut to zero and was their second cut in less than two weeks.
March 11, 2020
My friend and California appraiser Ryan Lundquist proclaimed March 11th which was the date Tom Hanks announced he and his wife had contracted COVID-19. Phil Crawford of Voice of Appraisal said the demarcation line was March 5, 2020 dubbing it “data point zero” and I had originally said the demarcation line was March 3, 2020, on the day of the 0.5% rate cut in March.
I was talking about this difference in these dates with a friend, Chicagoan, and RAC appraiser Michael Hobbs who brilliantly dubbed this four-day window from March 11 to March 15 as: “From Hanks To Banks.”
And if you do the math, the median and average date of March 11 and March 15 is literally Friday the 13th so what more confirmation of a demarcation line do you need?
Whatever your specific local demarcation line is, use it to keep the data for these two market periods separate.
I am reading a lot more about everything right now, including real estate. Yesterday’s Bloomberg article caught my eye: Greenwich Homeowner Bets on Virus Getaway Pitch to Win a Sale. Desperation to sell can take many forms. Please read on.
The article featured a listing in Greenwich, CT that came on 68 days ago that wasn’t moving (I assume this based on what was done later). Here is the text for the original listing displayed at the bottom the screenshot:
Like new light-filled house with a modern design by Donald Breismeister including 9 ft ceilings on the first floor. High-tech amenities throughout with e-thermostat, lighting and security cameras all hardwifred CAT-5 wiring throughout. Bathrooms are beautiful and modern with separate steamshower and large whirlpool tub. Nice front yard and backyard has large entertainment deck. All these amenities are just two blocks from the Post Road on a quiet road within walking distance to GreenwichHS, Greenwich Country Day and Central MS.
With the sales market slowing down despite entering peak selling season, many homeowners are reluctant to add their homes to the rental market. The owner in the article said:
“I rented property in the past. It’s too much hassle. My trust level is pretty low with renters.”
About ten days ago the listing was modified by raising the price to $100,000 and throwing in a 2011 Subaru, linens, televisions, etc. and rebranding the sales effort as a Coronavirus Special (bold emphasis mine).
CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL – Some houses are move-in ready. This house is live-in ready. It comes with all furniture, kitchen appliances, washer & dryer, dishes, silverware, TVs, pool table, beds, linens, lawn equipment and even a car. Everything you need to enjoy living in your own house in Greenwich. The house was designed by an award winning architect with lots of custom features. The first floor has high ceilings and two fireplaces. You have a Costco closet just off the 2-car garages and 5 BRs upstairs.You have town water, gas and sewer and are close to both public and private schools. Tomney is a quiet side street, but near downtown, the train and I-95.If you don’t want the time and hassle of arranging movers and buying lots of new items, this house is ready for you now.
While I very much appreciate how hard it is right now to market a home for sale during a global pandemic, the marketing of a home as a CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL is a bit tone-deaf especially when raising the price to include a bunch of the seller’s personal stuff. “Throwing in” used furniture, appliances, linens and an old car by raising the listing price by $100,000 is not, by definition, “throwing it in.”
When I first saw the listing in the Bloomberg piece I thought about all the snarky headlines during other pandemics/tragedies and using brutal sarcasm I found myself chuckling from the absurdity of all of it. Now, as I was writing this post a day later, the initial LMAO title ideas felt icky and were not worth repeating.
Q: Can you imagine associating the word “SPECIAL” with these?
A: I didn’t think so.
Times like this call for creative marketing and perhaps the Bloomberg story and even this blog post may bring new eyeballs to the listing to help it sell. I suspect that won’t happen because the appearance of the home and what comes with it for the price isn’t the problem. The agent is definitely not the problem. The seller is definitely not the problem. The problem is the sudden change in the world we live in and the understanding that it will take time to adapt. Our initial impulses to take action, such as this situation, are often wrong.
If you missed this week’s Housing Notes, here are two Bloomberg clips (from radio and TV) where I break down the state of the market post-Coronavirus:
Bloomberg Radio: Surveillance – ‘Jonathan Miller…details how the housing market is dealing with fallout from the coronavirus.’
I spoke with Tom Keene and Lisa Abramowicz on Bloomberg Radio’s morning show “Surveillance” on the state of the housing market.
The full segment is a great listen. My interview starts at 21:33.
Bloomberg TV: Markets – ‘Manhattan Home Sellers Hold Back Listings During Coronavirus’
I joined network Vonnie Quinn in New York to talk about the state of the market since the coronavirus hit. She is always wonderful to speak with. The stock photo they used for me was taken about 15 years ago (when I was 15, obviously). At the last second, they had me speak through their London bureau for technical reasons, so each question and answer saw a small delay. The interview was based on this Bloomberg article: Manhattan Home Sellers Hold Back Listings in Coronavirus Retreat:
I hope all my readers (and everyone else) are staying safe and healthy during this crisis – now let’s get to business.
With New York State on lockdown, real estate brokers/agents can’t sell real estate right now because they are not considered an essential business (yet they are in nearby Connecticut!) This declaration determines whether you can or cannot remain in business during a crisis like this.
Are real estate appraisers considered an essential business in New York? Yes. They are in New York State and they are stated as such in the federal Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. But the fact that real estate appraisers are an “essential business” is not consistent in the federal language, especially now when many states are, or will be going on lockdown.
My good friend and appraiser/regulator Pete Fontana and I wrote a letter nicknamed: Fontana/Miller Essential Letter of March 24, 2020. This letter combines the scattered references to address this issue in very specific terms using key language in the public record that illustrates the fact that appraisers are an “essential business” now and going forward.
This letter is the first to address this important issue. It was just sent to Congress, state officials, trade groups, agencies, and other groups related to our industry today and went viral industrywide. The feedback from these groups has been immediate and overwhelmingly encouraging and positive.
Please share the Fontana/Miller Essential Letter of March 24, 2020 with your colleagues in the industry, trade groups, state governments, on forums, and with anyone or in any place you think is relevant to our industry.
Real estate appraisers are an essential business in our country, always have been.
Tags: The Appraisal Foundation, TAF, Andrew Cuomo, Coronavirus, Maxine Waters, Sherrod Brown, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Secretary Mnuchin, Peter J. Fontana, Essential Business, Public Trust, Fontana/Miller Essential Letter of March 24, 2020
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.