New home sales declined in September for the first time since April. The U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development said sales of newly constructed homes were sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 959,000 units, a 3.4 percent decline from the prior month. Further, the 1,011,000 sales reported in August were revised down to 994,000. Nonetheless, sales are still up 32.1 percent from one year ago.
Sales were below all the predictions from the Econoday panel of analysts. Those ranged from1.0 million to 1.05 million. Their consensus was 1.016 million units. Econoday said its consensus forecast had fallen short of actual sales in each of the previous five months.
On a non-adjusted basis there were 75,000 new homes sold during the month compared to 82,000 in August and 56,000 in September 2019. Slightly less than one-third of the homes sold (24,000) were ready for occupancy while the remainder were almost equally divided between homes under construction and homes for which construction had not been initiated.
For the year-to-date 618,000 homes have sold. This represents a 16.9 percent increase over the 529,000 homes sold in the first nine months of last year.
The median price of a home sold during the month was $326,800 and the average price was $405,400. The respective sales prices in September of last year were $315,700 and $372,100.
At the end of the reporting period there were an estimated 284,000 new homes available for sale, a 3.6-month supply at the current sales pace. A year earlier the 321,000 available homes were projected to be a 5.3-month supply.
Sales of newly constructed homes declined by 28.9 percent in the Northeast compared to August and were 5.9 percent lower on an annual basis. In the Midwest sales were down 4.1 percent for the month but rose 34.8 percent year-over-year. There was a 4.7 percent decline in the South although the annual increase was 27.4 percent. The West posted the only monthly gain, 3.8 percent, and sales were 49.7 percent higher than in the prior September.
Sales activity continued to strengthen in NYC, with July 2020 up 40% M-o-M and down only 33% Y-o-Y
Weekly sales surpassed 500 transactions for first time in 15 weeks, monthly sales top 2,000 for first time in four months
Queens median sale price marks first Y-o-Y drop, down 10% in July
At $1.065 million, Manhattan YTD median slides 15% below 2019 figures
The Bronx has highest price growth with July median up 7% Y-o-Y
Brooklyn median drops 9% Y-o-Y, virtually erasing year-to-date gains
After a tumultuous first half of the year, all of the state of New York is now in Phase Four of reopening, which means the performance of the residential market performance is of heightened interest. The year actually started off well, promising increased sales activity — until projections and expectations were shattered by the uncertainty and upheaval of March. It was followed by an April marked by historical lows in sales activity and the strongest pricing trends of 2020 up to that point.
However, as the curve flattened and the general public started readjusting to the new normal, the state’s gradual reopening brought a tentative return of transactional activity in May. Then, June presented a whole new picture with strengthening sales trends and the first significant year-over-year (Y-o-Y) price drop, despite recording the highest median sale price this year at $717,733.
July, however, posted the sharpest decrease of the four boroughs’ median sale price, and also marked the strongest month of sales since March.
Transactional activity, of course, has trended negative since the beginning of the crisis. March kicked off with sales activity 15% higher than the same period last year, only to see it drop 36% Y-o-Y by month’s end. Later, sales activity bottomed out in April — its 1,549 deals equated to a 61% Y-o-Y drop. And, while May’s 1,337 recorded sales were certainly a drop in sheer numbers compared to April, they also represented a decrease of only 52% Y-o-Y, promising a tentative return of transactional activity.
In June, sales trends strengthened even further and, at this point, the monthly sales activity was the highest since the beginning of the crisis in March. Specifically, there were 1,670 residential sales for the month, coming in just 41% lower Y-o-Y. However, it must be noted that June 2020 figures were skewed beyond just the pandemic’s effects – sales activity and the median sale price surged artificially in June 2019 as buyers and sellers rushed to close deals before the new mansion tax went into effect in July 2019.
Similarly, July marked only one week with fewer than 400 sales. What’s more, two weeks of the month surpassed 500 transactions — a level of transactional activity not seen since late March. In fact, the second week of the month totaled 562 sales, just four deals shy of equaling the last week of March.
What’s more, the third week of July recorded a 23% Y-o-Y drop — the smallest rate of contraction in sales activity since the third week of March. All in all, July’s sales activity was the most dynamic in the last four months, closing a total of 2,343 deals across the four boroughs for a drop of just 33% Y-o-Y. Moreover, compared to June, sales activity experienced a month-over-month surge of 40%.
While pricing trends remained firmly positive at the beginning of the crisis and the NYC median sale price remained steadily above the same period last year, that trend started shifting in June and reversed completely in July.
Specifically, both March and April boasted a 5% Y-o-Y price expansion. Moreover, each week in March also posted a median sale price higher than the same period in 2019 — a trend that remained steady throughout April. Overall, May kept up with that trend, as well, and closed with a median sale price of $705,000 for a 4% gain over May 2019.
Along the same lines, June 2020 kicked off with the strongest pricing trends so far this year. The NYC the median sale price was $743,000 in its first week, which pushed the month’s overall median to $717,700. This also made June 2020 the most expensive month YTD, even as it closed with a 2% Y-o-Y drop in its median, which was influenced, once again, by the artificially inflated pricing in June 2019.
July, however, presented a whole new picture. While the $780,000 median of July 2019 also reflected the pre-mansion tax sales frenzy that had occurred in the upper end of the market, this was not the sole cause of the 13% Y-o-Y drop that was recorded in July 2020. Rather, at $680,000, July 2020 featured the lowest median sale price since March, bringing down the YTD median for the four boroughs.
So, while the elevated pricing trends of Q2 resulted in a H1 median sale price of $690,000 and a 3% gain over H1 2019, the contrary pricing trends of July almost completely erased that. In particular, July 2019’s artificially inflated median — paired with a July 2020 that was more in line with pre-pandemic figures — brought the YTD median sale price in NYC to $687,419, representing a negligible .35% Y-o-Y gain.
At the same time, year-to-date sales activity stood at 16,559 transactions, down 26% compared to the same timeframe last year. As a result, July’s recovering sales activity also decreased the YTD sales activity by only 1% Y-o-Y.
Manhattan was the hardest hit residential market in the city in the first half of the year. Here, sales activity was down 31% Y-o-Y and the median sale price dropped 13%. Specifically, the first half of 2019 totaled 5,487 residential sales for a median sale price of $1.2 million, while H1 2020 recorded 3,775 sales for a $1.05 million median. While pricing trends remained firmly positive in the other three boroughs throughout Q2, for Manhattan, that was the exception rather than the rule.
In fact, only April saw prices increase Y-o-Y reaching a YTD high of $1.34 million — while both March and June slipped under the $1 million mark, reaching $950,000 and $966,000, respectively. June’s median also resulted in a Y-o-Y price contraction of 37% — due, in part, to the rush to close high-end deals prior to the mansion tax during the year prior. From a sales activity perspective, July’s 633 sales made for Manhattan’s strongest month since the beginning of the crisis. That figure represented a 36% Y-o-Y drop in sales — the least-drastic decrease since March.
At the same time, the median sale price for NYC’s most expensive borough came in at $1.15 million, down 26% Y-o-Y. But, it must be noted that of all the boroughs, Manhattan’s year-ago metrics were the most influenced by the spike in sales of higher-priced assets prior to the mansion tax, pushing July 2019’s median to $1.56 million. Additionally, Manhattan was the only borough to record M-o-M price growth in July, gaining 19% for a $1.15 million median in July.
On the other hand, Queens seemed to navigate the crisis in the calmest manner, all things considered. Its sales activity was down 22% Y-o-Y in the first half 2020, but its median sale price went up 10%, for the highest price increase across the four boroughs. In fact, although sales activity growth in the borough bottomed out at a negative 58% in April, the median sale price jumped 19% to reach a YTD high of $630,000, followed closely by June’s $619,000.
July, however, reversed the upward trend in price growth observed in the first half of the year, becoming the first month in 2020 so far with negative price growth Y-o-Y. More precisely, at $576,500, Queens’ July median sale price was 10% below July 2019 — which, at $640,000, was 2019’s most expensive month up until that point. As a result, July 2020’s median was more in line with early 2020 pricing trends as opposed to the elevated medians recorded in Q2 and brought the borough’s YTD median to $584,500
Sales activity, however, strengthened in July, reaching 855 transactions and making this Queens’ most active month since March. In particular, July sales were down 28% Y-o-Y, resulting in the lowest rate of contraction in four months. Meanwhile, sales were up 55% compared to June — a promising sign in what is usually the most active borough for residential sales. Overall, that brought Queens’ YTD sales activity to 5,992 deals — 23% lower than the same period last year.
In the meantime, Bronx sales activity remained in negative growth territory Y-o-Y, coming in 22% below July 2019 for the lowest Y-o-Y decrease in sales activity across the four boroughs. But, the Bronx’s 260 sales recorded in July also represented a 60% increase M-o-M. That brought the borough’s number of sales to 1,679 YTD, for a 24% decrease compared to the first seven months of 2019.
Although the Bronx closed the first half of 2020 with the lowest median sale price of the four boroughs as usual, it actually recorded the second-highest price increase. Specifically, its 8% Y-o-Y gain took its H1 median sale price from $420,000 in 2019 to $455,000 in 2020. In fact, May brought a 33% price surge to the Bronx and lifted the median sale price to a YTD high of $531,000. Likewise, although July’s median was a more modest $493,500, it was still up 7% Y-o-Y – a notable achievement considering that July was 2019’s priciest month by that point.
From a pricing perspective, Brooklyn performed somewhat weaker in the first six months of the year. Its $750,000 median sale price was just 3% higher than it was in the first half of 2019. And, while 2020 transactional activity bottomed out at only 395 sales in May, Brooklyn’s median sale price surged to a YTD high of $820,000, followed closely by June’s $799,000 median sale price.
July’s median came in at $742,500, down 9% compared to the July 2019 median of $815,000. As a result, the borough’s YTD median of $750,000 also represented a 1% increase over the same period last year.
However, Brooklyn’s YTD sales activity was down 24% compared to the same period last year, with a total of 4,480 sales recorded in the first seven months of the year. Sales activity here contracted at the least sharpest rate in H1, coming in 21% below the first half of 2019.
July sales activity, however, did not experience the same influential increase in Brooklyn as the other three boroughs. It came in 41% lower than July 2019. But, compared to June 2020, sales were up, with its 595 sales representing a 19% gain M-o-M.
For this snapshot of the COVID-19 pandemic’s influence on the NYC residential market, we considered all sales of condo, co-op, single- and two-family homes registered between January 1, 2019, and August 2, 2019, as well as January 1, 2020, and July 31, 2020. We excluded all sales below $10,000, as well as all package deals. We defined NYC as the four boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.
Newsday RM via Getty Images Photo of home for sale in Huntington, New York on August 5, 2020. New York City suburbs are seeing a huge increase in real estate demand amid the pandemic.
New York City apartment sales plunged in July, according to a report from the real-estate firm Douglas Elliman.
But in neighboring suburbs, home sales are surging as wealthy New Yorkers seek greener pastures.
For Connecticut — which has struggled to rebound even from the last recession — the migration could be a boon for its struggling finances.
Only one Manhattan condo sold for more than $10 million in July, according to a new report, as many wealthy New Yorkers continue to flee the city for greener pastures.
Overall apartment sales fell 57% in July compared to the same month in 2019 as for-sale listing soar, real estate firm Douglas Elliman said in its monthly report, a highly-watched data source for the nation’s largest housing market.
As the US largely fails to stop the spread of the coronavirus, short-term escapes appear to be turning in to long-term moves, potentially fueling a rebirth for struggling suburbs. In Westchester County, directly north of the five boroughs, overall single-family sales were up 112% over last year, with those over $2 million more than quadrupling.
And in Connecticut, the areas closest to New York City saw a similar uptick in-step with Westchester. The state was hit hard by the housing crisis more than a decade ago, and has struggled to recover in the years since. Connecticut is one of just two states in the country where gross domestic product has yet to recover from the previous recession and its employment numbers have lagged neighboring states, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
“We are going to market ourselves more to those individuals as opposed to marketing ourselves to the company,” a state economic-development official told The Wall Street Journal, assuming that the days of commuting to an office in Manhattan’s core or corporate parks are on the skids for now. People working from home in Connecticut could be a much-needed boost to the state’s income tax base — and its lawn-laden towns and countryside feel all the more attractive in the middle of a pandemic.
But while the shift in high-end housing is shaping up to be a boon for some towns and brokers, investors are circling distressed assets at depressed prices as unemployment remains above 10% and out-of-work Americans struggle to pay rent.
“Real-estate investors — when you take the emotion out of it — many of them have been waiting for this for a decade,” David Schechtman, a broker with Meridian Capital Group, told The Wall Street Journal in April. The economy has seen little improvement in the months since.
Sales of new U.S. single-family homes increased more than expected in May and business activity contracted moderately this month, suggesting the economy was on the cusp of recovering from the recession caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
But a resurgence in confirmed coronavirus cases across the country threatens the nascent signs of improvement evident in Tuesday’s economic data. Many states have reported record daily increases in COVID-19 infections, which health experts have blamed on local governments reopening their economies too soon. The economy has stabilized as businesses reopened after closing in mid-March to control the spread of the respiratory illness.
“The renewed upsurge in COVID-19 cases across the South and the West poses a clear downside risk over the coming months but, with a second wave of state-wide lockdowns appearing unlikely for now, we are assuming this will act as a modest drag on the economic recovery, rather than resulting in a renewed downturn,” said Andrew Hunter, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics.
New home sales jumped 16.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 676,000 units last month, the Commerce Department said. New home sales are counted at the signing of a contract, making them a leading housing market indicator. Last month’s increase left sales just shy of their pre-COVID-19 level.
Sales dropped 5.2% in April to a pace of 580,000 units. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast new home sales, which account for about 14.7% of housing market sales, rising 2.9% to a pace of 640,000 in May.
New home sales are drawn from building permits. Sales surged 12.7% from a year ago in May. The report followed on the heels of data last week showing home purchase applications at an 11-year high in mid-June and permits rebounding strongly in May.
The broader economy slipped into recession in February, leaving nearly 20 million people unemployed as of May.
In a separate report on Tuesday, data firm IHS Markit said its flash U.S. Composite Output Index, which tracks the manufacturing and services sectors, rose to a reading of 46.8 in June from 37 in May. A reading below 50 indicates contraction in private sector output.
The improvement was led by an ebb in the manufacturing sector downturn, with the flash Purchasing Managers Index climbing to 49.6 from 39.8 in May. The survey’s services sector flash PMI rose to 46.7 from 37.5 in May.
Activity is also picking up around the globe. The IHS Markit’s euro zone Flash Composite Purchasing Managers’ Index recovered to 47.5 from May’s 31.9.
Stocks on Wall Street extended gains on the data and hopes of more fiscal stimulus. The dollar fell against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were lower.
The market for new homes is being supported by historic low interest rates and a preference among buyers for single-family homes away from city centers as companies allow employees more flexibility to work from home amid the coronavirus crisis.
But with record unemployment and companies freezing hiring to deal with weak demand and keep costs under control, a sharp rebound in the housing market is unlikely.
“If the overall economy seems to be slowing, the public may not be quite as confident about putting a down payment on an expensive new home,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “Many businesses are insolvent and there will be less spending from unemployed Americans as well that could keep this economic recovery in the slow lane for some time.”
Last month’s increase in new home sales did little to offset a plunge in sales of existing homes in April and May, leaving intact economists’ expectations for a record tumble in residential investment in the second quarter. Homebuilding also rebounded moderately in May after slumping in April.
Last month, new home sales shot up 45.5% in the Northeast and advanced 29% in the West. They rose 15.2% in the South, which accounts for the bulk of transactions, but fell 6.4% in the Midwest.
The median new house price rose 1.7% to $317,900 in May from a year ago. New home sales last month were concentrated in the $200,000 to $400,000 price range.
New homes priced below $200,000, the most sought after, accounted for about 15% of sales.
There were 318,000 new homes on the market in May, down from 325,000 in April. At May’s sales pace it would take 5.6 months to clear the supply of houses on the market, down from 6.7 months in April. Nearly two-thirds of the homes sold last month were either under construction or yet to be built.
New York COVID Hospitalizations, Deaths Hit Record Low New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced the opening of the 3.6-mile shared bicycle and pedestrian path on the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge today, reported that the total number of hospitalizations (1,607) and 27 COVID-19 related deaths (Sunday, June 14) were the lowest since the pandemic began in March. In connection with the reopening process, he said he would be raising the maximum amount of people allowed at gatherings in regions in phase three of the reopening from 10 to 25. Western New York enters phase three tomorrow and the Capital Region will progress to that stage on Wednesday. The Mid-Hudson is eligible to enter phase three on Tuesday, June 23. For further information on the new bicycle-pedestrian path on the bridge, go to the governor’s announcement. NEW YORK STATE NEWS Governor Threatens to Reverse Reopenings if Safety Rules Not Followed On Sunday Gov. Andrew Cuomo, frustrated over 25,000 reports of reopening violations, predominantly in Manhattan and the Hamptons, warned that the state would take action against businesses and localities that violate or fail to enforce safety regulations. He stressed that local governments are charged with compliance and that a region’s reopening could be reversed or delayed if these violations are allowed to continue. “Lots of violations of social distancing, parties in the street, restaurants and bars ignoring laws,” Cuomo said on Twitter. “Enforce the law or there will be state action.” Today, he told local governments: “Do your job.” See governor’s announcement. Local Sales Tax Collections Down $437M in May The coronavirus pandemic continues to batter the New York State economy. Sales tax revenue for local governments in May fell 32.3% compared to the same period last year, according to a report released Friday by New State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Sales tax collections for counties and cities in May totaled $918 million, or $437 million less than 2019. The sharp decline in revenues was widespread across the state, ranging from a drop of 19.5% in Westchester County to a 41.5% decline in Tioga County. New York City experienced a 31.9% decline, calculating out to $196 million in lost revenues for the month. View further information on the sales tax report. NATIONAL NEWS CMBS Delinquency Rate Posts Highest Increase Since Great Recession The CMBS delinquency and special servicing rate in May recorded the largest increase since the metric was introduced in 2009, according to a Trepp report. The delinquency rate in May for commercial mortgage-backed securities increased to 7.15%, according to the Trepp May CMBS Delinquency Report. A total of 5% of those troubled loans were identified as 30 days past due. In May, $9.4 billion involving 243 commercial loan notes were sent to special servicing, according to servicer and watchlist data compiled by Trepp. The Trepp report states that initial reports in June indicate troubled commercial mortgages are centered on single-asset or single-borrower deals, most backed by hotels or malls. Click Here for further coverage. Multifamily Rents Continue to Struggle In what is normally prime leasing season, multifamily rents continue their decline thanks to the coronavirus. In May, rents declined nationally by .3% month-over-month, with the largest drops in gateway markets, according to a report released by YardiMatrix. The May numbers were an improvement over the previous month when rents fell by .5%. The markets that were hit the hardest included Boston and San Francisco, each down 1%; Chicago was down .9%; and Los Angeles saw a decline of .7%. For further details, see Globest.com report.
It’s the surprise of a spring selling season that’s been anything but normal: Buyers returning to the housing market have been battling over the few available properties.
While sales are way down, the lack of inventory has propped up prices and led to bidding wars, even as economic fallout from the pandemic mounts and real estate agents adjust to new public health guidelines that have made it more difficult to market homes.
“Since the pandemic began, demand fell off a cliff,” said Taylor Marr, an economist at Redfin Corp. “What most people overlook is that sellers also pulled back.”
The supply-demand imbalance meant that roughly 40% of homebuyers that Redfin agents worked with recently faced competition when they tried to purchase a home. The rate was even higher in cities like San Francisco, Boston and even Fort Worth, Texas, where more than 60% of properties the company’s clients bid on received multiple offers.
The U.S. housing market went into the Covid crisis with a supply shortage that was driving up prices beyond the reach of many buyers, even with years of low interest rates. That problem hasn’t gone away, despite the economic uncertainty. The number of active listings shrank by almost a quarter in April, compared with a year earlier, according to Redfin.
Still, the market has cooled. Sales of existing homes are projected to fall 20% in April from a month earlier, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That would follow an 8.5% drop in March. Construction of new houses plunged by the most on record in April, with builders waiting out the virus. That means new supply will be slower to materialize.
The market dynamics are a shock to some buyers. Kenzo Teves, a 24-year-old business analyst for a pharmaceutical company, decided to start shopping for his first house this spring, because interest rates were so low. He had money saved for a down payment and was secure in his job — factors he thought would help him find a home near Boston.
In late April, he made his first bid on a three-bedroom house in Chelsea, Massachusetts, that was listed for $420,000. The property got six other offers and even bidding $30,000 over the asking price wasn’t enough to cinch the deal.
“It’s pretty strange,” he said. “I would have thought that it would have tipped more to my favor as a buyer.”
The inventory shortage is being felt in smaller cities, too. Kim Park, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Boise, Idaho, said her business is down about 20% because sales have slowed. But bargains are still hard to find.
She’s working with a young family with two kids and a rental lease coming up for renewal next month. To buy a house for almost $300,000, they had to fight off three other bidders and pay $10,000 above asking price, Park said. They got it only because the winning bidder’s financing fell through.
Homeowners in Boise are staying put, worried about about letting potential buyers in during the pandemic or upgrading to a more expensive property when employment is so tenuous.
“It’s made our tight market that much tighter,” Park said.
In Los Angeles, Sally Forster Jones said two of her clients bid unsuccessfully this month on two different houses. One was listed for about $800,000 and the other for less than $1.5 million. Each received more than 30 offers and are now in escrow at above the listed price. Jones declined to share specifics on the homes because her clients made backup offers and she doesn’t want to invite more competition.
“I’m encouraging my sellers to put their property back on the market,” she said. “The fact that there’s limited inventory is to their advantage right now.”
Not all real estate agents see cutthroat competition. Nina Hatvany, a luxury agent with Compass in San Francisco, said buyers are coming back to the market but the complications of showing houses during a pandemic has weeded out all but the most motivated people. And, even then, there’s sometimes a mismatch between what people think a property is worth.
“I’ve got plenty of buyers saying, ‘I’m ready to buy if it’s a good price,’” she said. Meanwhile, “the sellers are worried about taking a big hit.”
Home prices will hold up, at least through the summer, but declines are coming, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. Once foreclosure moratoriums and forbearance programs end, lenders will start repossessions as unemployment persists. Ultimately, as many as 2 million homeowners will lose properties because of the the pandemic, he said.
In the near term, buyers are going to have to slug it out, especially for the types of property that are most in demand. Redfin’s data show that houses listed below $1 million were the most competitive, partly because banks have tightened standards for jumbo loans, said Marr. With everyone sheltering in place, buyers are also more eager to buy single-family houses than condos.
Freddie Mac (OTCQB: FMCC) today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing that the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.23 percent, the lowest rate in our survey’s history which dates back to 1971.
“The size and depth of the secondary mortgage market is helping to keep rates at record lows. These low rates are driving higher refinance activity and have modestly helped improve purchase demand from their extremely low levels in mid-April,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist. “While many people are benefitting from low mortgage rates, it’s important to remember that not all people are able to take advantage of them given the current pandemic.”
30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.23 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending April 30, 2020, down from last week when it averaged 3.33 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.14 percent.
15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.77 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.86 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.60 percent.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Visit the following link for the Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.
A breakdown of what it means for developers, landlords, agents and lenders
“In moments of crisis,” the legendary developer Big Bill Zeckendorf was fond of saying, “one’s world tends to become simplified.” Even those with big dreams (pretty much every successful real estate professional) get down to the basics: survival.
This is a crisis unlike one we’ve ever seen. The world has stopped. “It’s the first time ever that we’ve had a chain of supply shock to the system and a demand shock,” developer Steve Witkoff said. To help the U.S. economy recover from that shock, the government has passed a $2 trillion economic stimulus package, the largest of its kind in modern U.S. history.
What sort of help can the real estate industry expect?
The Real Deal‘s editorial team has broken down key aspects of the stimulus package that are most relevant to different stakeholders from across the industry, from multifamily landlords to residential brokers, from lenders to builders to investors. So much of what exactly the stimulus will mean for real estate is still being hammered out, but this is a snapshot of the current state of play.
“A good first step,” is how REBNY president Jim Whelan described the stimulus to us. He did note, however, that “increasing attention is going to have to be paid to the commercial market — mortgages, lenders, as well as landlords.”
Landlords and Investors
The stimulus package offers no direct relief for landlords. They might see respite indirectly, however, through the one-time $1,200 check to most individuals making up to $75,000. Unemployment insurance has been expanded to include gig workers, with the federal government offering up to an additional $600 per week on top of what states provide. Renters (and homeowners) can use that cash to make their monthly payments.
However, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are offering borrowers impacted by the pandemic up to 90 days of forbearance as long as they do not evict renters. For those who own Section 8 properties, the stimulus provides a total of $1 billion in funds to help maintain normal operations and “make up for any reduced tenant payments as a result of the coronavirus,” according to law firm Nixon Peabody.
Alan Hammer, a multifamily-focused attorney at Brach Eichler, is urging clients to reach out to existing lenders to see what programs they could qualify for, in lieu of federal or state help.
“There’s nothing really in the CARES Act that provides for landlords,” Hammer said, referring to the stimulus package’s official name — Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. “But you’ll never hear me complain that life has been unfair to landlords as a group.”
Jay Martin, Executive Director of landlord group CHIP
Francis Greenburger, who heads development firm Time Equities, said the plan “could be better,” adding that 90-day forbearance programs may not be helpful in the long run.
“Kicking the can down the road is not as good as it sounds if the crisis is still here in three to four months,” Greenburger said.
There is, however, one provision tucked into the bill that could see big landlords reap big savings.
Under the existing tax code, landlords can use losses including depreciation to offset other taxes up to a total of $250,000 for individuals and up to $500,000 for joint filers. The new stimulus lifts that restriction for three years, and the New York Times, citing a draft congressional analysis, estimated that the program could result in investors saving $170 billion over 10 years. (All taxpayers with depreciable assets or losses will also be eligible, so it’s unclear how much of that sum would represent savings in real estate.)
Depreciation on prime real estate holdings can easily come out to millions of dollars a year. According to one tax attorney, a $100 million building with “straight-line” depreciation over a 40-year lifespan would yield $2.5 million in depreciation losses a year. Depending on the owner’s income in a given year, the removal of the “excess business loss” cap could yield substantial tax savings. If you are moving homes in the Bournemouth area then bournemouth-removals.co.uk are very professional and cost effective.
The stimulus also allowed lawmakers to mend a “drafting error” from the 2017 tax bills — also known as the “retail glitch” — which made interior improvements for nonresidential properties ineligible for bonus depreciation. Retailers and restaurants will now have the option to deduct 100 percent of the cost of such improvements in the first year, instead of depreciating it over several years — an option which machinery owners, for example, already had.
Affordable Housing Developers
The bill would also add significant liquidity to municipal markets. The Fed is now exercising its power to buy municipal bonds, which the stimulus expanded to include all types of bonds, not just short-term ones. Because bonds allow municipalities to raise money cheaply, that’s good news for affordable housing developers who use tax credits to finance their projects.
Developers say enabling the construction of such product is more important than ever.
“Affordable housing could be more dramatically affected in the short term,” said Ron Moelis, CEO of L+M Development Partners, one of the most active affordable housing developers in New York City. Moelis said more of those tenants may lose their jobs because “they don’t have as much of a social safety net.”
Agents and Brokerages
Brokers used to eating what they kill are usually left out of government bailouts, but not this time.
Unlike with previous stimulus packages, this one extends unemployment insurance to independent contractors, which is how the majority of the nation’s 2 million real estate agents operate. (The amount is based on individual state formulas, and would be in addition to the up to $1,200 provided to individuals earning $75,000 or less.)
The Paycheck Protection Program provides loans up to $10 million to cover rent, mortgage interest, utilities and payroll. According to the National Association of Realtors, lost commissions count as payroll. The other loan program, dubbed the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, provides a $10,000 advance on emergency loans. The loans are limited to $2 million.
SBA loan payments will also be deferred for six months.
REBNY’s Whelan said he was happy to see the small business assistance programs centered around employment. “That was thoughtful and will hopefully play a critical role in getting businesses back on their feet,” he said.
The measures come as welcome news for firms that are already reckoning with significant layoffs or pay cuts, among them Compass, Realogy, and Meridian Capital Group. But given that commissions are the bulk of a broker’s income, layoffs even in bad times are less common compared to other industries. “There isn’t a tendency to go in that direction,” said CBRE’s Mary Ann Tighe.
Similar to brokerages, retailers, restaurants and other small businesses are eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program.
Businesses with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for the loan, which is designed to keep workers on payroll. The U.S. Small Business Administration said it will forgive loans “if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.”
“This should give landlords some comfort that their tenants will be able to pay rent eventually,” said Jeff Friedman, a partner at law firm Hall Estill, “if not immediately.”
Tom Barrack already thinks it’s the end of CMBS as we know it.
The founder of Colony Capital and close associate of President Trump penned a dire letter on Medium on March 22, in which he predicted that the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdown of sectors of the U.S. economy could lead to margin calls, foreclosures, evictions and potential bank failures. The impact, the polo-playing billionaire warned, could be greater than that of the Great Depression.
What happens to mortgage servicers remains unclear. Last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association estimated that lenders could be on the hook for at least $75 billion on short notice, and possibly more than $100 billion if homeowners and landlords sought forbearance en masse.
But the association noted that the stimulus “includes funding that can be leveraged to create a broad, dedicated Federal Reserve liquidity facility.” It called for the government and the Fed to rapidly establish a program to help mortgage servicers provide the necessary forbearance.
Heidi Learner, chief economist for Savills, noted that “while servicers can go into the facility to borrow from the Fed, the fact of the matter is that it’s a cash-negative position.”
“They have to borrow to advance cash that’s not coming in,” Learner said. “I don’t see how this is sustainable.”
Hardhats can expect significant support. Infrastructure and construction could be eligible for $43 billion of the $340 billion in funds outlined in the appropriations section of the package, according to trade publication Engineering News-Record.
Trade group Associated General Contractors told the publication that the stimulus provisions that would help the industry include ones that allow companies to delay paying payroll taxes through Jan. 1, and allowing firms to “carry back” net operating losses for five years to offset past earnings. Another section of the bill allows firms structured as partnerships, S-corporations and other pass-through entities to deduct all 2020 losses in the current tax year.
Construction workers could also avail of direct payments from the government, and smaller construction businesses would also be eligible for the same types of SBA loans brokerages can take advantage of.
Real estate investment trusts were mentioned briefly in the bill — but only to exclude them from part of a temporary change to rules around net operating losses.
In a memo analyzing the stimulus package, law firm Skadden Arps said that “despite the provision of this relief, loans, leases and other contracts likely will need to be restructured and renegotiated. Property owners, operators and lenders will need to collaborate to make this happen.”
Big Bill Zeckendorf would have agreed with that sentiment. The rotund tycoon accumulated suits with the same gusto that he did properties, and once said of his tailor: “By now he knew that I would always pay. But he also knew that he might have to wait.”
This special report was written by Hiten Samtani and Danielle Balbi, with reporting from TRD’s Georgia Kromrei, Rich Bockmann, Kevin Sun, E.B. Solomont and Kathryn Brenzel.
In December, the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) released a working paper announcing the release of an updated version of the Wharton Land Use Regulatory Index. The paper’s lead author, Joseph Gyourko, is a professor at the Wharton School who is well known for his research in this area and worked with the previous version of the index.
The index is based on a survey of over 2,400 primarily suburban jurisdictions across the U.S., conducted in calendar year 2018. Answers to the survey are used to construct twelve component indexes (capturing political pressure, number of approvals required, involvement of the state legislature and the court system and the local population in the process, explicit caps on production, density restrictions, presence of impact fees, and the time it takes to obtain approval). The twelve components are combined into an overall index, scaled so that it has an average value of zero and a higher index number indicates more restrictive local land use regulation.
Averaging the index across each of the 44 metropolitan areas that had data on at least ten communities in 2018 clearly shows that the most restrictive regulatory regimes tend to be found on the coasts. The metros with the most restrictive regulations, according to the 2018 Wharton Index, are San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward (with an average index of 1.18) and New York-Newark-Jersey City (with 1.04).
The working paper also compares the 2018 results with those from the previous survey (conducted from 2004 to 2006) to investigate possible changes in the regulatory environment over that span. The comparison shows that there has been an increase in the number of local entities that need to approve a development, although only in cases where the development requires rezoning.
However, the major regulatory increase captured by that the Wharton surveys involves density restrictions. In particular, the surveys showed that minimum lot sizes, already widespread in 2006, were even more common—as well as more restrictive—in 2018. In the 2018 survey, 94 percent of the communities reported minimum lot sizes, and in a quarter of these the minimum lot size was at least one acre.
Impact fees were the only type of regulation that showed a significant decline between 2006 and 2018. Just over half of communities reported imposing some type of impact fees in 2018 compared to slightly over three-quarters of those in the earlier survey. It is important to remember that the earlier survey was conducted from late 2004 through early 2006—before the downturn, when housing production was at its peak, and when there was substantial concern about the number of property-flipping investors in many parts of the country.
A broad conclusion reached by the NBER paper is that the basic framework of the local regulatory environment has not changed much since 2018: communities have neither abandoned old types of regulation nor adopted radically new types. The NBER paper is describing land use regulations specifically, however. Complaints fielded by NAHB suggest that architectural restrictions on single-family homes (e.g., outlawing less expensive types of siding) have become an emerging local regulatory issue, but this is probably outside the scope of the Wharton survey.
For readers interested in more detail, the working paper is titled “The Local Residential Land Use Regulatory Environment Across U.S. Housing Markets: Evidence from a New Wharton Index.” It can be purchased at a relatively modest cost (for an academic article) on the NBER web site.
Housing could fuel economic growth for the first part of 2020, a new economic outlook from Fannie Mae shows.
Fannie Mae upgraded its economic outlook to a gross domestic product growth of 1.9% in 2020, according to its latest commentary from the Economic and Strategic Research Group. This is due to expected easing trade tensions, stimulative fiscal policies and continued consumer spending
This year, the third quarter added to GDP growth for the first time in more than 1.5 years, Fannie Mae’s data shows. And this growth is expected to continue into the second quarter of 2020.
Fannie Mae explained housing should also continue to function as a positive contributor to growth in the near term, as indicated by both new and existing single-family home sales advancing in the third quarter, as well as pending home sales, permits, and starts. However, persistent supply and affordability constraints continue to hold back household formation, inhibiting housing market activity.
“As we forecasted, housing supported the larger economy in the third quarter, and we expect it to continue to play a productive role through the first half of 2020,” said Doug Duncan, Fannie Mae senior vice president and chief economist. “Positive contributions from single-family housing construction, home improvements, and brokers fees pushed residential fixed investment growth to a robust 5.1% annualized pace this past quarter, and we forecast continued but moderating strength as construction activity and home sales growth continue at a slower pace.”
“With mortgage rates normalizing, we expect a decline in refinance activity in 2020, with the refinance share of originations dropping from a projected 37% in 2019 to 31%,” Duncan said. “Of course, the housing market as a whole remains constrained by the persistent supply and affordability issues, which is particularly unfortunate given the current strength of consumer demand for reasonably priced homes.”
Housing is contributing to growth, but consumer spending is expected to remain the primary driver of economic growth for the forecast horizon, and business fixed investment will benefit as additional corporate expenditures work to meet consumer demand.
“Even as global uncertainties mount, we continue to expect the domestic economy to produce solid, if not spectacular, growth,” Duncan said. “A stronger-than-expected third quarter contributed to the downward revision to our fourth-quarter forecast, as some of the previously expected weakness in trade and inventories appears likely to have been pushed back into this quarter. Still, consumer spending is likely to continue driving the expansion forward, and with the passage of the budget act and a reprieve in trade tensions we’ve revised upward our forecast for full-year 2020 growth.”
But risks still remain on the horizon. For example, trade talks between the U.S. and China continue to pose negative risks to economic growth. And because of this uncertainty, Fannie Mae predicts we could see one last rate cut from the Federal Reserve in early 2029 before pausing for the rest of the year.
“We also continue to expect the Fed to cut interest rates only one more time in the foreseeable future, in early 2020, as a hedge against the sizeable downside risks and to counteract muted inflation,” Duncan said.