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What’s Really Happening in Real Estate

See also my recent interview with a real estate developer whose thoughts are similar to those expressed in Michael’s article below. - Ilene

What’s Really Happening in Real Estate

Courtesy of Michael Panzner at Financial Armageddon

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My friend George Ure, publisher of Urban Survival (and a related blog of the same name), as well as the Peoplenomics subscription newsletter, has posted an eye-opening commentary, "Coping: With What No One Wants To Say" (excerpted below), detailing industry insiders’ perspectives on what is really happening in the real estate market.

While the news that things aren’t getting any better in CRE and RRE won’t be much of a surprise to those who’ve actually been paying attention, it would seem to represent further evidence that the "experts" and powers that be in Washington and on Wall Street (along with their enablers in the mainstream media) are either liars, fools, or crack addicts — or some combination of all three:

Every so often, a group of major real estate developers get together for a conference where folks try to look ahead. In order to protect my source, I won’t tell you which real estate/developer conference it was, but I’ve been given permission by my source to post this high-level view of what the people who put up real dough to develop properties are seeing.  This is the info that I talked about with Jeff Rense on his radio program last night — Read it and weep:

"This week I attended the [serious players] fall conference. [serious players] is the top real estate industry group in the world. All the most senior people in the industry.

1. Not one expert was willing to predict what things will look like in 3 years other than they think it will be better.

2. One top economist said if you are a developer find another career for the next 3 years-there is nothing to do and it may be 5 years.

3. Recovery will be slow. Unemployment will not drop back to more normal levels until 2014. First they will bring back people on 4 day weeks to 5 days, then they will increase hours form the average 33 hours now, then part timers will become more full time, then they will start to hire.

4. Real estate values are down generally 40% and there is a huge need for value reset to occur.

5. Nobody knows what debt will look like when it returns other than it will be far more conservative. Nobody knows what securitization will be when it does return.

6. The rating agencies will operate differently. There is a discussion among some of us that there needs to be an agency probably of Treasury that collects fees of some sort from issuers each time there is an issuance of debt to be rated and that agency will then hire a rating agency to be a analyst firm to determine the quality of the issue. There will definitely not be a continuation of investment bankers hiring the raters and paying them directly. There needs to be a rule that the I bankers cannot talk to the raters. There was far to much threats of withholding fees, and other inducements to the raters before making ratings about as accurate as appraisals which were also paid for by I bankers who needed high appraisals to justify the over leveraging.

7. Housing in some bad markets is still bad and the first time buyer credit is making it a somewhat phony market. Phoenix has 45,000 housing lots so there is a literal lifetime supply of lots. Land prices in Phoenix, S CA and other markets are 50% of the cost of the infrastructure installed on finished lots. The land has zero or negative value. In most areas it will be at least 5 years before any of this land will get built out in any quantity.

There are still 2-3 million too many houses in the US.

8. This time is really very different than any recession in the past

9. The US is no longer the world economic leader and will not lead the world out of this mess.

10. Real estate will once again be an investment and not the trading vehicle it became which is what led to this crisis.

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Here is the real stunner. A senior person at Treasury said to a small group of us that it is now official Treasury policy to extend and pretend on real estate loans. In other words, the policy statement from last week says, if you can make an analysis that says even if the current value is less than the loan, if you can do a spreadsheet that shows if you extend for 3-5 years, and if the economy gets better, and if the loan can be amortized down to where the loan is no longer more than the value, then the lender does not have to take an impairment -write down. Loans are to be modified by rate reductions, deferral of reserves, deferral of amortization or what ever.

Just NOT principal reduction. This is just like they are doing in housing.

Giant make believe. The free market seeking an equilibrium price is no longer economic policy. In short, the working of the free market is suspended. She went on to say it was administration policy that they will create new employment and by doing so they will boost the economy, and so then real estate values will return to old levels. There were 50 of the most senior and smartest real estate people in the room. They ripped her to pieces. It looked like one of the town hall meetings of August, except everyone there was a very senior, polished professional. At one point everyone was calling out or moaning at her. It was clear to all she had been given a few talking points and she was told to stick to them no matter how foolish she looked. The group told her in no uncertain terms this is terrible public policy. They said for jobs to be created you need to lower rents so the cost of occupancy was at a level to encourage more hiring. If the loan is kept at old levels and building values not reduced, then landlords can’t reduce rents to where they need to be to make taking space by tenants economically viable. Retailers costs remain higher than they should be making it harder to lower prices to induce sales. So there is a massive make believe going on. When I pressed the issue of political interference she said -what do you want us to do, bankrupt all the banks.

That is the choice.

What does this tell you?

A. The problem is going to take much longer to solve than it should,

B. The banks are still very weak, so lending will not return anytime soon,

C. A massive refi problem is getting deferred to 2013-2015.

D. The administration is playing politics with the economy to a degree that is dangerous. There has to be a massive value reset for real estate. We are deferring the inevitable.

I think we captured a lot of what was said in various panels and conversations. We have a long way to go and the government is making it harder to fix the problem."

Click here to read the rest.


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