Showing posts with label real estate market trends. Show all posts
Showing posts with label real estate market trends. Show all posts

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The End of 2020: Now What?

2020 has been a life-changing year for everyone, literally everyone. From the global pandemic, to the fluctuating economy, not to mention the seismic shift in the perception of "going to work," it is safe to say that the world is different place than it was 12 months ago. Now what?

Every year Bloomberg Business Week puts out its "Bloomberg 50"--a list of 50 individuals that have made their mark during the prior year. Although this year's list contains a number of impressive men and women who were able to quickly mobilize and make moving, positive contributions during this tumultuous year, it is notable that not one member of this list was mentioned for contributions to the real estate market. In fact, there are many executives on the list that are touted for reducing the size and/or the footprint of their companies, which in many instances includes real estate divestment. Furthermore, Blackrock, a private equity that is well know for its real estate investments, has made the list, not for real estate, but for its renegotiation of national debts in South America.

The lack of presence of real estate in this list is yet another illustration of what was obvious to all real estate professionals--2020 was not the year of the major real estate transaction. As people hunkered down during to quarantine, the economy fluctuated and work-from-home became the norm, the real estate market dramatically changed. Mortgage delinquencies rose, office spaces became more available, the cost of materials trended upward and permits for new projects trended downward. Migrations from urban areas also took place en masse in March and April as those with the means and desire to seek less crowded surroundings during the spread of the pandemic did so. Although the amount and duration of this recent migration may be disputed, the effects of this exodus have noticeably shifted the dynamic in many local real estate markets, for better or for worse.

As asked earlier, "Now what?" Anyone that has paid even a little bit of attention to this blog over the years knows that I do not "do" doom and gloom. There is always opportunity in change and if there is one thing that 2020 has done well, it is that it has exposed a number of opportunities. From the rise of Special Purpose Acquisition Companies to the consideration of rezoning in urban areas, opportunities to add value, create wealth and thrive in the real estate market are going to present themselves throughout 2021. Rather than make a brief list of some of these opportunities in this post, I will attempt to explore them more in depth in posts throughout the upcoming year. 


Instead of looking back on notable movements in the real estate market during an unprecedented time, I have decided to look forward to the apparent opportunities of the upcoming year. So, please join me as The Real Estate Think Tank.com celebrates its 10th year in existence in 2021. It has been a wild ride thus far, let's conquer next year together. 

See you in 2021.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Lesson From the Pandemic For Residential Landlords

The effects of Covid-19 on the residential rental market are apparent—many jurisdictions have enacted rent freezes, landlord/tenant courts have been shut down and moratorium on evictions and foreclosures have been set. Moreover, the accompanying downturn in the economy has left many without the ability to pay rent on time, if at all.

Considered rationally, the need for all of the social safety nets put in place for renters is obvious. The only way to truly survive a global disaster is to band together and implement a series of solutions. Radical measures had to be taken to mitigate the global pandemic. “We’re all in this together,” is not just a motto, it’s a reality. As a society, we are tasked with taking care of our most vulnerable populations, because the repercussions of not doing so are far more expensive than the costs of their protection. In this instance in particular, increased homelessness and/or a wave of relocations due to a rise in home displacement would only serve to exacerbate infection rates around the nation. That said, here are some clear lessons that residential landlords can learn in the wake of this global event.

1.       Paying Tenants Are Worth Their Weight In Gold

Those who were able to enjoy relatively uninterrupted streams of cashflow during the past few months are truly ahead of the game. Finding tenants with the ability to pay rent on time and the willingness to do so is a difficult, but not impossible task. Great systems for vetting renters are key to doing so, but active, just and appropriate property management also plays a big part in the search and retention of paying tenants. Happy tenants are more likely to prioritize their rent expenses.

The compatibility of the property to its neighborhood is also key to the retention of paying tenants. Properties that effectively service the neighborhood’s population, such as those that are accommodating to the social and/or economic needs of the community tend to have renters that are more willing to pay their rent expenses. Although some of these characteristics can be relatively immutable, such as proximity to a popular bus or train line or to certain religious institutions, others are within the control of the building owner, such as providing high-speed Wi-Fi in areas that cater to the tech workforce. Whether immutable or not, these factors influence the rental experience of each tenant and can facilitate the connection that tenants have to the property, giving them further incentive to pay rent on time.

2.       Location Determines Approach

Once again the old real estate adage rings true—location, location, location. The location of a property, better stated, the laws of the jurisdiction of a property have a direct effect on the method of mitigation that a landlord can take for a loss of rent. In areas with more tenant protections, long term planning should be the order of the day. Tenant negotiations and/or buyouts, when legal, may be a viable, but time-consuming option. Analyzing and maximizing the value of one’s property in the interim will also be key. Utilization of advertising space, cosmetic upgrades of vacant units or even a higher standard of efficiency in building operations may all be necessary, as non-payments begin to resolve.

The same techniques can also be applied in jurisdictions with less tenant protections, as well, and will yield results. Their application, however, becomes more critical in areas where the law favors the tenant. Before writing off jurisdictions with strong tenant protections, please keep in mind that these areas typically boast lower cap rates, so if the price and time are right, exiting a property may be a viable option.

3.       Affordable Housing Is The Wave

Rental assistance programs, like Section 8, have been a lifeline to many landlords during this time. Some building owners have sworn by these programs prior to the pandemic and have been proven right. The government has not waivered in its consistency in rental payouts during the pandemic. Moreover, the relative scarcity of these programs makes them highly coveted by tenants, who tend to pay regularly to maintain their eligibility. The government has made it a priority to ensure housing program payments to stabilize rental housing and building owners should take advantage

By no means an exhaustive list, these three points are some of the many lessons that landlords can learn in the wake of this devastating pandemic. That is my take on this topic. Please feel free to leave your comments below.


Friday, June 26, 2020

Real Estate in the Time of Pandemic

Photo by CDC

With our country beginning to find its way to a new normal at the end of months of quarantine, we in the real estate market are all left with one nagging question—What should we expect from here? 

Like most people, I do not have definitive answer. If you are over the age of thirteen, however, this pandemic is certainly not the first market disruption that you have experienced and with each such occurrence, we all learn some valuable lessons about the real estate industry. With that said, here are a couple of lessons that we can learn from this particular time of change: 

1. COVID-19 Wasn't The End Of The World
Photo by Anna Shvets

The Corona virus pandemic is clearly a historical event and one of the most pervasive pandemics ever. Pandemics are an unfortunate part of human history and have happened a number of times in the last century. The world-wide nature of this particular pandemic, coupled with the inter-connectivity of today’s world, may make our current situation historically novel, however, despite the idyiosyncracies of this pandemic, humans have a history of overcoming pandemics and moving forward. The loss that COVID-19 has caused, in lives, wealth and production cannot be replaced. It is important to remember, however, that while the results of this destruction must be mourned, the real estate market will come back and has rebounded from worse. 


2. With Every Disruption Comes Opportunity

Large market disruptions and crises are much like forest fires--they are extremely destructive to everything effected. Also like forest fires, these events clear a path for growth that may not have been possible prior. The real estate market, like most other markets, will rebound and it is the duty of every real estate professional to be diligent in looking for ways to contribute toward the structuring of a new normal in our changing world. 

3.Things Will Not Be The Same

There are a number of lessons that the past couple of months have taught us, not the least of which are the capabilities of our remote learning and working infrastructures and the importance of residential real estate in times of crisis. Unfortunately, the pandemic has also made many of us leery of in-person interaction and created a hypersensitivity around perceived health. Some of the changes that have resulted from the pandemic may dissipate over time, but no one who has lived through the quarantine will ever forget the experience. That said, it is important that real estate professionals stay alert to changing trends as we all quickly try to determine which of the adjustments made will become a regular part of our lives. 



4. Home Will Take On A New Role

One thing that has been apparent throughout the quarantine is that there is no place like home. Residential real estate will certainly be viewed differently going forward. Consumers are bound to be much more beholden to their preferences and the sanitary status of a property may be its selling point. Newer construction may be able to demand more of a premium initially, given its modern features and shorter owner history. Additionally, working-from-home will become a continued reality for many. Homes that are best able to accommodate remote workers, may also be able to demand premiums.

Photo by August de Richelieu

5. Workplaces Will Have To Adapt

Photo by Ivan SamkovThe concept of work has definitely been redefined during this time of pandemic, as we have learned that the nation will not fall apart if most of us work remotely. This realization, coupled with the shriveling of the economy during the past few months has caused some serious adverse effects in the commercial real estate market. Although warehouse space and industrial properties may be less effected by the move to remote working, as these property types are driven by the physical needs of companies, all property classes have been effected by the slowing of the economy. Social distancing has not been kind to office and retail properties. These property types may need to undergo some significant reimagining, as they are tailored to inter-personal interaction. Further, the required increase in online-purchasing has only served to further accelerate what has been an apparent reality in retail real estate for sometime—a new normal is on the horizon. Flexibility will be key in the office and retail markets, where the spoils will go to the nimble. 

6. Sanitary And Sterile May Be Trendy

Photo by cottonbro In the wake of this national health crisis, sterile is in. As the nation continues its path toward reopening, we have already begun to see businesses retooled in order to work toward the eradication of COVID-19. The concern over this virus will inevitably lead to an increased concern for the sterility of dwellings and structures. Demonstrable sanitary feature, systems and practice can allay health concerns and are certainly welcomed, if not mandatory, additions to any property. 


7. Fundamentals Still Rein Supreme

In the end, real estate is still real estate. It will continue to be a relatively illiquid asset and it will continue to have significant market lags. It will also continue to be a valuable resource and a viable way to build and shield wealth. All of these factors are why we love real estate so much. It’s indicators will remain the same: e.g. the employment rate, housing starts, mortgage rates, local economic factors, locations of major employers, etc., although, it is wholly possible that some new indicators may arise. I will avoid trying to speculate on which indicators may be significant, but one thing is clear, change is coming and it is important to be ready to navigate toward our new way of life. 

This has been my take on the impending changes to real estate coming in the wake of the pandemic. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Social Justice Real Estate


I try my best on this blog to focus on the issues effecting the real estate market and offer a perspective uninfluenced by political factors. To the extent that social factors effect the real estate market, I am happy to address them, but I work diligently to ensure that this blog does not serve the dual purpose of promoting any particular political ideology. With that said, we are all contextual creatures and I, as an African-American male, cannot ignore the current outcry regarding police brutality against my fellow brothers and sisters.

Although the issue of police brutality against black and brown people is nothing new, it is refreshing to see all of the momentum that we are generating toward a solution. I am prayerful and hopeful that the demonstrations being made, the dialogues taking place and the changes that have begun are indicative of a new direction that our country is taking, toward working on resolving the clearly apparent and lingering racial biases found in our country. Police brutality is certainly an important issue that must be resolved, but is a symptom of an American history of racially stratified policies, both formal and informal, that have lasted for centuries and preserve advantages for those not of color. Given that the “complexity” of race relations in our country has developed over centuries, it is reasonable to expect that the solution to this issue, will not be a quick fix, but it absolutely necessary that every American commit to working toward a resolution of this issues. Until we heal our racial wound and deal with our checkered past, we cannot truly move forward as a nation.

What does this have to do with real estate?

Well, I’m glad that you asked that question. Real estate, in fact, has frequent been used to either preserve a status quo or to begin drastic change. From the mortgage redlining of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s to racially restrictive land covenants, to blockbusting, to redistricting, to urban planning, to affordable housing programs, it is abundantly clear, real estate can influence the path of a society. The issues of the oft mentioned “inner city” are the result of urban planning, which has used zoning laws, covenants, variance hearings and other land use methods to ensure that some areas thrive and others flounder. These planning decisions had lasting effects, as communities were shaped by these decision, many of which have lasted for generations. 


Few issues are more political than land use and few are more hotly contested. Proposed major changes in zoning draw large numbers of reactions on both sides. Elections are won and lost over the location of new developments or the violation of the ubiquitous NIMBY. In fact, in most cities, big and small, there is no group more powerful and wealthy than the real estate lobby, which works to ensure that either status quo is maintained or that their notification of any changes is advanced as possible.


So if real estate can garner so much focus and convey so much influence, then the importance of acquiring as much of it as possible is clear. As Master P recently said, you have own blocks to create influence. In actuality, few things speak louder than the concerns of a collective of the largest landowners. If you are skeptical, look at how many of the largest campaign contributors of most local, mayoral and gubernatorial elections are directly tied to the real estate market. Also look at the amount of tax benefits, such as PILOTs and tax credits are given to large developers or businesses that intend to open headquarters in an area. Governments have in some instances taken land from smaller private landowners through eminent domain to ensure that such developments or headquaters are able to be built.

When it comes to real estate not much has changed from the days of feudalism—land equals influence, so if people of color want to be heard in a lasting way and establish generational change, one way to do so is to own land and/or to influence land policy. Real estate has always been a powerful tool for social change. If we do not mobilize and acquire, then we will continue to be at the mercy of the planning decisions of a group that does not share our interest. Diversity has many benefits, but it is important that we do everything that we can to secure our seat at the table, so our inclusion is a necessity and not a mere act of benevolence. 

Well that’s my take on social justice real estate. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Change Is A Coming: How Current Economic Conditions Should Affect Real Estate Investment


Many economist and market pundits are predicting a market downturn, beginning some time in 2019 or 2020. All of the indicators of an overheated boom seem to be present--increasing margin debt, decreasing dividends, stock market price inflation and increased levels of corporate debt. Essentially, low interest rates have made credit more accessible. As a result, businesses are using credit to buy back some of their outstanding stock. In response to the relative decrease in availability of stock, stock market prices are rising, increasing household wealth across the nation. Spurred on in part by technological development, the economy seems to be booming at present, but it is important to note that mechanism that is fueling this increase in wealth is debt.

The Dangers of Debt

Although the use of debt in an economy is not an inherent cause for alarm, the financing of an economic boom through debt can lead to some undesirable outcomes. An increase in corporate debt without an accompanying increase in productivity simply means that companies are borrowing to appear more profitable, merely because money is available at low rates. Cheap money, however, has to be paid back at some point and without an increase in productivity to support the increased leverage, companies that borrow cheaply will have repay their obligations at their current rate of production with future dollars, which have less purchasing power.

Compounding this issue further is that the resulting increase in stock prices leads to an increase in the values of the portfolios of consumers throughout the nation. This increase in household wealth leads to an increase in consumer spending and borrowing. In turn, prices increase in response to the uptick in consumption. In the presence of increased productivity, such economic functionality is normally a mechanism of economic growth. Without increased production, leading to an increase in value created by this cycle of price increasing, inflation results.

Increased productivity is important to sustainable economic growth, unfortunately, it has been outpaced in the present economy by corporate and consumer consumption. The dislocation between interest rate activity and production growth is a clear indication that the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve is the true underlying cause of the economic boom. Unfortunately federal monetary policies alone cannot be the support an economic boom, as these policies will have to change once the economy show signs of overheating. Naturally, a change in the underlying support of an economic boom will cause a market crash.

What Does All of This Have to Do with Real Estate Finance?

As discussed, in a previous post, an economic downturn is the time to acquire real estate exposure, however, it is also a time during which credit is scarce. Accordingly, given the prevailing prediction of a market crash, capital acquisition should be the focus of savvy real estate investors. Therefore, now is the time to forgo acquisition in favor of increased occupancy and monetization. Given the low cost of money, now is also the perfect time to finance repairs that will facilitate higher rates and increased capitalization.

Although the argument could be made that once indicators point to a market downturn, it is already too late to begin preparation, it is better to adjust to eminent market conditions to the extent possible than not at all. The upcoming downturn, although unfortunate, can serve as an opportunity for the liquid, well-prepared real estate investor. A change is certainly on the horizon, be prepared and please feel free to provide your prospective on the matter below.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

In the Weeds: How a Multidisciplinary Approach to Real Estate Can Lead to Increased Success

I once had a conversation with a coworker in which I expressed my frustration regarding the siloed view of real estate that many real estate professionals seem to employ as a matter of course. I complained that so few real estate professionals truly attempted to view real estate as a multifaceted asset and instead cared only to focus on their specialization within the industry. I wondered out loud how productive the industry could truly be if, in addition to their own professional perspectives, appraisers attempted to see the industry a little more like attorneys and attorneys tried to orient themselves to view the market like investors and investors like Relators, etc. 

My coworker listened politely until I was finished and wisely stated that the reason such cross-pollination of perspectives was not present in the real estate industry was that everyone was too “in the weeds” in their various roles and on their various projects to even attempt to take such a view. It was at that moment that I realized that I realized that my coworker had accurately described a condition that plagues much of the real estate industry—myopia. Indeed, many real estate professionals become so great at their specialization that cannot see the forest for trees or better yet, the weeds. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

My How Local Lending Has Changed!

Today's banks are unabashedly international businesses which thrive on providing services and taking advantage of opportunities throughout the world. Long gone are the days of the local Savings and Loan as the provider of the community's mortgage needs. Instead, behemoths of consolidations dominate today's lending scene, thriving off of large economies of scale that make any potentially smaller competitors shutter. This change in the role of banking in the community, although the largely the product of intentional moves by the banking industry and Congress, is not without its effects on the real estate industry, particularly the residential market.

In order to explain the effect of big banks on the residential real estate market, one must understand the role of local banks prior to the expansion and consolidation of banks that led to the current situation. Until the 1980's, US mortgage lending was dominated by small local banks and Savings and Loan Associations (S&L's), local banking entities that engaged in lending and offering savings deposit accounts. Initially, S&L's were heavily regulated and restricted from offering consumer loans and investing deposits in most of the investment vehicles available in the market. The Savings and Loan model relied on a favorable treatment by the Federal Reserve to allow for an increased spread between the rate charged on mortgage lending and the rate offered on deposit accounts. S&L's also frequently managed underwriting risk with local market knowledge.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Why Historical Beta Does Not Always Work For Real Estate

Real estate investment is typically viewed as an essential part of any balanced portfolio. Its immutable characteristics, such as its relatively long pricing cycles and its above average returns, cause real estate to be seen as a stable asset. On the other hand, due to its sensitivity to interest rates, its lack of liquidity at the property level and its longer periods appreciation, exposure to the real estate can also serve as an inflationary hedge. Although real estate exposure may be purchased for any number of reasons, the risk profile of real estate assets is of interest to most, if not all, real estate investors.

The ways in which the risk profile of real estate has been expressed vary from the informal to the highly computational. On the most informal end of the spectrum, owner-operators of property frequently concern themselves with the tax consequences and appreciation of the property, content to face changes in the market or externalities, as they come. On the opposite end of the spectrum are portfolio managers and fixed-income investors, who seek quantifiable means to express the volatility of real estate securities. One such attempt at quantifying the volatility of real estate and its related securities is through the use of real estate's historical beta.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

From Property to Liens and Back

In light of my previous post on timing the market, I thought that I would follow up with a post on one type of investment strategy that takes advantage of the cyclical nature of real estate.

There are a number of ways to invest in real estate. From property acquisition to shorting housing starts to buying equity in a REIT, each type of investment in the real estate market comes with its own idiosyncrasies, which must be understood in order to ensure maximum profitability. Specialization in one category or subcategory is often expected and praised among real estate practitioners and investors. The various entry points into real estate, however, allow for diversification. Purchasing property, notes or securitized bonds provide direct access to the real estate market, while liens, nonperforming notes and real estate derivatives can serve to counteract real estate defaults, if properly purchased. Although, given the change in the regulatory climate for derivatives, real estate derivatives have become more theoretical than piratical.

Since the real estate market has some many points of entry, one can balance a real estate portfolio by investing in different asset classes, depending on the performance of the market at any given time. In this way, an investor can capitalize on the cyclical nature of real estate. One such way to diversify is to purchase property for appreciation and purchase liens and nonperforming notes as the market declines.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Buy Low, Sell High

I am always amazed at how the real estate market seems to demonstrate a certain level of fervor during the upswings and panic during the downturns. Although the magnitude and length of each particular cycle may vary, the cyclical nature of real estate is one of its fundamental traits.  Given the illiquidity of property, however, real estate cycles typically take place over a number of years. It has been my experience that an entire real estate cycle can last 5-10 years. Given this timeframe, there is usually sufficient opportunity to prepare to take advantage of the idiosyncrasies of each section of the real estate curve.

 The old stock market adage: "buy low, sell high" can serve as a strong guiding principal when creating a real estate strategy that will yield success throughout the real estate cycle. Almost contrite in its simplicity as it applies to equities, "buy low, sell high" is a great way to describe the recommended counter-cyclical behavior of a real estate investor. Buying low essentially means that purchases should be made in a down market and sales should be made in an up market. The challenge with counter-cyclical investment however, is that it goes against market conditions. Buying in a down market can be challenging, as that is when lenders tend to be wary of additional exposure to declining price and credit becomes scarce. It is, therefore, important to have capital available for purchases in down markets. Solid valuation is also key in a down market, as purchasing too early can result in acquiring an asset at a price point at which the asset will take a substantial amount of time to recover through appreciation. The fear of overpaying, however, should not paralyze investors into inaction, but should be seen as requiring a higher level of diligence and discipline. Opportunities are generally present in the down market, but must be scrutinized.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Same Mechanism, Different Crisis

I recently read William Seidman's book Full Faith and Credit, which contains a detailed explanation of the S&L crash of the early 1990's that was spurred on by a crash of the US commercial real estate market. William Seidman was head of the FDIC at the time of the crash. A day after I finished the book, I walked by my bookshelf and noticed the book Bull By Its Horns, by Shelia Bair, the chairman of the FDIC during the 2007/2008 financial crisis, when it hit me--both publications are the same book written nearly 20 years apart. Although each of the authors have their individual differences, they are both similar in that they were Republican chairmen (or is the term chairpeople?), serving during Republican presidencies, who presided over the fallout of a banking crisis that resulted in the largescale nationalization of private assets and companies.

The political affiliation of both former heads of the FDIC is tangential to my point, however, I mention it to make two observations. The first observation is that both Mr. Seidman and Ms. Bair are linked by political party. The second is that the economic climate forced them to participate in the goverment takeover of private companies and their assets, an idea that is antithetical to most Republican ideology.

Although one of the chief duties of the FDIC is to close failing institutions and liquidate their assets, under most normal economic circumstances, this duty of the FDIC is either carried out infrequently or confined to a certain sector of the market. Both the S&L crisis of early 1990's and the Great Recession of the late first decade 2000's, however, forced the FDIC and other government agencies to either take ownership an stake or fully national financial institutions in a large, systemic manner.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Residential Mortgage Backed Securities: How They're Supposed To Work

Residential Mortgage Backed Securities (RMBS) are the fuel that powers our country's mortgage market. Their role in mortgage lending is not complicated, despite the fact that accurately pricing them requires in-depth knowledge of stochastic processes, matrix math, as well as a solid understanding of partial differential equations. I recently found a great article on-line by American University's Peter Chinloy that explains the how RMBS functions and the many of the assumptions that undergird them.
The long and short of it is that RMBS expands the lending capacity of financial institutions by allowing them to sell the home loans that they originate to purchasers on the secondary market to other institutions, exchanging the cash flow from the loans for cash for their balance sheets. The purchasers of these loans then package them and create investment vehicles or conduits. Investors are then offered an opportunity to participate in the cash flows that comes from the payment of these loans through the purchase of bonds issued on behalf of a conduit. These bonds are categorized as RMBS. They offer the investor exposure to the returns and activity of the housing market without the idiosyncrasies of property ownership or the capital  and labor requirements of lending. Moreover, a great deal of investment grade RMBS is guaranteed and can be insured. Add in the historically low home loan default rates with the lower capital reserve requirements of for insurance companies holding RMBS and it seems like a solid investment.
By now, the story of RMBS and its function has been told in many different places since the beginning of the economic downturn, so I harbor no delusion that what I have written thus far is not already widely understood. Chinloy's article, though written 16 years ago, offers a refreshing explanation of the purpose of each component of the mortgage lending system. It also illustrates the mathematical assumptions of lending behavior, important variables and basic RMBS pricing that can be easily used in Excel.
Chinloy describes the differences in private and agency RMBS that were once key to residential loan securitization. Originally, GNMA or agency RMBS was the outlet for borrowers that had less capital or lower credit scores than was required of conventional loans. Loans that fell under the purview of GNMA, known as FHA, VA or FmHA loans, were not only insured by FHA, VA or FmHA, but they also had default premiums priced into the mortgage payment. GNMA assumed  that the lower access to credit and/or capital typical of the borrowers of these loans would sever to lessen the frequency of prepayment through early payoff or refinance. Prepayment is generally undesirable to the bond holders of RMBS products, because it lowers the interest rate carry of each prepaid mortgage, reducing the amount of cash flow from that note and thus reducing the cash flow to the bond holder. The insurance premiums built into the loans covered prepayment due to default and the entire system was guaranteed with government credit. The added risk of the borrowers of an agency loan was therefore offset by the government's guarantee and the bond holder was generally assured that loan prepayment would be low.
Conventional mortgages, on the other hand required higher down-payments and were typically given by borrowers that had more access to capital (let's remember the borrowers give mortgages and banks give loans). Prepayment risk is generally higher via early payoffs or refinances, especially as interest rates tended downward. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the largest purchasers of conventional mortgages, insured all mortgage collateral and the payments on their RMBS issues, in order to reduce this risk. The money from this insurance was both built into the price of the RMBS, but was also guaranteed by both organizations' access to a $2.5 billion credit line from the government. Principal Mortgage Insurance (PMI) was also employed in cases where the borrower's loan-to-value, LTV, exceeded 80%, making the loan more of a risk for default. PMI, however, only covered the difference between market value and mortgage value.
One of the most ironic aspects of the article is its discussion of private RMBS securitization, which it describes as a highly risky and generally below investment grade for a number of reasons. We know that this view of private securitization was largely ignored during the real estate bubble and that not only did private RMBS overtake the RMBS market, but also the resultant demand for mortgage notes led to the replacement of PMI. This practice traded insurance for increased exposure to risk from the same asset. Understanding the function of PMI, default rates and down payment requirements from the perspective of RMBS issuances, allows one to see why the once widespread practice of "piggyback loans" and "no money down" financing was a recipe for disaster. Not only did such lending practices dilute the relationship of the borrower to the property, making default much more likely, but they also eroded many of the insurance fail-safes of the private home mortgage lending system that insured the private RMBS payments to the investors in case of default. Additionally, piggyback loans, created two instances of default for a property instead of one, doubling the effect of default of each similarly financed property on the secondary market and on the related securities markets.
I could write a book about my reaction to Chinloy's article. I particularly like his analysis of mortgage payments and defaults as options, which lends borrowing behavior to derivative analysis. I also appreciate his in-depth explanation of forward and backward solving models for pricing RMBS. I am not sure which one I prefer, but I must say that I am somewhat partial to the type of analysis that the backward solving model employs. Though both types of models are useful tools, forward solving models are inherently more optimistic.  There is also a key point made on page 19 of the article regarding Fannie Mae's finding that properties with more than 10% negative equity have a high likelihood of default. Chinloy's mention of the lack of accounting for borrower liquidity in most RMBS pricing models is also noteworthy.
I do want to point out that some of the references in this article are dated. Due to mortgage acceleration clauses, new FHA, VA and FmHA mortgages are no longer assumable, therefore all of the sections about the assumablity of mortgages and selling the mortgage with the house are no longer relevant. It is also clear that Chinloy had no indication of the explosion of private and conventional loan and RMBS origination that would begin to take place just 3 or 4 years after the writing of his article and thus some of his predictions seem disconnected with what actually transpired in the real estate and securities markets. Chinloy, however, offers a cogent overview of the system of RMBS issuance that existed up until the late 1990's. It is clear that had this system been more clearly understood and followed by lenders, investment banks, investors and RMBS originators much of the calamity that recently befell our financial system could have either been predicted or avoided.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Capitalization Rates: Prespective on Their True Meaning

Cap rates are one of the most referenced metrics in all of commercial real estate. Unfortunately, they are also one of the most misunderstood metrics in our industry. I genuinely believe that this misunderstanding comes from the diversity of significant players in commercial real estate. Unlike the equities and debt markets, commercial real estate does not require the presence of a financial institution to mitigate the flow of information and to establish standard practices. Moreover, the equities markets are heavily regulated to insure honesty, transparency and equality of information. The debt markets, though not transparent, however, are generally restricted to institutional investors and high net worth individuals. Commercial real estate sales and acquisitions have no such regulations or restrictions and therefore do not require knowledge of the real estate metrics and their related mathematics to effectively transact. Many commercial property owners purchase properties based on simplified formulas, local knowledge of the property, purchasing rituals or merely "gut feelings." The presence of such transaction activity lends to frequent misuse of real estate metrics.

Despite the misunderstanding of real estate mathematics amongst a certain sector of the real estate market, savvy real estate purchasers, appraisers, institutional buyers and real estate analyst are typically comfortable with the metrics used to describe property performance. The Capitalization Rate or cap rate of a property is one such metric that can offer a wealth of information about the performance of a property and the market assumptions of the seller.

The cap rate expresses the annual rate of return of a property's net operating income given its market value or purchase price. Since debt service, income and expense escalations, and tax considerations, it is not the most reliable method of determining annual return. If properly calculated, however, the cap rate can be compared with a metric of opportunity costs, such as the Weighted Average Cost of Capital from the world of equities to determine the desirability of the property given alternative investments.

I recently found a paper written for the Journal of Real Estate Research that explains the components of cap rate. It explains that cap rates are significantly influenced by the debt and equities markets, but contain significant time lags, given the illiquidity of real estate. The paper asserts that there are 4 components to a cap rate: the risk free rate (here measured by 3 month treasuries, usually measured by the rate of 30 yr. treasuries); a component composed of the market cost of debt divided by the property value (let's call it the property's market LTV) and the spread of a BAA rated bond (lowest possible investment grade); a component comprised of the 1 minus the property's market LTV, the equity spread (as measured by the performance of the S&P 500) and a volatility coefficient beta for stocks (measured by the covariance between real estate equity returns and market returns, divided by the variance of market returns); finally, the negative of the growth rate.

Cap rates are also typically expressed as the discount rate less the property growth rate. Following this logic, one can collapse all of the above components of the cap rate, except for the growth rate negative, into the cap rate's given discount rate. Therefore, given a cap rate, one can look up the risk free rate, the market cost of debt, the BAA bond spread, the equity spread and the equity volatility beta and find the growth rate of the property assumed. All of the aforementioned components are regularly published.

Knowing the assumed growth rate of a property allows for a deeper understanding of how that property is priced and how it is expected to perform. It also explains the inverse relationship between cap rate and price, as a larger cap rate assumes more negative growth or appreciation, as it is called in real estate.

One caveat to both this discussion and the paper referenced is that I am not convinced that cap rates are significantly influenced by the changes in the equities market, although equities are an appropriate asset by which opportunity costs can be measured. The influence of both property REIT's and mortgage REIT's as well as the proximity of the stock market's historical returns (hovering around 8.5%) to historical cap rates (around 7.6%) all make the case that the equities market has some influence on cap rates. Given real estate's local nature and the idiosyncrasies of each property type, however, it is difficult to believe that the link between cap rates and equities can remain significant in the face of more influential determinants of the property's value. I prefer to think of the equities portion of the equation as open to be replaced by whatever alternative investment is feasible to the purchaser at the time the cap rate is figured, accompanied by its related volatility beta.