Archive for October, 2016

The future home comes equipped with solar panels that charge home batteries and an electric car. My grandfather loved new technologies. He bought a handheld calculator in the early 1970s for over $50. Over the 30 years that followed, calculators became much more complex, and much, much less expensive. The first calculators had no advantages over the mechanical adding machines of the time, but as prices fell and capabilities improved, the technology became widely adopted and the old adding machine technology largely disappeared. More recently this same phenomenon occurred with cell-phone cameras displacing snapshot cameras. It isn't only individual products that see advances and displacements. In oil production, the cost of oil fracking was so high that it was rarely used,…[READ MORE]

Rent control would be unnecessary if politicians allowed developers to build enough housing to meet the demands of our growing population. Rents (and resale prices) spiral out of control in California, pressuring family budgets all across the state. Many people believe the solution is to put an artificial cap on rents, but this band-aid approach accomplishes very little and creates other problems. The dilemma of high housing costs in Silicon Valley, and in all of California for that matter, finds root in the lack of housing supply. The extreme shortage of housing relative to job growth forces employees to compete for housing, driving up rents and resale prices. Dramatically rising rents naturally flows from such circumstances. Short of approving more…[READ MORE]

Real estate gurus scam people with high-pressure sales, leaving their customers with little to show for the money wasted. When I set out to raise money to buy properties in Las Vegas in 2010, many long-time readers weren't thrilled about the idea. One of them created the graphic above to lampoon my sales pitch. I display it as a badge of honor. Some people didn't believe in the opportunity in Las Vegas, but most were more concerned that I might head down the path of becoming a cheesy real estate guru. Real estate gurus serve as front men for high-pressure sales organizations. These groups generally care little about the product they deliver, focusing instead on how much money they extract…[READ MORE]

The marijuana industry needs financing and real estate for it's expansion. New REITs spring up to meet the need. Investing in real estate offers many opportunities to earn high returns -- in the case of catering to medical marijuana growers, the "high" is literal. Because the entire industry was illegal not long ago (and technically still is on a federal level), very few support businesses service the marijuana industry. Growers came out of hiding first, and among the first businesses to service them were retail property owners, generally those who couldn't find other tenants. For owners of vacant commercial space in bad areas, these tenants were golden because not just did they want the space, they paid a premium for it.…[READ MORE]

VOTERS WARM TO THE IDEA OF REFORMING PROPOSITION 13, BUT LARGE FINANCIAL INTERESTS WOULD VIGOROUSLY OPPOSE ANY ATTEMPTS TO CURTAIL THEIR SUBSIDY. California legislators face limits on their ability to tax real estate due to Proposition 13, which limits the tax rate to 1% of purchase price with a small inflation multiplier allowing yearly increases. Ostensibly implemented to prevent government profligacy during periods of rising real estate values, the measure devolved into a tax-shifting mechanism that greatly benefits owners of commercial real estate. California legislators found other taxes to increase revenue. Proposition 13 tends to limit move-up trading because trade-up owners must endure higher property tax bills, sometimes dramatically higher. There are basis transfers and ways around this problem for certain…[READ MORE]

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The specter of rising mortgage interest rates or an end to the flow of foreign investment concerns speculators in US real estate. Many investors in real estate worry that the current recovery may be coming to an end. Economic expansions usually don't last as long as this one, so many people worry that we are due for another slowdown. The anxiety level among real estate investors is particularly high because so many of them were crushed during the last recession, and they would prefer to avoid that damage. When pressed for reasons behind their anxiety, many can't point to anything specific. The economy is growing, but not so fast as to suggest overheating, and few indicators suggest a recession is imminent.…[READ MORE]

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Real estate investment trusts profit from cheap debt, and their value depends on low discount rates. Rising interest rates hurt them both ways. House prices depend on debt. Of the four factors that determine house prices, three of them directly relate to financing terms. If mortgage interest rates go up, housing becomes more expensive even if prices don't change. Wages must grow significantly to make up the difference in even a small increase in mortgage rates. The prevailing view among economists is that the housing market would respond positively regardless of what happens with mortgage rates because house prices in the past have correlated poorly with mortgage rates. For example, during the 1970s, interest rates rose significantly, which should have…[READ MORE]

The down payment barrier inhibits home sales, but reduces the risk to the US taxpayer. California endures a housing affordability problem. And it’s not merely that house prices are high. Families with high wages could finance mortgages large enough to buy more expensive properties, but they face another roadblock: the down payment barrier. This problem is illustrated below. In Orange County, the conforming loan limit on GSE loans and the FHA loan limit is $625,500. For purposes of this illustration, I used the 3.5% down required on FHA loans because the 3% down program at the GSEs isn’t widely used due to the high cost of private mortgage insurance.   An FHA borrower in Orange County can buy a home…[READ MORE]

The "months of supply" indicator has little or no predictive power and often gives a false impression of the strength or weakness of the real estate market. Realtors invented the "months of supply" to measure market absorption, providing a reading of how fast homes sell relative to the supply of inventory available. For example, if sellers list 50 homes for sale and if 10 of them sell, it would take 5 months to sell the remainder if no additional inventory came to market. The "months of supply" ostensibly reveals the aggressiveness of buyers relative to sellers. In theory, a market with a low months-of-supply exhibits greater buyer demand than one with a higher months-of-supply. As an indicator, it's supposed to…[READ MORE]

The working class in California struggles with high rent until they give up and move out of state, leaving behind the landed gentry. California housing policies devastate the lower middle class. Anyone who lives in California copes with higher housing costs than nearly everywhere else in the United States. This problem is a boon to landowners and high wage earners, but it’s a bust for lower- and middle-class wage earners who often put 50% of their income toward housing. Renters who must spend so much of their paycheck on rent fail to save for a down payment, which becomes a vicious circle that sentences most of the working class to indentured servitude to the landed gentry until these workers succumb to…[READ MORE]

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