Friday, February 29, 2008

Hope for the best, Plan for the worst

It seems every news report I watch on TV, hear on NPR or read on-line conflicts with the one before. Last night I was listening to a report that said a survey of the nations economists expected our GDP to be revised upward (as in our economic growth was better than expected) while a survey of everyday folks like you and me felt the numbers would be revised downward. I recently heard an economist representing a large bank stating we were not in a recession and we were not headed for a a recession. Then the next day Fed Chief Bernanke says it looks like we are most certainly headed into a recession. Then this morning I see Bernanke is predicting certain failure for some banks before this economic "lull" (my word not his) is over. Well, shock and awe and bake me a biscuit.

What I hate about economic news is it hardly matches what is going on locally. You know how USA Today has the nations weather each day? It is a good general guide..."cold in the north and hot in the south", but it does not say much about where you are or I am does it? Well I am not an economist so I do not pretend to know what is going on nationally. From where I am sitting things look bad and they are going to get worse before they get better. Let me narrow that down a bit for you. Here in SW Florida we have about 1000 foreclosures on the books with another 10,000 or so in the pipeline ready to hit the market by August. Miami has a 39 months supply of condos listed with another 19,000 to be completed and added to the saturated market this year!! So things are going to get worse before they get better. How much worse and for how long? I don't believe in silver bullets or magic cures but as bad as things are in the economy and real estate market they will get better, they always do. On the bright side, this is a fantastic time to buy that second home you always wanted (assuming you still have that job you have always wanted to quit).Instead of trying to predict a date or number of months when thing will turn around lets focus on what has to happen to bring about a change economically both locally (where ever you are) and nationally. First, many, many people have to look at real estate prices and go "wow, I better buy now while the selection is good and prices are low". Next, people have to feel good about where they are going in life. Listen to your friends and try to figure out how they feel about their future. As people feel better, they will begin to spend and invest again. This will lead to growth and consumption. This will spur a slight increase in demand for housing. Eventually the supply will be short and new homes will have to be built. I know I am not going to win a Nobel Prize for that logic but I like it better than a random date in the future based upon some absurd calculation. My investor (stocks and real estate) friends tell me a bottom is near after multiple waves of drastic price cutting has happened (the consensus is 3 waves of said discounting) and sales prices are a lot less than replacement costs. I am not even sure if we are through the first wave yet. Prices still seem to be too high, that is, higher than replacement costs. With that said, often the proverbial baby is thrown out with the bathwater and great "too good to be true" deals arrive on the market out of fear or some other need for immediate liquidation. It takes guts but these are the gems that must be mined in turbulent times. I hope for the best for our country and my local communtiy. As of now I am planning for the worst and keeping my eyes peeled for that gem deal that got thrown out with the trash

Monday, February 11, 2008

Wild, Wild West

The real estate market is uneven and unpredictable at best (in my opinion). I was astonished to learn the NAHB "suggests" the bottom of the housing glut will be here this summer. I am not saying I disagree with them in general terms, I just think when you make a statement like that you need to qualify what market you are talking about. I think they mean the "average" market. I don't know about you but I don't give a darn about anyone else's market except the one's that I am investing in! Where I live in Naples, Florida, I agree and believe the worst will be behind us by the end of summer. But just a stone's throw from here, namely Fort Myers, their bottom is a year or two off in my humble opinion. The Fort Myers market has about 3 years of supply at current buying rates. Maybe the Fed's new interest cut and the Govt's tax rebate will shorten that time but I doubt it. Speaking of the Fed and my Wild Wild West title, the reduction in interest rates should lubricate the real estate market much like alcohol in a saloon on Friday night. I am not predicting a return to those heady days (daze) of '04 and '05 where things were completely out of whack in terms of real value versus prices paid. Let's face it, cheep money (for qualified credit risks) will aid (as in speed up) in the absorption of homes for sale. Since this is my column, I will get away from "just the facts mam" and insert my biased opinions for a moment; cheap money is not what this country needs right now as inflation is rampant and cheap money today will only delay the pain we must go through until interest of course. Heck, the "party" has not even started and I am dreading the hang-over. Okay, enough of my Saloon analogy.Lately, I am being invited to many meetings with developers and investors that have "deals" to pitch/sell to me or investors I know. There are so many "deals" out there it can be quite a challenge to keep them all strait. Of course one man's deal is another man's curse. The main keys to most of these deals is; how much cash do you have and how long can you hang on. The answer to these two questions is the difference between making money and losing money. The difference between making money and making a lot of money is duration of the holding period. What I am trying to do is sift through the deals as they are presented and try to determine the quality of the land in terms of location and proximity to essential services. Just in case I seem to be rambling on with out making sense, what I am trying to say is one acre in town is worth more than a hundred acres in the Everglades both in terms of value and in terms of demand for the property.Deals in good, and I mean really good, locations that have flexibility of use and something unique about them will return your money the fastest. Poor quality land, as in way out there, and the allowable uses are just like everyone else's will take a long time for you to see a profit. So in these days of reminiscent of the Wild Wild West try to look at each deal for quality and not on some else's "projected profit". As always, quality deals are hard to find and they often may not look like a deal, in terms of price, at first glance. If you are not sure about the price, look back to 2002 prices and use that as a rough guide to determine value, keeping in mind that you may need to compare the subject property to a better location to get make up for growth that has improved the quality of many properties since 2002.Keep your powder dry and your eyes peeled. Bang-Bang.