Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What is Land Development Consulting?

Many people ask what I do for a living when I meet them as I am sure happens to you. I tell them I am a land development consultant which results in a puzzled look followed by a "huh?".
I briefly explain my background in civil engineering, planning and development to them and I tell them that I use my experience to help those less familiar with the development process. This leads to a sigh of relief from my new friend and a comment such as "oh, so you are a builder?" or "oh, so you are an engineer?".
Okay, yes, I have done both of those things but I offer so much more! More time with your family, more money in the bank and more neighbors happy to see you. Let me explain it this way; my son loves to turn all of the lights on in our house but cannot remember to turn them off. We are trying to teach him to turn lights off when you are not in the room. Much of the time he forgets to turn the lights off even though we remind him all of the time. We have implemented a new strategy in our house to help him remember to turn the lights off - we charge him a quarter for every light he leaves on! We explained to him that electricity costs money and since we are getting charged, he is going to get charged. A few nights ago we took two crisp dollar bills from his piggy bank to pay for the eight lights he had left on up stairs. To say he was upset would be an understatement. He did not want to see his money leave his bank. I am sure it will happen again since he is only six years old, but let's just say he has not left a light on since then and he has even reminded us to shape up!
The purpose of sharing a personal story with you is to convey the point that until something costs YOU money, it really is not very important. A developer will hire an attorney, an engineer and a planner and assume these professionals will tell them all they need to know for a successful project. You have to admit it makes sense. The problem is there are many ways to spend money when developing a project. There are many ways to lose money on a project. Who does it hurt in the long run? The attorney? The engineer? The planner? NO! It is the developer that pays.
What is the incentive for any of these professionals to learn how to not cost you money? A very good (and rare) professional may advise you on a subject within their specific area of expertise such as a title issue, a drainage issue or a zoning issue, but which one is going to warn you (before it is to late) the neighbors will fight the project if you do or don't do something? Which one will tell you why you should avoid asking for too much density in a rezone case? Which one will explain how the timing of a project can mean huge savings?
A land development consultant has been "there" and has spent their own money on unnecessary issues at the direction of a "professional" They have had situations where they were told "don't worry about it" and it cost months of delay at a cost of $25,000 per month. A land development consultant has watched as one professional after another has said "they have to approve this" and then seen the project denied approval.
Can you imagine a football team without a quarterback? There is a lot of talent on the field but without a leader, someone to call the shots, the talent is misused or underutilized. At worst, a land development consultant is an extra layer of review and additional costs. What is so bad about an extra layer of review from within the team? While money is always tight, is an extra $30,000 in land development consulting fees on a $12 million project significant? If that $30,000 in "extra fees" saved you three months of interest carry would it be worth it? You bet. I am here to help those in the development industry and those serving the industry such as banks and investors. Are you unsure if you need my help? Give me a call or email and tell me what you are thinking of doing and I will give you an answer on the spot - no strings attached.
Why make mistakes that can be avoided?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Back in the saddle again

I just got back from the Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting in Miami Beach. It was a very informative week with just about every real estate topic covered in multiple programs.

The three items I found most interesting are:
1) The new stimulus package being talked about in congress will be different this time with no checks going to taxpayers. Instead a hundred or so billion dollars will be offered to the states to speed up the funding of new infrastructure projects. The catch is in order for states to get the money, they will have to match all or a portion of the funds. No match, no funds!

2) It does not matter who is elected President, taxes will have to go up to repay all of the spending our country has been doing since the beginning of the Iraq war.

3) The bad news is the recession will last 12-18 months. The good news is we are about a year into the recession and improvements in our economy's outlook should be clear around next fall.

This financial mess we find ourselves in will lead to structural changes in lending for any type of real estate transaction. What has not changed is our country and the world is getting older. The world is also growing in terms of population. More people means more demand for rooftops. Here in the U.S. I learned we built about 1.2 million too many homes from 2004-2007. Based upon customary absorption models, the U.S. should fill those homes with new immigrants, college graduates and other new households over the next 12-18 months. Keep in mind the absorption rate I just mentioned will be an average across the nation so in some places like Lee County, Florida there is more like a 3 or 4 year supply of vacant homes while in other places (say Texas) there is a shortage of homes.

I do agree with both presidential candidates, our best days are still in front of us. Things will get better, is just not be better by tomorrow.

So that leaves us with a real estate market that appears to be on life support. Going forward, everything old will be new again.

Remember due diligence? Hey knowing what you are buying is cool again! Fundamentals matter! It feels good to be back in the saddle again. My comfort zone is to look at a deal without rushing, crunch the numbers, lower my expected selling price and raise my carry costs then crunch the numbers again. When the analysis shows my conservative numbers still make sense I feel like I am back my horse and riding high. The bucking bull is more exciting, but also much more dangerous.

I personally prefer the old fashioned way of real estate investing where fundamentals are everything and just like a horse, if I take care of it, it will take care of me. Happy Trails to you my friend!