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Get your financing in order and get the project started before the market dries up has been how developers everywhere have operated for decades. I have owned an apartment complex in the Midwest for many years and we are currently experiencing the largest number of vacancies we have ever had. Many houses in my area are empty or under leased. In 2005 and 2006 prior to the housing collapse, many people were looking at second homes, today not only have they shed the extra home many have doubled up with family or friends reducing the need for housing. This has left me busy trying to sort out and make sense of the current economy. This is no easy task, it seems we are pushing on a string and calling it demand when someone who can barely pay the rent is encouraged by the government to buy a house they can neither afford or maintain. Currently, we have a shortage of "qualified" buyers and renters.
Note the amount of traffic, or calls an apartment complex receives may have little to do with the strength of the market. A well qualified potential tenant only has to apply at one complex while those who are rejected continue time after time. Government subsidized housing through programs such as section 8 have cannibalized the market often taking the "best of the worse" and leaving those landlords who choose not to participate with a rather unsavory lot that often includes those thrown off the program, near bankrupt, or chronically unemployed. The city where I live ranks 23rd in the nation for having the most "zombie foreclosures" however, markets in other parts of the nation are often not as strong as the media claims. A relative of mine who sold a home with an extra lot that was on a golf course north of Houston two years ago took a severe beating. Weak pricing in a market that many view as very solid is to me more proof that what many claim is a "boom" is far from spectacular.
A Bloomberg article titled "Wall Street Unlocks Profits From Distress With Rental Revolution" looked behind the curtain and pointed out that a great deal of this housing recovery that has driven the average home price up 30% since 2012 has been the result of Wall Street hedge funds buying in bulk foreclosed houses in order to turn them into rentals. Like many people, I find it totally objectionable these deals were "bundled" and offered in such a way that allowed big business to crowd the average American out of the housing market. In parts of the country cash fleeing China and Russia has also flowed in to pump the market higher. This creates a questionable base for higher home prices when we consider the low end of the market is driven by Fannie, Freddie, and the FHA all insuring 3.5% down payments from borrowers that lack substantial collateral. This begs people to rush into buying homes they cannot afford. It is important to remember that low-interest rates do not necessarily bring about quality growth or prosperity, decades of slow growth in Japan has proven this.
One of the sad accomplishments of current Fed policy is that by creating false demand today we are not creating more sales, but just moving them forward. To make the situation worse the FHA is busy issuing and guaranteeing risky mortgages written by thinly capitalized non-banks. In 2012 the large Wall Street banks represented over 65% of FHA backed loans, today that number is under 30%. Even they have realized loaning money to people that won't pay it back is a recipe for disaster. America is preparing for a replay of the 2008 housing crisis. Our politically motivated government has insured subprime mortgages with down payments of as little as 3.5% while using weak underwriting standards.We are even seeing restrictions raised on borrowers with past foreclosures in a housing market that may drop 20% when this Fed Wall Street bubble pops. Years ago Lee Iacocca who brought Chrysler back from the brink and made the company viable said something to the effect of when you special out all your cars on Monday you have no sales for the rest of the week.
When it comes to real estate, low-interest rates at some point becomes a double edge sword, that affects both the value by making it easier to purchase thus driving up prices, and at the same time allowing more building to take place and increasing the supply. Often we reach or exceed demand, this eventually has a dampening effect on rents and people stop buying it as an "investment". Rents from real estate and the prices it brings when sold must appreciate more than the natural depreciation from the wear and tear from age or the main driver for owning it vanishes. Oversupply is the bane of real estate and crushes the value of this hard and expensive to maintain commodity. History has generally shown homes that are paid for and unleveraged to be a better than average place to store wealth when purchased for a good price, as to whether now is a good time to buy that is difficult to say. Currently, we are in uncharted waters and where this market is headed is anyone's guess, but one thing is certain it is not straight up.
How does the reality of a half-empty apartment complex and a slew of empty houses gel with what we hear about soaring rents, the demand for more housing, and more affordable housing? If you call it a recovery at least admit housing prices vary greatly across the nation. Only politicians in Washington would be silly enough to think that landlords who have to compete against subsidized housing would be eager to remain in the game or that someone working for a living enjoys paying more for an older apartment than someone on the dole who moves into a brand new unit for a fraction of the cost. By not rewarding those who do the right thing our current policies have a corrosive effect on both housing and society. Instead of creating policies to rebuild our cities and housing Washington has doled out low-interest money to Wall Street and home builders in an effort to kick-start the economy this has generated the illusion of growth and rising prices.
When people leave older neighborhoods and move to a new house in the suburbs enticed by current artificially low-interest rates they in effect hollow out our cities. America has built a lot of housing units over the years, now we must face the fact that they need to be maintained. The policy of putting people in older houses that they have no interest or knowledge in how to maintain causes those living around them to flee the area and brings about further decay. When offered the choice many people find moving easier than repairing and maintaining their homes or neighborhoods and low-interest rates power this trend forward. Policies should be geared toward creating jobs that maintain these units instead of making them prematurely obsolete. This is a flashing red light warning of danger ahead. By choosing the easy answers America has not faced its housing problems with long-term solutions and encouraging this bodes poorly for the future.