Trying to Outrun Our Real Estate Tsunami

For those of us involved in real estate for over 20 years, we have experienced cycles which seldom took more than 3-4 years to work out. This one is much different with few experts able to forecast a time to return to normalcy.  It has been much more personal than the past because all of us have heard of the economic impacts on members of our families, neighbors and close friends.  Those involved in real estate seem to be particularly hard hit. Architects, title insurance firms, engineers and developers have suffered mortal blows. It is understandable why the government administration grasps at green shoots in order to show improvement with our dire economy.  Let’s dissect some of the most influential elements:

Here in Florida we have historically depended upon increasing population to feed our growth and real estate activity. That in turn fuels our construction employment. This growth has not occurred for the past two years and this year will show more outflow than inflow. This is causing havoc with local government budgets.

With our housing bubble resulting in serious overbuilding for single family and condos, we are still wallowing around trying to figure out when residential housing will return to normalcy. No question that bargain basement prices are assisting the sale of houses. But, this is with unusual amounts of government support such as the $8,000 credit for new home buyers and the fact that 90% of the residential financing has government backing. What will happen without this government support?

The unemployment numbers are downright scary. The present average unemployment level and length of time unemployed is the greatest since 1948. Paul Krugman, economist and writer for New York Times, says US household’s net worth has declined by $14 trillion. A large segment of our population, fearful of our burgeoning debt and feeling the need to increase reserves, is saving more and curtailing their consumer spending. Of course, this adversely impacts real estate investments.

We have yet to feel the full sledge hammer impact of commercial foreclosures, the result of commercial real estate having a 35-40 % reduction in market value. Locally and in the rest of Florida, we have a large amount of our commercial loans coming due in 5-10 years posing a tremendous challenge to both borrowers and lenders.

No rational answers have been forthcoming for these challenging elements. Against the backdrop of these daunting challenges giving advice to active investors is difficult. There will be a large group of investors who have been active in the area for years, throwing up their hands and electing not to play the game. Offsetting this will be some new players, bringing to the market large chunks of cash, attracted to buying well below replacement costs.

The great investor, Warren Buffett has several observations to remember:

“A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful. And most certainly, fear is now widespread, gripping even seasoned investors.”

And “In short, bad news is an investor’s best friend. It lets you buy a slice of America’s future at a marked-down price.”

By: Gary Sisler