July 31, 2016

Buyers Are Worried They Will Be Left Holding The Baby

A report from MarketWatch. “After years of watching the market favor sellers, many agents say they’ve seen a recent shift that has affected luxury property sales across the globe: We’ve entered a buyer’s market. Jed Garfield, president of Leslie J. Garfield & Co., a New York–based brokerage that focuses on town houses, said he saw signs of this trend in late 2015, when properties that were listed at a fair market price didn’t sell. But recently, the impact has been dramatic. For example, a town house on East 70th Street between Park and Lexington avenues that was bought for $31 million in 2013, re-listed for $32.5 million a year and a half ago—and then dropped down to $22 million three months ago.”

“‘The market is not what it was,’ Garfield said. There’s an expectation that real estate prices will rise 3% to 5% each year, he added, but buyers won’t stand for that anymore. ‘You’d be very hard-pressed to find anybody who would pay more than 2015 prices today,’ he added.”

“Interested buyers should negotiate hard, according to Dolly Lenz, of Manhattan-based Dolly Lenz Real Estate. And that advice holds not just for luxury real estate in the New York market but also for those also in other U.S. cities like Miami and San Francisco, where there’s an excess of high-end, new and often similar inventory. When it comes to the global market, Dubai has definitely converted to a buyer’s market, despite having ‘gorgeous architecture and beautiful properties,’ because developers built too much too quickly, according to Lenz.”

The Wall Street Journal. “The value of the Earls Court development, one of the biggest residential projects in London, has fallen 14% because of expectations that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union will drag down house prices across the city. Capital & Counties Properties PLC on Tuesday said the value of its west-London project was £1.2 billion ($1.58 billion) at the end of June, down from £1.4 billion at the last assessment in December.”

“Even before Brexit, prices for high-end homes in central London had been falling in part due to shrinking demand from global investors and a raft of new taxes. In July, London homeowners perceived that the value of their homes had fallen for the first time since October 2012, according to a survey from property broker Knight Frank and data firm Markit.”

“‘We see a classic housing bubble in London and Brexit as the trigger for the correction,’ said Marc Mozzi, an analyst at Société Générale, in a note to investors last week. The potential for falling commercial real-estate values have garnered a lot of attention, but ‘U.K. residential may be the real and bigger issue,’ Mr. Mozzi said.”

The Australian Financial Review. “Off-the-plan investors struggling to complete their apartment purchase because of strict new lending rules are being urged to face tough options to get their financial problems under control. Financial advisers and financiers say thousands of investors with exposure to billions of dollars in high-rise apartments are searching for ways of deferring, reducing or off-loading payments through alternative funding or selling the apartments, typically around central business districts.”

“The scale of the problem is unclear but anecdotal observations from financial advisers in Australia and Shanghai (where many buyers live) are that it could be big – and growing. ‘More than one in three of our clients who bought off the plan are having problems,’ says Peter Ristevski, a partner with Chan & Naylor, a national advisory group. ‘It is getting worse,’ adds Ristevski, who is based in western Sydney. ‘Potential distressed buyers are growing more sceptical about the prospects of losing money – they are worried that they will be left holding the baby if things go wrong.’”

“Lanny Xu, chief executive of Iron Fish China, a broker’s agent in Shanghai, said about 20 per cent of his clients who purchased Australian apartments cannot complete the deal and are trying to sell. Other agents claim financing from major banks has been ‘frozen’ and say their clients are desperately seeking alternative funding or finding another buyer. ‘I have stopped dealing in Australian property,’ says Mark Yin, an agent with Shanghai-based Home Tree Group. ‘All deals have been frozen,’ he said about Australian bank funding.”

Sniffing Out Dirty Money In Real Estate

The New York Times reports on the new money-laundering actions. “More than a quarter of the all-cash luxury home purchases made using shell companies in Manhattan and Miami were flagged as suspicious in a new effort to unearth money laundering in real estate, the Treasury Department said Wednesday. As a result, officials said they would expand the program to other areas across the country. The expansion of the effort to identify and track the people behind shell companies, begun in March, means that there will now be increased scrutiny of luxury real estate purchases made in cash in all five boroughs of New York City, counties north of Miami, Los Angeles County, San Diego County, the three counties around San Francisco and the county that includes San Antonio.”

“The areas being added to the order are places where buyers frequently purchase luxury real estate using shell companies, the officials said. The dollar values involved purchases of more than $500,000 or more in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio; $1 million in Florida; $2 million in California; $3 million in Manhattan; and $1.5 million in the other boroughs of New York City. Title insurance companies, which are involved in virtually all real estate transactions, are charged with carrying out the order.”

“The broadening of the rule signifies that the Treasury Department thinks the benefits to law enforcement from this sort of data collection are likely worth the cost to the industry, said Eric Berg, a lawyer at Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee and former member of the kleptocracy unit at the Department of Justice. ‘There’s a lot of pushback from industry,’ Mr. Berg said. ‘Clearly some sort of internal dialogue came to the conclusion that this is worth doing.’”

The Miami Herald. “‘The information we have obtained from our initial GTOs suggests that we are on the right track,’ Jamal El-Hindi, acting director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Treasury agency that issued the order, said in a statement. ‘By expanding the GTOs to other major cities, we will learn even more about the money laundering risks in the national real estate markets, helping us determine our future regulatory course.’”

“Roughly a quarter of reported transactions in Miami and Manhattan involved people who were separately the subject of suspicious activity reports by banks and other financial institutions, indicating possible criminal activity, according to FinCen. In April, the Miami Herald revealed how people accused of corruption in Latin America helped fuel Miami’s luxury condo boom and inflate local home prices. The series was part of a partnership with journalists around the world called the Panama Papers.”

The Los Angeles Times. “Los Angeles has long attracted wealthy individuals willing to spend millions of dollars for a sprawling estate in the chaparral hills above the city or along its fabled coast. But in addition to movie stars, financial executives and foreign billionaires, Los Angeles real estate has also attracted criminals seeking to launder ill-gotten gains by purchasing its tony mega-mansions. Amid heightened concern that such individuals are using shell companies to hide stolen funds, the federal government is cracking down.”

“Just last week, when the Justice Department accused Malaysian officials of using shell companies and bank accounts located across the globe to launder at least $1 billion stolen from a public development fund. Federal prosecutors alleged that among the assets purchased with the stolen funds were a stake in the 2013 film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ a Beverly Hills hotel and four posh L.A.-area homes.”

“In California — and in states across the country — owners can set up LLCs without telling state officials who they are. That secrecy has turned shell companies into a important tool for criminals to hide their money gained from misdeeds and has stymied law enforcement investigations, said Heather Lowe, legal counsel for Washington advocacy group Global Financial Integrity.”

“‘You are giving them a license to use the company for pretty much anything,’ Lowe said. ‘They are used for tax evasion and any form of money laundering — drug money, human trafficking and fraud.’”

“The requirements for additional disclosure are temporary and are meant to provide guidance for possible permanent rules. The requirements take effect in late August and run through late February. In California counties covered, they apply to all-cash transactions of $2 million or more — a market that included more than 3,500 sales last year in Los Angeles County, according to real estate firm CoreLogic.”

The San Mateo Daily Journal. “Federal officials are turning an eye to the Bay Area’s hot housing market as they investigate whether some pricey real estate transactions could be a front for money laundering. Under the U.S. Department of the Treasury, FinCEN announced Wednesday it is expanding its research as well as reporting requirements into the Bay Area, including San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties. ‘Areas with attractive luxury real estate markets may also attract criminals,’ said FinCEN spokesman Steve Hudak. ‘There are many ways to launder money, but real estate is certainly a concern.’”

“The Bay Area popped up as a potential region for this type of criminal activity based on reports from law enforcement and the fact that the area has an attractive luxury real estate market, Hudak said. San Mateo is one of the five California counties where title insurance companies must report purchases of homes worth $2 million or more that are bought by limited liability corporations or shell companies with cash.”

“Information about how homes are paid for is not readily available at the local level, as buyers and sellers are not required to report to the San Mateo County Assessor’s Office whether a home was bought with cash, said Jim Irizarry, assistant assessor-county clerk-recorder. Irizarry noted having LLCs purchase property is not uncommon and the state Board of Equalization has reporting requirements as to who may have a financial interest in a particular company. No further information as to whether there’s been an uptick in corporations purchasing San Mateo County homes was available.”

The Real Deal. “L.A. real estate professionals say the Treasury Department’s latest attempt to sniff out dirty money in real estate deals has missed the mark. The majority of agents, mortgage brokers and title insurers surveyed by The Real Deal said they expect new regulations governing the use of LLCs will do little to curb money laundering, since there are wide loopholes. Instead, the inability to hide the identity of all-cash buyers through such entities will put additional pressure on title insurers and escrow companies, minimally slow down deal flow, and put the privacy and personal information of high-net-worth individuals in jeopardy, they said.”

“Some said they were surprised that the price threshold for deals that would be scrutinized was so low. ‘I’m shocked,’ said Rad ‎Vasile, vice president of sales at Property ID Title Company in L.A. ‘Two million for L.A. — that’s just your regular residential home. Homes that would sell for $100,000 in Texas would sell for $1 million here.’”

“Some L.A. agents admitted it can be difficult even for them to determine the source of funds when it comes to a high-end purchase. ‘In the past, I don’t think brokers have questioned it very much,’ said Greg Harris of brokerage Compass in Beverly Hills. ‘We had a Chinese buyer once who disappeared in the middle of the Escrow and then miraculously came back from China with the rest of the money. It’s hard to know how many people are buying a property sometimes. It looks like one buyer but they could be bringing money together from family and friends.’”