October 4, 2016

Offshore Investors Seem To Be Running For The Doors

A report from Bloomberg on Canada. “A 33 percent drop in Vancouver home sales in September from a year ago, the biggest decline since 2010, signals North America’s once-hottest real estate market — where the average home was appreciating by more than C$1,000 a day — has reached a tipping point. Gone are the days when buyers placed bids without inspecting properties and sellers collected all-cash offers. Properties are taking longer to sell, transactions are plummeting and in some cases prices are coming down in a city where the cost of housing has doubled in the past decade.”

“Keith Stride, a real estate agent grew up in Vancouver, has watched homes pulled this month to relist at lower prices, others selling for as much as 10 percent under the asking price, or sitting on the market for longer than usual amid a growing glut. The retreat is most apparent on his daily drives to appointments and showings. In the frenzy earlier this year, developers began purchasing homes with the intention of tearing them down and building massive new ones to resell at a higher price. The orange fences line the lots and the demolition permits were in place, but those homes are back on the market.”

“Developers and or offshore investors who were planning to develop and make a buck seem to be running for the doors right now,’ said Stride.”

The Metro News. “Sales of detached houses continued to fall dramatically in Vancouver last month and even hit a 10-year low in one neighbourhood, real estate agents. Realtors say the high-end market is seeing the most substantial losses, while condominium and townhome sectors remain active. ‘The speculators and investors, those folks who don’t need to buy real estate, they have moved to the sidelines,’ said Adil Dinani, a Realtor with Royal LePage.”

“Steve Saretsky, a Realtor with Sutton West Coast Realty, completed an independent analysis of September listings and sales data for the region covered by the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. He found there were just 67 sales of detached homes on Vancouver’s east side, the fewest sales in September since 2006. On the expensive west side, 61 detached homes were sold, the fewest September sales since 2008. ‘It’s obviously a buyer’s market for the detached side,’ Saretsky said.”

From News 1130. “One of the most outspoken critics of the lack of intervention in the housing market feels vindicated by the federal government’s move to track how the primary residence tax exemption is being used. The law will force primary residence sellers to report the sale on their income taxes even if they qualify for the capital gains tax exemption. BC NDP housing critic David Eby says CRA auditors can investigate when people are breaking the rules for example declaring more than one primary residence in one family.”

“‘If somebody is continually buying and flipping houses in our real estate market, they may no longer be able to claim the capital gain because it’s not a principal residence anymore. It’s actually a business they’re running. The second reason is we need better data about what’s happening in our real estate market and it’s only by collecting this information that we can know actually whether a family, for example, is purchasing multiple properties under the names of different family members in order to run an investment style scheme instead of using the principal residence exemption as it was intended.’”

The Calgary Herald. “With the city’s high vacancy rate and fewer people moving to Calgary, there are empty rental suites all over town. So when MRU student Alyssa Douglas was looking to relocate from Panorama to the inner city, she had her pick of choice apartment buildings, each offering attractive move-in incentives. Douglas says her 550-square-foot suite is $1,090 a month with $100 for underground parking. She signed a 12-month lease with free rent for the first month and a free year of cable and internet.”

“The neighbourhood was the primary reason why Strategic Group snapped up the land on Centre Street according to CEO Riaz Mamdani. Centro is just one of Strategic’s many projects currently finishing up or under way. Each building is mixed-use with residential up, live/work units and commercial space on the ground floor in prime inner-city locations. The buildings are modern in design with interior finishings and all the amenities that would be found in a first-rate condominium development. Minus the financial commitment. Centro has about 20 suites left, a fact which Mamdani is proud of considering Calgary’s vacancy rate.”

The Financial Post. “Vacancy rates in downtown Calgary, hard hit by the prolonged oil slump and already at historic highs, could be heading to 25 per cent, including in some of the city’s most posh skyscrapers, new reports show. An office report from Barclay Street Real Estate pegs the city’s current downtown vacancy rate at 22.1 per cent, but notes that skyscrapers still under construction could push the rate to 25.6 per cent next year and 26.4 per cent in 2018.”

“‘Vacancy is the highest it’s ever been,’ said Kris Hong, an associate at Barclay Street. ‘Even if oil hit US$100, all the vacancy that’s on the market is not going to get absorbed for at least two or three years.’”

“The current vacancy rate has already surpassed the highs set in the recession of the 1980s, when the rate hit 22 per cent. A separate report released by Re/Max Commercial last week similarly shows the impact of company ‘downsizing’ and said the downtown vacancy rate was approaching 25 per cent as far back as July. Re/Max regional executive vice-president Elton Ash said his company doesn’t see ‘any kind of significant recovery for at least 18 months.’”

The Business News Network. “Canadian economic growth got a big boost from oil production in July, but a slowdown in construction was in evidence as well, an early indication of the pain that could come with the end of the country’s years-long housing boom. With clear signs of cooling in Vancouver real estate, the most expensive market, and only Toronto still booming, some economists are braced for a hit to construction and real estate, which they warn could trickle into other sectors as consumers pull back.”

“The shift would follow a two-year slump in Canada’s energy sector caused by plunging crude prices. ‘It’s one weakness replacing another,’ said Paul Ashworth, chief North America economist at Capital Economics. ‘While it’s not necessarily the case that the economy will get worse, it does mean economic growth will continue below its potential, the unemployment rate could edge up, and we’ll be even longer without the recovery that the Bank of Canada expects.’”

Irrational High, High, High Demand For A Few Houses

A report from the Seattle Globalist in Washington. “When Gabriel was exploring whether to buy a new townhouse in Lake City, the deciding factor wasn’t location, size, or even price. It was the rapid depreciation of the Chinese yuan and a safe bet on the strength of the U.S. dollar. Gabriel, who didn’t want to share is full name, is a special kind of first-time home buyer. The only son of government officials in northern China, he’s come to Seattle to take community college courses in hopes of transferring to the UW next year to study computer science.”

“His new townhouse, like his new Jeep SUV and even his education, are like safe deposits for his family’s wealth: they can be used, enjoyed, and sold again without the fiscal accountability attached to a bank account back home. And with the added peace of mind of being fixed securely in U.S. currency. These investments, often made in suitcases of cash brought over undeclared from China, are such common practice among the rising millionaire class that the government issued a crackdown this year on foreign currency outflow.”

“But rather than slow the offshore spending down, the Chinese are desperate to get their money out — and they’re sending it, along with their college-age kids, to Seattle. ‘Groups of Chinese tourists come to our downtown office waiting room asking to see a condo right away,’ says Hong Beni O’Donnell, a Chinese broker with Windermere Real Estate. ‘A house listed at $400k will immediately receive offers at $500k or higher.’”

The Orlando Sentinel in Florida. “Orlando condo owners and real estate agents are studying federal reforms they hope will boost what has become one of the nation’s slowest recovering condominium markets. Restrictions on FHA mortgages for condo buyers are set to ease starting this month. Buyers will be able to get federally backed mortgages to purchase condos in buildings where two-thirds of residents are renters. In the past, at least half of residents had to own units to meet mortgage rules. ‘It would boost our business big time,’ said Thomas Allen, broker for Orlando-based Urbanista.”

“The new measures could literally open doors for renters who would like to start building some equity, said Helene Brotman, a broker for Premiere Property Group. ‘It would open this market for first-time buyers, especially at [renter-heavy] buildings like The Grande and Paramount,’ said Brotman, who rents a condo on the edge of downtown. But for her? She said she would be unlikely to buy because she gets too good a deal on her rental condo.”

The Topeka Capital-Journal in Kansas. “New home building in Topeka is lagging behind that of its nearest neighbors, sitting at less than half of pre-recession rates. In 2010, Topeka’s vacancy rate sat at about 10 percent. Although that has dropped and segments of the market are right, it boils down to ‘an over-supply of housing units,’ said Bill Fiander, director of the Topeka planning department.”

“Bobbie Flory, executive director of the Lawrence Home Builders Association, said it looks as if 2016 will see about the same rate of new homes built as 2015. The Lawrence market also is seeing home prices increase, which Flory attributed at least in part to the cost of raw ground and the development process. ‘The average-priced home in Lawrence, new construction, is $349,452,’ she said. ‘That is really high.’”

“Topeka Realtor Helen Crow said too many houses were built in Topeka in past years. Crow, who has been a Topeka-area Realtor for 43 years, offers a unique view of the capital city’s situation. ‘We have too many houses in Topeka,’ Crow said. ‘We have more houses than households. There are vacant houses everywhere. What sells is the trendy look, the HGTV perfection, the clean house. So there’s this irrational balance of high, high, high demand for a few houses. In the prime market spots within Shawnee County, we’ve seen prices go up this year, we’ve seen demand like we haven’t had in a decade. But we have half the town that struggles. The last (report showed) in the Highland Park district, only 15 percent of the houses offered for sale in 2015 sold. Eighty-five percent expired unsold.’”

The Bangor Daily News in Maine. “A 1950-built ranch-style house on Rankin Street may be the poster child for the problem of abandoned houses in the city. The owner of the house walked away from the property after the lender began foreclosure action, and now the structure is deteriorating rapidly. The City Council will consider next month requiring the owners of abandoned houses to register with the city and to maintain them, so they don’t become an eyesore or even a danger.”

“‘I want to make these owners uncomfortable for allowing these properties to crumble, especially when we have such a need for housing,’ Councilor Valli Geiger said of the new ordinance she proposed.”

“There are too many examples of homes being foreclosed on by banks and the structures are not maintained, she said. This ordinance is a common sense approach to deal with it, she said. Rockland Code Enforcement Officer John Root said he is aware of at least a dozen homes that are abandoned in the community. Often, he said, a bank begins foreclosure action, the owner will leave and the bank does nothing to maintain it. In many of these instances, the bank does not even proceed with foreclosure so no one takes responsibility.”

“The code officer said often times the property management companies are out-of-state and not responsive. One of those properties is the ranch-style house that was built in 1950 at 269 Rankin St. The property was bought in 2007 by Christopher Paniccia of North Providence, Rhode Island, for $154,275. He took out a mortgage with Quicken Loans Inc. for $146,550. A foreclosure action was filed in court by Bank of America in 2011, which had acquired the loan through a merger with another lender. Bank of America transferred the loan in 2015 to Nationstar Mortgage LLC of Lewisville, Texas. Nationstar filed a foreclosure action in April 2016. That matter remains pending in court.”

“A notice on the house refers anyone with concerns about the condition of the property to an out-of-state telephone number answered by Chase Property Management. Elizabeth Seymour with Chase said Thursday that the company has no record of owning that property and believes the posting of their phone number was a mistake.”

The Guardian in Nevada. “In Las Vegas, where an up-and-down economy creates big winners and desperate losers, thousands of houses sit vacant, abandoned to the gray-area between people who could no longer afford them and banks trying to get a handle on a spiraling inventory. Into the breach has stepped thousands of squatters, among them suspected scam artists who scheme to get utilities turned on at their chosen targets, living for free as they plot their end game: getting a bank to pay them to leave in a racket known as cash-for-keys.”

“Now, authorities are upping their game with new laws and more aggressive enforcement. North Las Vegas has created a taskforce of police, code enforcement and utilities officials that have developed ways to red flag foreclosed vacant houses before squatters get a chance to move in. A new law approved by the state legislature last year now brings possible jail time for such offenses as housebreaking and forcibly entering a vacant home to take up residence or letting someone else live there without the owner’s consent.”

“Victoria Seaman, a Nevada assemblywoman and real estate agent who helped sponsor the new anti-squatter law, said Nevada is leading the nation in tough new housebreaking laws. ‘This is a problem nationwide, but no more so than here,’ she said. ‘We’re hearing from other states who want to jump onboard with similar laws.’”