Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Real Estate Forecast 2012 and Beyond: Warren Buffett Says Buy, Baby, Buy!

Real Estate Forecast 2012 and Beyond: Warren Buffett Says, "Buy, Baby, Buy!"

By Hao Li
February 29, 2012 11:03 AM EST

Warren Buffett's real estate forecast for 2012 and beyond is extremely rosy, with the so-called Oracle of Omaha even recommending buying them over investing in a diversified group of leading companies.
In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Buffett said single-family homes, along with stocks, are cheap and attractive investments. By contrast, investments in Treasury bills, gold or simply keeping money in cash are not as attractive.

Buffett said if he had a way to buy "a couple hundred thousand single-family homes" and easily manage them, he would "load up on them" and "take mortgages out at very, very low rates."

However, he said that managing "a couple hundred thousand single-family homes" is an impossibly Herculean logistical task.

This line of reasoning likely holds true for many brilliant investment minds who choose not to bother with buying single-family homes -- even though they are undervalued -- when buying and owning stocks is as easy as a few keystrokes and mouse clicks on a computer.    
Because of the absence of many of these big institutional investors in the U.S. residential real estate market, it is less competitive than the stock market, Buffett said. When institutional investors of size do enter the residential real estate market, they usually go for apartment buildings, which leaves the single-family homes segment even less competitive than the general residential real estate market.
When asked if a young individual investor should buy stocks or his first single-family home, Buffett recommended buying a single-family home with a 30-year mortgage.

"It's a terrific deal," he said. "It's a leveraged way of owning a very cheap asset now and I think that's probably as an attractive an investment as you can make now."
In fact, if the young individual investor is "a handy type," he could "buy a couple of them at distressed prices and find renters," said Buffett.

Buffett is famous for only investing in assets he believes are undervalued. He must, therefore, believe that the U.S. residential real estate market is undervalued.
One valuation metric for residential properties is the price-to-rent (P/R) ratio, which roughly corresponds to the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio for stocks.

As seen on the chart below, the rent-to-earnings ratio has fallen to 2004 levels.

Moreover, as the economy recovers, both rent and housing prices should rise as well.

A perhaps even better argument that the real estate market is historically cheap, however, is that mortgage rates are at or near the historic low.

Mortgage rates are a huge driving factor of the ultimate cost of purchasing a home.

For example, the total interest expense of a $200,000, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage at a 4 percent mortgage rate, which is the current rate, is $144,000. At 10 percent, which was the prevalent rate in 1990, interest expense comes to $432,000.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Landmark Settlement with Mortgage Lenders Provides Relief for Some Struggling Home Owners

Note to Sellers:  $25B National Settlement on Rob-Signing Scandal - How It May Affect the Value of Your Home

Limbo makes for a very unpleasant place to live, and that is exactly where thousands upon thousands of homeowners have been over the past year since the scandal broke.  Now that virtually every state including Florida has signed off on the $25B settlement ($8.4B earmarked for Florida), the court system is no longer encumbered by this pending litigation and the backlog of foreclosure proceedings will likely decrease as the pace of finalizing the processes get undereway again and accelerate.

The second page of the article in today's Miami Herald gives us a hint as to the potential impact this may have on the number of foreclosure properties that may come on the market:

"There are also more than 250,000 homes stuck in Florida’s lengthy foreclosure process, more than any other state in the country. The settlement may shorten the state’s foreclosure timeline — currently above two years — as banks will no longer be held up by charges of robo-signing. Still, several of the homes in foreclosure are so far behind on payments that even if banks reduce the amount owed, the homeowner will not be able to catch up."

"Several", in my opinion, may be a kind choice of words used to describe the vast number of homes whose delinquent mortgage balances are beyond the home owners' ability to bring current.  If balances are not able to be satisfied either by full payment or some other installment agreement reached between the lender and the home owner, the banks will likely take posession of the homes and re-sell them as REO properties.  Needless to say, the homes will likely be sold at substantial discounts which will affect the value of surrounding homes.  This can affect future appraisals and will probably create a higher number of short sales.  End result:  the price of your home may come down.

Bottom Line:  If you are currently selling your home or plan to sell in the near future, pricing your home as competitively as possible today to get it sold now will produce greater net proceeds than waiting for the unintended consequences of this court settlement.  

Read more here:

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