Tag Archives: housing

But what about the Shadow Inventory?

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast.  That’s a catchy tune.  And my little girls love the movie.   Honestly, I enjoy it too.  Lumiere, the suave French candelabra, cracks me up.  His big solo number, Be Our Guest, is very entertaining.

So imagine my frustration when I found out I couldn’t buy this film after my youngest daughter was born in 2004.  I looked everywhere.  Best Buy.  Walmart.  Amazon.  Barnes and Noble.  Nada.  Zilch.  Nothing.

Fortunately, we had a trip planned to Disneyland.  Problem solved.  I would go directly to the source – Main Street U.S.A., Disneyland, California.  The souvenir shop there had the movie selection prominently displayed behind the cash register.  I could see all of Disney’s big hits:  Aladdin, Cars, The Incredibles, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. 

But wait a minute.  Where was Beauty and the Beast?

It’s in the vault she said.  What?  The Disney cast member repeated it again – it’s in the vault.  So I said well go back there and get it!   No sir, you don’t understand.  Disney puts movies in the vault for extended periods of time.  You will have to wait until it’s re-released.  That was 2005.

Disney finally pulled Beauty and the Beast out of the vault – last October.  I gave it to my daughter for her 6th birthday.  I also paid $24.95, about twice what a normal kid movie would cost.

You see, the folks at Walt Disney are master marketers.  They don’t just make whimsical princess movies and cool adventure attractions like The Pirates of the Caribbean.  They’ve figured out how to create artificial demand.

Disney got a rational guy like me to pay double, and wait five years, for one of their products.  People who don’t even have children or grandchildren yet bought this movie out of fear it would get locked up in the vault for another decade.  Pretty smart.

That’s why I find it a little amusing when I’m in real estate circles and someone asks me about the shadow inventory.  Aren’t you worried about it?  If the banks unleash this shadow inventory on the retail market don’t you think prices will plunge even further?

The answer is no, I’m not worried about it because the banks will not unleash this shadow inventory (if there really is a shadow inventory) on the retail market.

First of all, let me clear up one myth – banks don’t foreclose on a  mass of houses, board them up and then wait to sell them off for months or years on end  (at least not in Arizona).  Many experts define this as shadow inventory.   I’m on the ground here in Phoenix and that does not happen.  Once a bank forecloses they promptly secure it and sell it as an REO. 

The home directly behind mine was foreclosed on last week and it was on the multiple listing service 6 days later.  The banks do this because there is too much liability in home ownership.  If they foreclose on a house and then let it sit they are responsible for property taxes, homeowner association dues, utilities and general maintenance. Even worse, bad things tend to happen in or around abandoned houses.  When bad things happen people sue – not good.

Banks are far more likely to postpone foreclosure proceedings on the current homeowner for months or years at a time.  I bid on house at the auction earlier this week.  Its sale had been postponed 38 times – 1148 days.  This property has been in foreclosure for more than three years.  I bid on two other houses scheduled to go to sale this week – their sales had been postponed 12 and 18 times.  And guess what?  All three of these sales were postponed again.

There is another camp of so-called experts who refer to these homes as our shadow inventory.  But how do we know the owners of these homes won’t eventually bring their loans current, get a loan modification or execute a short sale?  My guess is only a small percentage will actually get foreclosed on and end up on the market as an REO.

Here’s why I’m really not worried about shadow inventory (if there really is such a thing) – artificial demand.  The banks are actually copying the Disney marketing model.  They’re being fairly strategic about what they release and when.  This creates scarcity, which increases demand (albeit artificially).

There is nothing wrong with this.  I’m actually a proponent of it.  It’s good business and probably the smartest thing the banks have done since this crisis began.  It serves us all and makes me want to break out in song – Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest…

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Do You Suffer from Analysis Paralysis?

“The sense of paralysis proceeds not so much out of the mammoth size of the problem but out of the puniness of the purpose.”

–          Norman Cousins

Dateline:  Rocky Point, Mexico – March, 2010.  My business partner Manny Romero and I, along with a couple of buddies, headed four hours south of Phoenix for some sun, sand, golf and cervezas.  This would be our first annual guy-only trip – we called it a Mancation.

No detail was overlooked.  Manny set us up in an awesome resort condo right on the beach.  He booked our tee times.  I checked the weather – perfect conditions – and packed the cooler full of Pacifico beer.  The iPod was loaded up – Zac Brown Band’s Toes the first song on the playlist…

I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand,

Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand,

Life is good today, life is good today.


It was a memorable trip.  We ate shrimp tacos and listened to mariachis.  I lost 17 golf balls in two rounds and nearly broke my 7 iron in half.  On Saturday night we jammed out to a cool Mexican rock band with a lead singer that looked like Jesus and had a voice like Chris Cornell.  All the while we barely noticed the college kids – it was spring break.  When Sunday morning came we wearily packed up the car with our golf clubs and empty cooler for the ride back home.

There was a wait –a very LONG wait – at the border checkpoint to reenter the United States.  It took more than three hours to get out of Mexico.  When I rolled down my window to greet the Customs agent he took one look at me, Manny and our two friends in the backseat and asked “what are you guys celebrating spring break 10 years later?”  I told him I considered that a compliment – we were actually celebrating spring break 20 years later!

Here’s the thing – we knew that our Mancation was the same week as spring break.   We realized it two weeks before we left.  Most middle aged men would have cancelled the trip, paralyzed by this new information.  Not us.  Our purpose was a good time, line at the border or not.

Analysis paralysis is an ugly disease.  It can kill a vacation or keep you from getting started in real estate investing.  Studying stuff like employment figures, vacancy rates, median incomes, economic diversity, contract ratios, median prices and absorption rates in your town is a wise thing to do.  Just don’t forget about your purpose – to make money.

Tom Ruff of Information Market and Mike Orr of Cromford Report know the Phoenix housing market better than anyone.  They have a way of analyzing complex data and drawing simple conclusions, without the doom and gloom.

In his January 2011 Housing Opinion Tom wrote, “We are living in the time after the crash, not the time before; Phoenix is now offering the same opportunities we saw in the early 90s. I haven’t heard anyone say, boy, I wish I’d have bought that home down the street in 2006 when I had the chance, but I’ll bet you, ten years from now when they look back at this unique time in history…”

In his January 16 mid month pricing update and forecast Mike Orr concluded, “So we see a generally gloomy picture for sales pricing and no sign of any improvement in the next four to six weeks. In fact we see continued deterioration. We do not get too concerned about this however, since sales pricing is a TRAILING INDICATOR of the market and is the last thing to show any turnaround. When we look at other measurements things are not so gloomy. This is because lower pricing results in increased demand which is certainly making its presence known at the moment.”

Remember your purpose.  Don’t over analyze.  Keep it simple.  If you can buy a home in this market and rent it for more than it cost to pay the debt service and expenses then you’ve made a smart investment.  If you can buy a home, fix it up and sell it for what you paid, plus another 12-25K in profit, then go for it.  Let the numbers guide you, not paralyze you.

Next week Manny and I will embark on Mancation II to Rocky Point – only this time we’re doing it Super Bowl weekend and are returning on Monday morning.  We’re expecting the line at the border to be much shorter this year.  What can I say?  Analyzing the numbers from last year’s trip I learned that we should go a different weekend.  I also concluded that I need to bring more golf balls and a spare 7 iron.

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Follow the Numbers, Not the News

It started out innocently enough.  An email popped up in my inbox from a real estate investor I’m connected with on LinkedIn.  This investor, who shall remain nameless, was responding to an article titled ‘Mortgage Picture Brightens, for Now’ I sent out via Twitter.  He brought another article to my attention that stated 1 in 10 with a mortgage faces foreclosure.  This discussion quickly evolved.  Here are a few excerpts: 

Me:  I’m in Phoenix and these reports don’t accurately depict what is going on in our market. Real estate is a local business. I’ve flipped 5 homes here since the expiration of the tax credit – all of them sat on the market less than a week. Demand here remains strong and in many areas there is less than a two month supply of homes. While median prices may dip another 5-10% that doesn’t bother seasoned investors because they will adjust their buy price accordingly.

Investor:  The current inventory in the Phoenix market has never been higher with for sale signs literally everywhere. I do a significant amount of business in Phoenix. I have a client in Phoenix who buys over 20 properties per month at sheriff sale at dramatically reduced prices. The listing time on residential properties continues to longer than we have ever seen. Obviously, no two investors see the market the same way. That’s what makes apples and oranges.

Me:  Actually inventory levels have been higher. At this moment there are 43,566 homes for sale on the MLS. Two years ago there were 53,511. Days on market today – 172. Days on market two years ago – 383. I agree with you that things have slowed down here but to say that inventory levels and listing times “have never been higher” and are “longer than we have ever seen” is not accurate. Check out Mike Orr’s Cromford Report.  I buy about 4-5 houses a month at the courthouse steps. I have a few that aren’t selling in dead areas, but in other parts of town inventory is moving.

Clearly this investor and I have different views of the Phoenix housing market.  He has based his investing decisions on what someone else has told him (news articles, clients) and on the amount of for sale signs he sees when he visits Phoenix.  I choose to buy when the actual numbers make sense.

Since this exchange took place last week I’ve put two more homes into escrow, one of which I didn’t even have to list on the MLS and it’s all because I follow the numbers, not the news.  What Warren Buffett once said about stock investing can also be applied to real estate, “be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”

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