Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Impact of Inventory on Both Ends of the Housing Spectrum

Inventory, Inventory, Inventory. The return of housing to better days has mainly been attributed to lower interest rates, fewer defaults and a gradually healing economy. But what has brought the biggest smile to the face of analysts and homeowners alike is steady appreciation in home values as part of this new cycle. Since the end of 2011, home values have risen over 5% nationally, and are forecast to rise at least 6% over the next five years. The increases have been much higher in many major cities. It all has to do with supply, or the lack thereof, that’s driving home values north. While everyone is encouraged to see the return of equity of home values, a protracted period of tight inventories could have a negative impact on the current cycle. Simply put, if buyers can’t afford to buy, the process stalls.

Attaining the right balance of all the ingredients that have led to the current recovery phase can be tricky. The combined result of fewer foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies combined with brisk all-cash investor activity is effectively containing the specter of a looming shadow inventory of distressed homes that had once been seen as one of the major headwinds preventing a full housing recovery. The downside of this is, of course, an overall reduction in available, affordable homes on the market.

Fortunately, those developers and investors wise enough to understand the nature of the real estate cycle foresaw the scarcity in inventory and the resulting opportunity as they brought more units online. Investors in new multifamily housing flourished in 2011 with units becoming available now, and overall construction in housing for both apartments and single family dwellings actually helped to boost the economy out of recession. We have been involved in a number of new projects in Southern California aimed at bringing affordable units to the market. Case in point: we served as a major capital partner for a 156 unit condo development in the Ventura County area that broke ground in the 3rd quarter of 2011, and the developer is currently in the second phase of development to meet demand with most of these units already pre-sold. Another project we’re involved in is a 10 unit townhome subdivision in the Tujunga community that will be bringing 10 new homeowners into that market shortly. We are also online and committed to begin a residential gated development and a Thousand Oaks home development in the area.

What’s often ignored in the inventory equation is the participation of the “move-up” buyer and having available product to meet demand. For a fully functioning housing cycle to occur there has to be an upward migration of current homeowners to larger homes to allow first-time home buyers and growing family households an opportunity to purchase at affordable prices. Of course, as the last period saw home values depreciate, the cycle stalled as homeowners found themselves held hostage by falling equity and the inability to leverage it toward a larger purchase. Today paints a different picture, as homeowners are starting to test the waters with rising home values and multiple offers on listings. Inventory now becomes a welcome problem to have at the affluent end of the housing scale. In March, homes sales over of $800,000 are up over 33% from last year in Southern California. The current housing cycle requires adequate supply for move-up buyers to continue its progress. We have positions in the affluent market as well as the primary partner in a 20 acre, 15-estate equestrian development project in the Sunland community.

Home values for entry level as well as larger homes are skyrocketing, to the delight of homeowners, potential sellers, real estate professionals affirming that for the long term, real estate is and always has been, a sound investment choice. Additional housing units coming to market to balance the supply/demand equation won’t dampen appreciating values, but should modulate increasing values just enough to allow more new buyers into the market and persuade more owners that they can locate replacement properties if they list their current home.

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