Two Worlds

One world is inhabited by 73-year-old Richard Stoker, his wife Jane, his dogs, and his new neighbors in their Miami, FL luxury condominium development.

Stoker was featured in a recent  WSJ article on an increasing number of investors purchasing homes with cash in the belief prices have bottomed out.

“The prices were just irresistible,” Stoker said. “Florida’s been hit pretty hard.”

The article continues:

To pay the $1.8 million, $1.2 million and $1 million prices on the condos, Mr. Stoker and his wife, Jane, cashed out of some financial investments and sold a Roy Lichtenstein painting and an Alexander Calder mobile. Since mid-October, Canyon Ranch in Miami Beach, the development Mr. Stoker bought into, has sold 35 units, with a third of the buyers from overseas and many others retiring from the Northeast. . . . The Stokers have a home in Potomac, Md., but spend most of the year in Florida. Mr. Stoker doesn’t plan to rent out any of his new properties, saying he and his wife will live in one with two dogs, his son might live in another and the third will house an older dog and guests.

What are we to make of Stoker and his world? We don’t have many details, but in 2011 America, here’s what I think I’m supposed to conclude. “Good on you. Probably worked hard your whole life and played by the rules. Enjoy the spoils of your labors.” Besides, who knows, maybe he’s an inspiring philanthropist who has given similar amounts of money to good causes.

But I’m tired of the status quo, so instead of giving him a pass and congratulating him, I have some questions.

What kind of person agrees to participate in an article like that under their own free will? What kind of person admits to the world that they bought a $1m condo for their dog? Why are there only two socially acceptable responses to conspicuous consumption in the U.S.—laissez faire nonchalance or awe? Why aren’t we embarrassed for the Stokers of the world when they publicly flaunt their wealth? Why don’t we freeze them out?

Housing Prices

The conversation turned to real estate on a recent Saturday run when I shared my opinion that many sellers in our community were slow to grasp the correction as evidenced by their overpriced houses languishing on the market for six months to a few years.

You would have thought I suggested we extend our 10 miler another 16.2 just for the fun of it. The right wing nutters immediately jumped on me for assuming I knew more about free markets and home values than the actual homeowners themselves. And more importantly, who did I think I was, homeowners have the right to price their houses however they want.

Of course they do just like they have the right to be irrational and waste money more generally. Check out this chart:

credit—Jodi Ashline Newsletter

In the end, the average “priced right” and “priced reduced” home sell for the same price, but the “price reduced” home is on the market an extra 162 days. If “price reduced” homeowner has $100k in equity, and that equity was invested for 162 days @ 5%, they passed on earning $2,219. That’s the cost of exercising your constitutional right to overprice your home.

Around here at least, it appears that the larger and more expensive the home the greater the tendency to overprice it. That’s counterintuitive if one assumes, on average, the most well-to-do homeowners are the most business savvy, but I digress. We can also assume a much smaller pool of prospective buyers (I know it only takes one) and therefore the “average days on market” I suspect is far greater than 197, but for consistency sake we’ll stick with that.

Let’s consider a waterfront home that is four times the average at $1,317,392. Ultimately, after 197 days, overpriced sellers have to reduce their price $251,008 ($62,752 x 4). Let’s compensate for the too short “average days on market” by assuming that our waterfront sellers own their home outright. If “expensive price reduced” homeowner has $1,066,384 (the final sale price) in equity and had invested that for the too short 162 days @ 5%, they passed on earning $23,665.

To which the nutters might say, “That’s waterfront sellers right.” Which again, of course is right, just irrational.

Since I’m on math fire, and the nutters are down for the count again, one related thought. One oft repeated housing axiom is that housing corrections don’t matter if you’re buying and selling into the same down market. That’s only true in one of three possible scenarios—buying and selling similar priced homes. It doesn’t hold for buying a more or less expensive home than sold.

For example, consider the case of buying a more expensive home. Imagine you could sell your existing home for $300k or $100k less than its peak 2007 valuation. You buy a home for $1m or $250k less than its peak 2007 valuation. Had you made that move in 2007, it would have cost $1,250,000-$400,000 or $850,000. Today, the equation is $1m-$300,000 or $700,000 for a savings of $150k.

The opposite is also true. As a result of the correction, it’s more expensive to move down. Imagine you could sell your existing home for $600k or $200k less than its peak 2007 valuation. You buy a home for $300k or $100k less than its peak 2007 valuation. Had you made the move in 2007, you would have pocketed $400k, $800k sale price-$400k purchase price. Making that move today you would only pocket $300k, $600k sale price-$300k purchase price.

So assuming one has the resources, it makes more sense to move up in down markets and down in up markets.

School’s out nutters. Do they give out Economics Nobels for this stuff?