Thursday, January 08, 2009

Speculators or Investors?

by Calculated Risk on 1/08/2009 11:14:00 AM

From Bloomberg: No Recovery for Real Estate as Speculators Dominate Sales (hat tip James)

As the U.S. housing recession enters its fourth year, there’s no sign of a recovery because speculators account for most of the rise in sales.
While the purchases are trimming the inventory of unsold properties, most of those bought by speculators will likely return to the market when prices rise again, hampering any recovery, said Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and Yale University Professor Robert Shiller in interviews.

“We’re creating a shadow inventory of homes that will be right back on the market as soon as the economy and the housing market begin to improve,” said Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor of economics. “We could see a double-dip in the housing recession if that happens.”
“You don’t have it in strong hands, you have flippers,” said Shiller, who helped create the S&P/Case Shiller real estate price indexes. “These speculators are preventing the market from crashing now, and when they get out it could fall again.”
Uh, no. In this case I believe Shiller is wrong.

First, we have to distinguish between speculators and investors. My view is speculators buy with the intention of flipping or re-selling as soon as possible. Investors buy for cash flow. The Bloomberg article offers this example:
Robert Arnold, a real estate investor who rents out a dozen homes near Orlando, Florida ... bought an Orlando foreclosure in June for $60,000, about a third of its appraised value, and spent $20,000 repairing it. Four months ago he rented it for $950 a month....

“Most of the houses I buy are junkers, but with a little work they become cash cows,” Arnold said.
Arnold is not a flipper, and according to the real estate agents I've spoken with recently, most of the recent non-owner occupied buyers are buying for cash flow just like Arnold.

Yes, these investors will probably keep price appreciation down in the future, but I'd argue a cash flow investor is a "strong hand" and I think they will hold the property longer than Shiller expects.